This weekend was Beth and Don’s annual epic barbecue in Baltimore. In March Neil and I tagged along on a road trip down to Lang BBQ Smokers in Nahunta, Georgia to collect Don’s new baby.
Don spent the past couple of months seasoning his new cooker with lard and taking it on a few dry runs. But Sunday the beast fulfilled its true calling when a couple hundred people descended on Beth and Don’s home for a twelve-hour festival of meat. Tending the cooker was serious work, as I learned during my six-hour stint. I’ve got a handful of mystery bruises and what I can only assume is heat rash on my chest. When I blew my nose yesterday, it yielded something familiar in texture but black as, um, charcoal. Two days and two showers later, I still have a faint dirt ring in the crease in my neck. And the lovely dress pictured below will likely never be the same.
I got home around 8:00 last night and depart for my next adventure around noon tomorrow. Tonight I was craving some time on my couch and a light supper that required minimal heat. I swung by Mermaid’s Garden on my way home from the office and picked up some large and luscious dayboat scallops. Half an hour later, I was sitting down to this delicious salad and cuing up Sunday’s episode of Mad Men.
Scallops, Arugula & Tomato-Olive Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon or so hot Spanish paprika
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 8 assorted good quality olives (seasoned, stuffed, etc.), finely chopped
- 1 medium tomato or 8 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon small capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
- pinch sugar
- 1/2 pound dayboat scallops
- 1/4 cup leftover white wine
- salt and pepper
- 3 cups arugula
- Whisk the mustard and vinegar together in a bowl and then slowly whisk in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil until emulsified. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon or more of the paprika, the shallot, olives, tomatoes, capers, parsley, sugar and a good dose of black pepper. Allow this to marinate while you move on to your scallops.
- Bring 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil up to medium heat in a small heavy-bottomed skillet. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and sprinkle on both sides with salt, pepper and more of the paprika. Once the skillet is thoroughly heated, place the scallops in gently and resist the urge to touch them for about three minutes. Peek under one and, if it has some nice brown color, flip them all over and give them another three minutes or so. Remove the scallops, return the pan to the heat, add the white wine and stir, making sure to scrape up any crusty bits on the bottom. Reduce the wine to a couple of tablespoons.
- Lay your arugula on a plate, spoon the vinaigrette over the greens, place the scallops on top and drizzle them with the reduced wine.
This would be great with some crusty bread. Alas, I had none.
While en papilotte sounds fancy, it’s actually a great trick for crafting a quick and delicious meal for one (or more) with minimal mess. All you need is some parchment paper or, in a pinch, aluminum foil. Not being much of a baker, I’ve had the same box of parchment sitting in a kitchen drawer for years, ready for deployment on nights like tonight.
I spent the first half of my Monday frantically pulling together materials in preparation for an evening board meeting that was ultimately canceled. And so I find myself with an unexpectedly free night and a serious desire for solitude. On the way home I picked up a piece of salmon and some asparagus (hallelujah for green vegetables) to go with the ramps and fennel waiting in my refrigerator.
Salmon, Asparagus, Fennel & Ramps En Papillote
- 1/2 fennel bulb
- 8-10 asparagus stalks
- 3 ramps (or some thinly sliced shallots)
- 6-ounce salmon filet
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (ideally whole milk)
- splash of white wine
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper
- Pop a large cast iron skillet (or a baking sheet or dish of some sort) into the oven and set it to 400. Turn on the radio, strip off your work drag, pop open that bottle of Orvieto left by a dinner guest with excellent taste and pour yourself a glass.
- Lay a large piece of parchment on the kitchen counter. Rinse the fennel and then remove the stalks, reserving and finely chopping the fronds. Halve the bulb, core one half and then slice it as thinly as possible. Toss the sliced fennel onto one half of your parchment and pop the unsliced half into the fridge for a future use. Snap the woody ends off of the asparagus and layer the stalks on top of the fennel. Rinse the ramps, trim off the very tip, slice them in half lengthwise and lay them on top of the asparagus. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon zest. While pouring yourself a second glass of wine, give the vegetables a little splash.
- Rinse the salmon, feeling for and removing any remaining bones, and pat dry. Place the fish on top of the vegetables and add more salt, pepper and lemon zest. Spoon the yogurt on top and garnish with the fennel fronds and more lemon zest.
- Fold the parchment in half and begin folding the two halves together, making tight creases with your thumbnail as you would origami, until you are satisfied that it is reasonably airtight. Set this in the oven in your preheated pan and go about your business.
- After 17 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven. If you did a good job of folding, the paper will have puffed up. Tear this open like you would a present at your fifth birthday party and behold your dinner, swathed in headily scented steam.
This is a comically simple but deeply satisfying dish. At the end of it all, you are left with a cutting board to wipe down; a chef’s knife, microplane, dinner plate, knife, fork and spoon to wash; and another glass of wine to pour. Can somebody please remind me of this the next time I decide to host a dinner party for eight?
