Cooking Outside the Box with the Co-Op Box
We recently became members of an organic produce co-op, and it’s been wonderful having loads of fresh and local fruits and vegetables in the house. It’s also been nice to have the surprise of the weekly share selections, which have forced me to think outside of my normal culinary box. This has been a week of inventive salads with beautiful kale and red leaf lettuce and romaine, using oranges and two kinds of tangerines as components in the salads and incorporated into dressings. Some gorgeous zucchini became the vegetable added to a simple tajarin pasta dish over the weekend, and the tomatoes and cantaloupe I found in this week’s box encouraged me to revisit my cantaloupe-tomatillo gazpacho. When I say cooking outside of the culinary box, I mean my personal habits and tendencies. Needing to do something with the ears of sweet corn from my co-op share and a little exhausted from weeks of heavy and braised meats, I came up with a steelhead trout dish and a modified version of a corn crema from Marc Vetri’s cookbook “Rustic Italian Food.” I rarely cook fish, but I have enjoyed making steelhead trout. The meaty texture and the flavor work well for Holly’s and my carnivorous-tending palates. The corn crema was going to contribute to the dish both as a starch and a kind of sauce, so I went with a simple (and keeping it Italian) gremolata to accompany the trout, using the remainder of my Italian parsley from the co-op box. I also had a lot of kale still to use, and it became a textural addition to the dish by making kale chips and by incorporating a little bitterness and smokiness to the gremolata. The kale by itself seemed weird, so I added crispy sage. More of the week’s zucchini become a base for the fish and something to help gather up the crema. A squeeze of lemon on the pan-seared trout (crispy skin intact) helped to balance out what I found to be a surprisingly complex and tasty dish.
The crema is made with 2 cups of fresh corn kernels, 1/3 of a large onion diced, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 tbsp olive oil, and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. I started by sautéing the corn and onion in olive oil for a few minutes to soften, stirring occasionally to keep them from browning. Then I added the water, cream, and milk and brought the mixture to a simmer, letting it do so for about 10 minutes. Once the vegetables were softened, I let the mixture cool slightly before blending it. I strained it to smooth it completely. At this point, I adjusted the seasoning and stirred in the tbsp of olive oil.
The kale chips and crispy sage were made by coating the leaves in olive oil, seasoning with sea salt, and cooking on a lined baking sheet at 325 °F for 10-15 minutes. The kale leaves will need different amounts of time depending on how large they are, and some may require turning to finish. The gremolata is an easy and fresh tasting condiment of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. I added a little chopped roasted kale to the mix of 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1 chopped garlic clove, and the zest of half of a lemon.
With this second batch of the cantaloupe-tomatillo gazpacho (recipe discussed here), I varied what I used as garnishes. In the version pictured above, I used toasted pumpkin seeds, capers, caperberries, heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. I also made a version with diced avocado, asparagus tips, toasted pumpkin seeds, heirloom tomatoes, and shaved Parmesan. For the asparagus, I trimmed one bunch and blanched it in salted water for about 5 minutes before shocking it in an ice bath. I removed the tips I needed and reserved what I didn’t use in the refrigerator for later.