Tomato season at Lucques is up there with Cassoulet night and Rib Fest in terms of annual buzzed-about events. And though it’s not actually an event but a period of time from mid-summer to early fall, tomato-craving diners begin calling in late spring to ask, “Are the heirlooms in yet?” They sound so desperate and excited as if they just can’t wait another day to eat a tomato. So even though I know the answer myself, I walk back to the kitchen to check with the chef. “A few more weeks!” he promises me. I know how they feel though. There’s nothing quite like a beautiful heirloom or cherry tomato at the peak of it’s season. Growing up in Vermont, cherry tomatoes always flourished in our summer garden. I would stand next to the plants, which matched my height at the time, and eat those sweet tomatoes right off of the vine as if I had just discovered my very own candy tree in our yard. I know that it isn’t summer yet and so those fat and luscious heirlooms and perfectly sweet cherry tomatoes are not here yet, but I couldn’t wait to test this recipe. After a winter of hearty braised meats, rich and delicious purées of squash, carrots and potatoes, this recipe of grilled-arctic char, arugula, and Suzanne’s “go-to quick and easy sauce for summer” cherry tomato anchovy brown butter is a wonderful alternative. I would suggest, of course, to make it when Suzanne would, in late summer. In testing and eating Suzanne’s recipes from her upcoming AOC cookbook, as well as from my years at Lucques, I am always impressed with the well-balanced variety of dishes on her menu and in her books. As you will find in the AOC cookbook, due out in October 2013, there are recipes for every mood and season.
Category Archives: Lunch
Suzanne Goin’s AOC Cookbook Preview: Grilled Arctic Char with Arugula and Cherry Tomato-Anchovy Brown Butter
Vermont Maple Memories: Pepper-seared Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Spinach, Turnip Purée and Maple Balsamic Sauce
When it comes to “comfort food” we tend to refer back to the simple things we ate during our childhood, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, ice cream, apple pie and mom’s chicken soup (to name a few). But having grown up in northern Vermont in the middle of acres and acres of farm land, nothing is more comforting to me than pure Vermont maple syrup. When I was kid, my parents refused to accept payment from our neighbor farmer for the hay he needed to take from our fields every fall to feed his cattle through the winter. I have fond memories of climbing up on to those giant prickly marshmallow-shaped hay bales and attempting to jump from one to the next. Instead, in exchange for the free-hay, farmer Tucker would give us a handsome two-gallon jug of pure grade A Vermont maple syrup, which he had tapped from his own maple trees and boiled down in his Sugar-house into the luscious syrup. In all of my almost 18-years growing up in Vermont, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one of those huge jugs on the floor of our kitchen pantry. It was a constant staple, like flour, sugar and salt. We never ran out. And what most non-Vermonters don’t realize is that maple syrup isn’t an ingredient meant only for drizzling over pancakes. It’s a secret-weapon ingredient for all kinds of other desserts, savory dishes, salad dressings and in this case, balsamic steak sauce! My brother’s girlfriend Bliss, who also grew up in Vermont but lives in Brooklyn now, admitted to me once, “All of my friends make fun of me for my cooking. They say that I put maple syrup in everything I make.” I looked at her, confused. “Why? That’s a good thing.”
Pepper-seared Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Spinach, Turnip Purée and Maple Balsamic Sauce
For Steak and Sauce:
- 4( 6-ounce) filet mignons, trimmed
- Freshly cracked black pepper, (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup pure Vermont maple syrup
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 2 tablespoon French brandy
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola, for topping
- 1 lb turnips, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
- kosher salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 bunch baby spinach leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat one side of each filet with cracked pepper.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the turnips and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain. Return the turnips to the pan and add the cream. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cream coats the turnips, about 4 minutes. Purée turnip mixture in a food processor until smooth. Cover and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron (or other oven-proof) skillet over medium-high heat until oil just begins to smoke. Add the filets, pepper side down and sear well on one side for about 3 minutes. Turn the filets over and sear for 2 more minutes before transferring the skillet to the oven for 5 more minutes.
Remove the steaks from the skillet and set aside, covered to keep warm while you make the sauce.
Using the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft and translucent, stirring frequently. Stir in the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and apple-cider vinegar and cook until sauce is reduced by have. Continue to stir. This should take about 5 minutes
Stir in the beef stock. Remove the skillet from heat and add the brandy. Return the skillet to the heat. When the sauce begins to boil, whisk in the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place a large dollop of the turnips on the center of four plates. Place a delicate handful of the baby spinach on top of each dollop. place the cooked steaks on top of the spinach. Using a large spoon, drizzle the sauce generously over the steaks. Top each steak with desired amount of crumbled Gorgonzola.
