FRESH CALIFORNIA FLAVORS
• Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto, Buratta and Lemon Olive Oil
• Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Salsa Verde
• Fregola with Artichokes, Olives and Lemon
• Meyer Lemon Curd Crepes with Blueberry Sauce
GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON OLIVE OIL, BURATTA AND PROSCUITTO
One of the simplest and best ways to cook asparagus is to give it a light coating of olive oil and grill it. Grilling brings out the sweetness and I prefer it to steaming or boiling which seems to bring out more of the “vegetal” notes. I’m convinced too that keeping the asparagus away from water minimizes that interesting condition called “asparagus pee”. I won’t go any further but see if it works for you! Add some good olives if desired. Lemon infused olive oil is available in Italian markets and good gourmet stores. Agrumato brand from Italy and “O” from California both make great citrus infused oils.
1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends discarded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon’s
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons or so Italian or California lemon infused extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces fresh buratta cheese
8 very thin slices prosciutto
2 tablespoons capers, drained, patted dry and fried till crisp in olive oil
Brush the asparagus with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Over hot coals or a gas grill preheated to medium high grill the asparagus till it takes on a bit of color. Roll and turn so that it’s marked on all sides but still green and crisp. Place on a plate and drizzle with lemon olive oil. Cut buratta into wedges and arrange attractively on the asparagus with the prosciutto. Scatter capers around. Serve lemon wedges on the side. Add more salt and pepper if desired.
BUTTERFLIED LEG OF LAMB WITH SALSA VERDE
This is infinitely flexible and can be adjusted to suit your taste. Do NOT leave out the anchovies in either the marinade or the sauce. You won’t taste them I promise!
6 anchovy fillets in oil
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (not the good stuff)
1 tablespoon olive oil (again, not the good stuff)
1 (4-pound) boned and butterflied leg of lamb
Salsa verde (recipe follows)
If the anchovies are salted, rinse them under cool running water and pull them from the bone. Combine the anchovies, garlic, rosemary, vinegar and olive oil in a blender and grind to a coarse paste.
If the leg of lamb is tied, remove the strings or netting. Lay it on the cutting board, skin-side down, and cut deep slices in the thickest portions to allow the meat to open up like a book. The goal is to have the meat relatively the same thickness. You can also have your butcher do this for you.
Place the meat in a plastic bag, pour the anchovy paste over it, press out the air and seal the bag tightly. Rub the paste all over the surface of the lamb and refrigerate overnight.
Start a 2-stage fire in the grill, mounding the coals against one side. Heat the grill to medium (you should be able to hold your hand about 4-5 inches above the surface of the grill for 5-6 seconds before it gets too hot). Place the lamb on the grill skin-side down and sear it well, about 3 minutes. Turn the lamb over and sear the meat side, another 3 minutes. Move the lamb, meat-side down, to the cool side of the grill and let it cook for about 10 minutes. Turn it over and finish cooking on the cool side of the grill. You’ll want about 135 degrees for medium-rare, 145 degrees for medium. It will take 25-30 minutes total cooking time for medium-rare.
Remove the lamb to a carving board and let it rest 10 minutes. Carve it cross-wise into thin slices and serve with the salsa verde.
Makes about 1 cup
This is a quick little sauce of Spanish origin that is delicious on all kinds of grilled, pan seared or roasted meats, fish and vegetables. Note that I’ve used blanched or roasted garlic rather than the fresh raw type. I think this is especially important if you are going to make the sauce ahead. Within an hour, raw garlic can become harsh and hot. Blanched or roasted garlic maintains its more subtle and sweet flavor and doesn’t overpower the sauce as it sits.
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons poached or roasted garlic (see note below)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or mint or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2/3 cup or so fruity extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Add the parsley, anchovies, capers, garlic, basil and zest to a food processor or blender. With machine running, slowly add the oil until just blended. Sauce should still have a little texture. Season with salt and pepper. Can be stored covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.
Note: To poach garlic, separate cloves but don’t peel. Place in a small sauce pan and cover with at least 1/2 inch of cold water. Place on stove over high heat and bring to a boil. As soon as water boils, drain and repeat process one more time. Rinse to cool off cloves. Remove husk from poached garlic and store covered in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
To roast garlic, cut off top quarter of a whole head to expose each of the cloves. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap loosely in foil and roast in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes or until garlic is soft when gently squeezed. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Squeeze out as needed.
FREGOLA WITH ARTICHOKES, OLIVES AND LEMON
Serves 4 – 6
Fregola is basically a pasta and made in the same manner as cous cous with coarse ground semolina flour. Often referred to as Sardinian couscous, fregola is couscous’s tastier cousin. Both are made from semolina mixed with water, formed into pellets and dried. But couscous pellets are light and fine, whereas fregola is generally coarser and rougher. More important, fregola is toasted, giving it a nutty, wheaty, roasted taste that couscous lacks. Nor do the pearl-like semolina balls known as Israeli couscous compete with fregola for texture and flavor.
