Friday, June 18, 2010

I may be in my own little world, but it’s okay, they know me here...
What’s cooking? Salad Monique

I spent four days last week at the beach, writing with another woman who is both a lifelong friend and a writer. We drove to the Texas coast, to a tiny fishing village named Port Aransas. Basking in relative obscurity, Port A lolls at the far north end of Mustang Island – a home to as many deep-sea sport fishing boats as crusty shrimpers. A place so laid back that dressing up mostly means a clean pair of flip-flops. And running south from the town, 18 miles of broad creamy beaches. The BP disaster hasn’t reached this part of the Gulf Coast, but early June is still seaweed season, so the crowds are minimal. For the past 10 years, my friend and I have been going there to write for a week, and we typically go in the spring, when the place is really deserted, so just seeing others on the beach was a bit of a shock. But what really hit us was the heat – the index was 105 one morning, and that was all it took for me to decide that a view of the ocean was all I really needed.

My family took a house on this part of Mustang Island every summer when I was growing up, and I guess when you are a kid and the bottom line is that you get to go to the beach, the heat becomes less of a factor. But when you’re an adult who has spent the past 30 years in New Jersey, I can tell you it makes a difference.

There’s something remarkable about how just watching the waves stirs up the creative juices in my head, and even though I’d been feeling completely blocked, it took less than a day for the ideas to start flowing. The Texas coast between the mainland and Mustang Island is an amoebic pattern of vast shallow bays – more green than blue – home to herons and whooping cranes and roseate spoonbills, and the flatness of the land begins to draw the tension out of me long before we can actually see the ocean.

By the time we got home, I’d had my quota of fresh seafood for about a month, so all I really wanted to eat was a salad. I remembered a recipe I’d found when I was reviewing the famous chefs’ cookbooks, an amazing concoction at the front of Eric Ripert’s Return to Cooking. It’s sort of a Kitchen Sink Recipe – it takes a good hour just to assemble the ingredients. But I promise it’s worth the trouble. And while this recipe says it serves 6, my husband and I shared it as our dinner and were fighting over the remains.

Salade Monique (adapted from Eric Ripert’s Return to Cooking)

½ pound small potatoes
¼ pound haricot verts, ends trimmed
¼ pound asparagus, tips only
1 ear of corn, shucked
½ pound mesclun greens
¼ seedless cucumber, cut lengthwise in half and thinly sliced
12 grape tomatoes, halved
2 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
2 radishes, thinly sliced
¼ green banana pepper, cut into tiny dice (optional – I couldn’t find this at my grocery store and didn’t miss it)
½ avocado, thinly sliced
¼ apple, cored and thinly sliced
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 Tbl extra virgin olive oil

Put the potatoes in a small pot of cold water, add 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes, drain and cool in the refrigerator. Once they are cool, peel and thinly slice them.

To a large pot of very salty (like the ocean) boiling water, add the haricot verts and cook for 4 minutes. Remove them and plunge them into ice water for a couple of mins to stop the cooking. Do the same with the asparagus and corn, for 3 mins each. Cut the corn kernels off the cob.

Place the greens and all the vegetables and fruit in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Whisk the oil and vinegar together and toss it with the salad. Serve immediately.

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