Last night I taught a class featuring a Valentine's Day menu for two. Since my goal in teaching the class was to help someone prepare a three or four course meal for a friend or loved one on a weeknight (Valentine's falls on a weekday this year), the individual recipes were necessarily simple and classic. They included crostini topped with a creamy blend of Gorgonzola and soft Goat cheese, a Spinach Salad and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's famous Molten Chocolate Cake. The centerpiece of the meal was an entrée of Salmon Baked with Herbed Mustard Breadcrumbs served on a winter Ragoût of Fingerling Potatoes, Carrots & Brussels Sprouts. The latter was particularly well received—more than one person came up to me afterwards to let me know that they didn't like Brussels Sprouts but that they really liked this dish.
I'm not quite sure what it is about this vegetable dish that is so appealing. At its heart, it is nothing more than a simple combination of roasted carrots & potatoes and quickly braised Brussels sprouts. Perhaps it is the buttery bath they are given at the finish....but it could also be the effect of the sweet carrots softening and complimenting the slightly bitter Brussels sprouts.
For this dish the carrots and potatoes are roasted in a slightly unusual way. They are tossed with olive oil and salt & pepper as is usual (along with some whole garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme)
but are then covered with foil for the first half of the roasting time. Fingerling potatoes will sometimes become dry and tough during the roasting process. Covering them at first gets the cooking process started in a moist environment—the final result is a moist, tender potato. This initially moist environment also helps jump start the cooking of the carrots (for a similar treatment of carrots see my post on my favorite way to cook carrots). The foil is removed for the last 20 to 25 minutes of the roasting time, during which both vegetables caramelize nicely in the heat of the 400° oven.
The Brussels sprouts could be tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and then added to the uncovered pan of roasting potatoes and carrots. Brussels sprouts take about 20 to 25 minutes to roast, so this would work out perfectly. If you did this, you would have a very nice medley of roasted vegetables, but you wouldn't have a buttery stew of vegetables.... To obtain a buttery stew, you need to braise the Brussels sprouts.
Braising Brussels sprouts is exactly like braising meat (browning, followed by moistening/deglazing, followed by simmering)—it just takes much less time. Begin by quickly wilting some sliced shallots in some butter. The heat should be high enough so that by the time the shallots are limp (after a couple of minutes), they will have just begun to caramelize a bit on the edges. Add the halved sprouts to the pan and continue to cook until they too have begun to take on some color.
Add a small amount of water (or stock, if you prefer)—enough to come about a quarter of the way up the sides of the sprouts—cover and cook at a brisk simmer until the sprouts are just tender to the tip of a knife. This will only take about 3 to 5 minutes.
When the Brussels sprouts are cooked, add the roasted vegetables to the pan (adding more water or stock if the pan is dry). If the carrots and potatoes have cooled, either reheat them briefly in the oven first, or toss everything together for a minute or two in the pan. When everything is hot, add butter and herbs and continue to cook and toss until the vegetables are coated with a buttery film of liquid (again, you may need to add a splash more of water or stock).
The salmon I made to go with these vegetables is easy and elegant. First smear the salmon with a thin film of Dijon (mixed with a little lemon juice and olive oil)
and top this with a generous coating of fresh breadcrumbs mixed with herbs, lemon zest and melted butter.
When baked in a hot oven (450°), the breadcrumbs will become light and crispy and tinged with golden brown color in spots. If you prefer a darker, crunchier breading, you may toast the breadcrumb mixture in a moderate oven (350° to 375°) until golden and crisp (stir occasionally) before putting it on top of the mustard-coated salmon. Salmon with a toasted breadcrumb coating should be baked at a lower oven temperature (375° to 400°).
Whether you toast the breading before applying it to the salmon or not, the breadcrumb mixture can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. This makes the preparation of the salmon on the night of your dinner a snap. If you do choose to make the breading ahead, while you are mincing the herbs for it, take the time to mince some extra for the ragoût. Mash these herbs into the butter you will be using to finish the ragoût. Although you can of course simply add the butter and freshly minced herbs directly to the vegetables, making a quick compound butter allows you to mince the herbs ahead of time and store them in such a way that they won't deteriorate or lose their fresh flavor. Wrapped airtight and refrigerated, a compound butter will last several days (and can be frozen for much longer).
Serving the salmon with the ragoût works out particularly well because you can put the salmon into the oven at the same time you begin cooking the shallots for the ragoût and both the salmon and the vegetables will be ready to serve at the same time. But of course, you should not feel limited to serving these vegetables with salmon. They would also make a great accompaniment for some simply prepared pork or chicken or beef...or another favorite fish.
As regular readers have probably guessed, while I like both the salmon and the vegetables, the vegetable dish is where my heart is. It is wonderfully flavorful, versatile and easy to prepare. You should of course feel free to adapt it by varying the herbs to go with whatever else you are serving and to suit your tastes. The thyme could be replaced with rosemary or sage. Minced chives would make a nice addition. If you like bacon, you could incorporate some bacon into the mix by cooking some (cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch pieces) first, lifting it out and using the bacon fat to start the braise. Add the cooked bacon back to the vegetables at the end with the herbs. No matter how you vary this dish...or what you choose to serve it with...I think you (and your guest) will be pleased with the results.
Ragoût of Brussels Sprouts, Carrots
& Fingerling Potatoes
1/3 lb. carrots, peeled and cut 1/2-inch thick on the diagonal
1/3 lb. fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Several sprigs of thyme
Salt & Pepper
2 T. unsalted butter, divided
1 medium shallot, peeled, halved and sliced lengthwise a scant 1/4-inch thick
1/3 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 to 3 t. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 t. minced fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots, garlic and thyme. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer in a small, shallow casserole. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast until the vegetables are tender and golden—removing the foil after about 20 minutes—total cooking time will be about 40 minutes. Discard the sprigs of thyme.
Melt 1 T. butter in a medium sauté pan set over medium to medium-high heat. When it sizzles, add the shallots along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened and just beginning to turn golden on the edges—2 minutes or so. Add the Brussels sprouts and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts begin to turn golden brown in spots—2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and simmer briskly until the sprouts are just tender—about 3 to 5 minutes.
Uncover the pan and add the carrots, potatoes and, if you like, the garlic. Add a splash of water if the pan seems dry. Heat through, tossing and stirring. When all of the vegetables are hot, add the remaining butter and herbs. Toss until the vegetables are coated in a light buttery sauce, adding more water if necessary. Correct the seasoning. Serves 2.
Note: This recipe can be multiplied to feed as many as you like. When you cook the Brussels sprouts, choose a pan that will accommodate all of the potatoes and carrots as well.
Salmon Baked with Herbed Mustard Breadcrumbs
1/3 c. coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (made with day old bread)
1/2 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 t. minced fresh thyme
1/2 t. lemon zest
1 T. melted unsalted butter
Salt & Pepper
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. olive oil
2 skinless fillets of fresh salmon (about 5 oz. each and about 1-inch thick)
Combine the breadcrumbs with the herbs and zest in a small bowl. Drizzle the butter over and fluff to combine. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Combine the mustard, lemon juice and olive oil.
Place the salmon skinned side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Spread the mustard mixture over the top of the salmon. Cover with the breadcrumbs.
Bake the fish in the upper third of a preheated 450° oven until the breadcrumbs are tinged with brown and the salmon is cooked the way you like. It will take about 7 to 8 minutes for medium-rare (longer if the fillet is very thick). Serves 2.
Note: Like the vegetables, this recipe too can be multiplied to serve more than two.