Friday, July 20, 2007

Nectarine Salad with Green Tomato Confiture and Hazelnut Sabayon

Now that I've gotten over the Chuck Palahniuk-like psychological trauma of the soft-shell crabs, I was overjoyed to make The French Laundry's Nectarine Salad. Nectarines are sweet. Nectarines are juicy. Nectarines do not have leg sockets that keep moving after you've cut their limbs off.

Yeah. Clearly, I still have issues.

But I must soldier on and not let this continue to get to me... which it has ALL WEEK. Seriously, I lost five pounds because every time I took a bite of something, all I could think about were those frickin' crabs and their postmortem twitchiness. Gah. I suck.

Must. Not. Dwell.

Raise your hand if you want me to write about nectarines!

I almost forgot how much I love nectarines. I've seen them in the grocery store and the farmers' market for the past few weeks, and finally bought some this week. I took a bite of one this morning and was transported back to the town where I grew up. My great-uncle owned a fruit orchard and my grandfather (his brother) helped out from time to time as a post-retirement, part-time job. My mom used to take my brother and me to the orchard to pick fruit to take home, or just stop in the orchard's little store to pick up whatever it was we needed that week. My brother and I thought we were cool because our uncle owned the place, so we got to go into the area where they boxed the fruit and loaded it onto the trucks for delivery. We even got to sit on the forklift while my grandfather drove it around, which is pretty awesome when you're a second-grade pipsqueak.

But what I remembered this morning as I ate that nectarine was being 7 years old on a warm summer afternoon, sitting on a tall stool at the end of the short, 10-foot assembly line with its wooden and metal rollers and thick, oiled straps that kept it moving along. The other workers would load the fruit onto the line to prepare it for packaging, and depending on the season my grandfather would sneak peaches, nectarines, apples, or plums off the line for us to eat. Because peaches were too fuzzy to eat without washing them first, I was always a fan of nectarines. I remember polishing a nectarine on my Pink Panther t-shirt and biting into it with gusto, juices running down my chin. I'd pull the neckline of my t-shirt up over my mouth and chin to wipe off the juice after each bite, and then have to spend the rest of the afternoon swatting away the bees that were naturally drawn to my juice-soaked clothing.

So when I saw nectarines this week at the local farmers' market, I knew I had to make this dish. Check 'em out:

As you'll see in the plating, I didn't do all the paper-thin slices The French Laundry Cookbook suggested. Instead, I just halved and pitted these lovely nectarines for plating so they'd retain their juiciness. And, let's face it, I'm lazy sometimes.

Let's get started. Here's the mise en place for the Green Tomato Confiture:

Can you believe those tomatoes? I KNOW! So green and gorgeous... reminded me of all the fried green tomato dishes I loved eating at Uglesich's and Upperline in New Orleans so many years ago. My neighbor, Holly, is the only one in the neighborhood who has been able to grow vegetables this summer without the deer, foxes or raccoons eating them. Everything I've planted (with the exception of herbs) disappeared within days of being placed in the soil. Holly picked these four green tomatoes for me, and they were the perfect size and shade of green.

The first thing I did for the confiture was use a citrus zester to create julienned strips of zest, which I boiled in water for about 30 seconds:

I strained the zest and then rinsed it in cold water:

Next, I held each of the tomatoes over the open stovetop flame until the skin blistered and popped. I've only done it this way once before, and I forgot how loud that popping skin can be. I held each tomato under cold running water and gently scrubbed off the skin. Here's a shot of naked green tomatoes:

I chopped them into a quarter-inch dice, which I put into a large saucepan. I added the citrus zest, the juice from the lemon, lime and orange, as well as some water, sherry vinegar, golden raisins, ginger, dried peaches, and brown sugar:

I brought this mixture to a simmer, covered it with a parchment lid, and simmered it for an hour and a half. Here's what it looked like when it was done cooking:

The tomatoes were translucent and the sauce was the consistency of maple syrup. The combination of all those ingredients produced the most wonderful smell, and this tasted far better than I thought it would. I was reluctant to taste it at first because the vinegar was the first note I smelled and it was a little overpowering, but then it was quickly followed by a brown sugar/lime smell, which won me over. Absolutely delicious!

I removed the confiture from the heat and got started on the dacquoise -- the little meringuey-type nut cookie thing that goes on top of the salad during plating. I usually don't like meringues, but this one looked good on paper, so I was anxious to try it.

