Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Menu Mimicry, part 2

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and blue cheese

Last week I mentioned some of the dishes we recreated from reading menus of the best restaurants in Portland. We finished out the week with some outstanding salads. I feel like I did a good job of recreating the Insalata Nostrana’s creamy Caesar dressing and Trevor made a really good version of clarklewis’ roasted beet salad. We used Persephone Farm fennel, beets and radicchio. Here’s how we did it.

Radicchio Caesar salad with herbed croutons
Please be aware that this recipe uses a raw egg yolk, so eat at your own risk. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems definitely shouldn’t consume raw eggs.
Serves 6 to 8

1 head radicchio (preferably from Persephone Farm), halved
6 to 8 slices of day-old white bread
6 fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
cooking spray or olive oil
1 egg yolk
¼ to ½ cup grated or shaved Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup to ¾ cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place radicchio in a large bowl of cold water and allow to soak for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 400˚. Rub 4 sage leaves on the bread slices. Cut bread into small cubes, spray with cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Finely chop 2 remaining sage leaves. Place bread cubes on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or brushed with olive oil. Sprinkle sage and rosemary over bread cubes. Season lightly with salt. Bake for 5 minutes, toss bread cubes and bake for another 5 minutes until cubes are lightly browned and crunchy. Cool and set aside.

To make dressing, place egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese and Dijon in a food processor or blender. Turn on food processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil. Once dressing becomes thick and creamy (almost like mayonnaise), you can stop adding olive oil and stop the food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add more garlic, Dijon or lemon juice if desired and pulse a few more times.
Rinse radicchio, chop and spin to dry. Place in a large serving bowl. Add enough dressing to lightly coat the radicchio and toss. Top with Parmesan and croutons.

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and blue cheese
We used a sweet (dolce) Italian Gorgonzola, but you can use whatever kind of blue cheese you like. Oregonzola blue cheese, is also a great choice.
Serves 4
1 bunch beets, (preferably from Persephone Farm) stems and roots cut off
1 bunch arugula, washed and dried with stems cut off
1 cup of fennel, (preferably from Persephone Farm) very thinly sliced
½ cup pecan halves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
sherry vinegar
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces of Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled into small pieces

Preheat oven to 425˚. Place beets in squares of aluminum foil, sprinkle with olive oil and wrap up tightly. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until fork tender. Allow beets to cool enough to handle, then slip skins off using paper towels to keep your hands from turning red. Chop beets into bite-size pieces.

While beets are cooking, mix together brown sugar and water. Toss mixture with pecans making sure each piece is coated. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray, place pecans on foil, sprinkle lightly with salt, and bake on a baking sheet in a small toaster oven at 350˚ for 6 to 10 minutes. Check on the pecans after 5 minutes, toss and allow to bake until a pecan piece broken in half is golden brown. (You can also bake the pecans in the oven with the beets, but you will need to cook them for less time and watch them more carefully. Pecans and other nuts can go from not quite done to blackened very quickly.)

Assemble salad by tossing arugula and fennel with sherry vinegar and olive oil and seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Divide arugula and fennel into bowls, top with beets, pecans and cheese. Enjoy.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Menu Mimicry

Rock fish with braised fennel and potatoes

Last Saturday we had an amazing dinner at Nostrana in SE Portland with our friends Sara and Courtland. It was the first time we’d eaten there and everything was delicious. The food was simple, but what made it memorable were the choice ingredients and inventive combinations. For example we started with pizza topped with shiitake mushrooms, arugula, house mozzarella, lemon oil and pecorino cheese. The Insalata Nostrana was an interesting twist on a Caesar salad — it featured just slightly bitter radicchio instead of romaine lettuce.

Between all the food and the wine, we had quite a hefty bill, which was somewhat alleviated by a $50 coupon and some well-spent roulette winnings. Still, it was a splurge and the kind of dining experience we could not replicate every night. Until Trevor had an idea. We’d scour the menus of the best restaurants in Portland and try to create dishes based on the brief descriptions in the menus.

This has been our first week of cooking off the menus without any sort of recipe. And so far, we’re four for four. We look at the ingredients and descriptions (braised, crisp, roasted) and try to imagine how the chefs would prepare them.

We started with halibut with braised fennel, green garlic and gold potatoes from the clarklewis menu. We substituted rock fish for halibut, since halibut was $20.99 a pound at the farmers’ market. Trevor’s not working for Persephone Farm this season, but we always stop there first to load up on organic vegetables when we hit the PSU farmers’ market. We got our fennel there. Trevor followed Martha Stewart’s Cooking School directions for braising fennel and potatoes. It came out silky and creamy. We dredged the fish in flour and pan fried it. The slightly crisp exterior played off the creaminess of the rest of the dish. I also made a little kale on the side.

Next we made a roast chicken salad with peppered bacon and avocado from the menu of Bunk, our favorite sandwich joint. We cheated and bought a rotisserie chicken for the salad, which we shredded and mixed with mayo and some fresh rosemary. Then we fried up thick-cut pepper bacon and sliced the avocado our neighbors had given us. We threw a little Persephone speckled lettuce on there for good measure. It was a big, delicious sandwich.

As I was shelling the fava beans I thought
of that line from Silence of the
, "I ate his liver with
fava beans and a nice chianti."
The next dish was a real stretch because neither one of us has ever eaten or prepared fava beans. I’ve seen several cooking shows that showed how to prepare them, so I knew it was an involved process. We were going off the Nostrana menu, which listed a fava bean salad with prosciutto, lemon and pecorino. Fava beans are in season and cheap at the farmers’ market. To prepare them, you shell the beans from the pod, then boil them for about 10 minutes. Then you remove the tough outer shells from the beans. We may have overcooked the beans slightly, because we had to remove the skins very carefully or the beans turned to mush. Then we tossed the beans with lemon juice, olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese (We were buying lots of pricey specialty cheese for this experiment, so we decide to swap good imported Parm for pecorino.) Then we topped the beans with crumbled pan-fried prosciutto. Yum.

Orecchiette with polpetinne and arugula
Last night we made orecchiette, a small ear-shaped pasta, from scratch just like they do at clarklewis. (We tried a new recipe for the pasta, and weren’t completely happy with it. The pasta was a little too chewy.) We also made pork polpetinne (tiny meatballs) to throw in the pasta. For the meatballs, I put one boneless, country-style pork rib in the food processor to grind it up. To that I added the little bit of ground beef we had in the fridge, dried breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, minced fresh sage and parsley, one egg, salt and pepper, and some water. We made tiny little meatballs and cooked them in a pan with a little olive oil. I also sautéed some shallots. We mixed the hot pasta, shallots and meatballs with arugula, grated taleggio cheese, parm and some pasta cooking liquid. The taleggio is a really good melting cheese, so it blended with everything and made a thick cheesy sauce.

Despite a few smushed fava beans and not-to-tender orecchiette, we’ve considered our menu mimicry a success. By trying to think like the top chefs in Portland we’ve tried new foods, learned new techniques (braising fennel), and picked up great ideas for simple quick dinners (store-bought pasta mixed with taleggio will make a fast, satisfying weeknight dinner).