Well that was a long week. I saw visiting family off on Monday, delivered a performance/presentation in class on Tuesday, had major dental work on Wednesday, and turned in my final paper of the semester on Thursday–all while holding down my full-time job. I had high hopes of attending an event tonight, but exhaustion and misanthropy got the better of me. I did manage to swing by the Union Square Greenmarket on the way home. Agricultural reality continues to lag behind our culinary aspirations, but I was able to pick up more ramps and broccoli rabe, along with a couple of Bread Alone’s multigrain panini. I got off the mercifully uncrowded Q train at 7th Avenue and swung by Mermaid’s Garden, the newish fish shop in my neighborhood I’d been meaning to check out for months. I picked up a dozen littleneck clams, which I somehow thought would pair well with broccoli rabe, and a couple of pounds of Georgia shrimp, which went into the freezer for some future delight.
Steamed Clams & Broccoli Rabe
- 1 dozen littleneck clams
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe
- 1 ounce diced bacon ends (or 1 slice bacon or 1 tablespoon olive oil)
- 3 ramps and those 3 scallions that seem to have wilted in your veggie bin (Shallots, garlic and/or plain old yellow onion would also be fine.)
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 cup white wine
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper
- Drop the clams into a small bowl, top with water, and fix yourself a cocktail.
- Once you have finished your cocktail, fill a medium pot halfway with water, add a healthy pinch of salt, pop a lid on, and set it over high heat. While the water comes to a boil, fix yourself another cocktail. Roughly chop the broccoli rabe, toss it into the pot, and boil for two minutes or so until just softened but still toothsome. Strain into a colander and run some cold water over the top to stop the cooking process.
- Place the pot back on the burner, lower the heat to medium-low and toss in the bacon. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bacon has rendered. Chop the ramps and the green portion of the scallions and add these plus the red pepper flakes to your bacon. Cook for a few minutes.
- Crank the heat up to high and add some of that white wine that was questionably drinkable when you first opened it and is most definitely not drinkable after a month in the fridge. Fish the clams out of the water and drop them into the pot. Let boil, stirring a bit, until the clams start popping open (approximately five minutes). As they open, pull them to the top so as not to overcook.
- Thinly slice the whites of the scallions. When the clams have all opened, turn off the heat and stir in the blanched broccoli rabe along with the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
Dump this into a bowl and serve with some good quality bread to soak up the juices. A spoon might be helpful. But, if you happen to be dining alone, just lift the bowl up to your face. The cat will not be offended.
Spring is finally here in New York City. The birds are chirping. The trees are in bloom. My toenails are painted (and, more importantly, trimmed). And ramps have returned to the farmers market.
I’ve previously reported on the ramp craze. While some might argue that we have reached the tipping point, after a long winter of turnips, potatoes and more turnips, the sight of anything green is cause for celebration. Plus, ramps are damn tasty.
Asparagus & Ramp Remoulade
- 3 pounds asparagus
- 4 good quality eggs
- 1 large bunch ramps
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons Creole or other whole-grained mustard
- 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 celery stalk, finely minced
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
- 2 tablespoons finely minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika (or to taste)
- salt, pepper and (if you think it needs it) a pinch of sugar
- Blanch your asparagus in batches in a pot of boiling water. When the stalks are just tender but still al dente, plunge them into a large bowl of very cold ice water. (Do not skimp on the ice–even if it means that you will likely come up a bit short when it’s time to whip up a round of Sazeracs for the evening’s festivities.) Spread the asparagus on dish towels to dry. Then roll bunches in paper towels and stick in the refrigerator until just before serving.
- Boil the eggs. If you don’t have your own method, check out the technique I’ve been using since I was seven years old. It has yet to fail me.
- Now it’s time to prep the ramps. Rinse them thoroughly, giving them a soak if you see dirt in the folds, and trim the very tip. Bring the oil up to medium low heat in a cast iron skillet. Working in a couple of batches, place the ramps in the skillet so that the white parts are in the oil and the leaves are draped over the edge of the skillet. When one side has browned nicely, use the leaves as a handle to flip. When they’re nice and brown all over, shove them all the way in and allow the green portion to wilt and crisp up a bit. Sprinkle these with salt and set aside.
- Combine the rest of the ingredients and let chill for at least an hour.
- Just before serving, peel and roughly chop the eggs. Lay the asparagus onto a large serving platter and strew with the ramps. Spoon the remoulade over the top and then sprinkle on the chopped egg.
This dish made for a lovely presentation as a first course at last night’s dinner party for eight people. While I failed to get a picture of the beautifully arranged platter, I did manage to capture a shot of the leftovers right before I devoured them with my fingers while taking a break from doing the dishes.