Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Taking the Easy Way Out

Before I get into this week's specials I want to make sure that everyone knows that this Thursday, April 29 is Dining Out for Life, an annual fundraising event where 30% of sales from participating businesses (like ours) goes to Lifelong AIDS Alliance and the fight against illness and hunger in our community. We urge you to make your purchases/dinners at one of the businesses involved, even if it isn't ours.

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As much as I love the bounty that this time of year begins to offer, there are a handful of ingredients that I can only use once a year despite availability because they are not only pricey, but also a pain in the ass to prepare, like pearl onions, English peas, and the bitch of them all - fava beans. Not only do I (and our customers) have to pay for the inedible shells, but in the case of the fava, each bean needs to be peeled individually in addition to shucking them from the pod. Fortunately for me (and our customers), a little complaining has paid off.

During a delivery last week my produce purveyor, Aaron pointed out that fava beans were around, and after my expletive-filled rant about time and money, Aaron offer the idea to try fava leaves, suggesting that they are "all of the flavor without any of the hassle".

After some research I found that they have become popular in San Francisco due to a high volume of crops around that area, and they can be served raw in a salad or sauteed like spinach; either way yielding the same, full flavor of fava. Due to their obscurity I wasn't able to guarantee that I would be able to get the fava leaves in again, so after experimenting a little bit on my own I found a base for my special, as well as a sigh of relief.

I wanted to make a thick puree, so I started by sweating onions and garlic in olive oil to which I added not only the picked fava leaves, but I also pureed the stems in a blender with some half and half that I strained before adding to the mix to draw out as much flavor as possible without the final product coming out chunky. Once the leaves were wilted in the enriched cream I quickly returned the mixture to the blender along with a few cooked potatoes for a thicker, silkier texture. As soon as everything was completely homogeneous I quickly chilled it over ice to ensure that the bright green color stayed intact.

To accompany the fava flavor I decided to go with the mediterranean ideal that has been associated with it, so I chose another legume as a playful sort of irony to pair with it: the scarlet runner bean. Named after the color of flower that it often yields, these are probably the largest that you have ever eaten, swelling to just over an inch in my kitchen, but not before imparting more flavor by simmering them for over three hours in a combination of vegetable stock and Ras el Hanout, a North African blend of spices containing cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and other spices. I love cooking dried beans this way because it imparts the flavor throughout, not just on the surface.

I've had an idea in my notebook for quite some time now to stuff pork tenderloins with figs, and I felt that there would be no better combination than with the flavors of this dish, and if I was going to take it that far, I might as well add crumbled Gorgonzola cheese to the stuffing as well; you know, for good measure.

Lately I've felt that my background in pastry has been advantageous in this quest for new and different cocktails; that my experience in both sides of the kitchen (sweet and savory) gives me an edge over the usual mixologist, both in creativity and experience, and I think that this drink proves it!

Instead of the boring staple of simple syrup that some bars even buy (it's sugar and water!!!) I wanted to make a different version consisting of brown sugar, water and a fresh vanilla bean to end up with a component that is much more complex than something most people are used to. I used this to sweeten a passion fruit puree into a perfect balance of sweet and sour, and once combined with Bacardi rum (my favorite mixing rum) and poured over iced this drink has nuances that will float on for days!!!

With Love,