Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Salmon Dinner Party

This is really a post about building a menu from the farmer's market. I try to have some ideas in advance before I go, so I don't end up buying just what "looks the best" and end up with all stone fruits or all green vegetables. It's easiest to just make sure that my bag is filled with lots of different colors, which is what I did in preparation for this dinner party, though there was some crossover on red with both bing cherries and ripe strawberries. I also rounded up apriums (75% apricot + 25% plum = apricot flavor and color with smooth plum skin and firm flesh texture), heritage lettuce with a blush of purple striation and red tipping, bright kiwi-colored fava beans, and deep forest kale.

Last Spring, in preparation for our trip to Italy, I read Frances Mayes's Bella Tuscany. Part of her book takes place during fresh fava bean season, so they come up frequently in her descriptions of the amazing Tuscan dishes. I had never given them any thought as an ingredient before reading her enticing descriptions, and while we were there in the summer after the peak of bean season, I now consider favas to be quintessentially Italian (ie: delicious, romantic, and to be experienced at all costs.)

In Seattle, fresh favas can only be had at the farmer's market, and their season comes quite a bit later. When I spied them for the first time this year, I picked up a couple handfuls - nearly a pound. I didn't know quite what I wanted to do with them, other than make sure they were part of my dinner party. After about 30 minutes of shucking, a big mound of downy-lined bean pods, and but yeilding less than a quarter cup of shelled peas, I realized that whatever I did with these little gems would have to be spread pretty thin.

I only came accross this great Kitchen Window article on NPR as I was writing this blog, but I was definitely on a similar psychic plane as the author because I made a crostini gilded with a thin spread of fava bean puree. I took my precious bean bounty shimmering like emeralds in a custard cup and pureed them with a swirl of olive oil, a clove of garlic and a squeeze of lemon. My intention was to shave a curl of bright white ricotta salata cheese on top of the crostini but it was a bit too crumbly, so instead I just blended the cheese into the bean mixture. It was probably better that way to lend a more even saltiness, with color contrast from garnishing with a chiffonaded spiral of fresh basil. Slices of my favorite bread made for the perfect crostini.
Served alongside a bowl of olives, these fava bean-basil crostini made the perfect Italian appetizer.
I love making salmon as a main dish at parties, partly because I can count on it as a local, sustainable option, but also because it can be prepared in so many different ways that can often be prepared in advance and cooked quickly. In purusing my produce bounty, my first thought for the stunning Copper River filets I brought home was a strawberry balsamic glaze. But after plotting through the rest of the meal, I knew I had to save the strawberries for dessert as topping to a walnut-crusted chocolate ganache tart. So instead I turned to the cherries and considered a balsamic-rosemary glaze before stumbling across a local chef's sauce of browned-butter and cherries.
Copper River salmon - in spite of my resistance to buy-in to all the hype - really still is a special treat that is not only expensive and rare, but truly delicious. I didn't want to cover up the excellent flavors and richness of the fish with a fussy sauce of fat, salt, and sweetness. Nevertheless, I liked the idea of a golden buttery nuttiness against the tart and juicy Washington ruby: the bing cherry. So, I scaled back Braiden's version by omitting the smoked almonds, and substituted the concentrated sweetness of soaked dried cherries with fresh. She uses 1 stick of butter for four servings of salmon which I thought was excessive, so I used 4 tablespoons and still thought it was WAY too much. But as it was just a matter of how much I drizzled on top of the salmon prior to serving, it just meant I had a bunch of sauce leftover.
Bing-Browned Butter Broiled Salmon
serves 4
2 pounds wild salmon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup pitted, halved bing cherries
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Melt butter in small heavy saucepan, partially covered to prevent spatters. Cook over medium/medium-high heat until butter solids sink and brown and most water has evaporated (spattering will die down). Stir in rosemary and lemon zest, then cherries. Cook until cherries are softened. Sauce can be made two days ahead and refridgerated - reheat before serving.
Salmon can be grilled or broiled, depending on whether you are entertaining outdoors in the sun or inside out of the drizzly grey. Salt and pepper the salmon and squeeze with fresh lemon juice. Broil or grill to desired doneness, then serve topped with cherries and drizzled with browned butter.

