February 2011 Archives
I received this whimsical bouquet of red and green endive on Valentine’s Day, each head of endive still attached to its big root. The bouquet came from California Vegetable Specialties, the only US grower of endive. A whole case of endive followed the Valentine, and there was nothing to do but prepare endive for lunch and dinner all week.
As I became engrossed in experimenting with endive, I decided it was time to learn about how it is produced. Endive is the second growth on chicory roots. The chicory seed is sown in fields, and leafy greens follow. Once the greens are mature, they are harvested and used as high quality cattle feed. The precious roots are dug up, cleaned, and put in cold storage for a period of dormancy. Finally, the roots are moved to dark, cool, humid rooms, where they are forced to grow new leaves. The operation is very high tech, and local for those of us who live in California. Very little pesticides are used, and organically grown endive is available at Whole Foods and other specialty food stores.
I have always enjoyed endive’s sweet-peppery flavor and delicate crunch in salads, particularly when dressed with a sprightly Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped walnuts. But I wanted to try other preparations too. I discovered endive makes a great stand in for iceberg lettuce or cabbage in tacos. I shredded a couple of heads of endive and tossed them with fresh lime juice and a minced Serrano chile; then heaped the mixture in warmed corn tortillas filled with sliced grilled chicken and avocado.
Radicchio is at its finest in the cooler months. A member of the chicory family, radicchio is loved for its bright magenta color, crisp texture, and spicy-bitter flavor. I can’t resist buying a head when beauties like this are displayed at Maggie’s Farm and other stands at farmers’ markets throughout Los Angeles. I like to choose a firm one with intense color, and no signs of darkening.
The radicchio has been so good this winter I have been serving it frequently. Most often used as a colorful addition to salads, it mellows slightly when cooked, and develops a pleasing tender but chewy texture. When I only have a few minutes to make dinner, I cut a head into 1½-inch thick wedges, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet in a 450°F until tender, turning over after 10 minutes, for about 20 minutes total. This is a great accompaniment to fish, poultry or meat. On a recent cold night I added sliced radicchio to a white bean soup flavored with pancetta and sage, and let it simmer until it wilted- a satisfying meal that warmed up the evening.
I like to prepare Valentine’s Day dinner at home, far away from overcrowded restaurants. Because the meal is my celebration too, I want it to be easy, leaving me time to focus on my sweetie. This year I am going to cook the Roasted Salmon with Thyme Vinaigrette I created last year. I liked the dish so much; I included it in my new book, Weeknight Fresh and Fast. The vivid thyme sauce seasons the fish and dresses a salad of delicate baby greens too, making it 2 recipes in one. Add smashed Yukon gold potatoes (more about those in a minute), and the main course is complete.
On Sunday, I will pick up fresh (or thawed frozen) wild Alaskan king salmon at Santa Monica Seafood
or Whole Foods markets. Alaskan salmon has a subtle flavor, underscored by a wonderful richness. In addition to being a favorite of mine, it is raised and fished using sustainable practices
, and is healthful too- a win, win, win. I will make the vinaigrette for the fish and salad when I get home from shopping.
To start off the meal, I plan on sautéing sliced fresh Chanterelle mushrooms with shallots and a little of the thyme already on hand for the fish. I will mound the mixture on toasted pain rustic, and serve it with flutes of sparkling rosé, so we can nibble and chat while I finish the cooking. An even easier starter- a luscious soft cheese with crisp crackers.
My new book, Weeknight Fresh and Fast, will be taking me on a few fun adventures over the next several months where I will be demonstrating recipes and/or talking about writing the book. I was a cooking teacher before my years as food editor at Bon Appetit magazine and I am enjoying teaching again. I hope that I'll get to see some of you along the way. I’d love to meet you and hear how you are enjoying the blog or the book; I am also interested to learn about things you’d like to see on the blog
Weeknight Fresh and Fast
was one of three books chosen for the Williams-Sonoma cookbook club
, and recipes from it will be featured in classes at many of the stores around the country on February 23. I will show up at the event at the store on Montana Ave, in Santa Monica, to chat and sign books. Then, on March 5, I will demonstrate recipes at the same store.
At the end of March, I will be in Sonoma at the fabulous California Artisan Cheese Festival
in Petaluma. The festival starts Friday, March 25, and continues through the weekend. It is a great opportunity to taste the best small batch and farmstead cheeses made in California, and to meet the cheese producers. Seminars are offered that teach how to distinguish goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheeses; how to judge cheeses like a pro; great cheese and beer and cheese and champagne pairings. The festival illustrates the life of the cheese maker, and provides tours of cheese making facilities. There are chef dinners too, highlighting even more cheese. I am looking forward to learning and tasting, and bringing my finds back to you on this blog. I'll also be demonstrating a cheesy recipe and signing books.