This week’s cooking class, SPRING BRUNCH, still has an opening for Wednesday, 4/29, 5-8pm; let me know! Make any quiche, then make your own favorite breakfast sausage. Top it off with Bananas Foster Bread pudding with Caramel Sauce. List of upcoming classes and registration info located at the top, right corner of blog under CURRENT CLASSES. Can’t wait to cook with you.
When the rest of the country appears to be celebrating spring, we in the beautiful state of Colorado experience snow, hail, rain, thunder, and more all in one day. The day before it was sunny and 65, but that didn’t mean peas were blooming or asparagus was ready; it just meant the tumbleweeds weren’t dry and blowing yet and the small pot of hopeful pansies was being very faithful indeed.
I don’t think we get depressed about it because, after all, we probably have the best weather overall in the country. We have temperate winters, rare rainy days, cool summer nights, and a continually changing western view as the clouds decide what they’re going to do with the mountains at any given time. But we may need to occasionally think like spring. And when we do, we make comforting skillets full of warming goodness because spring can be damned cold here. A wet 45 is colder than a dry 10. Last Thursday night when I came out of work after teaching the FRENCH NIGHT AT HOME class, I had to clean off inches of snow from the car and ruined my shoes in the wet frozen slush. Life has loveliness to sell, as Sara Teasdale says. We’re thankful for the moisture because we live in fire country…
(below: mom and daughter Judy and Carlie cutting up at the French class!)
And so when I drove over to Shouse (local appliance store where I teach) last Saturday to cook in the DACOR kitchen, I came up with these crispy toasty grilled cheese extraordinaire sandwiches to cheer up our freezing little behinds way out in the windy west. Not much to them–they’re just French toast with lots of melted fresh mozzarella and basil inside. A little dip of marinara for every bite and you’re in business. To go along with them and to balance the goo with perfect spring vegetables, I later made a beautiful asparagus and fennel soup topped with a little pistachio pesto that I’ll bring in to share next week in the Jenn-Air kitchen. Because, after all, is there anyone who doesn’t like soup and sandwich?
While you’re basking in the spring sun, I’m sweeping snow off the deck and drying the dogs’ feet. After you come in out of the garden, try this and think of me:
MOZZARELLA FRENCH TOAST SANDWICHES WITH MARINARA DIP
Makes 4 addictive sandwiches you could rename “Caprese French Toast” or “Pizza Sandwiches” or something else that tickles your tongue. Do use the best bread you can find and very fresh mozzarella, which should (please, God) be available in most supermarkets.
- 4 eggs
- 1/3 cup milk
- Pinch each kosher salt, ground cayenne pepper, and black pepper (pinch ground nutmeg, optional)
- 8 pieces sourdough bread–a bit stale is good
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- 8-10 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
DIP: 2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or purchased–I like Rao’s)
Beat eggs, milk, and spices until well-mixed in shallow container like a 2-quart rectangular Pyrex dish. Heat griddle or large heavy skillet over medium heat and add butter to melt. Dip 2 pieces of bread briefly in egg mixture and grill each of them wet (egg)-side down, topping one side with 2 pieces of mozzarella and the other with 2 basil leaves. Put the two halves together, egg-side out and grill until browned and cheese is gooey. Repeat with other sandwiches all at once on a large griddle or in batches in a skillet, adding butter for each. Serve hot with a side of marinara for dipping.
Green on green doesn’t photograph as well as it could, but it tastes dreamy.
ASPARAGUS-FENNEL SOUP WITH PISTACHIO PESTO
This is a variation on my asparagus soup theme and is good hot or cold. I sometimes put tiny chopped fresh tomatoes in the bottom of the bowl. I love texture change in soup. Don’t like pistachios? Choose the alternate garnish–a Parmesan-Lemon spoonful you’ll enjoy. For vegan or vegetarian version, use vegetable broth. Use the Pistachio Pesto garnish for vegan and either garnish for vegetarian.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 each, chopped: onion, carrot
- 2 each, trimmed and chopped: celery stalks and fennel bulbs, cored
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 pound trimmed and chopped asparagus (reserve tips for cooking at the end of the soup)
- Handful chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons each fresh dill weed and tarragon (2 teaspoons each dried) or more to taste
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- Tabasco to taste, optional
TO MAKE PISTACHIO PESTO FOR GARNISH: In a medium bowl, stir together: 1/2 cup each chopped fresh parsley and shelled, finely minced pistachios with 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind. Use immediately.
1. Heat oil in soup kettle over medium heat and cook onions, carrot, fennel, and celery seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until softening–about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in asparagus, parsley, dill, and tarragon; cook another 5 minutes or so. Stir in broth and water; raise heat to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until all vegetables are very soft. Taste and adjust seasonings.
3. Purée soup in pot using an immersion blender or very carefully (HOT!) in batches in the food processor or blender (hold both sides of top on tightly with kitchen towel). Return to pot, if necessary; taste and adjust seasonings again, adding hot sauce a couple drops at a time, if using. Add a little more broth if too thick; cook a bit longer if too thin. Add reserved asparagus tips and cook until tips are barely tender. Serve hot or cold garnished with the pistachio pesto.
COOK’S NOTE: Instead of the pistachio pesto, you could use a combination of the following to spoon a bit on top for a garnish.
- 1 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated (finely) lemon peel
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
WINE: A conundrum. There’s the Italian riff for the sandwiches and there’s the obnoxious asparagus in the soup. Maybe you’d split the difference and go with an off-dry white like a Viognier, a Chenin Blanc, an Albarino, etc. Perhaps a Chardonnay would drink or even a Pinot Blanc. Let me know what you think. (P.S. There’s an old joke about asparagus and wine and goes like this: A guy asks the winemaker what wine to drink with asparagus. The winemaker replies, “My competitor’s.” I don’t think it’s all that troublesome and it’s a nil point if the asparagus is grilled or roasted, as far as I’m concerned.)
Sing a new song; make a new sandwich,