If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.
~George W. Bush

Some foods naturally have genial, soulful connections. Think proscuitto and figs. Jocund flavors who jive…acid, tang, tart, sweet, pungent, bitter, twang, vim, pepper, fruit, earth…all meeting on one plate. This crisply textured and vibrant medley does not disappoint. A salad with spizzerinctum.

Endive, Cichorium endivia, is a slightly bitter, leafy vegetable which belongs to the daisy family and the chicory genus. One variety of endive, escarole, has broad, pale green leaves and tends to be less bitter than its curly cousin, frisée.

Should you complain about President Obama, lest we forget George “W.ar” Bush. In a parting shot at that Gallic crew who refused to support his ill conceived invasion and conquest of Iraq, the Bush administration imposed a 300% duty on Roquefort (Occitan: ròcafòrt) as one of his final acts in office. Designed as a tariff retaliation for an EU ban on imports of US beef containing hormones, the ever bellicose president decided to punish the thousands of people who herd select ewes in the harsh terrain of some 2,100 farms, all of whose livelihood entirely depended on Roquefort. Boy George and his wars on everyone and everything—from french fries to the Taliban. “(T)he answer is, bring ’em on”…one conflictual kid, even at the ripe age of 64.

As the quantity is minute, bring on your finest cold pressed, unfiltered, extra virgin olive oil.

RADICCHIO, ESCAROLE, PEAR, WALNUT & ROQUEFORT SALAD

1 C whole walnuts

Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
4 medium beets
Balsamic vinegar
Honey

1 Bosc pear, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 head of radicchio leaves, roughly torn
1 head curly escarole, cored and halved crosswise
Freshly ground pepper
1 C Roquefort cheese, crumbled

Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F

Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for a couple minutes, until fragrant. Let them cool, then coarsely chop.

Trim ends off beets, and rinse. Halve and then arrange them in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and lightly splash them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of honey, and cover dish tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes or so, depending on the size of the beets. When done, they should be firm, but a fork should slide in readily. Allow beets to cool uncovered, peel and slice into roughly hewn juliennes.

In a small bowl, toss the sliced pear with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. In a large bowl, toss the radicchio and escarole with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Mound the salad on plates and top with the beets, pears, walnuts and Roquefort. No need to salt as the Roquefort brings a salty tang to the mix. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

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Ripeness is all.
~William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act V, Scene II

Even setting flavors aside, this presents a brilliantly hued palette—reds, yellows, greens, white.

Avocados (Persea americana), also known as palta or aguacate in Spanish, are evergreen trees native to South and Central America which are classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae, joining cousins cinnamon and bay leaves.

The word “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl (“testicle”) which is a reference to the shape of the fruit. So, there is little wonder that the avocado has long been said to have aphrodisiacal qualities. The avocado is colloquially known as the Alligator Pear, reflecting its shape and leathery skin.

While there a number of varieties of this fruit, the creamy, rich Hass cultivar, grown in California, makes up over 75% of the nationwide avocado crop. Their edible yellow-green flesh has the consistency of butter, and a subtle, nutty flavor. They are about the size of a pear and have pebbly brown-black-green skin when ripe.

Nutritionally, avocados are a robust source of vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate copper and potassium. Avocados contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that helps reduce cholesterol levels. They also greatly enhance your body’s ability to absorb those prized carotenoids that vegetables provide.

Lest I forget…tomorrow in the Tour, a deceptively difficult stage in the Vosges from the spa town of Vittel to the Alsatian wine capital of Colmar.

AVOCADO & BEETS WITH CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

3 medium red beets
3 medium golden beets
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

1 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Endive or arugula

2 firm ripe avocados

Good quality fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 F

Trim ends off beets, and rinse. Arrange them in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and lightly splash them with red wine vinegar and olive oil, and cover tightly with foil. Roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the beets. Allow beets to cool uncovered, then peel, slice into rounds and then halve the rounds.

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, and shallot. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. While whisking, season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Toss the beets gently with the vinaigrette and arrange them on a plate with some endive or aurugula with the sliced avocado garnish with crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Remember: dress lightly.

Pourboire: Avocados do not ripen on the tree, but only after they have been harvested. Ripen them for a few days before use, by putting them in a brown paper bag at room temperature, until there is some yield to a gentle touch. To hasten ripening, add an apple or tomato to the bag. A ripe, ready to eat avocado is slightly soft but should have no dark sunken spots or cracks.

Never refrigerate unripened avocados because they will not ripen in cold temperatures. Once ripe, keep them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. But leaving them an extended time in the refrigerator will cause them to darken and lose their flavor.

