Posts tagged ‘spring’

Spring-y Saffron Chicken and Snap Peas

I am aware that this post is coming late: spring has long since sprung.  Morels, fava beans, and ramps – the heralds of the season in New England – have populated and then disappeared from the market shelves, making room for the first husks of sweet corn and mounds of heirloom tomatoes.  Nevertheless, I decided last night to peruse the “Spring” chapter of one of my favorite cookbooks with the aim of giving May a proper (though belated) send-off.

Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques is a truly wonderful volume for any cook who loves to entertain.  The recipes are elegant and intensely flavorful, though never overly complicated.  Their simplicity is juxtaposed brilliantly with their originality – I often ask myself, “why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?”  As an example, the meal I made last night involved thinly slicing sugar snap peas on the bias and sauteeing them quickly with onions and thyme, finished with saffron butter and lemon juice.  Surely, one need not prepare the snap peas this way to enjoy the delicious flavor combination, but I loved the way the peas separated from the pod, creating a varied texture and a far more interesting visual on the plate than the standard whole pod.

Another lovely feature of this cookbook is that it is organized around full meals.  For each season, Goin provides eight 4-course menus, including dessert.  I have had great luck cooking her recipes — her instructions are very clear and concise, and she always notes when some aspect of the meal can be done ahead.  Last night, I made just one course although it had three components: Saffron Chicken with Parmesan Pudding, Spring Onions, and Sugar Snap Peas.  RJ and I raved about the layered flavors of the chicken breasts, and I could not get enough of the green vegetables.  After an initially lukewarm reaction to the texture of the parmesan pudding, both of us came around to appreciating its subtlety when paired with the zesty chicken.  Only two things would have improved this meal: first, we should have listened to Suzanne Goin and used skin-on chicken breasts.  We missed the crispy goodness!  Second, in making this again I will definitely whip up a quick pan sauce to accompany the protein – why waste all those rich drippings?

Saffron Chicken, Spring Onions, and Sugar Snap Peas
Serves 6

1/2 tsp. saffron threads
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, separated
6 boneless chicken breasts, about 5 oz. each, skin on!
1 Tbs. thyme leaves, separated
2 Tbs. sliced flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested
3/4 lb. sugar snap peas, sliced on the diagonal into 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 c. sliced spring onions plus 1/2 c. sliced spring onion tops
4 oz. pea shoots

Toast the saffron in a small pan over medium heat until it just dries and becomes brittle. Pound the saffron to a fine powder in a mortar. Dab a tablespoon of the softened butter into the saffron powder, using the butter to scoop up about half the powder. Set aside.

Stir 4 tablespoons olive oil into the mortar, scraping with a rubber spatula to incorporate all of the saffron powder. Mix with 2 teaspoons of the thyme leaves, all of the parsley, and the lemon zest. Pour this into a large ziplock bag with the chicken breasts, coating the chicken well. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil and wait a minute. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the pan (you might need to cook the chicken in batches). Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the skin is crispy and golden brown. Turn the breasts over, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook them a few more minutes, until just cooked through and springy to the touch. Transfer the chicken to a resting rack.

Return the pan to the stove over medium heat for a minute. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and when it foams, add the sliced spring onions, sugar snap peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and the remaining teaspoon of thyme. Cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes stirring, until the onions are translucent. Add the saffron butter and 1 tablespoon water. Swirl the pan, and when the liquid comes to a simmer, toss in the pea shoots and onion tops. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and squeeze a little lemon juice over the vegetables. Taste for seasoning.

Arrange the chicken on a large warm platter and spoon the vegetables over it. Serve with the hot parmesan pudding.

Parmesan Pudding
(obviously this part of the meal is not gluten free)

3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. whole milk
2/3 c. heavy cream
1 extra-large egg
1 extra-large egg yolk
1 1/4 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat a medium pot over medium heat for 1 minute.  Add the butter; when it foams, whisk in the flour, 1 Tbs. at a time, and cook for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown.  Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate it.  The butter and flour will seize up and get pasty at first.  Continue whisking vigorously as you add the liquid, and the mixture will become smooth.  Cook a few more minutes, until warm to the touch.  Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the egg and egg yolk together in a small bowl.  Slowly drizzle the eggs into the cream mixture, whisking continuously until combined.  Stir in the cheese, and season with a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Pour the mixture into a 8×6 inch (or equivalent) baking dish, and cover tightly with foil. [I used individual ramekins instead, and cut the cooking time to 40-45 minutes which seemed to do the trick!]  Place the baking dish in a roasting pan, and add hot water to the pan until it comes halfway up the outside of the custard dish.  Place the pan in the oven and bake about 1 hour, until the pudding is just set.

