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Ingredient of the Week: Strawberries

Strawberries from the Farmer's Market (c)2012

On a warm and sunny Saturday morning I walked through the crowded Boulder Farmer’s Market, past the artisan bread stand with the cute Italian guys, past the goat cheese maker’s tent, past mounds of vegetables piled high. As it should be, I caught whiff of the alluring fragrance before I saw them: strawberries! Members of the rose family, ripe strawberries have a sweet, floral aroma that cannot be ignored. These tiny, ruby red gems look puny next to mass-produced strawberries from the grocery store, but their flavor and juiciness is unbeatable. In The River Cottage Cookbook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes:

The best strawberries you will taste are the ones you pick and eat straight from the plant on a warm day, when they are fully ripe and the flavor-giving molecules are still buzzing with the heat of the sun.


Cook in the Moment: Tarragon Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon & Lemon Vinaigrette

Tarragon Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon and Lemon Vinaigrette (c)2012

I’m having a Nordic moment in the kitchen, inspired by the Scandinavian sensibility for fresh, brightly-flavored, seasonal ingredients- prepared simply. The food is light but nourishing, intended to stimulate the senses and energize the body. During springtime, I can’t wait to be outside, riding my bike with the husband, feeling a cool breeze on my skin. Walking little Minnie, our dachshund, is a pleasure, as she bounds through the green grass, ears flopping up and down. Summer will arrive soon, with oppressive heat and blazing sun, draining my body of the energy to cook and depleting my appetite. For now, I revel in spring- the pleasantly sunny days alternating with dramatic thunderstorms, the thrill of tender lettuces and just-harvested asparagus spears- tending to my happy little herb garden and enjoying the subtlety of the season.


10 Ways Tuesday: Tarragon

Tarragon (c)2012

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with the anise-flavored herb, tarragon:

1.  Asparagus and Tarragon Tart

Reading Nigel Slater’s tome on vegetables, Tender, I came across his simple but striking recipe for A Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon. Once the tart shell is made and pre-baked, pieces of asparagus are sprinkled in and a creamy custard flavored with a generous amount of tarragon leaves is poured over. As the tart bakes in the oven, Parmesan cheese forms a golden brown crust. This recipe perfectly illustrates the idea that less is more when you’re cooking with the freshest ingredients from the garden.

2.  Make Your Own Tarragon Vinegar

Infusing white wine vinegar with tarragon is so easy and it’s no-cook! Wash the tarragon and dry it completely, then stuff a couple sprigs into a bottle of good-quality white wine vinegar and allow it to infuse for at least a week before using. In Forgotten Skills of Cooking, Darina Allen writes that the tarragon should be completely submerged, as any leaves exposed to air will decay. Use tarragon vinegar in salad dressings, sauces, or as a condiment for oysters.


Ingredient of the Week: Tarragon

Tarragon (c)2012

This week at la Domestique is dedicated to the herb, tarragon. Something about the highly aromatic scent of tarragon embodies the essence of spring: fresh, like that of a pine forrest after a good soaking rain, but more delicate and feminine. Tarragon is softer than basil, lacking that tendency towards astringency. The long, thin stems and spindly green leaves taste of licorice with a lingering sweetness. It’s a balance of strength and softness. Sprinkle tarragon leaves over a salad or stir them into a sauce and the anise notes permeate while at the same time amplifying other flavors. Tarragon is a good team player, enhancing the fresh, lively character of other herbs such as chervil, parsley, thyme, and chives. Use tarragon to brighten up rich creamy sauces and and as a compliment to mustard. Fresh tarragon leaves add a sparkle -a little something special- to gently cooked vegetables such as carrots, peas, asparagus, or radishes and make a fitting companion to boiled potatoes. An essential ingredient in classic French cuisine, tarragon paired with butter is delicious over beef, chicken, and seafood (especially lobster).


Spring Onion, Pea, and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese

Spring Onion, Pea, and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese (c)2012

Frittata, the rustic Italian omelet, is a dish I make again and again during springtime. It’s a simple, forgiving technique- much like a crustless quiche- open to endless variations. The method is to lightly sauté  filling ingredients in a high-sided skillet, then pour over beaten eggs (with cream or milk) and cook for a moment on the stovetop until almost set, transferring the skillet to the oven broiler for a minute or two until puffed and golden on top. A frittata is easygoing, just like a sunny spring day, and can be served warm or at room temperature. It’s even good reheated the next morning for breakfast, after the flavors have had a chance to mingle overnight in the fridge. This laid back dish travels well and loves to go on picnics or garden parties. Frittata is a celebration of the spring garden, and it’s fun to modify the basic recipe based on what is ready for harvest. This week I’m enjoying a recipe for Spring Onion, Pea, and Chive Frittata with Goat Cheese that’s an ode to the flavors of spring: fresh herbs, sweet succulent peas, and tangy goat cheese.


