Saturday, May 26, 2018

Asparagus with Ham & Pine Nuts…served two ways

Spring means asparagus.  Every year, I start enjoying it when the California crop begins to hit the stores in March.  It is always good, but when the local crop starts to come in I am always reminded of why I like to eat not just seasonally, but locally whenever I can.  The flavor and texture of the local crop can’t be matched.  I bring home bunches and bunches of it from the farmers’ market…stopping only when the crop does…usually sometime in early June.

One of my favorite things to eat with asparagus is ham.  Its salty, fatty—sometimes smoky—taste compliments the herbaceous and mineral-y asparagus perfectly.  We enjoy it on pizza, in pasta, with eggs (in a frittata/tortilla or quiche)…and in salads and sides.  It is a wonderfully versatile combo. 

Historically, this duo is a natural, seasonal pairing as well.  Hogs would have been butchered in the fall…and hams hung to cure.  They would have been ready to eat in the spring.  I can only imagine how delicious those first slices of the new ham would have tasted when eaten with the first few asparagus spears of the season. 

The simple, streamlined dish I’m sharing today is a great way to enjoy this springtime combination.   You can enjoy it as a side dish…or add a little arugula (also in season right now) and you have a salad.  If you don’t want to take the time to make the lemon-shallot vinaigrette, you can simply dress everything with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.  Either way, this is springtime eating at its best.

Asparagus with Ham & Pine Nuts

1 to 1 1/2 lb. medium to large spears of asparagus, trimmed
1 T. olive oil
1/3 lb./150 g. diced (1/3-inch) ham
1/3 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 to 3 T. lemon-shallot vinaigrette
2 to 3 oz. arugula, trimmed, washed and spun dry (optional)
Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Leave the asparagus spears whole or cut into 2-inch lengths on a short diagonal—as you prefer.  Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil.  Drop in the asparagus and cook until just tender—about 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain and spread on towels.  (If you are cooking the asparagus ahead, rinse under cool running water before spreading on towels to dry.)  Reserve the pan.

Warm the olive oil in a small sauté pan set over moderate to moderately high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the ham.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the ham is sizzling, hot through, and golden brown in spots—about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the pine nuts and parsley. 

If the asparagus spears were left whole, return them to the pan they were cooked in and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette, gently rolling the spears around to coat them.  If you would like the asparagus to be warm, do this while the pan is over a medium flame.  Season with salt & pepper.  Place the spears of asparagus on a platter or individual plates.  Spoon the ham and pine nut mixture over the asparagus.  If you like, you may arrange the asparagus and ham on a bed of arugula that has been seasoned with salt & pepper and dressed with the lemon-shallot vinaigrette.

If the asparagus spears were cut into short lengths, place the asparagus in a bowl with the arugula and the ham and pine nut mixture (let the mixture cool slightly or it will wilt the arugula).  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the vinaigrette.  Toss until all the components are coated with a light film of the vinaigrette and the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Pile on a platter or individual plates and serve. 

Serves 4 to 6.

Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette: Place a tablespoon of finely diced shallot in a small bowl with 3 T. lemon juice and 1/2 t. salt.  Let sit 5 minutes.  Whisk in 5 T. olive oil.  Taste for balance and seasoning.  (Vinaigrette from Sunday Suppers at Lucques—Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table, by Suzanne Goin)

  • If the asparagus is very fat, take the time to peel the lower 2/3 of each stalk. 
  • Any ham of good quality may be used. I like Niman Ranch’s Apple wood Smoked Ham. Black forest ham would be good too. This recipe also makes an excellent use for the “heel” of a prosciutto. 
  • You may make the vinaigrette, or simply dress everything with a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of olive oil. 
 Printable Version

Variation using julienne Prosciutto and shaved Parmesan

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Spring Potato Salad with Peas ... that’s just a little bit different…

I suppose that having kept a blog for over eight years…and having posted over 600 recipes…it is inevitable that I will someday inadvertently and unknowingly post a recipe twice.   It almost happened today.

This particular potato salad has been in my repertoire for many years.  I recently brought the class (“spring brunch”) in which the recipe originally appeared out of retirement.  While preparing to teach it again, I remade all of the recipes at home so they would be fresh in my mind.  I was struck by how much I liked the potato salad.  Then, it turned out to be a big hit with the class...much more so than I remembered.  It has been two weeks since I taught the class and during that time I have already made this salad again at least twice.  I decided this was an indication that I should share the recipe here.

Then, this morning, as I sat down to type, I had this niggling feeling that I might have posted it before.  Just in case, I decided to take a minute to check.  Sure enough…  I had.   Oops.

Rather than give up on the idea of a post entirely, I thought I would post the variation of the salad that we have been eating.  The salad as originally posted—and as I teach it—uses sugar snap peas.  The one we have been eating at home during the past couple of weeks uses shelling peas.  It is a variation worth knowing about.  So, here it is.  Whether you make this one—or the original with sugar snap peas…or maybe your own variation with asparagus …or haricot verts—it is delicious.  Enjoy!