I put the sliced, blanched almonds into the coffee grinder to chop them into a fine grind:

When they were ground, I put them into the food processor with the sugar and cornstarch:

Next, I used my trusty ole Kitchen Aid mixer to whip 3 egg whites until they held their shape. Then, I slowly added some sugar while the mixture continued to whip until it formed stiff peaks:

I folded in the dry ingredients and the batter was done:

Since I knew I wasn't doing the stacked nectarine slices in the 2" ring mold, I didn't do the circular dacquoise for the bottom layer of the presentation, just the piped ones for the top. I rearranged a bunch of things in my kitchen, pantry and mudroom a few weeks ago and misplaced my pastry bag and tips, so I had to use a ziploc bag with a corner cut out of it to pipe the batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet:

I baked these for 30 minutes in a 300-degree oven and when they were done, I moved them to a cooling rack and covered them in powdered sugar. You'll see the final product in the plating photos to come.

The last step was the hazelnut sabayon. Using my Kitchen Aid mixer, I whipped about a half-cup of cream into medium peaks. In a separate KA mixing bowl, I whisked 2 large egg yolks with a third of a cup of sugar over a saucepan of hot water until the sugar was melted, then put the mixing bowl on the mixing stand and slowly added some hazelnut oil:

I whisked in a little bit of the whipped cream to thicken it, then folded in the rest. When it was combined, I started plating. First, the hazelnut sabayon:

Then, the nectarine halves:

I added a small spoonful of the confiture in each of the nectarine halves:

Finally, I topped it with a dacquoise:

From the smell of it and the first bite, we declared this dish a PlateLicker, much like the Salad du Printemps rhubarb dish I made in May. The nectarines were sweet and juicy, and the confiture was sweet and tangy and nicely complemented the rest of the dish. The sabayon was good, but I expected a little more from it. Taste-wise, for me it was the weakest part of the dish. The dacquoise was delicious -- I could eat 50 of these things. They get stuck in your molars much like regular meringues, but the nuttiness made these a little more hearty and substantive and wholly complementary of the necatrines. Overall, this dish wasn't bad, and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I liked the rhubarb dish better than this one.

But don't ever ask me to eat plain old rhubarb like I eat nectarines, 'cause that won't happen. Truth be told, I probably wouldn't make this dish again because I would rather just stand over the kitchen sink with a few fresh nectarines, taking bite after bite, and letting the juice run down my chin. This time, though, I'll use a napkin instead of my shirt to clean up.

Up Next: Lobster-Palooza! I'm doing the Creamy Maine Lobster Broth AND the "Macaroni & Cheese" (Butter-poached Maine Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-enriched Orzo).

Brands Used:
Citrus and ginger from Safeway
Tomatoes from "McClain Gardens" (thanks Holly!!)
Dried peaches, almonds and golden raisins from Whole Foods
Nectarines from Twin Springs Fruit Farm
Brown sugar also from my neighbor, Holly
Eggs from Smith Meadows Farms
Benissimo sherry vinegar
Rapunzel hazelnut oil
Organic Valley cream

Music to Cook By: Lizz Wright; Dreaming Wide Awake. I first heard Lizz Wright on KCRW when I was in LA this spring. Something about her voice hooked me from the moment her music started, and I listened to every word, every note, and every nuance in the song she was singing. I downloaded her albums later that day and her music became the soundtrack for my downtime in Santa Monica that week. I listened to Lizz when I was relaxing in the tub, having breakfast by the pool, or sitting on my deck overlooking the ocean watching the sunset (glass of wine in hand) before heading off to dinner. I'm not sure why, but I was feeling nostalgic for the west coast these past few days, so I've been listening to Lizz today. I think you'll like her.


Anonymous said...

Your crab reaction reminds me of the essay by John Foster Wallace "Consider the Lobster" which was published in Gourmet(sorry I can't find you a link, but it is around). Perhaps you shouldn't read it until after the next recipe....

Anonymous said...

bought the lizz wright cd from itunes. i'm really liking the whole vibe. but more than that i NEED you to know that i love your blog. LOVE your blog. makes me laugh out loud - great writing. i'm fairly new but i'm oh so hooked.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen tomatoes that big that were that green. Bee-yoo-tee-full! Looks very good.

