Warm Spinach Salad

baby spinachI have a certain person in my family who despises green food, and it’s not me or one of the kids. Still, I can get him to eat his spinach when I make this warm spinach salad. You can vary it in a number of ways, which I’ll include after the recipe. For the salad, I prefer baby spinach, which is more tender and flavorful; however, you can use other types of spinach, as well. The recipe below serves four.

  • 8 ounces of baby spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons duck fat
  • 5 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or raw apple cider vinegar)
  • Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Wash and drain baby spinach. Place dry spinach in a large, heatproof bowl.
  2. Heat olive oil in pan and cook chopped bacon until crispy.
  3. Remove bacon from fat with a slotted spoon and put in bowl with spinach.
  4. Add shallots and cook until soft.
  5. Add red wine vinegar, scraping browned bits off bottom of pan.
  6. Pour dressing from pan over the top of spinach and bacon and toss. The bacon will wilt slightly.
  7. Top with fresh pepper and serve immediately.

Variations:

  • Change vinegar to sherry vinegar or balsamic
  • Add pine nuts
  • Add zest from one orange to dressing when you add sugar

Chanterelles and Basil

basilI had two great culinary surprises today. The first was the discovery when I entered the farmer’s market that it was chanterelle season! These woody orange mushrooms are almost always wild gathered and have a tender bite and delicately earthy flavor. Every year, I wait throughs summer for chanterelle season. I had a hunch that I’d be seeing them soon, but I was surprised they were already there today. My second surprise was a bunch of fresh, homegrown basil from a colleague. She had a huge bag that scented the air and disappeared quickly. I grabbed a bag and brought it home.

These are two of the best of this season in the Pacific Northwest. Right now you’ll also find giant heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, apples, and the beginning of heartier winter vegetables.

Cooking Chanterelles

At first I tossed around combining my culinary treasures, but then I decided that I would cook them for two separate meals so my family could enjoy them longer. Tonight, I sauteed the chanterelles in a little butter, tossed them with some thyme and fresh garlic, and used them to top off a batch of mushroom risotto.

When cooking chanterelles, heat a pan to very hot and then add a small amount of butter. Add chanterelles in a single layer so every mushroom is in contact with the pan – do not overcrowd. Allow the chanterelles to saute until they release their liquid and the pan dries – about five minutes – before stirring. Stir and continue to cook for five minutes to brown the mushrooms. Add a dash of salt, some fresh thyme, and minced garlic. After adding the garlic, stir and immediately remove from the heat.

Chanterelles also make a great sauce. Cook as outlined above adding diced onions or shallots at the same time you add the mushrooms. After chanterelles have browned, add garlic and thyme, and then add a small bit of white wine, scraping the pan as the wine evaporates. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and allow to simmer until broth reduces by half. Stir in a swirl of heavy cream and taste to season. Use to top a protein like chicken or as a pasta sauce.

Chanterelles also bake well, so try adding them to a quiche.

Cooking with Basil

I am of the mind that basil loses a lot if you cook it. I believe that the value of basil is in its fresh flavor, so I almost always add fresh basil at the end of cooking. For example, I enjoy making a frittata and topping it with a chiffonade of fresh basil or some homemade pesto. You can also make a caprese salad, slicing heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and then drizzling them with high quality extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkling them with torn basil leaves. Season to taste with a little sea salt.

The Tao of Tomatoes

tomatoMy husband believes he does not like tomatoes. I disagree. What he doesn’t like are the mealy, flavorless red fruits I sometimes purchase at the grocery store that are not locally in season and have traveled hundreds of miles to get to my plate. If you want tomatoes in the off season and don’t have a hothouse, then such things are a necessary evil, but they fail to live up to the glory of a real, fresh, seasonal tomato.

Last night, my husband ate such a tomato. In a rather surprised voice, he told me it was good. He did not gag once while eating it.

There’s something very special (dare I say hedonistic?) about eating a sun-ripened, heirloom tomato that was just plucked from the vine hours ago at its peak of ripeness. Instead of the mushy, insipid tomato you buy at a grocery store, that heirloom tomato is firm, juicy, and sweet like a berry.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Have some really fresh tomatoes just waiting to be plucked? Try this simple salad.

1. Create a vinaigrette by mixing one part vinegar (balsamic works well with tomatoes, though you may use any kind such as red wine or Champagne vinegar) with three parts olive oil. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about a half teaspoon of minced shallot, and sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Whisk to emulsify.

2. Thinly slice your heirloom tomatoes and arrange them on a platter.

3. Pour your vinaigrette over the tomatoes.

4. Sprinkle with small pieces of fresh basil.

5. Allow to sit at room temperature for about two hours to allow flavors to mingle.

Tomato Tips

If you have such an amazing, fresh tomato in your possession, consider the following tips in order to allow it to reveal itself to you in all its glory.

1. Never, ever, ever store a tomato in the refrigerator. It causes the tomato to lose sweetness and texture. Instead, store it stemside down in a cool, dry location at a consistent temperature, and eat it soon after picking.

2. Select tomatoes that have a deep orangey-red color, firm yet supple flesh, and a substantial heft for their size. Give the tomato a sniff on the blossom end, smelling for a rich tomato scent.

3. When cooking, many canned tomatoes work as well if not better than fresh. My favorite canned tomatoes are Muir Glen organic tomatoes, which have great flavor with no tinny notes.

4. A teeny bit of sea salt on freshly sliced tomato can bring out the flavors.