Yesterday evening, after twenty hours of travel, the Frenchman and I arrived in La Rochelle. The trip, maddeningly, took longer than expected: a delayed flight resulted in a missed train, resulted in an extra four hours of airport loitering..you get the picture. When our (second) train at last pulled into the station, I was feeling decidedly sleep deprived.
But then the Frenchman’s family appeared. They peppered us with kisses, and their sheer enthusiasm was a tonic more efficacious than coffee.
And so we waltzed to the old port, to a café table facing the ancient towers. We ordered a round of frosty beers, and shared a plate of brine-bright oysters from Île d’Oléron. The evening was sunny and breezy.
In the day since our arrival, we’ve eaten every meal outside in the garden, beside the stretching arms of the blooming artichoke plant, under the leaves of the cherry tree. For dinner: miniature toasts spread with foie gras, tiny local mussels with garden thyme and curry, and market strawberries smeared with brown sugar. And for lunch: veal roasted in jus from a nearby farm (and family friend), potato coins baked in milk and nutmeg, and then small melons, loud as sherbet. We also opened a bottle of Bordeaux today, in celebration of the Frenchman’s birthday; it was purchased in 1985 and saved ever since. The wine was dark, rich, musty; and quite delicious with the veal.
As I write this, the French Toast is tapping a ball across the pool to his giggling brother. Birds and bugs of all stripes are making themselves known in the garden.
Later today, we’ll head into town, to visit the opening of an exhibit at the city art museum. Then we’ll drive to Châtelaillon, a village hugging the beach, to dinner at the best crêperie I know. This birthday present-vacation really was an inspired idea.
This hash recipe is very straight forward: it is meant for the spring vegetables lingering in the crisper, for the eighth bundle of asparagus you couldn’t help buying, but haven’t yet found a use for. It only requires one pan. It’s adaptable: you can basically sub whatever seasonal spring vegetables and herbs you have about. It tastes as green as it looks.
The dish reheats reasonably well, so it makes for a stress-free, do-ahead brunch with friends–sprinkle on some fresh herbs just before serving–or a non-pedestrian work lunch. It transforms into a main course with the addition of white beans and an egg.
If you don’t feel like washing all the plates I call for in prep, my trick is to use tin foil as a cooked-vegetable-receptacle instead.
A note for vegetarians: If you don’t do bacon, substitute olive oil as your cooking fat. I’d also add a round of mushrooms, just to give the dish an extra savory note.
- 1/2 pound bacon
- 2 medium potatoes
- 1 bunch (3-4) spring onions
- 1 head spring garlic
- 1 small bunch asparagus
- 1.5 cups sugar snap peas
- kosher salt, black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
- 1/4 cup minced chives
- 1/2 cup fresh ricotta
- hot sauce (optional)
1. Cut the bacon into lardons, and then move the lardons to a wide, cast-iron pan. Cook them over medium heat, until the bacon is fairly crispy; remove them to a plate. Drain off (and reserve) a little more than half the bacon fat.
2. Cut the potatoes into a small dice. Move them to the cast-iron pan, and cook until the potatoes are soft on the inside, but crisp-ish on the outside, about 20 minutes. (Add a little more bacon fat to the pan if they start to stick.) You will get a better color on the potatoes if you don’t move them around too much in the pan. When the potatoes are finished, remove them to a plate.
3. Meanwhile, slice the spring onions thinly and crosswise. Mince the spring garlic. After the potato comes out of the pan, saute both until translucent, about 4 minutes. (Add a little more bacon fat, if needed, to lubricate the pan.) Remove the alliums to a plate.
4. Cut the asparagus spears into 1-inch long pieces. Add yet another drizzle of bacon fat to the pan, and cook the asparagus for about 5 minutes, or until they are bright green, but browned in spots. Remove to a plate.
5. If needed, add the remaining bacon fat to the pan. Saute the sugar snap peas (either whole, or cut into pieces) for about 5 minutes, until they are crisp tender, and also lightly browned in spots.
6. Meanwhile, chiffonade the basil, and mince the chives, if you haven’t already.
7. Finally, move all the vegetables back to the pan, along with the bacon. Cook for another 5 minutes, just to re-warm the vegetables, and bring everything together. Adjust the seasoning, and stir in the lemon zest. Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh herbs. Dot the pan with the ricotta, and serve warm. (Or, put the ricotta on the table, and let diners choose how much they’d like. Same goes for salt, pepper, lemon zest, and hot sauce.)