Eight o’clock on Saturday morning. I’ve been up since before six (I don’t know why) and somehow I’m still late. The car wakes up easily, eager to go for a run. It seems to have extra enthusiasm, as though it knows that somehow I’m going to tear all the way across the city and back as quickly as I can, an adventure it is always willing to participate in. I’ve got a guest coming over for lunch at eleven and I think I’ll assemble a nice meal from scratch. I’ve made my mind up to go for ingredients to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market instead of the more local, smaller one in Silver Lake. Although I’m more of a fan of shopping locally, my usual market run is on Sunday, in Hollywood, and the Silver Lake one does not have most of the vendors that I know well from the other two markets, and I want to take no chances with my menu today. So, the highway for me this time.
The plan is to wander the market in head chef mode, looking for which items look good, choosing some of them and planning something simple and tasty around them. At the back of my mind is a salad, and maybe asparagus or artichoke as a central feature. I’m open to ideas, however, but the watchwords are fresh and simple. But I’ve got to get there, find the ingredients, and get back and make it all before eleven.
I break some kind of record for getting over to Santa Monica. Road was pretty open, and while I’m not saying whether I violated any speed limits, you can be pretty sure I hurt their feelings a bit. The market is still pretty empty and I can wander through at a good pace with my basket and check out the whole scene, retracing my steps on a second pass in reverse, this time buying things as I go. Three different kinds of tiny potatoes to form the base of a salad (after roasting them) along with two colours of carrot from the same people. For dessert I pick up three types of delicious berries -blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries- making a mental note to get some whipping cream (for hand-whipping later) as a topping.
I eye up some salad leaves of various sorts, and some herbs. I decide against using any greens in the salad (although I get some for later in the week), and move on. I notice that there are now various varieties of peach on offer, but I’m sorted in the dessert department…There are superstring beans and several squash varieties (among other things) at one of my favourite stalls, and I get the beans, a red onion, and a garlic there and go in search of the main item around which to build the salad’s principal flavour. Indeed, there’s a guy selling some excellent looking asparagus and artichokes, and I stand there dithering for a while, trying to pick a culinary direction in which to go. I decide upon the artichokes, and move on.
That was a productive half hour. I get back to the car and go up 5th (where I’d parked) to Wilshire and go along it for a while to the excellent Whole Foods that I sometimes visit. I pick up a carton heavy whipping cream soon after I enter, so that I don’t forget, and then pick up some olives.
Next step is to get all Italian and pick up some excellent prosciutto and provolone. Whole Foods does not disappoint, and after a short stop at the checkout, I’m back walking toward the car. By nine-thirty I’m heading toward the highway and about to begin the fast dash back home to assemble all of this into lunch. The timing means I’ll only have about an hour to do this, assuming no traffic delays, and so there’s no margin for error at all. I hope that I have everything I need.
So, home again, I get to work. The potatoes and carrots will take longest, as I am going to bake them, and so I immediately get to washing them, peeling the carrots, and chopping them into quarters. The potatoes get cut into two.
The onions gets several thin slices taken out of it, and I use my microplane grater to get some lovely lemon zest from one lemon, and squeeze the rest of that lemon – along with the last of the amazing meyer (meier?) lemons from my tree that I’d been saving for a special meal – to make about a half cup of juice. A clove of garlic is crushed, peeled and chopped.
Some wine vinegar is poured onto the onion slices and they are set aside. Nothing more to do to them. The potatoes and carrots are tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and are put into a hot (400 degrees) oven to roast for 40 minutes or so. A vinaigrette for the salad is made using some salt, the garlic, the lemon zest, about three tablespoonfuls of lemon juice, some tarragon (only had dried…. fresh would have been better), some pepper, a heaped teaspoonful of Dijon mustard, and some gradually stirred in olive oil…. about four or five tablespoonfuls.
I glance at the clock and there’s only ten minutes or so before the guest arrives, and I have not started on the artichokes! First I prepare the fluid that will be used to cook them. A half cup of lemon juice and three cups of water, a bay leaf, and a pinch of salt and some (a few tablespoons perhaps? I forgot) of olive oil. I start to pull off the outer leaves, going for the hearts. As soon as I get to the heart, I chop it up into four and dip it into the lemony water. I do that quickly since exposure to air tends to darken their colour, and the colour is important. Before I get to the next one, my guest arrives, and I let them in and get them settled. Completing the next artichoke, I set a fire under the pan and show my guest around. It’s all perfectly timed. This will all be done in another ten minutes. I show my guest around, and while I begin to assemble the salad (the potatoes and carrots are done) I assign them the task of gathering some of those tasty yellow pear tomatoes that are out in the garden, along with some of the super-tasty red cherry ones from the amazing plant growing in the step that I’ve told you about before. These tomatoes go into the salad too, along with some red and yellow pepper slices.
I also quickly steam some of the superstring beans for a side dish. After a short time (a bit more than five minutes) the artichokes are done and I drain off the broth -to be used one day in something else- and put everything (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, carrots, onions) together, tossing them all with the vinaigrette.
(There’s no good photo of the final salad or the exciting slicing of the artichokes since I got distracted. Sorry about that! All I can offer is this blurry enlarged small bit of a larger photo:)
Finally, along with the olives, prosciutto, provolone, and a chilled Riesling from the good people at the Bonny Doon vineyard, the whole thing is served outside on the patio as lunch:
It turns out to be delicious! How about that! The lemon flavours work really well. I must give credit to the Green’s Restaurant in San Francisco, which serves as my inspiration for this style of salad. I embellished a recipe from the Fields of Greens cookbook (by Annie Somerville) in order to assemble this one. I first learned to do nice things with artichokes from this book. The form of the rest of the lunch ensemble just seemed to make sense to me, and you just can’t beat some tasty berries and hand-whipped cream for dessert in the middle of a summer’s day.
Some slivers of a tasty Spanish fig cake brought by my guest ended a lovely lunch in the sun.
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