Saturday, March 29, 2014

prosciutto and cheese salad


    The weather may not exactly be cooperating, but I'm feeling in a spring mood already. This dish is just the kind of thing to get me excited to the coming bounty. Green vegetables are one of the first crops to peak as the warmer weather rolls around, and this light salad is a perfect way to celebrate. Crisp asparagus, snow peas and green beans bring a nice fresh flavour, and the Seranno ham & Louis D'Or cheese add a nice richness to the dish.

    You could serve this salad cold, or even room temperature, but I like it best served just a little warm. After a quick flash in a pan with some good olive oil, the green vegetable take on the perfect tender/crisp texture and the warmth from the greens is just enough to soften the ham and melt the cheese a little bit. A touch of warmth also wakens up all the flavours, especially in the ham & cheese. 

         For the dressing I use just olive oil and vinegar, so it's important that you use good quality ones. When buying olive oil, it's good to pick up two different kinds: one cheaper one to use for cooking and one smaller bottle of  high-end olive oil for garnishing dishes. In the restaurant we refer to our premium oils as "finishing oils" because we only use the expensive stuff to pour over finished dishes. I used a great olive oil from Crete that my brother gave me. You can use any kind you like. There are lots of great olive oils out there to discover.   

        The ham that I used is Serrano, which is a Spanish ham, very similar to prosciutto. I like it's rich flavour, but you could just as easily use Italian prosciutto here. For the cheese I chose Louis D'Or from Quebec. It's a strong, firm cheese, similar to Gruyere.         


Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Ingredients:

300g thinly sliced Serrano ham
300g Lois D'Or or Gruyere cheese
1 bunch asparagus
100g snow peas
100g green beans
1 cup cipollini oinons, peeled & quartered
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
100ml extra virgin olive oil
50 ml red wine vinegar
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper 

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. prepare a large bowl of ice water for chilling the vegetables. Blanch the vegetable for until just tender, about one minute. Transfer the blanched vegetables to the ice water to stop the cooking. All 3 vegetables should take about the same amount of time to cook, but it is best to do each one individually, allowing the water to come back to a boil each time.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and sautee the onions until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the green vegetables and saute until just warmed through, about 2 minutes. Season with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. 

3. Divide the vegetables among 4 plates. Garnish with Serrano ham. Use a vegetable peeler to grate thin slices of cheese over the salad. Garnish with green onions. 








Monday, March 24, 2014

Pepper crusted tuna


   Spring sure is taking it's time getting here, but thanks to some nearby greenhouses, some local greens are already starting to arrive in Quebec markets. I got my hands on some great red oak lettuce, still in the earth that it was grown in, and based this whole dish around showcasing that great product. The leaves were so tender and juicy that I thought they would stand up great to a quick sauteing. Most people aren't used to serving lettuce warm, but a quick dip in a hot pan with some melted butter really brings out the flavour in the red oak leaves. 

        The other accompaniment that I use for my seared tuna is the red carrot puree that I posted the recipe for last week. This is a perfect early spring dish, because the carrot puree has some of the richness that we all love about winter food, while the warm sauteed lettuce give us a hint of what's to come with the warmer weather. 


Prep time: 5 minutes (+25 minutes to make the carrot puree) cook time: 5 minutes. Make 6 appetizer portions 

Ingredients:

500g sushi grade tuna
1/4 cup black peppercorns
2 small or 1 large head of red oak leaf lettuce
2 tablespoons butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt 
radish sprouts (optional)
2 cups red carrot puree  

1. Use a coffee grinder to crush the black peppercorns with a few quick pulses. Alternately, you can use the bottom of a small pot to crush the peppercorns by hand. Spread the crushed peppercorns on a cutting board, generously season the tuna with sea salt and then press each side down into the peppercorns. 


2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a hot cast iron pan until it just starts to smoke. Add the tuna and quickly brown it on each side, about 1 minute per side. Let rest at room temperature while you sautee the lettuce & warm the carrot puree.  

3. Separate the leaves of the red oak lettuce, then wash & dry them. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon water in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the lettuce and sautee until just wilted, about 1 minute. Season with salt & pepper, drain off any excess water and pat dry with paper towel.  

4. Warm the red carrot puree and spread about 1/2 cup on each plate. Place a small pile of sauteed lettuce in the center of the plate. Use a very sharp knife to slice the tuna and place a few slices on top of the lettuce. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some radish sprouts.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Red Carrot Puree


           Nowadays, people are making more and more of an effort to buy locally sourced ingredients, which is obviously great news. Besides being good news for the environment, this is also great news for your plate, because locally sourced ingredients usually pack way more flavour. While sticking to local ingredients can be pretty easy in a warm, bountiful climates like California, this can be a bit more of a challenge in colder climates, like here in Quebec. That's why I'm always looking for new ways to work with my old friend, the humble carrot.   

       Fortunately, along with the growing interest in local ingredients, there's been a surge in popularity of long forgotten heritage breeds of familiar vegetables. Usually the most common variety of stable fruits and vegetables that you see in grocery store were chosen not for there superior flavour, but because they traveled well and had long shelf lives. When smaller producers are picking which varieties to grow for local markets, this is less of a concern, so they are free to explore some neglected varieties that really deliver on flavour. 

        So now, when you go to the grocery store, chances are you'll have more to chose from than just the industrially grown carrots that are as big as a tree stumps and taste about the same. A good grocer or market will have all sorts of varieties, that each have their own unique flavour. When talking about red carrots, there's actually 2 different types that are becoming increasingly common. There are red carrots that are red all the way through, but then there is another variety that is purple on the outside and red/orange in the center, and that is the kind I used for my puree. The purple carrots give the puree a deep rich color, and I throw in just one red pepper to brighten it up. 

        This puree is great with pretty much any meat or fish. I like to add a bit of sriracha to give the puree some zing, and it can even serve double duty as the sauce for duck, pork or chicken. In my next post, I'll be doing a recipe for seared tuna that uses this red carrot puree.    
    



Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Makes 6 side portions.

Ingredients:

4 cups red (or purple) carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded & roughly chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce
salt & pepper

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium sized sauce pot. Add the onions and sautee until they start to turn translucent, about 2 minuites. Add the garlic and sautee for another 1 minute. 

2. Add the red wine and simmer until reduced by half.

3. Add the carrots, red pepper and  just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the carrots are very soft, about 12 minutes. 

4. Blend the puree on high speed and add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter as it blends. Season with salt, pepper and sriracha.