Over the past six days, I’ve shared each course of a five-course dinner I cooked for my husband’s recent birthday party. Looking at the array of photos below, would it occur to you that this is a collection of vegan, gluten-free recipes? Think of it. No cheese. No pasta. No fish or fowl. If you had asked me on my husband’s birthday last year whether I could (or would even want to) make a dinner like this, I would have answered, “no,” flatly. Now, I can barely imagine eating any other way. Well, almost barely.
Yes, we are happily joining the national craze of eating in a sustainable, healthful way. In fact, just yesterday, I planted a whole pallet of seeds which means we’re joining the garden-at-home craze too. Count on a whole host of blog entries about this new adventure. When I was on the outside looking in at this fad, I thought it was a bit of overblown malarky, and, well, just a fad. Now that I’m joining in, I can feel myself transforming into an evangelist. I guess 38 per cent of Americans (the number of people who had a vegetable garden last year) can’t be wrong. Well, sometimes they can, but not this time.
I absolutely must thank Viviane Bauquet Farre for her inspiration and help on this birthday dinner project. If you haven’t seen her blog yet, you are really missing out. You can find her at food and style and please, go “Like” her facebook fan page. Viviane creates the most original and beautiful recipes. She also produces some of the highest quality cooking instructional videos on the web. See them all on StreamingGourmet.com. It took me months to figure out that her recipes are vegetarian, so they will appeal to you whether you are a vegetarian, a vegan, an omnivore or someone determined to subsist on truffles and scotch. Seriously. Thanks again, Viviane!
It’s day five of my blogging event: “How to host an elegant, flavorful, vegan, gluten-free dinner party” in which I feature recipes created by the wonderful Viviane Bauquet Farre of food and style. My husband and several of his friends have transitioned to a vegetarian diet and several of them are also avoiding dairy and gluten, so when I decided to celebrate G’s birthday with a dinner party, I knew I needed to turn to my friend Viviane who features such refined recipes which also happen to be meat free. Today’s installment is the fourth of that five-course meal – the main course, in fact. For dessert, you’ll just have to check back tomorrow.
For this course, I got to experiment with fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market I’ve been dying to use, like English peas and fava beans. If you’re going to choose between the two, English peas are way easier to prepare. You just have to pop the peas out of the pod and they’re ready to go. Fava beans, on the other hand, require several steps. The beans within the pods are coated with a little jacket that needs to be removed as well. For this recipe, I actually prepared both and it took all day. Luckily, I was able to stream three episodes of This American Life while I shucked, blanched and peeled.
I prepared the fava beans by following the first part of a recipe by LocalLemons. First I had to remove the beans from their pods. Rinse them. Blanch them for 30 seconds and then pull off the outer layer from each bean. The inner bean is bright green and more fragile. After 3 hours of work, I forgot to photograph the bright green inner beans, but you can see what they look like over at the LocalLemons post. Here’s what they look like during step one and two.
This dish is truly scrumptious. It is lighter than risotto because there is no butter and no Parmesan cheese, but the saffron, wine and garlic more than make up for flavor. I would make this dish again in a minute and look forward to varying the vegetables depending on what’s in season.
For the vegetables
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots – skinned, quartered and finely sliced
1 teaspoon saffron threads – gently pounded in a mortar to a coarse powder
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 garlic cloves – skinned and finely chopped
2 medium, young carrots – peeled and cut in 1/8″ x 1″ sticks
4 oz shelled fresh English peas
8 oz asparagus – stalk ends snapped off and spears cut on the diagonal in 1″ pieces
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
A handful of fresh baby arugula
For the quinoa-millet pilaf
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 shallots, diced finely
1 clove of garlic, peeled and bashed
½ cup millet
½ cup quinoa (rinsed well)
2 ½ cups vegetable stock
Sea salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp)
About a cup of shelled fava beans
1. To get the quinoa-millet pilaf started, put the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and place a bowl underneath. Rinse with cold water while rubbing the quinoa between your fingers. The water will become cloudy. Drain, and repeat this process with fresh water two more times. Strain excess water and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 4 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sautée for another minute. Now we are going to toast the grains so that they have a rich, nutty flavor. Add the millet, and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Now add the quinoa and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes more. Again, stirring frequently to coat the grains with the olive oil, shallots and garlic. Add the vegetable stock and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer, covered for about 30 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Fluff before serving
2. Now that the quinoa-millet is cooking, it’s time to do the vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until they have softened. Add the wine, saffron, and garlic. Bring to a full boil and then reduce heat to between medium and medium-low. Cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, toss well, cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. During my dinner party, I actually paused the dish here while we were eating and the carrots steeped in the saffron-wine-garlic sauce (with no heat) for about 20 minutes. This had the delightful effect of infusing them with intense saffron flavor. You could try it that way.