(You can make and bake the pudding ahead of time and refrigerate it, covered.  Bring it to room temperature about an hour before serving, and rewarm it in a 400 degree F oven, 15-20 minutes, uncovered, until it’s hot and begins to brown slightly around the edges.)

June 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm 4 comments

Zucchini-Tomato Gratin

Tomato & Zucchini Vegetable Gratin

Well, she’s got another winner.  I am so very glad that I instituted the “Cookbook Challenge” um, for myself, because before this week I hadn’t picked up Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook in many, many years except to hunt down restaurant recommendations.  What a great resource it is!  Despite its major failing, the utter lack of food porn, each of the three recipes I made this week has been absolutely delicious.  From the earthy, layered flavors of the lentil salad to the creamy texture of the cheesy polenta to this newest revelation – a bright, fresh-tasting gratin – Patricia Wells has not disappointed me yet.

gratin-1

When I generally think of gratins, my mind’s eye sees a heavy spoonful of stacked sliced potatoes oozing cream and dragging strings of elastic cheese from the serving dish.  It is a lovely picture, indeed, yet the subject of today’s post is rather the opposite in terms of the key words “heavy”, “oozing”, and “cream”.  Thankfully, the cheese remains, standing alone as it were, to defend the moniker “gratin”.

gratin-2

The internet reveals a bit of a controversy over the exact definition of a gratin.  Some define the term as “A top crust consisting of browned crumbs and butter, often with grated cheese”, and others deny the primacy of the bread crumbs, defining au gratin as “any dish having a lightly browned, crisp crust on top, esp. one topped with bread crumbs or grated cheese and broiled briefly.”  About.com gives an explanation for the discrepancy: “In English, au gratin usually means ‘with cheese,’ whereas in French it’s more like ‘baked dish with crusty top.'”  Anecdotal evidence on the same site verifies that this crust may be composed of any number of alchemic reactions: “According a French friend of mine, le gratin dauphinois, aka pommes de terre dauphinoises, should never include cheese. The real thing is made with potatoes baked in a simple béchamel sauce or a mix of milk and cream which cooks away and leaves the impression of a kind of cheesy sauce.”

gratin-3Whatever your definition of gratin, I would argue that cheese-on-top is never a bad call.  This dish uses Parmigiano-Reggiano to create a bubbling, browned surface layer that belies the vibrant, clean flavors beneath.  Since Patricia is such a stickler for “very good” and “fresh” and “the best you can find” ingredients throughout her book, I felt it would be a failure to do anything less than OBEY on this first Cookbook Challenge.  Thus, I used day-old sourdough bread from a local bakery, San Marzano canned tomatoes, and authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano from my favorite cheese shop.  I can’t tell you if it made a difference, since I’ll never make it any other way – this was really really good.  I’ll also never look at the word ‘gratin’ with such a narrow mind – it seems that the possibilities for layering, binding, and topping this shallow-dish creation are truly infinite.  Just don’t forget the crust…

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Richard-Lenoir Market Zucchini-Tomato Gratin, from Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook
(4 Servings)

1/3 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1 lb. small fresh zucchini, scrubbed and cut into thin rounds
fine sea salt to taste
12 zucchini blossoms (optional)
2 c. Tomato Sauce (see below recipe)
1 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a 1-quart gratin dish, layer half of the bread crumbs, half of the zucchini, a fine sprinkling of sea salt, half of the zucchini blossoms, if using, and half of the tomato sauce. Continue with the remaining bread crumbs, half of the cheese, the remaining zucchini, a fine sprinkling of sea salt, the remaining blossoms, if using, the remaining tomato sauce and the remaining cheese.

Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake until the gratin is bubbling and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

gratin-9

Tomato Sauce (makes 3 cups)

4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and minced
sea salt to taste
Two 28-oz. cans peeled tomatoes in their juice
1 bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley, several bay leaves, and several celery leaves, tied in a bundle with cotton string

In a large skillet, heat the oil, onions, garlic, and salt over moderate heat. Cook just until the onions are soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Place a food mill over the skillet and puree the tomatoes directly into the pan. Add the bouquet garni and stir to blend. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. The sauce may be used immediately, stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

April 30, 2009 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment


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