Summer has come early to New England for the first time in as long as I can recall. May has felt very much like June, the garden is out of control for this early in the season and even though we have had a few nights that have threatened us with frost, I feel remiss for not having my tomato plants in their pots already. I know that I am pushing things, Memorial weekend is the traditional plant your tomatoes weekend in my neck of the woods, then again Gran always said have your peas in the ground by St. Patrick's day which found me one year planting in a snow storm. Who am I to question Gran's wisdom?
Summer of course means salads, salads of all kinds and shapes and colours. I consider salad like a good tapas meal, little bites and nibbles of this and that all available on a plate for combining various ways on a fork. No taste bud burnout and new combos in each bite. Given my love of all things bitter it comes as a surprise that it took me 45 years to like frisée. I used to call it the lettuce that bit you back with its vicious looking spines sticking out of a salad like coral on a beach. A few tries later and some encounters with some lovely softer leafed frisée has changed my perception entirely. The impetus for this salad came when my pal Maggie at Kinnealey sent me some gorgeous Salumeria Biellese Guanciale when I ordered guanciale last week.
I've had it from La Quercia and Niman Ranch before but nothing and I mean nothing beat this pig cheek. Marbled, cured, piggy porky heaven.
My other latest obsession are agrodolce or sweet and sour cipollini onions. I had a pint one day that were languishing around so I found a Mario Batali recipe that didn't cook them in balsamic. I like them well enough with the balsamic but I feel like it drowns them out a bit and I wanted something lighter tasting. His recipe is simple. Peel your onions, in my case a 1 pint container. Add to a sauté pan with 2 TBS olive oil, 2 - 3 TBS white vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 2 TBS sugar and some salt. Cook at a good simmer until the onions are knife tender and then lid off to let it reduce and glaze a bit. I store them in a crock in the fridge and have them with everything. They are very, very addictive.
Spring is also the season of the fava bean, broad beans to those of you on that island over the pond, the worlds most labor intensive, delightful, vegetable. Piss and moan about artichokes all you want, for maximum work, waste and also reward the fava bean wins hands down. First you choose the tightest freshest pods, far more than you think you will need, and then if you are me, sit down and join the 11+ class on a Wednesday night and chat with them all as you shuck them from the pod. Proceed to then discard most of the weight of the product you bought in the trash, those empty pods weigh a lot and take a lot of real estate. Since the burners are all in use, go and join the 9-11 class in the other kitchen who just happen to be blanching asparagus and quickly blanch and shock your fava beans in ice water. Go back across the hall again to the 11+ class and sit down and peel the outer tough layer of each and every fava bean off. Pare a 3 lb purchase down to, oh say, 6 ounces of beans. Those were later sautéed with some teeny, tiny mushrooms I bought at Russo's in olive oil and garlic. Foolishly I did not get the name of the mushrooms and of course I haven't seen them there again. They were like tiny representations of toadstools you might find in Alice in Wonderland, a bit like these. We had some for dinner one night and the leftovers were sprinkled on the salad.
The salad itself was simple. A bed of frisée topped with a few of those agrodolce cippolini, poached egg from my egg lady in Maine and the leftover fava beans (skip for paleo and primal) and mushrooms The dressing was guanciale sautéed until rendered and crisp, removed and drained and to the pan I tossed in a minced shallot sautéed until soft and added a final splash of cider vinegar. Fridge cleaning at its finest.