3. Add the peas and asparagus, toss well, cover the pan and continue to simmer for 5 minutes until the asparagus are tender but still a bit crunchy. Uncover the pan. Raise heat to high, add the salt, black pepper to taste and the arugula. Toss until the arugula has wilted, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Immediately remove from heat.
4. To serve, spoon the pilaf into shallow bowls. Top with the braised vegetables. Drizzle with the pan juices. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.
Optional fava bean addition:
Sautée the fava beans over medium high heat in a separate sautée pan, with some olive oil and pepper for about 3 minutes. Serve as a garnish on top.
It’s day four of my blogging event: “How to host an elegant, flavorful, vegan, gluten-free dinner party” in which I feature recipes created by the wonderful Viviane Bauquet Farre of food and style. My husband and several of his friends have transitioned to a vegetarian diet and several of them are also avoiding dairy and gluten, so when I decided to celebrate G’s birthday with a dinner party, I knew I needed to turn to my friend Viviane who features such refined recipes which also happen to be meat free. Today’s installment is the third of that five-course meal. For the next course, you’ll just have to check back tomorrow.
So far in this dinner, we’ve enjoyed cucumber and avocado ceviche, and slurped down an artichoke soup with truffles on top. Now we’re ready for a scrumptious early Spring salad, so Viviane’s Roasted Asparagus with Grapefruit is just the thing. Here’s what I learned by making this recipe: It is soooo easy to make and it is easy to prepare ahead of time, when it was time for this course, I could truly relax. All I had to do was plate everything and drizzle it with oil.
The other revelation I had while making this recipe is just how easy it is to roast asparagus. Brush the spears with a little olive oil, pop them into an oven preheated to 500˚F and 7-10 minutes later you’ve got roasted asparagus. No careful chopping, no peeling, no long wait. It’s like fast food. Well, sort of.
Watch Viviane’s video for more tips on roasting asparagus and to watch her demonstrate how to prepare grapefruit slices with no pith or membrane in sight. Again, now that I’ve done it once, I want to do it this way all the time. My kids love eating citrus in our house now because I prepare for them this way now.
1 large Texas Rio Star grapefruit
1 1/4 lbs asparagus spears – washed and stem snapped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts
4 teaspoons lemon infused oil as garnish
A bit of lemon zest for garnish
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large jellyroll pan
1. Peel the grapefruit down to the flesh, Quarter lengthwise and remove the thin membrane around each slice, being careful not to break them. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. If your pine nuts are raw, preheat the oven to 425˚F. Place the pinenuts on a baking sheet and roast for about 2 minutes, but watch carefully through the window to make sure they don’t burn. Set aside.
3. Increase oven temperature to 500°F. Move rack to the top of the oven. Spread the asparagus on a jellyroll pan. Brush with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes (depending on their size) until the tips begin to brown. Remove from pan and let cool for 10 minutes.
4. Place a bundle of asparagus in the center of each plate. Top with 3-4 grapefruit slices and sprinkle with the pine nuts. Drizzle with the lemon oil and finish with a bit of fresh lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
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I’ve been trying for a long time to make an omelet that will hold its shape when flipped and slid out of the pan and today, I finally succeeded. The secret? Don’t add milk to egg mixture. It’s that simple. Somehow, the omelet was still light and fluffy and the asparagus and bacon flavors balanced wonderfully. I’m going to make this for breakfast more often.
It’s Asparagus season in Northern California. Bunches that normally go for $5.99 or $6.99/lb now go for $1.29/lb. That’s when I know it’s time for my favorite soup recipe: Asparagus Soup.
I’ve taken this recipe from the book Celebrating the Impressionist Table, by Pamela Todd. Published in 1997, it is now out-of-print, but it is full of sumptuous recipes. I love the premise of this book: to provide recipes for the foods seen in the paintings of Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and others. Part art history, part cultural history, part cookbook, it satisfies the curiosity of anyone interested in understanding the day-to-day lives of these artists and their families as well as the role food played in their 19th century French lives.
Most important, though, is the fact that this soup is darn tasty.
Potage Argenteuil – Asparagus Soup
3 Tbsp butter
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped with tips reserved
2 leeks, rinsed, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
6 Tbsp light cream
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives (I didn’t have any this time, but I recommend using them)
pinch of grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
fresh chives, to garnish
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the chopped asparagus, leeks, and potato, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until very smooth. (You could even strain it through a fine strainer).
2. Return the soup to a clean pan. Stir in the cream and chives and season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper; keep warm.
3. Blanch the reserved asparagus tips in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and refresh immediately under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
4. Spoon the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with the asparagus tips and chives.