Is there anything better than seeing those first green shoots pop up from the brown dirt in the early spring? They are at once the white flags of winter's surrender and the welcome committee for the sun. Early spring time veggies are often the most delicate and sweetest that nature has to offer. That first bounty is truly something to celebrate; and there is no better way to applaud Mother Nature's work than treating them simply. Fortunately, most of us do not spend the winter working through our supply of canned produce from the previous season anymore. Most grocery stores carry the full gamut of veg year round. But if you live in Vermont and had broccoli in December, there's a pretty good chance it did not come from a local farm. Vegetables are one of the best reasons to find a farmers market and to live seasonally. Eating what is growing naturally during the year is not only more sustainable and trendy, it tastes better. Really, I promise. Tasting asparagus that came out of the April ground from your local farm will always knock the socks off the South American produce laying limp under the mister at the store.
If you do venture out to your local farmers market, or are among the lucky few to have your own garden, then its time to think about how to celebrate the early harvest. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the first plucks of spring is with a simple vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is one of the most versatile 'sauces' in the kitchen. Few things are so simple but pack such a big punch. At the most basic - oil and vinegar- you get bitter acid and sweetness from the wine vinegar, umami and fruit from the oil and maybe a hint of spice from cracked black pepper. One of the vinaigrette's great tricks is its ability to complement foods and not over power them. Getting the hang of a basic emulsified vinaigrette will open the doors to a plethora of potential combinations: ponzu and yuzu for an Japanese flare, dill and caper to accompany fish, chopped pickle and hard boiled egg for a salad dressing... the list is endless.
The good news about the vinaigrette is that there are no real rules (shhh don't tell the French), only guidelines. Most are emulsified, that is to say very well mixed to the point of being creamy in texture. They can also be 'broken' where the acid and oil are noticeably separated. The acid can come in many forms, from lemon juice to aged balsamic vinegar. For that matter, so can the oil; olive, walnut, grape seed, melted butter, duck fat! What follows is my take on a very classic and simple vinaigrette as well as some variants. Once you master the suggestion below, feel free to play around. Make sure to drop me and note let me know what you come up with.
When it comes to the classic oil and vinegar mix, I prefer an emulsified vinaigrette. Emulsification is tricky don't worry if it does not come together for you right away. There are a few tricks that will help though. Get a Hand Blender . Those are the hand held mixers that you can plunge into anything you want blended. I use mine almost daily. If you are going to use a whisk, stick it and the bowl into the freezer for five minutes. Heat is the enemy of an emulsification. For the recipe below, I assume a whisk. If you are using a stick blender, it will be the same, but you will want to use the tall narrow cup that your mixer came with.
A general guideline for ratios is 3:1 oil to acid. Keep that in mind and you can riff on the idea however you like.
Ingredients: * 3 table spoons grape seed or canola oil * 1 table spoon white wine vinegar * 1 teaspoon Dijon style mustard * 1/2 clove garlic, crushed * 1/8 teaspoon (lets call it a pinch) of white sugar * pinch of sea salt * freshly ground black pepper (course)
Technique: In a cool bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, mustard, sugar, and garlic and pepper. Whisk together to combine into a rudimentary paste.
Start whisking vigorously in a figure eight movement.
We want to add the oil very slowly. In a stream so small that the next stage would be a drip, not a stream at all.
Slowly drizzle in the oil. You want to look closely, you should never see the oil accumulate on the surface. If it does, whisk faster and drizzle more slowly. The goal here is to literally smash the oil and vinegar together. Mustard contains a natural compound called lethicin which helps that bond between the oil and vinegar.
As you whisk the in the oil, you will see the entire concoction lighten in color and take on the consistency of mayonnaise. (mayo is really just a vinaigrette with an egg yolk by the way).
Thats it, pretty simple right? For veggies, serve it as a dipping sauce in a bowl. Lightly toss roasted asparagus or roasted cauliflower in the vinaigrette. Early spring lettuces should get the lightest possible coating- spoon 1 teas spoon into a bowl and add the greens, toss to cover.
Variations In the recipe above, I suggest a neutral oil like canola or grape seed (this tea oil is also wonderful but pricey). Olive oil has a very distinct and fruity flavor that can be overpowering, but sometimes, particularly with more hearty viggies, it works quite well. The technique would be the same and you can even mix oils, using half tea oil and half olive oil.
For my favorite salad dressing I like to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. This is where a Hand Blender comes in handy.
* 6 table spoons grape seed or canola oil * 2 table spoon white wine vinegar * 1 teaspoon Dijon style mustard * 1 clove garlic * 1 small Bubbies pickle (bubbies brand is worth seeking out, they are fermented) * 1 hard boiled egg, yoke separated from white, the white should be finely diced * 1 table spoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (use the real stuff) * 3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce * 1/2 teaspoon capers (get the salt packed ones, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes first) * 1 big pinch of red pepper flakes * pinch of sea salt * cracked black pepper to taste
The technique is the same, combine everything except for the oil and chopped egg white in the cup of the stick blender. Pulse a few times to form a slurry. Make sure the stick blender is on high and begin slowly drizzling in the oil just as before. Once the oil is incorporated and you have an emulsification, stop blending immediately. Over mixing will cause the emulsification to "break" and you'll have something that feels like it has an oil slick on the tongue - not good. Stir in the chopped egg white by hand with a fork.
If you do want a broken vinaigrette that does taste good, try this
* 3 table spoons good olive oil * 1 table spoon lemon juice * 1 small garlic clove, minced into a paste with the back of your knife * pinch of salt and black pepper
in a bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour in the oil. Using a fork give things a good hearty mix. You will not get an emulsification, but when it turns cloudy, you are there.
Spoon that over anything from roasted fish to some arugula greens with shaved goats cheese. YUM!