I’ll admit it. I’m a kumquataholic. This time of year kumquats are bountiful at the restaurant where I work. There’s a giant tub of them in the walk-in refrigerator and the bartender always has a perfect glass cup filled with halves of the adorable little citrus fruits. And whether I’m dressed in a white chef’s jacket helplessly searching for Tat Soy in the walk-in, or up front welcoming guests, the little orange gems are calling to me. Normally, admitting that you have a habit of taking something that isn’t yours while others aren’t looking is a shameful confession. But with something as irresistible as the kumquat, can you really blame me? And quite frankly, no one does. Especially Farmer Peter Shaner himself, who grows the flawless kumquats we serve at Lucques. So when I saw at my local farmer’s market last week, a bushel of what appeared to be equally delicious looking kumquats, I bought a lot of them. And instead of hurriedly popping them in my mouth for just a moment of undeniable pleasure, I made this salad.
I love cooking (obviously). But I know a lot of people who don’t. Many of my dearest friends would rather eat a bowl of cereal for dinner than have to pick up a spatula or deal with actually lighting their stove top burners. And as much joy as I often get out of my culinary endeavors, I can understand where they’re coming from. It’s a lot of work and when you’re tired and hungry sometimes all you want is to come home to something that’s already made. Well, remember that delicious spring risotto you made yesterday, the one that was loaded with green seasonal vegetables and perfected with diced pancetta? Well, it gets even better. Now you can quickly remake it into these decadent risotto cakes and serve them with a perfect fried egg for an instant fancy meal!
On one of my first nights interning in the kitchen at Lucques, I was given the honorable task of preparing the famous short ribs for braising and then keeping an eye on them through the night. Excitedly, I obliged and eagerly asked “How long do they need to braise?” Our sous-chef Aaron looked at me with a blank stare as if he had suddenly realized that my brain was merely the size of a grain of farro. “Until they’re done.” And he walked away.
I don’t usually cook chicken. It scares me and I think it’s boring. It scares me because it’s one of the few things that shouldn’t be cooked to medium or rare, and if it were, could result in severe illness. I probably think it’s boring from eating one too many dry, skinless, boneless chicken breasts in the ’90s when the low-fat lifestyle was in vogue. It seems like a catch-22. If you cook it too much it’s horribly dry, too little and you might kill someone. So why bother with chicken when I could be cooking up duck, lamb, pork or steak? But in truth, I have had some extremely delicious chicken over the years. I chewed with utter confusion during my college semester in Paris. “Why does this ‘poulet’ taste so different from in the U.S? It has flavor?!” And more recently our chef de cuisine carried out a heaping tray of delicious dark brown crispy breaded fried chicken for the staff to eat for dinner before our shift. And as I chomped down on my perfect drumstick, I thought maybe it’s time to give chicken a second chance. It is spring, after all, a time for new beginnings. So I embarked on this sure-fire method, which had been shared by another restaurant colleague. Sear the chicken skin side down until it’s crispy, then transfer the pan to the oven and bake it…until it’s done.
‘Tis the Season for Seasonal Salad: Spinach, Endive and Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Maple Vinaigrette
When it comes to food and the holidays, I have a weakness for tradition. And even though I am the kind of person who will eat anything and everything you put in front of me anytime of day (as long as there is some hope of it being delicious), for the holidays I like to stick with tradition. Because, after all, that’s what the holidays are all about; doing the same rituals year after year after year so that in an ever changing world we at least can rely on turkey on Thanksgiving, prime rib for Christmas and potato latkes for Hannukah. I find comfort in this. For Christmas dinner, which I have made every year for my entire family for the past five years, I always start with a seasonal salad. In my opinion, every elegant holiday meal should start with some hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and conversation, followed by a seasonal salad, a hearty main course and something special for dessert. This spinach and endive salad is the perfect salad for your holiday meal. It’s the ideal combination of this season’s flavors and is so easy it won’t take time away from the the rest of the meal you’ll be perfecting this holiday season.
I had never made lamb meatballs before. It’s not that I don’t think they’re delicious. It had just never crossed my mind. But a few weeks ago, my friend Kathryn and I were faced with the challenge of putting together a picnic for six people in less than thirty minutes. It not only needed to be ready in thirty minutes, it needed to be packed up neatly and securely for picnic consumption. We had a very important concert to attend. I am normally in this situation alone in a completely torn apart kitchen, panicked, trying to find container lids and plastic flatware while cursing myself for making an unnecessarily complicated variety of salads and sandwiches.
“Let’s make lamb meatballs.” Kathryn swooped in this time like some sort of picnic angel. And although summer is over and so are most outdoor concert series, the holiday season is almost upon us. Pretty soon we’ll be contemplating what to bring to our friend’s festive potluck. I, for one, recommend these lamb meatballs. They were a huge hit!