Capturing the Essence of Spring

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. More specifically ingredients. I want the best. Who doesn’t? On problem is the cost. High quality ingredients cost more. One way to help with this is knowing when they are in season and where they are grown. If you can buy produce in season from a local grower it might be a little more than you’d pay in the grocery store but even that isn’t always true. What’s great about buying it from the grower is it’s picked usually the day you buy it meaning you get the best flavor that produce could have ever had. Now, add to that knowing when it “should” be in season and you get the best of what both the grower and nature have to offer. 

I thought I had a pretty good handle on this… that was until I started working with Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables. I first made a potato and sugar snap pea salad that was delicious. This last time I was at the farmers market I took my cookbook with me and spotted beautiful heads of butter lettuce. There were also plenty of stalls with new potatoes, snap peas, green onions, and herbs so I quickly flipped to a recipe in the spring section of the book that was Butter Lettuce with New potatoes, Eggs, and Pancetta Vinaigrette.

This salad really embodies spring. Now, before I tell you more about the salad you may be thinking. Hey, wait. I thought you were all about summer right now. If you are thinking that then bravo! You caught the whole point of this post. I live in the upper midwest. That means my spring produce doesn’t necessarily hit when it does in say California. This point is key. Just because it’s June and almost July doesn’t mean produce is going to follow a calendar. With the extreme weather systems everything is off from what I would call is “normal”. This isn’t a problem but it means when you’re shopping for produce you really need to be aware of what’s growing and not be stuck on the idea that you should have supper produce because it’s June. All that said depending on where in the world you live you might already be getting some of the delicious flavors of late summer. The only way I know how to tell what is in season any more is one of two ways. First there’s having a garden. This is the sure fire way because when it grows and is ripe, it’s ready! The only other way is finding your local farmers market and shopping it with a keen eye. Some growers are going to force grow their produce. I don’t have a huge problem with this but if you see something at multiple vendors then you know it’s in season.

Now back to this fairly early salad. I had to cook a half a pound of new potatoes. What was super exciting was stumbling across a vendor that has tried colored new potatoes! I prefer to sous vide my potatoes but you could cook them however you like. I quartered mine and sous vide them at 190ºF for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

In my lunch containers I divided up my butter lettuce. I do two heads one green and one with a red edge to the leaf. I pulled apart the heads, rinsed the leaves, rough chopped them, and ran them through a salad spinner. I ended up with about 66 grams of lettuce per container (I was doing 10 containers).

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Next was adding flat leaf parsley. I did about 4-5 stems of leaves only to the salad. It then called for pickled onions. I had some from our garden from 2 years ago so I drained them, rinsed them, and chopped them and divided them up amongst the salads. I used 1 pint jar. Lastly I divided up the potatoes amongst the containers.

The dressing was where this salad really started to shine. The pancetta vinaigrette is also fairly simple:

  • 5 ounces Pancetta, diced
  • 6 Green Onions, finely sliced
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • ¼ cup Olive Oil
  • Salt and Peper
  • 30 grams Dijon Mustard

In a small fry pan add a little olive oil and the pancetta over medium heat. Render the fat out of the pancetta by occasionally stirring just until it begins to brown about 7-9 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Once the oil has stopped sizzling add the green onions and garlic. Stir and let sit for a few minutes to wilt and the garlic to bloom in aroma. While it’s sitting add the vinegar and oil to a bowl and whisk together. Add the ingredients from the pan and whisk again. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour all the contents into a jar with a screw top lid. Add the dijon. Screw the lid on and shake vigorously. Drizzle on the salad. Store in the fridge but let come to room temperature before serving. Shake well before use.

The final topping on this salad is the egg. You can do whatever type of egg you like. Hardboiled would be fine but the recipe called for soft boiled. My personal preference is poached. A well poached egg (again easy to do in a sous vide method) is the perfect topping to many salads. I would go as far as to argue the cream yolk makes for the perfect salad dressing by its self and in this case helps bring a creamier texture to this dressing.

For the little flare I went out to my year and picked some nice tiny blossoms and put them on top. In the end this salad to me captures everything that bring is. Fresh, bright, slightly sweet, and a nice tang.

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