Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Start of the Beginning

Just before I reached my boiling point of inspiration regarding winter vegetables the produce gods have given us an early present. I have come to realize that due to the weather here in the Pacific Northwest the introduction of local spring vegetables tends to lag compared to more southern states, but this year we seem to be off to a good start (knock on wood).

We aren't quite ready to offer fresh peaches or nectarines, but expect to see offerings of asparagus (we currently have Washington state grown right now, with local farms probably next week), fava beans, English peas, etc. coming soon, but for now I'm going to make the most of some of these new and interesting ingredients, and that is why this description may seem like I have devised this special backwards...

I have always wanted to do a take on twice-baked potatoes, but I have never really given it much more thought than that until a recent produce delivery from Frank's Produce when I received a sample of an odd type of potato called a "red thumb" that was larger than a fingerling potato (duh) but with a red skin and a pink flesh that has an earthier flavor compared to the more common varieties. Though the unique size and shape had inspired a more elegant rendition of the twice-baked potato it was the earthy flavor that made me think of elevating the concept with a mixture of cream, finely grated parmesan and a drizzle of our new brand of white truffle oil that has a more deep and complex flavor compared to what we have previously used.

The next component is an ingredient that has just come into availability from local farmers in the last few years: a strand of broccoli rabe that has purple flowering heads. Aside from being beautiful it has the same slightly bitter taste as regular rabe, but this particular harvest from Full Circle Farm seems to have thinner, more tender stems. By quickly steaming it in butter, onions and garlic oil it's bitterness is a great counterpoint to the richness of the other components...

I have been deeply pondering how I could introduce black trumpet mushrooms to Table 219 every since I had them at Anchovies and Olives early last month, but with a price tag of $12 per pound - more expensive than the average of our menu items - I wasn't sure how I could get away with it, but at the last moment that they were available and still reasonably priced I struck black gold; by sauteing a modest handful with onions, garlic and butter I could make a sauce by adding cream, a little parmesan and some mushroom stock made from leftover shitake mushrooms I was able to showcase the black trumpet's buttery flavor and velvety texture in a way that is still reasonably priced.

Ironically, the final note to this dish was is what most people expect to be the primary focus of inspiration - the meat, but I had deliberated for many hours to come up with a "main ingredient" that far exceeds the expectations of the accompanying components:

I decided to take boneless, skinless chicken thighs and stuff them with a mixture of cream cheese and fresh oregano, thyme and parsley in the style of a Chicken Kiev, but instead of a breading I went with thinly sliced prosciutto ham to wrap each one to not only act as a tie but to also infuse the rich and salty flavor into each bite.

Another champion of the early spring offerings is rhubarb, a sour plant similar in structure to celery but is actually a member of the buckwheat family. Traditionally it is served alongside of strawberries in the form of pies, and due to a massive surplus, strawberries are dirt cheap right now.

I wish that I could say that I had foreseen this a couple of weeks ago when I started infusing rum with chopped rhubarb, but the truth is that their seasons tend to overlap, hence the classic combination. I already knew that I was going to combine them into a version of the classic mojito, but what I didn't know was how well the rhubarb rum was going to turn out!

The traditional concept remains the same by muddling mint with ice, but instead of adding lime and rum I used the sour rhubarb rum to take the place of both, and to replace the simple syrup used to sweeten the drink I simmered strawberries down with just a touch of sugar before straining and cooling, and once all of the ingredients were combined I topped it off with just a splash of club soda to lighten up the mixture.

With these exciting times, I can't wait to show you what's to come next!!

With Love,