Tue 28 Apr 2009
Last time we worked on a “Favorite Five” with Counter Intelligence’s Melissa McCart, I ended up chasing yuzu all over the metro area before finding the juice at Hana Market. This time, thankfully, our mission involved a list of ingredients that would make even the most ardent locavore smile. The biggest challenge would be showing off the wonderful spring flavors to their best advantages.
When Melissa emailed us the list of ingredients that chef Barry Koslow of Tallula selected, we knew we wanted to participate again. Koslow’s five were a veritable all-star list of the early spring farmer’s market:
3. Spring Lamb
5. Fava Beans
Since we’d been eagerly awaiting most of these ingredients ourselves, it would be super-easy to work them into a dinner for the challenge.
As it turns out, three of the ingredients on the list – ramps, morels and asparagus – figure prominently in “Think Like a Chef,” Tom Colicchio’s cookbook that has yet to steer me wrong. They are a “trilogy” whose flavors and seasonality naturally complement one another. Colicchio provides several recipes that make use of this interplay, and I’ve been eager for the opportunity to try one of his more ambitious recipes as the second in my series of Restaurant Quality Dishes that I’m attempting as my Foodie Resolution for the year.
My efforts at asparagus soup with morel custard, fava bean and pecorino salad with prosciutto, and broiled lamb loin chops after the jump.
Armed with all of the necessary ingredients, I steeled myself for some serious cooking. This meal would require me to prepare three dishes nearly simultaneously, and the seven steps in the soup recipe alone could easily be subdivided into something close to thirty steps. But I was up to the challenge.
The first step in the process was to make the morel custard. Following Colicchio’s instructions to the letter, I preheated my oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s as far as I got before I had to improvise. Lacking eight 2-ounce ramekins, I opted to spray four of our creme brulee ramekins (thank you, wedding registry!) and use them instead. I heated 2 tablespoons peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat and then threw in 1/4 pound coarsely chopped morels, 2 minced ramps (white parts only), salt and fresh ground pepper for about 5 minutes. When everything had softened nicely, I added 1 cup heavy cream and allowed the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes.
After ten minutes, I pulled the cream mixture from the heat and strained it through a fine-meshed sieve, making sure to set the morels and ramps aside. Letting the cream cool for about 8 minutes, I beat one egg and one egg yolk together before adding them into the strained cream. Believe it or not, that’s pretty much all it takes to make a custard. I mixed the liquid ingredients together, added a little bit of kosher salt, and then spooned most of the reserved morels and ramps back in.
When the custard had been divided among the four ramekins (I guess they were four ounces each, since that’s all mixture I had), I placed them into a baking dish and poured boiling water around them so that it filled the dish about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. The whole arrangement – custard, ramekins, water bath – went into the oven covered with aluminum foil to bake for 25 minutes.
Because there were so many moving parts to the meal, this didn’t mean I got a chance to sit back and relax. I immediately turned my attention to the asparagus soup and the fava beans for the salad. I chopped up 2 1/2 pounds of asparagus (fresh from the farmers’ market, purple and green), separating the tips from the stems. The stems went into a saucepan with one tablespoon peanut oil, where they cooked for about 5 minutes. At that point I added 2 1/4 cups of chicken stock and brought the mixture to a boil. Then I let it simmer for 15 minutes, at which point the broth had a decidedly asparagus-like aroma and taste. I strained the stock and pitched the dull, softened stems.
Adding a second tablespoonful of peanut oil into the same saucepan, I brought it back up to medium heat and added 2 minced shallots, the white part of 1 small leek (finely chopped), and some salt and pepper. Cooking them for only a minute or two, I added the asparagus tips and the chopped white parts from 1/4 pound of ramps. The whole assemblage cooked for another 8-10 minutes before I poured the infused stock into the mixture. Five more minutes’ cooking time yielded soft but still bright green asparagus tips. I pulled the soup from the heat and added 1/4 cup heavy cream.
The contents of the saucepan went into the blender (too much liquid for the food processor, I thought) until it was pretty finely pureed. Then I strained it through our sieve, pressing the solids into the sides until all of the pale green liquid had drained out.
To plate the soup, I removed the morel custard from a ramekin and placed it at the center of a bowl. I surrounded the custard, which had cooled nicely and separated easily from its container, with some assorted chopped herbs (we used tarragon and chives) and ladled in enough soup to cover most of the custard.
While all this was going on, I worked on composing the fava bean and pecorino salad – thankfully an exercise in plating more than actual cooking. I shelled and boiled 1 1/2 pounds of fava beans for about five minutes. Draining and rinsing the beans, I found it far easier to remove their outer skins than when we peeled them by hand last year. The beans were a vibrant green, screaming springtime in a way that made me smile as I flew from task to task. I chopped 5 tablespoons of walnuts and broke out my favorite kitchen gadget – my mandoline slicer – to thinly cut about a half-inch worth of daikon radish. I placed two slices of prosciutto di Parma onto each plate, topped it with some daikon slices and a portion of the fava beans, and added some chopped sage and fresh chives. Using a vegetable peeler, I sliced some long strips of pecorino romano cheese to decorate the top of the salad and then dressed it with fresh lemon juice, walnut oil and fresh ground pepper.
The final piece of the dinner puzzle was the spring lamb, courtesy of Bev Eggleston at Eco-Friendly Foods. We knew that the lamb loin chops we purchased would have a great flavor on their own, so we stayed out of their way. Some salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and they went under the broiler for about 4-5 minutes per side. After turning them once at the halfway point, the chops came out a beautiful medium-rare. And - as expected – they tasted rich and meaty. Elizabeth even swore she could taste some grassy notes that reflected the animal’s upbringing.
Was it a complicated meal? No doubt. But the combination of the great ingredients and the chef-quality recipes made me eager to tackle it. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. With the exception of a slightly oversalted broth, this meal was an absolute home run. It was a great feeling to deliver a pair of plates to the table that looked like they could have come out of a restaurant kitchen and to know that I had made them – almost exclusively from ingredients purchased at the farmers’ market, no less.
Once again, we owe a great deal of thanks to Melissa McCart of Counter Intelligence for including us in her “Favorite Fives” project, and to Chef Barry Koslow of Tallula for suggesting such an alluring, spring-inflected list of favorites.
Have you cooked from Colicchio’s book yourself? If so, how did it turn out? If you decide to take on the morel custard and asparagus soup, we’d love to hear how it goes for you.