To cut, grip the avocado on one side with one hand. With a large, sharp chef’s knife, cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed. Gently twist the two halves in opposite directions to expose the pit. Fold up a kitchen towel and use that to hold the avocado half with the pit. Firmly, yet gently tap the pit with a knife with enough force so that the knife edge wedges into the pit, but not so hard as to cut all the way through it. With the edge of the knife, twist the pit out of the avocado and discard.

Now, either scoop out the avocado flesh whole with a spoon and slice, or slice the avocado into segments. Gently make length long slices in the avocado flesh. Then use a spoon to scoop out the sliced avocado segments.

Beets & Radicchio

April 17, 2009

An appeasing and colorful aside to pizza…served on endive boats, you can jettison flatware entirely.

Despite our Fearless Leader’s aversion to them, beautifully hued beets boast a subtle, earthy flavor and are supremely nutritious. With the scientific name of Beta vulgaris, they are vegetables from the amaranth family which has been cultivated for some 4,000 years. Beets are herbaceous biennial plants with stems growing to 2-6 feet tall bearing nearly heart shaped leaves. They belong to the same family as swiss chard and spinach.

Beyond their divine flavor and ruby tint, beets are quite the health food—loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. (By the way, besides the deep red variety, there are beautiful golden beets, and pink and white striated Chioggia beets.) The greens have a higher content of iron compared to spinach. They are also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, sodium and iron.

So far, of the 55 varieties of vegetables in the new White House garden, beets have yet to make the grade. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama will convert.

The time to buy beets is June through October, when they are most tender. Look for unblemished bulbs with sturdy, unwilted greens.

Radicchio is a zesty and spicy leaf chicory which has been relished since ancient times. Consider using radicchio on the grill as it mellows with heat.

BEETS & RADICCHIO

2 pounds medium red beets, scrubbed, ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, to toss
Red wine vinegar, to toss
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled, minced and mashed to a paste
1/2 C red wine vinegar
2 C extra virgin olive oil
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
1 head radicchio, cored and roughly cut
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 C fresh beet leaves, chopped
4 ozs fresh firm goat cheese, roughly cut into cubes
2/3 C pine nuts, toasted

2 heads endive leaves, cleaned

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line an adequately sized baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in a the dish and cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Slip off skins. Transfer to a small bowl and cool. Cut into thin half moons by cutting across transversely and then vertically.

In a small bowl, whisk together with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar with the mashed garlic and tarragon. In a narrow stream, add 2 cup olive oil to emulsify, making a vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separately toss beets and endive leaves with vinaigrette to coat. Set both aside. In an open bowl, combine radicchio, parsley and beet leaves. Toss with vinaigrette so it is gently dressed. Add beets, goat cheese, pine nutes and toss gently. Serve on open endive leaves. If additional vinaigrette is needed, very sparingly drizzle over the top.

This is a culinary ode to St. Barts—that emerald, beach fringed French isle in the Caribbean with its luxurious villas, sophisticated bistros, stunning vistas, harrowing runway, and oil coated nude bodies. Here, you bide the time reclined, barefooted, scantily clad, discussing dinner during a lunch overlooking the azure sea framed by a cobalt sky with the always present puffy white clouds…with multilingual banter and the clink of wine glasses… did I forget to mention bathed in ocean breezes with your toes in the sand?

Anthony Bourdain is right on when he says food just tastes better in naked feet.

In a diplomatic master stroke with undoubtedly some collusin involved, France purchased St. Barthélemy from Sweden in 1878. Some Swedish influences remain, including the name of the its quaint capital port, Gustavia, and the blonde haired, blue eyed populus. But now, the island is part of the overseas département of Guadeloupe, and the French savoir faire exudes.

The goat cheese salad is pervasive at the local restaurants, with good cause. But, perhaps to satisfy that darker and wilder urge for offal, I admit to daily ordering the boudin noir and fabulous frites (blood sausage and fries).

Bon appetit chef Sonja Lee (formerly of St. Barts, now in Oslo)

GOAT CHEESE SALALD

2 C fresh baguette breadcrumbs
2 T fresh thyme, minced or 2 teaspoons, dried
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 sliced rounds of soft good quality fresh goat cheese
2 eggs, beaten

2+ T plus champagne vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil
3 T walnut oil
8 C mixed baby greens or mesculun
2 heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices

1/2 C chopped walnuts

Create two separate open dishes, one with breadcrumbs and the other with beaten eggs. Season goat cheese with salt, pepper and thyme. Dip cheese into beaten egg, then into breadcrumbs, coating completely.

Whisk vinegar and mustard in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine mixed greens, Belgian endive and pears in large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts and sauté until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium. Working in batches, add coated cheese rounds to skillet and cook until crisp and brown on outside and soft on inside, about 2 minutes per side.

Toss salad with enough dressing to coat. Divide among 4 plates. Arrange 2 cheese rounds in center of each salad. Sprinkle with walnuts.