As a food lover, working at a restaurant can be a wonderful and cruel thing. You’re surrounded by food and required never to take a bite. You may be hungry but there’s no time to eat (and the last thing the kitchen wants to do is make an employee a meal). Working in restaurants is like being stranded on the ocean in a dingy: You’re surrounded by a beautiful, beguiling thing that you can not consume.
The fact that I handle plates of beautifully crafted appetizers, sculpted entrees and arousing desserts on a nightly basis may have something to do with my obsession to recreate the chef’s dishes at home. And honestly, not eating and being surrounded by food begins to get to you. Especially when you’re so hungry you could eat your own hand.
One dish that’s saved me from nibbling off a pinky for sustenance is a market vegetable dish inspired by my new boss, Chef Suzanne Goin. Goin’s appetizer of market vegetables with Meyer Lemon cream and “burrata” is truly something to behold and a dish I’ve been pushing–I mean suggesting–to guests ever since Tavern Restaurant opened several weeks ago.
The dish is a beautiful combination of colorful blanched vegetables that have been tossed in a light citrus cream and finished with one of the world’s most decadent forms of mozzarella. It’s a celebration of all that is available at our farmers’ markets in one mouthwatering dish that is incredibly easy to prepare and, if done right, is a real scene-stealer.
Market Vegetables with Burrata and Meyer Lemon creamLet the market guide you to the ingredients for this celebration of the season’s freshest vegetables. Let freshness and diverse colors inspire your choices in vegetables! Also, don’t go too heavy on one ingredient and try to pick equal portions.
¾ lb baby carrots (small, fresh and straight from the market), washed and scrubbed
½ lb English snap peas
¼ lb pea tendrils
1 head of cauliflower, stock removed and cut into uniformed florettes
1 small head of purple cauliflower, stock removed and cut into uniformed florettes
¾ lb baby zucchini or baby squash, rinsed well
1 bunch of pencil thin asparagus, cleaned and cut into equal 2-inch pieces.
2 balls of burrata (this California- or Italian-made cream-filled mozzarella is available at specialty cheese stores or Whole Foods’ cheese counter)
Salt (kosher and Maldon) and pepper to taste
2 Meyer lemons (thinly sliced)
Meyer lemon cream (recipe below)
*optional flourishes: flowering chive or fennel fronds
Fill a large pot (preferably a pasta pot with a pasta strainer) with cold water. Add enough kosher salt to give the water a slightly salty taste. Bring water to a rolling boil.
When the water is at a full boil, prepare a large metal mixing bowl with ice water. Fill bowl with ice cubes and just enough water to cover the ice.
In separate batches—one vegetable group at a time–blanch the vegetables. Make sure not to add too many vegetables at one time in order to maintain a rolling boil. Cook the vegetables briefly—1-4 minutes depending—making sure they maintain their structure and become just tender. Feel free to test the cooking time early by sampling a vegetable for taste and texture. When the vegetable is just cooked, immediately remove them from the hot water with strainer and plunge them into ice water bath to stop the cooking process. The ice bath will set the vegetables’ bright color.
Remove vegetables with strainer from the ice water as soon as they are cool to the touch. Put the blanched vegetables on a paper towel-covered sheet tray to dry. Repeat process with all remaining vegetables.
Toss the vegetables with enough Meyer lemon cream to coat everything. Add Meyer lemon slices and toss again. Taste for seasoning. Squeeze more lemon over the salad if necessary. Tear pieces of burrata into the salad and serve immediately.
For the Meyer Lemon Cream
From Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Supper at Lucques
2 tbsp finely diced shallot
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
½ cup plust 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup plus 1 tbsp heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Add the shallot, lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of salt in a bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in olive oil. Then, gently stir in cream, being sure to add a few grinds of pepper to taste.