Last weekend, the Frenchman and I journeyed to Charleston, South Carolina, and it was delightful. It felt like a proper break, a real disengagement from the ho-hum of everyday, and there is nothing I adore more than traveling avec mon amour. The monsieur travels to Atlanta for work on the regular, but I had never been to the south before.
I loved the narrow houses of Charleston, the skinny side porches, some adorned with hanging plants or wind chimes, some old and listing like a tipsy uncle. I loved the real gas lamps burning, picturesque but inexplicable, in the light and heat of a May day. I loved the properties overlaid with vines, such bombastic vegetation and the smell of honeysuckle everywhere.
I loved the drive to Sullivan’s Island, across the long, modern bridge; rising with airs over the flat brown water and the skeletons of industrial machinery. I loved the walk across the packed, wavy, clay sand, to the receding line of the water where we found razor clam shells as long as a witch’s fingernail.
I loved the heat, thick enough to jar and only May, and the soundtrack of bug callings, and the line of oaks as old as this county: Imagine! they will outlive us all. I loved the weeping tree by the lagoon, the branches so thick and so low they meant to scoop us up and carry us off to who knows where. And then the lick of poppies, in front of the old house and beside the pecan tree, so loud and red and unembarrassed.
Good salads are all about balance. Here, bitter-bright endive and radicchio play against the umami of baked olives and browned mushrooms. The richness of mozzarella and egg yolk serve as foil to the mellow garlic-bite of ramps, and the acidity of lemon juice. A thin sheen of pesto brings the whole plate together. This salad is best served on a rainy spring day: It’s bright, flavorful, and texturally varied; satisfying, but not filling.
In other, salad-unrelated news, the Frenchman and I are off to Charleston for the weekend. We have never been, and I’m quite looking forward to sampling the local cuisine. As is my custom, I’ve planned the weekend largely around market visits, and late-but-I-don’t-care dinner reservations. (Frenchman, if you are reading this, don’t worry: we’re spending a whole half day at the beach!) I hope to return with wondrous photographs, and a whole slew of new recipe ideas.
Goodness gracious, these past few weeks have been busy. If you’ll allow me, I’d also like to blame the farmers market (and the weather, I suppose, by extention) for my temporary absence from the airwaves: the overall lack of new and snazzy green things has left me a bit writer’s blocked.
But here we are! With a tart! It’s mighty tasty. It makes great brunch, lunch, or dinner. (Add a salad, and perhaps some roasted taters, and you’re in business.) It works for right now, with whatever vegetation you can scrounge at the market, but it will also work later, when peas and asparagus finally do make an appearance. It will continue to work once summer produce–tomatoes!–arrive.
This tart is like a quiche, but with half the guilt, half the commitment: it’s fairy thin, so you won’t feel heavy or fatigued after enjoying it. You are very welcome to take the tart base, and the dairy, and then invent your own tart from there. Vegetables, herbs, and cheese: go crazy! Get inventing.
Trust me, dear readers: I so badly wanted to provide a super verdant, completely fresh, hugely springtime recipe today. I wanted to be like every other food magazine, extolling the virtues of tender spring peas swimming in warm cream, or mashed with hot pepper against a scrap of olive oiled toast. Of course I want to stir ramps into my Carbonara, or braise skinny stalks of asparagus in Meyer lemon. I’ve been siting on a fava bean soup recipe for the better part of a year.
But do you know what I found at the farmers market yesterday? Root vegetables. Oh, root vegetables: it’s nothing personal, but you’re starting to depress me. Beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Turnips, and not the sweet baby spring ones (that should be roasted and eaten at room temperature, dribbled in spring-garlicky aioli), but turnips the size of softballs. There was not a single stalk of rhubarb hidden behind the parsnips.
I did find kale and brussels sprouts in abundance, though, and while I’m not a huge fan of either–the kale (in everything) and brussels sprouts (with bacon) craze is largely lost on me–I jumped at their mere greenness. It’s almost a spring salad, right? Right?
How much fennel can be worked into one plate of pasta? Quite a lot, actually. I like this dish, because it utilizes every bit of the fennel, with not an ounce of waste. It’s also easy and inexpensive to make, but tastes like a million bucks.
This pasta works well for the weather, too: the sweet-anise notes of fennel suggest spring, while the presence of pecorino and veal sausage remind me that it’s still gray and chilly outside. (Hopefully not interminably, although it’s starting to feel that way.)
Plus, it’s adaptable: the flavors are sophisticated enough to serve as the first course of a spring dinner party (serves 6-8). But it’s also a crowd-pleaser–spoon some right out of the pot for a family-style meal (serves 4).
Despite the fact that it’s still freezing cold in New York City (literally); despite the fact that the forecast reads “winter mix” more days than not (a phrase that sounds like it should be a jazz CD sold in coffee shops, but is actually a horrendous blend of ice-rain-snow)–yesterday was the first day of spring.
Clearly, my fantasies of delicate pea tendrils and narrow stalks of asparagus aren’t coming to fruition as quickly as I’d like. The farmers market looks much the same now as it has all winter. Still, there are small signs of change: multi-colored carrots, new potatoes, and a small collection of scallions. This recipe utilizes two of the three.
And chives, and tender ground lamb! Two more ingredients that promise spring. My goal for this dish was to create something earthy and balanced; flavorful, but not at all winter weary. I think I’ve succeeded.
This recipe is packed with (brown) sugar, spice, and everything nice (namely, jalapeño slices, creamy dressing, and crunchy peanuts). The combination is fairly delicious, if I do say so myself.
The Frenchman is not one for desserts. He enjoys fruit, or yogurt with a spoonful of jam, but that’s generally the limit. Even when he does partake, his catalog is limited: pain au chocolat (which, I might point out, is technically breakfast), crème brûlée, or a square of dark chocolate. His motto is, “If you aren’t still hungry after a meal, why eat dessert?”
Wait, what? Before meeting him, I never considered hunger as the reason to eat dessert.
My incomprehension at Monsieur French Toast’s anti-dessert tendencies aside, most of the time I wish I could magically adopt this part of his personality. Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake up one morning and not care one iota for the perfect chocolate chip cookie: edges caramelized, chewy, insides pillowy and heady with brown butter; a constellation of fleur de sel across the top?
Sadly, this is not the case. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I’m mainlining caramels, but still: after four plus years together, he has yet to convince me that eating an apple is just as pleasurable as a shortbread cookie.
Because I am totally off my rocker, I decided early this week that I wouldn’t let a little thing like vacation in a foreign country bar me from the kitchen. I wouldn’t be deterred by small details; like the fact that I am currently 5,000 miles from home, or that I had hardly any cooking supplies, or that I posessed only a rudimentary idea of where to shop in Buenos Aires. No pasa nada!
The Frenchman and I are staying at a hotel, but a friend of ours recently moved to Buenos Aires for work, and so there was a kitchen available. (And by “available” what I mean is that I basically invited myself over, and then invited him to invite his coworkers over too. Charming, I know.)
And so I spent the better part of one day shopping, criss-crossing the city based on internet suggestions for where I might find a decent farmers market, or a great loaf of bread. (I found the farmers market, but alas, I have yet to try tasty bread in Buenos Aires.) Some might consider this a ridiculous way to pass a day in a foreign city, when there are art museums to be seen, and Casas Rosas to be marveled at. But food–tasting it, rooting it out, chatting with people over it–is my preferred method of tourism.
I had no menu at the start of my shopping day, but decided to let the dinner menu form itself a little bit at a time: