Celebrating at Home: Simple Salmon Dinner

It's a birthday. It's an anniversary. It's a special occasion and right now, because of a nationwide pandemic, all the restaurants in town are closed. There is the option of supporting a local restaurant and ordering takeout, but the idea of going out and having to do even more Lady Macbeth-level handwashing before, during and after is dread on a whole new level.

So now's the time to go to the freezer and haul out one of those sides of salmon you packaged up when the stores were offering to butcher whole fish at a fraction of the price per pound they normally charge. (If you didn't do this, put it on your list for next season.) Simply thaw it, slice it into pieces, mix up the marinade below and put in the fridge for an hour or more, then broil it briefly—you'll have a fancy restaurant-level dinner that'll make anyone feel celebrated, pandemic or not.

I'd suggest a bright, lemon-inflected risotto and a creamy miso-dressed salad with, maybe, a deceptively simple apple galette for dessert, but I'll leave those decisions up to you. The point being, of course, to feed people well and make them feel loved, as it is any time, but especially now.

Roasted Miso-glazed Salmon

1 whole salmon filet
1/4 c. white miso (I'm in love with Jorinji miso)
1/4 c. canola oil
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. regular honey
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. grated ginger

Preheat oven to 425°.

Place all ingredients in medium-sized mixing bowl, whisking as you add each one.

If you are starting with a whole filet of salmon, slice it crosswise into 2-inch pieces. (The marinade would also be great with a salmon roast, larger filets or steaks, though cooking times listed below may be different.) Place the pieces into a gallon zip-lock bag and add the marinade. Gently massage the bag to distribute the marinade evenly and place the bag in a bowl in the refrigerator for at least one hour (I allowed 3 hours for mine).

Place parchment paper in the bottom of a large sheet pan or roasting pan. Remove the salmon filets from the bag and place them skin-side down on the parchment, leaving some space between them. Put the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 3-4 minutes per inch of thickness of the filets (3 minutes will be more rare, 4 minutes will be more well done). When the filets are cooked, remove the pan from the oven and set aside. Set the oven on broil and allow a couple of minutes for the broiler to heat. Place the pan of filets back in the oven. When the filets are slightly caramelized, remove from the oven and serve.

Thanks to Michele Lee Bernstein for the Lady Macbeth turn of phrase above. So apt, as my poor, cracked hands can attest!

In Season: Despite the News, Spring is Here with Much to Look Forward To

The world has changed. Things are different, and scary, too, certainly more so than at any time in my life. Which is why I'm clinging tightly to those things I can count on, that are beautiful, that are constant.

Spring is definitely one of them. Flowers blooming, trees leafing out, good things to eat emerging from the ground and beginning to come in from local farms. Which is why I wanted to check in with Josh Alsberg at Rubinette Produce to get an update on spring at this particularly strange time in our world.

"The whole point is, how can we support local farmers and keep people safe?" he said when I asked what he was focused on. He said that buying at farmers' markets and from greengrocers like Rubinette, which get most of their produce directly from farmers, is the best way to keep our local food system strong. Now is a particularly critical time because a number of area farms depended on restaurants, many of which are now closed, for at least a portion of their sales. Buying direct also means that your food is going through fewer hands. At supermarkets, food is packed at the farm, shipped, warehoused, shipped again, then unpacked at the store and stocked by store staff.

Alsberg also suggested that getting a CSA share from one of our outstanding local farms is a good way to get the freshest seasonal produce, support farms and reduce handling issues. (Go to the Portland Area CSA Coalition for a list of local farms and what they offer to subscribers.)

And what is that seasonal produce, right here, right now?

Alsberg said we're almost at the end of the season for raab, rabe or rapini or, if you're botanically inclined, "the inflorescence of plants" (above right). Personally some of my favorite spring greens, for a short time you should still be able to find the sprouts of bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kale sprouts, mizuna, red choy, spigarello, tatsoi and turnips, among others.

All of the alliums and wild onions, as well as green garlic, spring onions and the Spanish type called calçots (left)—meant to be grilled and served with a romesco-like sauce called salbitxada—are beginning their season. You'll also find local fiddleheads from Southern Oregon available, along with ramps, which don't appreciate our Pacific Northwest maritime climate, imported from the part of the country that Oregonians call "Back East" (basically anywhere east of the Rockies).

Heads of local cabbage are rolling in, too, as well as a regrowth of winter greens like chard, mizuna (below right), tatsoi and winter arugula. There are root vegetables kicking around, including shallots, storage onions, potatoes and leeks, but Alsberg said that with the warm spring weather we've been having, early spring roots like radishes and spring turnips are beginning to appear, along with fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, sorrel, chervil, mint and chives. (Looking at my garden, tarragon and lovage won't be far behind.) And don't forget chive flowers—I'm excited to make a bigger batch of stunningly pink chive vinegar!

And for nutrient-dense greens, you can't do better than hearty spring greens like arugula, dandelion greens, spinach and early lettuces so fresh they practically vibrate.

Oh, you want to know when strawberries will arrive?

Alsberg says that though the season is running three or four weeks ahead of last year, you'll need to hold your horses until mid-April when Albions will begin appearing. Incidentally, Alsberg assures us that strawberries will be abundant by Mother's Day this year.


Read Oregon Farmers' Markets Innovate to Provide Food, Support Local Farms.

In Season: Shungiku, or Chrysanthemum Greens

When wandering through the stalls at the farmers' market or in the aisles of my local greengrocer's, I pick up the usual salad greens and vegetables (including those for my dogs), but I'm always drawn to any unusual seasonal gems that might be tucked into the displays. Chicories? Garlic shoots? Espelette peppers? Any new raabs?

On one of my last trips to Rubinette Produce, I ran across something called "shungiku" grown by Katie Boeh at Fox Bear urban farm, who last year expanded her offerings through a collaboration with Willow Bar Farm on Sauvie Island. (Check out Fox Bear's impressive CSA offerings!)

Shungiku, while it sounds exotic, is actually the leaves from a type of chrysanthemum, Glebionis coronaria, a native of the Mediterranean that became a popular part of Japanese cuisine. The young leaves of the spring plant are often used fresh in salads, but it is sturdy enough to stand up to being blanched and chopped in dishes like sukiyaki. (I'd probably mix it into pasta dishes or layer it in a quiche, or maybe stir it into risotto.)

My copy of Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji, effuses that "its fragrance and distinct, light, astringent flavor harmonizes with meat or fowl, onion, and other vegetables," but warns to "take care not to overcook in one-pot dishes—a minute or two in the seasoned broth is enough. If overdone, chrysanthemum leaves tend to develop a bitter aftertaste." When purchasing, Tsuji advises looking for bright green leaves and stalks that are strong and perky. If they're showing buds or flowers, they're too old and may be tough.

Janis Martin, former owner of the idiosynchratic Tanuki izakaya—now chef at East Glisan Pizza Lounge—said that for a hot weather refresher, place a few sprigs of shungiku in a large pitcher of water along with a sprig of Chinese celery and a strip of yuzu rind (or lemon, if yuzu is not available). She lets it infuse at least three hours and serves it ice cold. (Thanks, Janis!)

Only available for a very short season in the spring, it's a plant that gardeners should check out for their spring gardens. Organic seeds are available from Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger of Adaptive Seeds in Sweet Home, whose seeds are bred specifically to thrive in the maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest. Even better, they're dedicated to making available public domain, open pollinated (OP) seed, none of which are genetically modified (GMO) or grown with chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

So get out there and find your own hidden gems, and maybe a new favorite garden green!

Side of Spring: Potato and Artichoke Heart Gratin

It was to be a spring birthday dinner for a friend featuring those exquisite lamb rib chops often called "lollipops," grilled and properly eaten holding onto the rib end and gnawing the bone to get all the carbonized goodness clinging to it. (If you're a knife-and-fork person, I won't judge you if you don't judge me.)

The mis en place.