1 large lemon
4 medium artichokes (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup or so extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta cut in 1/4 inch dice
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups dry white wine
1/3 cup pitted and slivered oil cured, Gaeta or Nicoise olive
1 cup seeded and diced ripe roma tomato
1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley
Drops of lemon juice
Salt and Freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound dried fregola
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
For the sauce: Grate the lemon zest from the lemon and set aside. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a large bowl with 1 quart of cold water. Also add the lemon halves.
Bend back the tough outer leaves of the artichokes and snap off. Remove several layers until you reach the leaves that are mostly pale green or yellow except for their tips. With scissors cut off the dark green tips. With a paring knife trim the base and stem of any of the dark green outside layer. Quarter each artichoke lengthwise, leaving part of the stem attached to each piece. Cut away the fuzzy choke and discard and immediately drop the pieces into the acidulated water until ready to cook. Repeat with the remaining artichokes.
Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large sauté pan with a cover. Add the pancetta and garlic and sauté over medium heat until lightly colored, about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved lemon zest. Drain the artichokes, pat dry and add to pan and sauté for a minute or two longer. Add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and simmer until the artichokes are tender, 20 – 40 minutes depending on the artichoke. Stir in the olives, tomatoes and parsley and season to your taste with additional drops of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Can be made ahead, stored refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.
While sauce is cooking bring 3 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the fregola until just tender but still al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, toss with remaining olive oil to prevent sticking. To serve: Toss cooked fregola and artichoke sauce together with the cheese and serve immediately in warm bowls.
LEMON CURD CREPES WITH BLUEBERRY SAUCE
Serves 6 – 8
Crepes are just thin pancakes and are very easy to make. If you’ve ever traveled in France, they serve them in street stalls simply brushed with butter and jam with a little liqueur splashed on. Among their advantages are that they utilize ingredients that are generally available in most kitchens: flour, butter, eggs and milk. You can also fill them with anything including your favorite fresh fruits simply sliced and sweetened. You can make the crepes ahead and they freeze wonderfully – – so make a double batch and then you can put together an elegant dessert in just a few minutes. Crepes are also great for quick savory fillings such as creamy seafood, chicken or mushrooms. You can use the same batter below but leave out the sugar. The curd recipe below makes more than you’ll need for this recipe but now you’ll have some on hand to spread on scones, etc.!
For the Crepes
Makes 12 – 16 crepes
3 large eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1-1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
Vegetable oil for the pan
Place all ingredients except vegetable oil in a blender and blend until smooth scraping container if necessary to incorporate all ingredients. Allow to sit if possible for 30 minutes before using (this allows the flour to absorb all the liquid).
Warm a crepe pan or regular non-stick frying pan (6 – 8 inches in diameter) over moderately high heat. Add a drop or two of the vegetable oil and swirl the pan to coat. Pour a little less than a quarter cup of the batter into the hot pan and immediately tilt it around to completely coat the bottom. If heat is correct the crepe will set almost at once forming tiny bubbles. If not then increase heat slightly. Usually it takes one or two crepes to find the right balance.
Cook until the edges are lightly browned and the surface looks dry, about 1 minute. Slide a spatula underneath the crepe and flip it over to lightly brown the other side, about 10 seconds. Tip crepe over onto a plate and repeat process, stacking them up as you finish them.
As noted above, crepes freeze well. To freeze place a piece of waxed paper in between each crepe and then stack them up. Wrap well in heavy foil and freeze for up to 3 months.
For the Lemon Curd
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut in small bits
1 tablespoon finely grated zest
Whisk first six ingredients together and strain. Place mixture in a stainless steel bowl over (not on) simmering water and whisk in butter and zest. Continue whisking until mixture thickens, 5 – 7 minutes. Off heat, whisk for a minute more to cool slightly and then place in sterilized jars. Cover and store refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.
For the Blueberry Sauce
Makes about 1-1/2 cups
3 cups fresh or frozen IQF blueberries
1/3 cup powdered sugar, or to taste plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons red wine or water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Add all to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until berries are soft but still hold most of their shape. Serve warm or cold. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
To serve: Lay crepes slightly apart on a clean counter, pale side up. Place 2 tablespoons or so of the curd on the bottom half of each crepe. Fold top half over to make a half moon and then fold once more to make a triangle and enclose the filling. Place in a single layer on a lightly buttered baking sheet and warm crepes through in a preheated 350-degree oven, 5 – 7 minutes. Arrange 2 filled crepes on each plate, spoon sauce around and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.
Note: you can also forego heating the crepes and serve all at room temperature.
John Ash © 2016