Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Leisurely Spring Breakfast

It's Spring! At last! Today it must have hit 80 degrees, and Spring produce is really finally showing up at my neighborhood farmer's market; or, more precisely, the omnipresent asparagus and strawberries are starting to come from France instead of Morocco. And a few exciting seasonal extras, such as rhubarb, are showing up here and there as well. So of course, this weekend, we had no choice but to come home with ALL OF THESE THINGS. 

It's a bit disappointing for me, actually, that one can go to one of the many Parisian farmer's markets and not buy a single thing that was grown within in the Ile-de-France region, or even the country! Even at the farmer's market, so much is imported, whether it be from neighboring countries like Spain, from the DOM-TOMS (overseas departments and territories, such as Guadeloupe), or just warmer, more southernly countries where stuff grows earlier and longer. I miss living in small town America where the goat farmer came every Saturday to peddle his wares, even if they were only green garlic and goat cheese with green garlic in it. In Paris, the markets are expansive and impressive and you can find so many things! But they lack that neighborly feeling, and that relationship with the physical terrain, that terroir that the French celebrate so. It's practically easier for me to find out where my vegetables come from when I buy them at the supermarket. How confusing for someone who tries to buy things responsibly and think about her carbon footprint!

But fortunately, now that the produce is starting to come from France, the vendors seem happy to advertise this fact. And I was happy to listen to them.

So today, we dug right into our Spring produce with a late breakfast of Fresh Chèvre and Dill Scrambled Eggs, Asparagus Salad, and Strawberry Scones.

I actually had made the asparagus salad the day before for a picnic with friends, and we still had some leftovers. It was the first time I'd eaten asparagus raw, but I was immediately won over. If you remove the tough parts of the stem, its flesh is already surprisingly tender (in a crispy way, of course) and really pleasant to eat. With its tart vinaigrette, it makes a great counterpoint to a richer dish, in this case cheesy eggs, but the fresh taste of goat cheese and dill in the eggs kept the whole course fresh and light.

The scones were surprisingly successful, as it's the first time I've ever made scones and I seem to be cursed to make biscuits that are slightly denser and tougher than I'd like. But the scones were light and fluffy, crunchy on the outside, and perfectly sweet (just how I like them, anyway; I suppose I like them the American way, which is to say slightly cakier and sweeter than the original version). I tried a new technique which I think may have been very helpful to their airy texture: GRATING THE COLD BUTTER WITH A FINE CHEESE GRATER. Genius. I got this idea from some anonymous reference to a Cook's Illustrated recipe that I can't access without paying. So I didn't get their recipe, but I got their genius idea. I also used lower gluten flour. French all-purpose flour is type 45, whereas American all-purpose flour seems to be between 55-65, depending on the brand, based on what I've read, but there isn't exactly an overwhelming amount of information about this, especially in terms of French-American equivalents. It seems to me that French all-purpose flour is closest to White Lily flour in the US, known as a "soft flour." The more gluten there is in the flour, the "harder" it is said to be.

The result was a lovely, soft scone. Ta-da!

Here's how it's done.

Strawberry Scones, from Everyday Food but found at The Bitten Word and ever-so-slightly modified by me, makes 10 scones

2-1/2 cups soft all-purpose flour
1/3 - 1/2 cup sugar (depending on sweetness preference, I was more at 1/2 cup myself and found it perfect)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg, separated
1-1/2 cup fresh strawberries, roughly diced

1 heaping tablespoon sugar to coat

Preheat oven to 400ºF / 200ºC. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Grate the butter with a fine-mesh cheese grater into the flour mixture, tossing the mixture a few times as you add to cover the butter with flour. Crumble dough together with your hands very briefly. Whisk the egg yolk and buttermilk in a separate bowl, then add gradually, incorporating with a fork between additions. Turn out onto a floured surface, pinch just together, and pour berries on top. Fold about 3 times just to mix in strawberries, then with your hands flatten the dough to about 1 inch thick. Pinch off pieces and place them on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an pastry brush and your leftover egg white with a bit of water, egg wash the tops of your scones. Sprinkle sugar over the wash. Bake for about 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Fresh Chèvre and Dill Scrambled Eggs, serves 2

1 tablespoon butter (salted or unsalted, adjust seasoning accordingly)
5 eggs
3 tablespoons fresh chèvre
palmful of rinsed dill, stems removed
salt, pepper

Whisk eggs in a small bowl. Melt butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add eggs, stir constantly as they cook, taking care to scrape the bottom well. When the eggs start to coagulate, add the chèvre and dill, stirring them in well to allow the cheese to melt. Cook until still very soft but all liquid has coagulated. 

Asparagus Salad, from Beyond Salmon, serves 4

1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt, pepper

Break asparagus stalks with your hands, as they will break right where they are soft. Cut off the tops and save for another use. With a vegetable peeler, shave the stalks into long strips. 

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well until the mixture emulsifies (combines into a cohesive sauce). Toss with asparagus strips and serve.

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