I like to say I was born with a stainless steel thumb - my culinary equivalent of the green thumb - and that's a lucky thing for me since my passion in life is food and cooking, and everything that comes a long with it.
What do I do with my life? I dream food, think food, look at food, read about food, work in the food business, travel via food, talk about food, use food as my artistic muse, teach others about food, and clearly, cook, play with and EAT food!
Food is my compass.
Cherry blossoms, hyacinth, forsythia, OH MY! The city is starting to look beautiful with all of the flowers and trees abloom. It makes me want to frolic through the fields...but unfortunately for me and the general public's viewing pleasure, we ain't got much of that in Manhattan, so I'll just leave it to my imagination. I have managed to transport a nearly five foot tall cherry blossom arrangement into my center-for-ants apartment - so it's close enough!
All of the markets are beginning to bustle a little bit more, and thank god have more than just root vegetables and hearty greens - not that I don't love them, but you can only take so much. This time of year is always great, for more reasons than one: the weather can only get nicer and warmer, the days get longer (goodbye 5pm sunset), and most importantly, food selection simply explodes with goodness! That means we all get to cook with some fabulous ingredients, and if we're indulging, we can get outstanding tasting menus at some of the city's best restaurants.
My market trek this week left me with some ramps, fava beans, and red sorrel, among other things. I wish I could've found wood sorrel, but alas I did not. Have you ever had wood sorrel? It has this unbelievably tart, citrus-esque flavor with a bit of crunch due to the thickness of the leaves. We had some at my restaurant the other day, and I couldn't resist eating some...or a handful. Whoops! Anyhow, back to the trekking - I resisted buying ten billion other items, simply because I already had so much, and didn't want anything to go bad (my worst nightmare - the horror!). With everything in tow, I set out to make a delicate, refreshing entree that evening - and relatively simple at that! The protein in this dish was lemon sole, although you could surely use any flaky whitefish, or even omit fish completely to make it vegetarian - you 'd just have to bulk up a bit on the other components!
Poached Lemon Sole with Wilted Sorrel, Fava-Ramp Sautee & Parsley Root Puree
1 lb lemon sole, or other flaky white fish
2 cups parsley root, peeled and chopped
4 T unsweetened almond milk
1 cup fava beans, shelled, blanched, with outer germ removed
6-8 ramps, stem and root thinly sliced, with leaves roughly chopped
1 bunch red sorrel, stems removed
Fresh ground white pepper
Basil, finely minced Basil flowers, for garnish
To start, take your fish out of the refrigerator and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and white pepper. Let sit at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.
While the oven is heating, prepare the parsley root puree. Place the chopped root into either a bamboo or metal steamer. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring about 2 in of water to a boil. Steam the parsley root for about 10 minutes, or until fork tender. Place the parsley root into a blender or food processor and pulse a few times. Pour about 4 T of the steaming liquid into the blender, and process until smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary. Add in the almond milk and process again. You don't want the puree to be too runny or too thick - if it's too thick, add in more of the steaming liquid. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Set aside, and keep warm for plating. And, if you're really ambitious, you can pass the puree through a sieve so it's nice and velvety - not necessary though!
At this point you can place the fish in the oven. Place the fish into a high-lipped baking sheet or baking pan, adding just enough water to come up about halfway up the side of the fish. Carefully place it in to the oven and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. The fish will be done when it's easily flaked - you can always use the Ripert method and stick a metal skewer into the thickest portion for a few seconds, then touch it to your bottom lip. If it's warm, it's finished! I generally take a portion closer to the shoulder, yielding a thicker piece, so clearly this would take longer than a thinner place - just keep this in mind when cooking the rest of the items!
While the fish is cooking, heat up a large saute pan over low to medium-low heat. Swirl in about 2 T of olive oil and allow to heat up for a bit. Toss in the sorrel with a sprinkling of sea salt and white pepper, and cook for just a few minutes, stirring often so it doesn't brown. Once the sorrel is wilted, remove from the pan and reserve. In the same pan, toss in the sliced ramps and gently sweat for about 5 minutes. Toss the chopped ramp leaves in the pan, and allow these leaves to cook until wilted, only a couple minutes. Finally, toss in the fava beans, stir to combine and season with salt and pepper. Voila! At this point, your fish should be done, or close to that!
To plate, spoon a bit of the parsley root puree into the center of each plate. Split both the fava bean saute and sorrel evenly between the two dishes, and top each with a portion of the lemon sole. Garnish each with minced basil and basil flowers, a touch of olive oil, and enjoy!
As you may have already figured, this is quite a delicate dish - albeit flavorful! The various cooking method allow the flavors of each component to really shine through, as well as work together beautifully. The parsley root puree is silky smooth with a lingering sweetness that's only enhanced by the almond milk. If you've never had parsley root, send yourself out on a mission to find it! It almost has a haunting parsley flavor - it's really lovely. The ramp leaves and root give again just a whisper of onion and garlic flavor that brings out the flavor of the fava beans in the saute. The strongest component of the dish is probably the sorrel, which lends a nice lemony touch that always works so well with the rest of the ingredients. Finally, the basil leaves and flowers bring it all together and add a nice touch of brightness to the dish. Altogether, this is a stunning dish that simply begs to be eaten slowly - with that, all of the flavors can come through, one at a time, and you can taste just how well it all works together. It's a definite keeper!