Spring Potato Salad with Peas & Arugula

1 1/2 lbs. small waxy potatoes (Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, Fingerling or Creamer-type)
2 T. red wine vinegar, divided
1 small to medium shallot, finely diced
1 t. Dijon Mustard
Salt & Pepper
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups green peas
3 oz. Arugula, rinsed, dried & stemmed as necessary
2 T. (or more) minced fresh chives
1 or 2 chive blossoms, if available

Scrub the potatoes.  Steam over simmering water until tender to the tip of a knife—20 minutes or so, depending on their age and size.  (If you prefer, you may instead cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain well.)  As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle halve or quarter them (depending on their size).  If using fingerling, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds.  Place the potatoes in a bowl and pour 1 T. of vinegar over them along with salt & pepper to taste.  Toss gently to combine.  Set aside for 10 minutes or so to allow the warm potatoes to absorb the vinegar.  Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil over the potatoes and fold in carefully.

While the potatoes are cooking, combine 1 T. of vinegar and the shallot in a small bowl; let sit for a few minutes to allow the vinegar to soften the shallots.  Whisk in the mustard.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of oil, adding it in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning and the vinegar balance—the vinaigrette should be fairly sharp. 

Blanch the peas in a pot of boiling salted water until just tender.  Drain and refresh under cold running water.  Pat dry and set aside. (If cooked ahead, refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

To serve the salad, place the arugula in a medium-sized bowl.  Season with salt & pepper and drizzle with a small amount of the vinaigrette.  Toss to coat.  Mound the dressed greens onto a serving platter.  Add the peas and herbs to the potatoes and toss.  Add a bit of dressing if necessary.  Taste and correct the seasoning.   Mound the potatoes and peas on top of the greens and scatter more herbs over all if you like (chive blossoms would be especially nice). 

Serves 4 to 6 as a side salad.  Serves 8 (or more) as part of a salad buffet.

Printable Version

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Coq au Riesling (Sautéed Chicken in Riesling Sauce)

For many years now I have been teaching a couple of classes that feature what I consider to be typical French bistro food:  Beef Daube, French apple tart, pot de crème, profiteroles with strawberry ice cream, tarte flambée, etc.  In the spring, I like to teach a class that includes a classic from the Alsace region of France:  Coq au Riesling (or Sautéed Chicken in Riesling Sauce).  Although this dish does not include ingredients that I typically associate with spring, I think the floral and acidic character that the wine gives to the sauce goes particularly well with asparagus.  So even though it is probably more often served in its homeland during the winter months (with red cabbage and spaetzle), I find myself thinking about it during the early, cooler days of spring.

Chicken in Riesling is an example of the classic, regional sautéed/braised chicken dishes that one finds all across France.  The method or preparation—brown, moisten and simmer—is fairly universal.  What separates each from the others—giving each its unique character and flavor—is the use of local and traditional ingredients.  In this case the particular wine (a dry Alsace Riesling) and a sauce enhanced with bacon and cream. Almost every version of this dish I have ever encountered also includes mushrooms.  And all include onions of some kind—most often pearl onions or leeks…but you will also find versions that use sliced shallots, or even just diced yellow onions.  I have seen versions that include carrots, but this seems to me to be an anomaly…and not very much in keeping with the fact that this is a “white” stew and really should be made with all white, beige/brown and pale green ingredients.

A finished half recipe...

I have posted two other recipes for French chicken sautés:  Poulet Basquaise from Southwestern France…and Poulet Valléed’Auge from Normandy.  Comparing these three examples is instructive.  It of course shows the similarity of method (mentioned above)…but it also shows how the personality of each dish is affected by how and when the “garnish” ingredients are added.  In the Chicken in Riesling the mushrooms and leeks are added at the beginning so they are cooked with the chicken…and remain in the sauce for service.  This way of incorporating the garnish lends a slightly rustic quality to the dish…and results in a dish that is a harmonious blending of the flavors of all the ingredients.  

In the Basque recipe (at least the version of it that I made) the peppers and ham that are cooked with the chicken are strained out before the sauce is finished.  Freshly cooked peppers and ham are then added just before service.  This creates a complex and refined sauce for a dish where the chicken, peppers and ham all have a distinct voice in the final dish.  

The Norman dish is a great example of one that straddles these two styles.  The mushrooms and shallots are cooked with the chicken…and left in the dish.  Then, freshly sautéed apples are added at the end with the cream.  This method gives the apples a prominent place in the final dish. 

I imagine there are cultural and practical reasons that these dishes came together in their respective styles...unfortunately I'm not familiar with the "whys."  As a cook though, I am fascinated by the differences in the results.

