Mesclun, Berries & Feta

June 28, 2010

My salad days—When I was green in judgment.
~William Shakespeare

Blithe, lithe designer greens.

Mesclun is a diverse blend of young, dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence. The traditional amalgam included precise proportions of wild chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive. Modern iterations may fuse spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, chicory, mustard greens, endive, fennel, dandelion, frisée, mizuna, mâche, purslane, radicchio, sorrel, and even edible flowers. A treat for the eye, mesclun touches upon varied tastes and textures: bitter, sweet, tangy, crunchy and silky. When tart blueberries, brisk feta cheese and nuts are added to the mix, the medley becomes nearly symphonic.

Mesclun derives from the Provençal words mesclom or mesclumo, which are rooted from misculare, a Latin word meaning “to mix.”

MESCLUN, BLUBERRIES, FETA & HAZELNUTS WITH CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

1/2 C hazelnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
Large bunch of mesclun (about 12 C loosely packed)
1 C fresh blueberries
1 C Greek or French feta cheese, crumbled

Champagne vinaigrette

In a large wooden bowl, gently toss greens with champagne vinaigrette, hazelnuts and blueberries. The vinaigrette is meant to lightly coat, not drench the mesclun. Arrange on plates, and top with crumbled feta.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens you are serving.

Pourboire: You are the maestro here as always, so freely substitute other toasted nuts such as almonds, pine nuts, walnuts and create any olio of available greens or differing vinaigrettes.

Advertisements

“Fragrant and summer-savory, roasted tomatoes are a sometimes underused sumptuous accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats, in pastas and soups, on pizzas, sandwiches, bruschettas or crostinis. The tomatoes caramelize in both versions to a certain sweetness. To life’s simple pleasures.”

(Shame on me—reached for the can. Was that tra-la-la-la-la or what? What was portrayed in that blurb was not inaccurate, but it seemed to clang like a clumsy TV jingle. A sign of sloth?…a memento to the Heidi-in-the-meadows like palaver found in too many cooking manuals including this one? Probably just a bad habit. Not that the expectations are lofty, literary or poetic. But, in this milieu, sometimes it is difficult to shed triteness when simple food speaks aloud. Food writing is about the interplay, ratios, and balances of the scents, flavors and textures of damn good food…but it is ironically displayed in two dimensional words. Is it more about cultures? history? regions? geography? clans? techniques? Why is the superficial layer chosen too often? Or is just that bone deep comfort which is mired in the sheer simplicity of ingredients, imagination and creation that we crave in cooking which does not demand elegant prose? I have my doubts and insecurities.)

SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES

Fresh local cherry or grape tomatoes, halved horizontally
Plump fresh garlic head, halved horizontallly
Extra virgin olive oil
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 250 F

Arrange tomatoes and garlic halves on a parchment or aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in the oven until slightly shriveled and wrinkly on the outside and juicy on the inside, about three hours. The time will vary depending on tomato size and ripeness.

Serve immediately or let them cool, drizzle with some more olive oil and refrigerate in a shallow covered bowl.

PROVENCAL ROAST TOMATOES

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
8 firm fresh local heirloom tomatoes, seeded and halved horizontally

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Herbes de Provence
Fresh parsley, chopped finely
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 400 F

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. When shimmering, add the tomatoes, cut side down. Do not crowd, so you may have to cook in batches. Sear the tomatoes until browned, almost caramelized, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cook remaining tomatoes in the same fashion. Transfer the tomatoes, cooked side up, to a large baking dish. Pour the juices from the skillet over the tomatoes evenly, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the Herbes de Provence, parsley and garlic.

Place the baking dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, until browned on top and sizzling, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano.

The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven, I can scarcely expect bread.
~Thomas Jefferson

From the magical, luminous lands of Provence in southern France comes Tapenade, a prized olive based condiment…served simply with vegetables, fish, meat, eggs or on crostini or bruschetta. On a pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, tapenade reaches new heights. The paste must be made more by taste than exact ingredients in a way that the flavors are balanced and kindly commingle in an egalitarian way.

TAPENADE

2 C French brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets, preferably salt packed (optional, but recommended)
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

If the anchovies are salt packed, let them stand in a bowl of milk for 15 minutes to exude the salt. Then, drain thoroughly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic, cognac and thyme. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

TAPENADE VINAIGRETTE

4 T tapenade
2 t dijon mustard
2 fresh plump garlics, crushed gently
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
2 T sherry vinegar

1 C extra virgin olive oil

Gently whisk together tapenade, dijon, garlic, salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar. Whisking further and much more vigoursly, slowly add olive oil to form an emulsion.

What garlic is to food, insanity is to art
~Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Aïoli, that luscious garlic mayonnaise, is a Provençal staple which enjoys almost boundless applications…gracing soups, adorning shellfish, awakening vegetables, accompanying grilled meats and spread on sandwiches. Here are three variations on a theme listed in no order of preference.

For optimal results, have all ingredients at room temperature for each recipe.

Aïoli I

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 C extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Mash the garlic and salt together with a pestle in a warm mortar, forming a smooth paste.

Add the egg yolks and stir to thoroughly blend the garlic and yolks. Continue stirring and gradually add a few drops of the oil. Whisk until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. As soon as the mixture begins to thicken, while whisking vigorously, add the remaining oil in a slow, steady, thin stream.

Taste for seasoning, transfer to bowl and refrigerate.

Aïoli II

2 large egg yolks, room temperature
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced then smashed to a paste with a pinch of sea salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 T Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 C canola oil
½ C extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or to desired consistency)
Sea salt to taste

A silkier version. Drop the egg yolks in a mixing bowl, then whisk in the garlic, lemon juice, mustard and cayenne. Slowly, gradually whisk in the combined canola and olive oils, first drop by drop and then in a slow, steady, thin stream. When the oils are incorporated, whisk in the cream.

Season with salt, cover and refrigerate.

Aïoli III

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T fresh lemon juice
3 T Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, room temperature

2 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the garlic, lemon juice, mustard and egg in a blender and blend until smooth, between 1 to 2 minutes. With the blender still running, slowly pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady thin stream until the sauce begins to thicken. Take care not to add too much oil in the beginning as the aïoli will not emulsify. The aïoli should be the consistency of a smooth, creamy mayonnaise.

Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

Rouille

For a spicy variation on each of the recipes above, just before you slowly pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady, thin stream, add:

1/2 t saffron threads
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t tomato paste

Then complete the remainder of the recipe.