I hope you find the piping bag and tips soon. I'm afraid that if I read that you're still using a plastic bag with the tip cut off, that you're turning INto Aunt Sandy and that will require an Intervention.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol, my grandfather had artichokes in Carmel California and as a boy our family would receive boxes of those thistles to enjoy. My immediate friends did not understand how to eat them and one evening my buddy Larry placed a whole leave into his mouth and began to chew. Instantaneously the barbed leaf pierced his mouths roof. Funny how we remember the odd points of out lives.
Do you ever use a mandolin to slice, as it would make quick work of you mis en place? Jeff C. says hello.

Anonymous said...

This made me hungry not only for nectarines, but for fried green tomatoes or merlitons. Must get to market ASAP! Great job, as always. I love the way you write. I feel like we've known each other for years, even though we've never met.

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about green tomatos. Are you using tomatos that are still green because they are not yet ripe or are they heirloom tomatos, fully ripe, that are green cause that's how they hang? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey now! Alton does the bag with cut corner, too! I assume we all like Alton, at least...

On a somber note, in case you haven't heard, Grant Achatz is battling advanced mouth cancer. And he says he never has smoked. A sad thing.

Love the blog, DG--it's required reading even though I only found it a few weeks ago! I only wish you posted every day!

Anonymous said...

First off, love the blog. I own the cookbook (Bouchon as well) and have been making stuff out of it for awhile. I have made the lobster dish you have coming up and can tell you that it is wonderful. A few told me it was the best lobster they've ever had (due to the butter poaching I'm sure). One note, don't be like me and sort of 'forget about' the unused coral oil. I left it out (inadvertently) at room temperature for a month or so. By the time we got around to putting it down the sink, well, we kept smelling it for a week or so. Get rid of it! Good luck and I'm sure you'll love it!

Anonymous said...

How happy your grandfather would be, knowing that you remember eating juice- dripping down chin- nectarines. They were his favorite, also.
This is an nostalgic blog, using nectarines and green tomatoes in one recipe.The first tomatoes picked in his garden, after turning the right shade of green, were always used by grandma to bake a green tomato pie. I think grandpa would have preferred the pie over the confiture.

Unknown said...

Those crabs didn't just hang around tormenting you in memory.... their smell in the trash in 90+ heat in Maryland was horrible. Thank goodness the trash was picked up before you made the nectarines. Would have ruined my appetite. Just one more reason NEVER to make that crab dish again. And for the record, I really, really liked the confiture.

pdxblogmommy said...

Em! You're here! Bueno!
DG...can't tell you how lovely this looks vs. das craben horror flicken-schluggen.

Carol Blymire said...

Claudia - glad you like the Lizz Wright CDs. I listened to her again today while I was working. Love her!

Spoonie - I KNOW. I totally felt like Aunt Sandy when I had to use a ziploc. At least I was sober. And there were no PixyStix involved. At least that I recall.

Pastrymann - thanks for the artichoke story, and yes... I do love that food is the one thing that connects each of us to our past. I do use a mandoline from time to time, but sparingly. I love to use my knife. Sometimes, I just get lazy.

Elareal - green tomatoes are regular tomatoes that just aren't ripe yet. You have to use them as soon as you pull them off the vine, or else they start to ripen/turn red in a few days. Merlitons are often used in place of green tomatoes when it's too early (or late) for real tomatoes... and they're different taste-wise and texture-wise. I think they're good -- just different.

Anonymous - yes, I had heard about Grant Achatz. It's so sad... I trust he's got great doctors and will recover as best he can. What an incredible talent that man has. Michael Ruhlman maintains that cooking is a craft, not an art. But I think what Grant does is art. I just do. And I want him to be able to keep doing it.

KBruyette - were we separated at birth re: the coral oil? Stay tuned for my next post, 'cause I'm a doofus.

Hi Mom!

PDX -- Yes, that was Em! And this was much better than das krabben-hoffen mit eine vengeance.

And Linda -- I KNOW. Those frikkin' crabs smelled so bad that not even the raccoons got in any of the nieghborhood's garbage cans that week. I think the lobster shells contributed to it, too. My garbage cans still stink. Stupid softshell crabs. One more reason not to EVER made those damn things again.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who'd like to read it, I found a link to a scan of the article 'Consider the Lobster' mentioned in the first post. Interesting read.

Diner Girl - Love the blog. You inspired me to finally pony up the $$$ and order the FL and Bouchon cookbooks. Thank you! Hopefully I can find some of the courage you've shown and jump into them.