by Chef Jenn Farmer
Plump little green shoots burst from the dark soil and the ocean’s salty breath seems milder as the warm sun starts stealing the sting from her. It is a time of new and fresh beginnings. Soon round pink radishes, lanky asparagus, and tender greens will grace our tables. Roly-poly new potatoes and mushrooms will be willfully plucked up for our joyous consumption. It is a season plump with promise and excitement, and filled with the uncertainty of the season to come. It is also filled with a hunger for fresh flavors and the return of familiar favorites. Everyone seems to have the same itch to go out and absorb the spring sunshine, and I cannot think of a better way to pay homage to it than having a jolly Spring picnic.
Sandwiches are the ultimate picnic food. Easy to travel with and to eat, they can contain nearly any filling that can be imagined – a staple in many a home. The following recipe makes one of my favorite picnic sandwiches. The ingredients are the epitome of springtime and look striking on any table (or picnic blanket) for that matter. The sandwiches are “preppy” because of the vibrant pastel colors the sandwich possesses. Imagine bright, green asparagus, sunny yellow and white eggs, and perky pink pickled onions. For you carnivores, I make a Not So Veggie Preppy Sandwich, by adding some ham or prosciutto slices to the sandwiches. Sometimes I make them for brunch, by using split toasted bagels instead of baguette, and adding smoked salmon slices to the recipe. The pickled onions and hardboiled eggs are very complimentary to the salmon.
PREPPY VEGGIE SANDWICHES
- 20 young spears asparagus , with woody ends trimmed off (about one half of a bunch)
- 4-6 crusty dinner rolls (or one baguette)
- 2 eggs, hardboiled, and peeled
- Dijon Mustard
- Half of a lemon
- Sprigs of fresh dill, basil or chervil
- Olive oil of good quality
- freshly cracked pepper
- Parmesan cheese for grating
- Pickled Red Onions (recipe follows)
Grill or sear the asparagus. When it is done it should be bright green and have some char on it, so do not move the spears around much during the cooking process, which should take 6-10 minutes or so. Split the rolls or the baguette, and make a small trough by scooping out some of the soft center
(don’t waste the bread by throwing it away, make rustic croutons, bread pudding, or use it for bread crumbs!). I like to toast the rolls or baguette under a broiler, but that is optional. Next I smear the bread with a little Dijon and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Arrange the asparagus spears evenly on the sandwiches, and give them a squeeze of lemon juice. Next slice the eggs (either direction, just so they look attractive), and arrange the slices evenly on the asparagus spears. Arrange a little pickled onion, fresh herbs, freshly cracked pepper, and freshly grated parmesan on the sandwiches and enjoy. Yields: 4-6 sandwiches
PICKLED RED ONIONS
- 1 pound red onions (about 2 medium or 3 small)
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar (can substitute apple cider or white vinegar)
- One third cup sugar
- One half stick of cinnamon
- 5 cloves
- 2 whole allspice berries
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 half teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- One slice of ginger (it is not necessary to peel) 1 half teaspoon hot chili flakes
Slice the onions in half from stem to root, and peel the papery first layer off. Lay the onion half flat side down onto a cutting board. Use the root end as your finger hold. The onion then may be thinly sliced in one of two manners; either into half-rings, discarding root end when done, or slice off root
end, and slice the opposite direction into half-moons (Asian style). Set aside the onion slices.
Next heat some water in a medium sized sauce pan. While waiting for the water to boil, use a separate saucepan to heat the vinegars, sugar, and spies together.
When the water comes to a boil, blanche the onions in it for 1-2 minutes, and drain in colander, set aside the onions.
When the vinegar comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Allow to simmer for about 6 minutes. Depending on the end appearance you would like to achieve either leave the spices in the vinegar, or strain it. If you are going for a more rustic look and leaving in the spices, just
remember to be cautious when serving the onions, nobody enjoys an entire mouthful of allspice or chewing on a bay leaf, so pull these out at serving time, the mustard seeds are fine though. Place the blanched onions into the hot vinegar mixture, and allow the onions to cool in it. The pickled onions keep well for a few weeks if they are put into a clean glass container and refrigerated (they get better with time, or thyme).
Yield: about one and one half pints
Pickled onions are one of my favorite condiments, and they are so easy to make and have around. I sometimes add other herbs or spices to the above recipe. For example if I am on an Asian kick and will be making grilled portabellas or teriyaki burgers, I will add extra ginger, cardamom pods, and
star anise to the spices to give it more of an Asian flavor. I can really throw you for a loop and make this recipe even more bright and “Daffy” by substituting sweet onions for the red, and white vinegar, then adding curry powder or turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, bay leaf, and cardamom in the vinegar step. The outcome is very cheerfully yellow curried, pickled onions. They are superb on Naan bread with some roasted lamb or a burger, or just about anything else for that matter.
I love new potatoes, and this potato salad really rounds out a picnic. It goes remarkably well with the Preppy Veggie Sandwiches. One substitution Irecently made to this recipe was replacing the beans with lightly blanched shelled peas, and the tarragon for some chervil. It came out nicely indeed. If you are a mayonnaise based potato salad fan, you may use a few tablespoons for a heartier, creamier texture.
POTATO, GREEN BEAN AND WILD MUSHROOM SALAD
- One pound new potatoes, scrubbed, and quartered
- One pound green beans, trimmed (if you can find yellow wax beans, substitute for half or all)
- One quarter cup plus two tablespoons, apple cider vinegar
- 8 morel, or oyster mushrooms (any mushroom is actually pretty great)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon coarse ground mustard
- Three quarters of a cup good quality olive oil
- 1 half of a shallot, minced
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh tarragon, chopped
- Salt and pepper
Pour one quarter cup of cider vinegar into a large mixing bowl and have ready. In a large saucepan of lightly salted water, simmer the potatoes until tender, about 8-10minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain the potatoes, and while they are still hot put into the mixing bowl with the vinegar, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Toss together carefully and set aside. Meanwhile blanche the beans in boiling, lightly salted water, for about 2-1/2 min. They should be bright green (unless using yellow wax beans), and somewhat firm. Shock them in ice water, drain and set aside.
Heat a sauté pan with the butter on medium high heat. Cut mushrooms in half or quarters, and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the potatoes, and toss in the green beans. Make a dressing by mixing together 2 tbl of cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, shallot, and tarragon. Whisk together, or use a blender to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the potato mixture, and add salt & pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature or chill. Yield: about 6 servings