I wanted a side that doubled as the vegetable, and which I could make in advance and reheat without too much deterioration in quality. Sturdy, dark green kale filled an empty nutrition niche. Sauteed with shallot and tossed with pasta, I prepared it in the early afternoon, shoved the whole pan into the fridge, and reheated on the stove just before serving. The orrechiete gave me some sticking trouble, so I welcome any suggestions on how to prepare it - I thought the shape was a great size and structural echo to the cherry halves in the salmon sauce, but the little bells nested in each other whilst cooking and even handling them individually, I couldn't pry them apart. I ended up cooking a second potful with some olive oil drizzled into the boiling water before adding the pasta, hoping that would coat the pieces and keep them from sticking, but that failed as well. Ideas?

Orrechiete with Kale and Capers
8 ounces pasta - I'll use farfalle or penne next time
1 bunch tuscan (black) kale
1 medium shallot, minced
couple shakes of crushed dried red pepper
chicken stock
fresh lemon juice
3-4 teaspoons capers, drained
2-3 cloves roasted garlic (You can wrap an entire head of garlic in foil and bake in the oven at 350-425 for about 40 minutes. This will last a couple weeks if stored tightly wrapped in the fridge. I usually just do the number of cloves I want - unpeeled - and wrapped in a couple of layers of foil. If I don't already have the oven on, I use the convection setting on my toaster oven about bake about 25 minutes.

Wash and dry kale, then remove center rib/stem. You can cut it out with a knife, or make an O shape with the index finger and thumb of one hand, and pull the stem of each leaf through the O with your other hand. This is a good 40-second video showing how to do it. Chop the kale into large, forkable size pieces.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in large (12") saute pan until shimmering. Stir in shallot and red pepper flakes until coated. Add the kale and toss to coat, stirring a couple of minutes to soften. Turn up heat to medium high and pour 1/4 cup chicken stock around edge of pan allowing it to burn off quickly. Add slightly more broth if needed to very lightly steam the kale, and stir continuously until well-wilted. Stir in a couple of cloves of roasted garlic to thicken and flavor sauce. Squeeze a wedge or two of fresh lemon oven, then toss with capers and cooked pasta. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese. Can be refrigerate up to two days and reheated before serving - add more broth to keep from burning. 
I should really work on my photography. The lettuce I bought was the most beautiful lettuce I'd ever seen, with a charming blush of red tickling the tips of mild green frills. It's not at all visible in the photo, but even if it was, I probably couldn't capture the veritable artistry that the farmer exhibited in this head of lettuce. The best way I can reflect it's beauty is by sharing a way to honor other heritage heads by dressing them as glorious salads.

The ingredients in the salad were selected to carry the vaguely Italian theme that was running through my head (ie: balsamic vinaigrette and pine nuts) as well as contrast juicy, satiny apriums with bittery buttery leafy greens, and earthy, spongey mushrooms with crunchy glazed pignoli (or pinoli).

Green Salad with Apriums, Mushrooms, and Candied Pignoles
Red leaf lettuce, about two leaves per person, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
Apriums, sliced into 1/2" thick wedges - about 1/2 half fruit per person
Mushrooms, sliced, about one small per person
Pine Nuts, candied - about 1 teaspoon per person
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

To candy nuts, in small omlette pan, combine 1/4 cup pine nuts and 1/4 cup granulated white sugar. Stir continuously over medium low heat, until nuts are toasting and sugar is melting. Add 1 teaspoon water to make a thinner glaze if desired. While nuts are still warm, spread on foil or parchment to cool. When fully cool, break apart any pieces. Keep tightly sealed and will last for months.

Shake together vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper in jar to emulsify. Toss lettuce with some dressing. Mix in apriums and mushrooms, adding additional dressing if necessary but avoid over-coating. Sprinkle with nuts before serving.
Chocolate Strawberry Tart
Use the walnut crust from this link.
Fill baked tart shell with chocolate ganache made from 4 ounces milk chocolate, 3.5 ounces dark chocolate, and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Top with halved, hulled strawberries and brush with a glaze of a teaspoon of balsamic glaze melted into strawberry jam.


  1. I am making this entire meal soon. :)

  2. BTW, can I get your blog via email feed? I don't check my google blogs enough and I always find out that I miss yummy that peach cobbler I see below this one...

  3. Thanks for asking! It took me a little poking around, but I have just added a this functionality. You should now see a place in the lower left sidebar that allows you to enter your email address to recieve posts.