Of course I can’t end this post without commenting on the wine.  All Rieslings are not appropriate for this dish.  Riesling is a German grape.  But it is also grown in Alsace (which touches Germany…and due to its history is a bit of a cultural and culinary crossroads of the two countries).  German Rieslings are almost always sweet.  French are always dry.  This dish is French and should be made with a French-style dry Riesling…not a sweet German-style. You don’t have to use a French Riesling as long as the one you use is dry.  To make sure you are getting a dry one, look for the following on the label:  “Qualitätswein Trocken” on German bottles, “Dry” from Washington State.  Any  Riesling from New York State should be fine…and most Australian Rieslings from Clare Valley or Eden Valley will be dry as well. (Ask your purveyor if you are unsure.)  And finally, whatever you purchase, make sure you purchase enough so that you will have plenty to drink alongside this delicious dish.  It is of course the perfect match.

Coq au Riesling
(Chicken in Riesling)

2 slices thick cut bacon (2 to 3 oz.), cut cross-wise in 1/2-inch pieces
2 to 3 T. butter, divided
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 leeks (one if they are very large), white and pale green parts only, halved, sliced cross-wise into 1/2-inch pieces and rinsed in several changes of water—you should have 2 cups prepared leeks
1 1/2 c. Alsace-style Riesling (see note)
1 T. vegetable oil
A 3 1/2 lb. chicken, cut up (see note) or 3 lbs. chicken parts of your choice
Several sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
3 or 4 parsley stems
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
lemon, if necessary
Salt & Pepper

Ingredients for a half recipe...

In a straight-sided sauté pan or wide enameled cast-iron pot, render the bacon over medium-low heat until crisp.  Remove the bacon to a plate and increase the heat to medium-high.  Add enough butter to the pan to make 2 T. fat (if the bacon was very fatty, you will not need to add any butter).  Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft and browned—about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and season with salt.  If the pan seems dry, add a bit more butter.  Add the leeks to the pan, along with a pinch of salt and cook until wilted, stirring frequently.  Don't let the leeks brown.  When the leeks have softened a bit (after about 5 minutes), add about 2/3 of the Riesling (a cup) to the pan and reduce by a third.  Set aside.

While the bacon, mushrooms and leeks are cooking heat a tablespoon of butter along with the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat.  Pat the chicken dry and season generously with salt and pepper.  Add the chicken to the pan, skin side down, and brown all over, in batches if necessary to keep from crowding the pan.  Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle.  When the chicken is golden brown and the skin is crisp and well-rendered, transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all of the fat.  Deglaze the pan with the remaining Riesling…bringing it to a simmer, reducing (by a third to a half), and scraping the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan as the wine reduces.

Add the deglazings from the pan the chicken was sautéed in to the pan with the leeks and mushrooms.  Return the bacon and the chicken (skin side up), along with any accumulated juices, to the pan.  Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer and add the thyme, parsley stems and bay leaf.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid.  At this point you may either reduce the heat or transfer the pan to a 325° to 350° oven.  With either method, the goal is the maintenance of a gentle simmer.  You will note that there is only a small amount of liquid in the pan—perhaps coming a quarter to a third of the way up the sides of the meat and no more. 

When the white meat pieces are cooked through (to 150° or 155°…after about 15 minutes), remove them to a plate.  Continue to cook the remaining chicken until very tender and cooked through (a skewer inserted in the meat will not encounter resistance going in, or “grab” coming out)—another 10 to 20 minutes or so.

Remove the dark meat pieces to the plate with the white meat.  Remove the thyme, parsley and bay and discard.  Add the cream to the pan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly.  Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper and a little lemon, if necessary.  Reduce the heat to very low, swirl in the parsley and return the chicken to the pan.  Cover the pan and briefly allow the chicken to heat through. 

Coq au Riesling is traditionally served with Spaetzle, rice, noodles or steamed potatoes.

Serves 4 to 6

  • Riesling is a German grape. In Germany it is almost always made into sweet wines. French Rieslings from Alsace are always dry wines. This dish requires a dry Riesling. French Rieslings can be very expensive…and, in the states, sometimes difficult to find. You may use any dry Riesling for this dish. When looking for a dry Riesling, choose one labeled as follows: Alsace, “Qualitätswein Trocken” from Germany, “Dry” from Washington State, any from New York State, and most Australian Rieslings from Clare Valley or Eden Valley. 
  • The chicken may be cut into 4 or 8 serving pieces (or you may use parts, as noted in the recipe). For these "Sauté-style" stews, the French traditionally cut the chicken into 8 pieces—2 legs, 2 thighs and 4 breast pieces. The four breast pieces are obtained by taking each split breast and cutting it cross-wise into 2 equal pieces. You may also simply cut the chicken into quarters—2 leg-thigh joints and 2 breasts. For both methods, the first joint of the wing may be left attached to the breasts. My preferred way to prepare this dish is with 2 breasts plus 3 leg thigh-joints or 6 thighs. I remove the breast meat from the bone before returning it to the pan to reheat it for service. The dish will then serve 6, each person getting a third of a breast and one piece of dark meat.