Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Market Inspiration...Salmon with Wilted Greens, New Potatoes, Olives & Lemon

For our dinner Sunday evening we had a simple meal of pan-seared salmon with wilted greens, potatoes, olives and lemon. Both the new potatoes and the greens (a mixture of chard and beet greens) were from my Saturday trip to the farmers' market. I love cooking this time of year...with a fridge and pantry full of market produce, dinner practically makes itself.

Typically when I cook chard or beet greens, I simply add the trimmed and rinsed greens directly to a sauté pan of hot, seasoned (garlic, onion, pepper flakes, anchovies, etc.) olive oil. The relatively tender greens will collapse and cook to tenderness fairly quickly. An alternate method of cooking is to first blanch the greens in boiling salted water. Then, when the leaves are tender, transfer them to a colander to drain before spreading them on a baking sheet to cool. After squeezing out most of the excess moisture from the cooled greens, they can be warmed through in the seasoned olive oil right before serving. Restaurants use this method because it allows the line cook to quickly produce a serving of wilted greens to order (not to mention that it reduces the amount of space the greens take up on the cook's station). It's a great method to use if you are serving greens for a crowd or working ahead for a party. At home (where I cook for two) I am most likely to use this alternate method when I'm cooking sturdier greens (like kale) simply because it saves time...it takes much less time to blanch sturdy greens to tenderness than it does to wilt them directly in the hot oil.

Sunday evening I chose to use this latter method for another reason: I was preparing two different types of greens and I had no idea if they would cook in the same amount of time or not. Blanching allowed me to cook each separately (different batches in the same pot of water) and then warm them up together for serving.

The reason I mention this is that you might find yourself in a similar situation. The "bunches" of greens that you purchase at the farmers' market can vary in size from vendor to vendor and if you have a smaller bunch...or extra greens left from a larger bunch...you might find yourself combining different types of greens in order to make up the volume you need for a particular preparation or for a specific number of servings.

In my case, the bunch of chard I purchased on Saturday was a bit small. An average bunch of chard will produce about five ounces of trimmed leaves. This is just about right for two portions of wilted greens. The chard I purchased had a yield of only 3 1/2 ounces of leaves. Fortunately, I had also purchased some beets at the market, so I decided to supplement my chard with some of the beet greens. Once picked through and trimmed, I had another 2 1/2 ounces of greens—making six ounces...more than enough for two portions.

Beautiful beet greens...in the same family as Swiss Chard
...if you have never had them, you should definitely give them a try.

To make the greens, warm some olive oil (about 1 1/2 to 2 T.) in a wide sauté pan. Trim a couple of spring onions so that the length of the green portion is about equal to the length of the white and pale green portion. Trim away the root and any wilted bits of green. Halve the onions lengthwise and slice thinly cross-wise (you should have about 1/2 cup of sliced onion). Add the onion to the oil along with a pinch of salt and a few hot pepper flakes. Gently stew until the onions are soft and tender—about 10 minutes. Set aside until you are ready to heat the blanched greens. To serve, add the cooled, blanched greens to the pan and cook over moderate heat until hot through. If the greens seem dry, add a bit more olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.

If you like, you can finish the greens with a squeeze of lemon. But since I was serving the greens with salmon—which is also nice with lemon—I chose instead to serve each plate with a wedge of lemon so we could each dress our greens and fish to our liking at the table.

To cook the salmon, heat a heavy sauté pan (I prefer carbon steel or cast-iron) over medium high heat—the pan should be just large enough to hold the fish. Dry the filets (I used skinless filets) with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper. Add enough olive or canola oil to the pan to barely coat the bottom. When the pan is hot enough, the oil will slide easily across the pan. One or two wisps of smoke curling off of the pan is just about right—if the oil smokes profusely, the pan is too hot. Add the fillets to the pan (skinned side up) and cook without disturbing until golden brown—about 3 minutes. Carefully slide a slotted spatula under each filet, gently flip them over (tilting the pan helps to prevent a big splash of hot oil) and continue to cook until the fish is cooked to your liking. The "fisherman's rule of thumb is to cook the fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness...I like mine a little less done than that. However you like your fish done, remember that it will continue to cook after it has been removed from the pan, so cook it so it is just a bit under done. If you have very thick fillets, You may need to lower the heat a bit while it finishes. Or, you may transfer the pan to a 375° to 400º oven to finish the cooking. Remove the fish from the pan and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Along with the salmon and greens, I served new potatoes roasted with garlic, thyme and black olives. I particularly like this roasting method for firm little, freshly dug (before the green portion of the plant dies back), new potatoes.

You may add the olives or not...as you please.

To prepare the potatoes, preheat the oven to 375°. For each person, you will need 4 to 6 oz. of potatoes (depending on appetites—four ounces is plenty for me). Scrub the potatoes well. If you have true new potatoes, most—if not all—of the skin will simply rub off as you scrub them. Halve the potatoes if they are large. Place the potatoes with some whole (unpeeled) cloves of garlic (1 or 2 per person) and some sprigs of fresh thyme (or rosemary). Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat generously and season with salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes in a baking dish (stoneware, ceramic or enameled cast iron are all good choices) that is just large enough to hold the potatoes in a snug single layer.  Add a splash of water (just a tablespoon or so)

and cover tightly with foil. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, add some Kalamata olives (pitted or not...about 5 or 6 per person) and give the pan a gentle shake to coat the olives in the oil and redistribute the potatoes. Continue to roast until the potatoes are tender to the tip of a knife—another 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. The garlic may be removed and reserved for another use or served with the potatoes. Set aside and keep warm.

I loved the way this meal came together in a harmonious whole...the lemon, olives and garlic adding just the right touch. If you aren't crazy about fish, you might try this combination of greens and potatoes with a grilled or sautéed chicken breast. But don't wait too long. True new potatoes are a fleeting treat ... and they won't be around for long.

Printable Recipe

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