Recipe Exchange: I like to cook. Sometimes people like to eat what I make. Sometimes when they eat it, they’re chefs or just people who like to cook. And, at times, those people are inspired by the dish I made.
Cooking for others is its own reward, with it being all too easy to see—after the warm smiles or effusive remarks—why people do this for a living.
“You don’t know how happy this makes me,” Nick Lisotto of The Racquet Club said as photographer/writer Jacki Philleo and I dove into a mini panettone topped with house made vanilla ice cream as part of my research for a piece on Lisotto’s painstaking process for cranking out the holiday bread.
“This makes it all worth it,” he said, as we made Andrew Zimmern faces in between devouring that perfect dessert.
I experienced that thrill while competing in The Food Experiments sandwich competition a few years ago at Underground Arts. I walked away with a Wustoff and a Microplane, along with the enthusiastic appreciation of total strangers—the same thing I got from competing in Taproom On 19th’s first annual gravy contest last fall.
But it’s even cooler when something you make inspires other people. Imitation is great—my sister in-law, like me, recently came upon a love for whole roasted spring onions via a steak dish from Tria Taproom that I ripped off and served at a family barbaque—but exploring and playing with the base idea is even better.
That was the case with a salad I made for my friend, Jennifer Choplin, who is the pizzaiolo at South Bowl.
It rested upon the notion of contrasting/complementary elements that serves as the scaffolding of any dish—something that blew my mind when first hearing it blithely talked about by chefs who had been thinking that way for years.
The elements at play in the salad?
I started with bitter. I pretty much buying whatever bitter green (cress, mustard greens, arugula) are fresh at the supermarket or farmers market and go from there. The fatty element is usually a musky goat cheese. After that, it’s pretty easy to fill in the blanks.
So, having dandelion greens and goat cheese available, I decided to slow cook some peaches I randomly bought with the greens.
¼ inch cuts. Salt. Butter. Rosemary. Low and slow: ~200-250°.
So that gave me sweet and savory with bitter and fatty. I added fresh dill for herbality. For salt, I added prosciutto, anchovies, and anchovy oil. I coated it all with a melted dill butter mixed with lemon juice. I grated lemon zest atop the salad. For another iteration (pictured) that was even better, I did a cherry red wine reduction with lemon juice and zest.
While anchovies and peaches may not seem like a good match to everyone, the idea here is balancing extreme elements—i.e. a very goaty cheese, extremely bitter greens, etc. The contrasting components dampen each other through inflection and a brilliant synergy is the result. Tied to their salt content, the fishiness of the anchovies is a nice accompaniment to the peaches—just as it’s cut by the dandelion greens.
“It was a nice combination of sweet, bitter, untuosuness, and salty–a nice combination of flavors,” Jennifer Choplin of South Bowl says.
“I wanted to take that and reimagine it into a special.”
But, as with any chef, she had to play to her audience while incorporating what was on hand.
“The only thing at first that I wanted to do differently was leave out the anchovies because sometimes people are weird about that. I would have to loved to have used prosciutto or speck, but we didn’t have any so I made a warm bacon vinigarette with a little butter in it as opposed to the dill butter dressing that you made [for the first salad I made].”
“For the vinegarette, I sweated some shallots in oil and butter with a little bit of bacon and then poured in a little bit of balsamic and apple cider vinegar. I cooked it down while rendering the bacon. We kept it warm and dressed the salad with it. Instead of dandelion greens—the place we get our produce from doesn’t have them—we used mustard greens. We roasted the peaches and added a little bit manchego cheese—it’s a salty, creamy sheep’s milk cheese. So, it stood in for the anchovies. It was nice. In each bite, you’d get all these different flavors. I like how each flavor component tied together to make one nice, coherent dish,” she says.
The tempo was changed as Choplin, apparently a strong singer, put her own spin on this rendition. As with the dill butter, I liked how the fattiness of the bacon vinaigrette coated the mustard greens. And the creaminess and sharp saltiness of the Manchego cheese was a nice substitute for the anchovies that took things in a slightly different direction.