10 Ways Tuesday: Peas

Peas (c)2012

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with spring peas:

1.  Spring Pea & Herb Salad

Each year I look forward to cooking this Spring Pea & Herb Salad, excitedly pulling the card from my trusty recipe box. It’s the whole package: vibrant color, fresh flavor, and interesting texture. Peas, edamame, watercress, sorrel, and spring onions are tossed in the best extra-virgin olive oil and a couple pinches of flakey Maldon sea salt, then garnished with fresh mint and edible flowers. The flavors are more pronounced at room temperature, and so this salad is well-suited to carrying along on a spring picnic. It’s also great packed for a cheerful, healthy lunch.

2.  Smashed Peas on Crostini

I was smitten with Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Incredible Smashed Peas and Fava Beans on Toast the moment I saw him preparing it in his garden on the show, Jamie at Home. Peas, fava beans, mint, pecorino cheese, and olive oil are pounded into a purée with a mortar and pestle, then spread over grilled bread. Fresh mozzarella and pea shoots finish off the dish. It’s a beautiful celebration of the sweet, succulent pea in all its glory.


Ingredient of the Week: Peas

This week at la Domestique we celebrate spring peas. In Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice Waters writes, “The arrival of freshly picked green peas is one of the events that define high spring at Chez Panisse.” I remember sowing peas in my community garden plot last year and building the trellis, forcing wooden stakes into the hard, dry Colorado soil. Watching the peas grow was such a miracle, their dainty tendrils reaching out to grasp the trellis, winding around and around, encircling the netting. Each day they seemed to double in size, climbing further towards the sky, green leaves displayed proudly, soaking up the sun’s rays. Then there were delicate white flowers, shivering in the Colorado breeze. The next morning I had to do a double take when- could it have been overnight?- I found a bounty of two-inch-long pea pods dangling under the flowers. The trick in harvesting peas is allowing them to ripen and fill their pods comfortably, but making sure you get them before the birds do. It always seems that the opportunists know the perfect moment of ripeness and manage to beat the gardener to it by a few painful minutes.


Cook in the Moment: Recipe for Mussels Cooked in Rosé

Recipe for Mussels Cooked in Rosé (c)2012

On September 30, 2008 I met Michelle Obama. Just before the November election, Mrs. Obama came to CU-Boulder with the purpose of rallying students to register to vote. It was an exciting time, before the recession had taken its toll on the American spirit. I could feel the importance of the moment, that Michelle Obama was going to be our next first lady, and this was a golden opportunity to get close to her- one that would probably not happen for me again. Being several years out of college, it was intimidating to walk onto campus at CU-Boulder, so I was relieved when one of my best girl friends wanted to go with me. The Colorado sun shone brightly on that warm September day, and we felt the audacity of hope warm us through as we stood in line at the football field, waiting for the gates to open.


10 Ways Tuesday: Rosé Wine

Red Grapes in a Vineyard, Niederweiler Germany (c)2012

I’ve got creative ideas for enjoying Rosé wine during the warm days of late spring:

1.  Rosé Steamed Mussels

Dry rosé, with its mineral character and hint of fruit, is the base of a spicy broth infused with the briny flavor of mussels in this recipe from Food & Wine. It’s a simple dish and quick from stove to table, as the mussels need only sauté in garlic, shallots, red pepper flakes, and rosé for about 5 minutes before they spring open and are ready to eat. A pat of butter enriches the broth and parsley leaves sprinkled over at the last minute add fresh, herbal flavor.

2.  An Aperitif with a Salty Snack

Rosé was made for aperitif, the endearing French habit of enjoying a drink and a little snack to stimulate the appetite for supper. In the charming book, Aperitif, Georgeanne Brennan writes, “A rosé made in the French style, dry and let, yet full of body and substance, is a most alluring aperitif.” She suggests pairing chilled rosé with “the indigenous flavors of Provençe terroir” -an assortment of olives, roasted garlic, anchovies, charcuterie, or tiny sautéed clams. Just remember, aperitif is supposed to stimulate the appetite, not satiate it.


Ingredient of the Week: Rosé Wine

This week I suffered my first (and only) sunburn of the season. It’s now warm enough to steal a Friday afternoon at the pool before the kids get out of school and ruin all the lovely peace and quiet. Each year, I cautiously don my bikini and creep out to a lounge chair in the sun, soaking up the rays until I’m warmed through. Sweating in the sun feels good, and makes me thirsty- not for water or lemonade, but for rosé. This dry “pink wine” is something I look forward to every spring when the latest vintage is released. Meant to be drunk young, for the most part, rosé should be enjoyed within the first year or two of the vintage. To really appreciate rosé, you’ve got to understand what it represents. Mark Oldman describes Provençe as the original home of rosé in his book, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, writing, “that paradisiacal region of sun-kissed slopes and lavender meadows remains a locus of rose’s spiritual soul.” A Mediterranean coastline of fun and sun in the southeast of France, the mother of the best rosé in the world, Provençe produces blushing pink wines with minerality, floral essences, a hint of berry or melon fruit, and a truly refreshing acidity guaranteed to quench your thirst on a hot day. The beauty of any rosé is its ability to be crisp and refreshing like a white wine, with the depth of flavor and body of a red wine.


About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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