Thursday, June 7, 2012

Salsa Verde: Where've You Been All My Life?

The annual garlic progression has begun at the Farmers' Markets in Boston and Portsmouth, NH. Right now, it's the green garlic stage; soon to be followed by garlic scapes, and finally, garlic bulbs.

Each stage offer its own taste treat, and I'm always looking for new ideas that bring out the unique flavor. So when The New York Times food writer Melissa Clark featured a recipe for salsa verde this week in her column A Good Appetite, I was intrigued. I was also in luck, as my brother-in-law Dave had picked up a couple of bunches of the scallion-looking bulbs Saturday, at the Seacoast Growers market in Portsmouth. 

Clark describes the tastes of green garlic as "grassy and sweet" -- and I have to agree. At this point in the season, it has none of that pungent bitterness that some people complain about in mature garlic. (Garlic at any stage is all right by me.)

While Clark served her salsa verde over grilled pork, we were having sautéed wild caught New England flounder, which I'd purchased at Sanders Fish Market in Portsmouth. I figured the salsa verde would be a nice change from our usual preparation of lemon, parsley, and capers -- after all, two out of three were ingredients in the salsa verde.

Prior to this, I'd always thought of salsa verde  as the green tomatillo sauce you find Mexican cuisine. But there's a salsa verde--commonly made with parsley, mint, capers, and anchovies--that has an Italian heritage. This sauce, comes from that tradition, though since it has neither anchovies or nor capers, it's lighter and brighter in taste, with a beautiful green color. In fact, it was taste revelation -- so good, that Dave took the last bit drizzled on top of left-over rice and greens for lunch the next day, much to my disappointment!

No worries, though, I'm looking forward to making it again with grilled chicken or pork. But I'll have to hurry. Green garlic season doesn't last very long at all.

Salsa Verde al la Melissa Clark

• 1/4 cup chopped parsley (I recommend flat Italian parsley)
• 3 tablespoons chopped mint
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic chives or regular chives
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped green garlic
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
• 1/8 teaspoon chile flakes
• 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine the herbs, garlic, lemon, 1 teaspoon salt and chile flakes. Stir in 1/2 cup oil. (NOTE: I used only about 1/4 cup of oil, as I wanted my sauce to be more chunky.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Souper Easter Celebration: Asparagus Style

Easter dinner can present a challenge for those who preach the benefits of eating local. While all around me, the markets and green grocers are showing off their bountiful displays of artichokes, mushrooms, spring onions, and asparagus, my CSA share is presenting me with more turnips, potatoes, and when I'm lucky, kale and spinach. Good things, yes, but right now I want a big helping of the tastes of the coming season, not more of what I"ve been enjoying all winter.

So, I figure, it's the holiday, why not indulge? And so we did. Big globe artichokes from California were trimmed, blanched, and sauteed in olive oil and garlic! Mushrooms of various types and sizes were sauteed and turned into sauce for veal chops--at least those were locally and humanely-- raised by Tim Rocha of Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH. Heron Pond Farm of Hampton Falls' potatoes were sliced thin and combined with leeks in a cheese-filled potato gratin. But there was still all that asparagus calling my name. My sister Robin suggested an asparagus soup. Perfection!

We had some homemade chicken stock in the freezer and a bottle of  Brookford Farm buttermilk in the fridge, which seemed like it would be a lighter, tangier substitute for cream. All we needed were some of those nice spring onions!                         

To prepare the soup, I reserved the asparagus tips, snapped off the bottoms and cut the remaining stalks into inch-long pieces. The onions were chopped and then sweated in a little butter over low heat for 25 minutes. Next, I poured in the stock and the asparagus stalk pieces and simmered until the vegetables were soft. Then, I put the soup in the blender -- in batches, of course -- and blended until smooth.

When I was ready to serve the soup, I spooned it into a sauce pan, added the buttermilk, and combined. Lastly, I chopped the asparagus tips, sauteed them briefly and sprinkled them on top of each bowl. Finally, I added some fresh-snipped chives from the garden for a delicious start to a spring-inspired meal.

I'm already looking forward to having this soup again when the local asparagus is in. Then, I'll serve it cold -- with a little topping of creme fraiche.

Cream of Asparagus Soup 
Serves 6 as an appetizer

2 c. chopped yellow onions
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1  qt. chicken stock, preferably homemade
1  lbs. asparagus
1/4 to 1/2 c. buttermilk, depending on how thick you want the soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chives for a garnish

1. Melt the butter in a heavy 4-quart pot and simmer the onions over low heat, stir frequently, until very soft and golden, about 25 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

2. Snap off the ends of the asparagus, then trim the tips and reserve. Cut remaining stalks into 1-inch pieces. Add to the chicken stock and onions, and simmer until soft.

3. Blend soup in small batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. (Be careful as this is very hot!)
Soup can be made to this point and refrigerated until ready to serve, later in the day.

4. Pour soup into a large saucepan and add the buttermilk. Stir over low heat until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Chop the asparagus tops into 1/4" pieces. Sauteed briefly until just cooked. Pour soup into serving bowls, top with asparagus tips and chives, and serve.