You know how in my last post I said that I was holding on to summer? It hasn't been hard.
This past Saturday marked the official start of fall but with temperatures in the 90s yesterday and more of the same forecast for today it has yet to feel like fall. Our windows are still open, we're not wearing sweaters or jackets (OK, occasionally a fleece when I take the dog to the park at the crack of dawn, but never at any other time), and we're still eating salads instead of fall food.
Which is fine because the farmer's markets are still filled with gorgeous produce and this salad, except for the lemons and the oil in the dressing, was put together entirely from our farmer's market. It's a mesclun mix, with tiny green beans, thinly sliced raw zucchini, tomatoes, corn, mint, thyme, basil, chives and smoked trout tossed with a lemony dressing with herbs.
The salad is adapted from a recipe in Restaurant Recipes at Home: A Best Recipe Classic, another book from the prolific folks at Cook's Illustrated. It has an unusual dressing -- lots of lemon in a ratio that's pretty far from the standard vinaigrette recipe. This is 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts oil -- something I never would have arrived at on my own but which I found delicious here. This is one of the things I like about going through a recipe and doing it according to someone else's directions -- you end up somewhere you wouldn't have on your own.
Restaurant Recipes at Home: A Best Recipe Classic is a collection of restaurant recipes reworked by the Cook's Illustrated staff to make them more accessible for home cooks. The original recipe, called Summer Salad with Smoked Trout, from Lucia's Restaurant and Wine Bar in Minneapolis called for sorrel and chervil which the Cook's Illustrated recipe leaves out because they're hard to find. The Cook's Illustrated recipe also called for briefly blanched snow peas and baby carrots for which I substituted haricots vert and thin slices of baby zucchini because that's was what was at hand; I thought they both worked well. I didn't use purslane but I've listed it as an optional ingredient to remind myself to use it next time I make it; purslane is mildly tart and would work well as a green in this salad. One thing that doesn't work: very bitter greens. There was raddichio in the mesclun mix I bought. Not so good here.
End of Summer Farmer's Market Salad
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup juice plus 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 medium garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 quarts mixed mesclun greens
1 handful of purslane leaves and stem ends (optional)
1 cup haricots vert (aka tiny thin green beans), trimmed and briefly blanched
1 baby zucchini, thinly sliced
2 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, cooked briefly,
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced in 1” pieces
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
½ pound smoked trout
1. Put all the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings.
2. Toss the mesclun mix with just enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves and arrange on a platter. Toss the rest of the vegetables separately and arrange them on the leaves. Break the trout into bite sized pieces and arrange on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle the chives and basil on top. (If you prefer, you could toss the vegetables with the mesclun but the vegetables all seem to sink below the leaves and it doesn't look as pretty.)
OK, a sidenote not at all related to this recipe:
Did anyone read the NY Times article in the food section the Wednesday before last about raising chickens in the city? It's very apropos for me because this has been on my mind for some time.
Ever since I read a little blurb in a magazine a few years back (it might have been this one) about the Eglu, a sort of iMac-esque looking modular chicken coop designed for keeping a small number of chickens in your back yard, I have been considering (in a not too serious, back-of-my-mind kind of way) the possibility of keeping chickens. But this past summer I began entertaining the whole idea in a more active way, even going so far as to check what laws Baltimore City had about chickens. (And as far as I can tell they're legal, cows and horses too, as long as no one complains about them smelling.)
It's not a completely outlandish idea. We would only need two or three to supply all the eggs we needed and then some. We wouldn't have a rooster so our chickens wouldn't be a noise problem. Plus, raising your own chickens (and we're talking eggs here, not butchering) gives you a level of control over what you eat. You have control over what your chickens are fed and the conditions in which they're raised. The eggs would be truly fresh and they couldn't be more local.
There are people who are successfully doing it. In fact, there are whole websites devoted to the subject: Backyard Chickens, The City Chicken, Urban Chickens, and Mad City Chickens, and there's even an urban chicken Flickr group.
In my version of chickens in the backyard, they don't live in an Eglu but in a handcrafted coop handcrafted by Mike and they spend their days wandering the (securely fenced) backyard. About a month ago I got around to mentioning my chickens-in-the-backyard idea to Mike and he gave me the sort of incredulous look that he might use had I just confessed that I secretly yearn to join the Republican party. "Chickens?" he asked. "Here?"
Mike did point out very reasonably that we could get extremely fresh eggs for not all that much at the farmer's market and it's not as if we're huge consumers of eggs. Although my reasons for wanting to do this aren't entirely about practicality or eating quality food. Part of me just wants to do it for the sake of doing it.
But for the time being my chicken-raising aspirations are on hold. Next up: I try to interest Mike in my plans for creating planting beds on the roof of our row house in which we grow vegetables and fruits. Stay tuned.