Sometimes when I think about my role as a cook, I view myself as a facilitator for the ingredients. Helping them show best rather than bending ingredients to my will. This weekend’s dinners at Granor Farm epitomized those feelings.
The first example were these squash blossoms. I had pictured the second dish of the meal being a folded ravioli filled with sweet pea and ricotta filling swimming in a brown butter and lemon sauce. But then Katie (the farm manager) mentioned that there would be squash blossoms available. I knew that they were a better vehicle for the sweet peas than my pasta ever would be, but how would I fry them? We don’t have a fryer. I loathe frying on the stove top. And how would the timing work? Trying to fry a bunch of super delicate blossoms at the same time that guests would be walking in the house sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
Then I saw the blossoms. They were the most perfect, tiny little flowers, and the idea of coating them in batter seemed like a damn shame— no matter how light and crunchy the batter would be. I mulled on it for about two days. How to create the crunch? How to make them feel finished? How to honor the perfection of those blossoms that I had access to because my kitchen is only 100 feet from the garden where they were harvested.
I remembered dukkah, the middle eastern ground spice and nut mixture that is often eaten by dipping pita and vegetables in it. The texture would be perfect—providing contrast to the silk of the petal and the cream of the filling.
This is what it looked like on the plate. The very first bite for dinner guests after they had walked the fields.
The second example was these onion starts. We started more onions than was needed for the field rows. Everything deserves to get eaten and so these starts (which would have become Ailsa Craig sweet onions) instead were cut from their root ball and turned into a charred scallion vinaigrette. Grilling onions adds a smokey depth to the sulfurous acidity in alliums, as any burger joint will tell you.
I wanted to grill them, but it was pouring rain when it came time. Somewhere I once read that a broiler is just like an upside down grill, so broiled scallions it was. After that they were roughly chopped and vinaigretted (by combining the onion w/ equal parts sherry vinegar and olive oil). That rich burn contrasting kohlrabi and salty smoked trout over wild rice cakes. (I forgot to take that picture.)
The third example was my attempt at pita to go with the cream coddled egg. I mis-scaled the recipe as I adjusted it for my sour starter to replace the yeast— ending up with something much more like pancake batter than pita dough.
I remembered an event I did at the Hull House in Chicago showcasing native population’s food. One of the items was Navajo fry bread. So instead of pitching the dough and buying store bought pita— as was my original thought— I heated a lot of oil in a pan and tried it (fried it). They were delicious and perfect for dunking in the creamy, garlic-y, yolky mixture.
Not everything worked though. I made a batch of rye crackers using the rye harvested from Granor last season. I used the same recipe as the previous time. The only difference was the rye. It was coarser and a bit drier. The crackers would not hold together. I tried to roll and remix and finally remembered what Rory O’Connell said once during a cooking demonstration at Ballymaloe, “there’s no use convincing myself this is salvageable. Just start again.” I threw that cracker dough in the compost. But thankfully I threw it in there still in its plastic wrap and upon pulling it out to remove the plastic, felt so bad about throwing it away that I saved it and am going to try to make some sort of a rye crumble to top something or other. My hopes aren’t high, but maybe it will work. I just didn’t have the time to work on it then. The remade crackers were great.
In the end, the dinners were successful. The menu changed up until the morning of the first night allowing me to find ways to best showcase what we had grown. I struggle with how to share best ways to adapt cooking situations when they come slightly unhinged. It takes acquired knowledge and the instincts to apply those experiences. It isn’t hard, but there isn’t a trick expressed in a sound bite. Maybe that is what makes the difference in home versus domestic cooking– we chefs get hours to practice and adapt.
This is one of my favorite ways to cook eggs for large groups. It is easy to control the timing and the end is truly more than the sum of its parts.
- 1 onion
- 5 garlic scapes, or 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 C white wine
- 3 C cream
- 8oz shitake mushrooms, optional
- 6 eggs
- parsley to garnish
- bread or toasts to dunk
- Slice the onion thinly
- Mince the garlic
- Heat a glug of oil or a knob of butter in a sauce pan
- Add the onion and garlic and a big pinch of salt and allow to sweat without coloring
- Add the wine and allow to reduce until syrupy
- Add the cream and bring to a simmer and reduce by half
- Clean and roast the mushrooms by tossing in olive oil, salt, and pepper and baking or pan frying until brown and crispy
- When cool, finely chop the mushrooms
- Heat oven to 325F
- Divide the cream mixture between 6 small jars or ramekins
- Add the mushrooms if using and place on a sheet tray and transfer to the oven
- Bake until the cream is bubbling
- Crack the egg into the warm cream, season with a pinch of salt and return to the ove
- Bake until the egg white is set but the yolk is still giggly — about 7 minutes
- Remove from the oven and garnish with roughly chopped parsley
- Serve warm with a good amount of toast on the side for sopping up the cream