This weekend we had my cousin Dana (quite a talented jewelry-maker – check out her Etsy site) over for dinner and a sleep-over with the kids while my wife was out of town on business. Since she had some errands to run in Manhattan, we weren’t entirely sure when she’d make it over, so I popped a pot of water onto the stove to get to a boil and decided to make something that could be thrown together last-minute. Last week we got some lovely nectarines in our CSA fruit share and I thought savory and sweet/tart go so very well together…
I had no real intention of posting about this salad. Really, I didn’t. But when I needed a dish to bring to a potluck end-of-the-schoolyear party I threw this together. I’m not sure any of the kids tried it, but the adults loved it and I got several requests for the recipe. So I guess it is worth posting after all.
I don’t usually post side dishes. Most of the food featured here tends to be the main course. This time, however, I decided to deviate from the norm (whatever that means for me) and write about what we had with the grilled chicken. Originally I was just going to make a salad with chicken over it as we got a LOT of lettuce this week in our CSA box. But we also got some early carrots and fennel. Now I’m not the biggest fennel fan, but using the carrots’s sweetness and the tartness of an orange and olive oil dressing to offset the anise flavor that can really overpower a dish… well… it works for me.
So beets have returned… which is good. Why? Because beets are very good friends with steak… which is even better. I’d never cooked a hanger steak before, but considering the results, I would have to say that a repeat performance will certainly be in order. It is a surprisingly quick cook on the grill considering the musculature and you end up with a meltingly delicious steak for less than a lot of pricier cuts. The meaty goodness of steak combined with the interesting juxtaposition of sweet and savory that is beets along with the creaminess of goat cheese and the satisfying crunch of romaine lettuce all balanced with a tangy vinaigrette made for a lovely dinner indeed.
A roasted beet is a lovely thing. A little sweet, meaty, and, well… red. Or orange, if that’s the way you roll. Certainly the taste isn’t all that different. They’re very easy to prepare, these lovely things, and can be used in a lot of different applications. I like to chill and cut them into “rustic” chunks and toss them in salads with, oh, let’s say toasted walnuts and goat cheese… or orange sections — that’d be good. Or you could slice them up and serve with steak. Beef loves a good beet. You could also pickle them, make borsht, or just serve with dill, sour cream and some potato pancakes (though the sour cream would turn pink). The one down side, and, believe me, there is only one, is that your hands, cutting board, shirt — anything that comes in contact with them will stain. Its just something you have to deal with. And it is worth it. If you’ve got an hour or so where you can just be around the house it is something that mostly takes care of itself. Just don’t fold your whites directly after you are done.
Unless you really like pink.
Today starts our CSA share. CSA, for those who don’t know, stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It means that at the beginning of the year you buy into a share in a farm’s harvest and then get a box of produce every week during that year’s harvest. You also have to work a little. In our CSA, you volunteer to work for the organization by helping out on the distribution end in some way, whether it be by manning the distribution center from time to time to transporting any leftovers to charitable organizations to any number of jobs. Part of the fun is that you really never know what you’ll get until it is posted online by the farm itself – in the case of the vegetables and some fruit, Golden Earthworm Organic Farm out in Jamesport, Long Island. The rest of our fruit share comes from Briarmere Farms in Riverhead. We’ve been a member of the Forest Hills CSA for three years now and absolutely love it. In this post and many to follow I’ll be writing about what we get and what I’ve done with it. It can be a wonderful challenge and sometimes you get to try things you’d have never tried if you were just walking through the produce section of your supermarket. It is awfully fun and it is great to know you are eating some of the very best food around.
The first thing I made with our haul this week was a recipe I found online that was a variation on a standard French child’s after-school snack. Breakfast radishes on toast with sweet cream butter and salt. Now as lovely as that is… the recipe that follows turned out to be a really nice variation.
I was considering crowd-sourcing one part of this one. I was a little conflicted as to which cured pork product I wanted to include in the salad to serve as a counterpoint to the sweetness of many of the ingredients. I enjoy making salads with fruit in them, whether they be fresh or dried doesn’t matter. Fruit in a salad can lend a bit of a surprise to what is usually a very savory dish with a hint of acidity and maybe some sweetness from the dressing. In this case, I decided to use a few fresh berries I had around but I also wanted to bring back some of the savoriness by adding either bacon (in this case, an applewood smoked) or proscuitto. I was considering the former because it would keep it sweet and the later because it would compliment the balsamic vinaigrette I was planning on dressing it with. Either way would have been fine and if you’d like to make this one with the one I didn’t use (proscuitto)… please let me know how it came out.
On Monday, my sons Ian (5), Tyler (8 months) and I went to Costco to pick up diapers and other assorted bulk items. While traveling through the produce section (for onions), Ian noticed a bag of asparagus. Since he loves asparagus he requested we pick it up. This event, along with the lovely spring weather (finally!) and the hard boiled eggs left-over from Easter, inspired this salad.
Here’s the thing: anyone who owns a whisk and a large bowl is fully capable of creating a simple vinaigrette. I’ve not bought a bottled salad dressing (outside of a ranch for dipping vegetables in for a school party) in probably 5 years – maybe longer. It just isn’t necessary. All you need is a good assortment of vinegars, a jar of dijon mustard, salt, black pepper and a good extra virgin olive oil. I happen to like California olive oils, but that’s just personal opinion. Just make sure it is a good green fruity one. You could get fancy by adding fresh herbs if you happen to have any in the house – heck, dried works, too. Shallots are lovely as well, but most people don’t even know what they are. Anyway, building a proper vinaigrette is more of a procedure than a recipe.