In the spirit of the season, I'd volunteered to bring deviled eggs—from Mike and Linda's pasture-raised hens at Terra Farma, which have launched into spring production recently—along with a potato gratin of some sort. I'd considered a leek-and-mushroom version, but a heavy, creamy dish, while delicious and totally appropriate for grilled lamb chops, just didn't seem springy enough.

Ready for the oven!

So I turned to a version I'd concocted based on a recipe by Patricia Wells, renowned author of cookbooks drawn from meals she served at her home in Provence. Hers was a gratin meant to be cooked in the oven under a leg of lamb, the juices from the haunch dripping down into the potatoes as it roasted.

My version eschewed the lamb juices—don't get me wrong, I love this method, which works with roasted chicken, as well—but kept the rest of the ingredients, adding a couple more for a Mediterranean-ish dish that would sing with the lamb chops. Not to mention that it would also be terrific for a simple summer grill with fish or chicken, or a rich vegetarian main dish with a salad alongside.

Potato and Artichoke Heart Gratin

2 lbs. medium-sized Yukon Gold or other yellow potatoes, halved lengthwise and sliced very thin
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed but not chopped
1/2-1 c. kalamata olives, pitted
2 14-oz. cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained, or 8 fresh baby artichokes, peeled, cored and quartered (see note)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (no stems)
1/2 tsp. fennel pollen
1/3 c. olive oil
2/3 c. dry white wine
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
1 c. pecorino romano, grated fine
Four bouquet garni: each one should have 4 parsley sprigs, 4 thyme sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves, each tied with kitchen twine

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Put sliced potatoes in the hot water, and when it returns to a boil cook for no more than 5 minutes. Drain in colander.

In a large mixing bowl, gently combine potatoes, garlic, olives, artichokes, thyme, fennel pollen, olive oil, wine, salt and pepper. Stir to coat the potato slices evenly. Pour into 9” by 13” baking dish.

Nestle the four bouquet garni, spaced evenly crosswise, into the potato mixture. Scatter a layer of tomato slices over the top and sprinkle with the cheese.

Bake for one hour. Remove from oven and gently pull out the bouquet garni, trying not to disturb the tomato slices too much. Serve.

Note: To prepare fresh baby artichokes (step 1 and 2 only).

In Season: Bound, Hop, Jump, Leap, Vault!

No matter how you say it, spring in the Northwest is a much-anticipated season. Gardeners are getting out their seed packets and determining how many yards of compost their backs can withstand—see this post about holding off on the tomatoes for now—and cooks are dreaming of the bright green herbs and greens that will soon festoon their tables.

Seeing nettles and fiddleheads already popping up in my social media feeds, I figured it was time to talk with produce guy and fruit monkey Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce about what he's seeing on his local farmers' fresh sheets. So grab a pencil, kids, it's time to make our spring farmers' market shopping lists!

Raab-o-Rama

Josh knows my weaknesses, so of course the first thing he pulls out is the list of the various raabs, rapinis and rabes on offer. We could both hear Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm snorting that the only true raab comes from turnips, the rest are the inflorescence of plants, defined as "a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch. Morphologically, it is the modified part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed."

Raab with mushroom sauce.

So, with that, in alphabetical order, look for these inflorescences at the markets: bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kale sprouts, mizuna, red choy, spigarello, tatsoi and turnips, among others.

Josh notes that each tastes slightly different depending on the parent plant's particular flavor profile, but all have that amazing, vibrant flavor and crunch when pan-fried—I like to brown a little homemade bacon and chopped garlic first, then add the greens, chopped or not—or, in the case of the bigger sprouts, roasted quickly in a hot oven.

Whew!

More Greens

As for other greens, look for watercress, various mustards, mizunas both green and red, arugula, and a new one to me, wasabi arugula—Josh said it has the tangy bite of that Japanese root. (Note to self: must try.) Lettuces are just barely coming on but will be available shortly, and spinach, which is a bit more cold-tolerant, is here now.

Fiddleheads.

With spring running about a month later than last year, wild things are going crazy trying to catch up. Look for the aforementioned fiddleheads, as well as "triangle leeks" or wild onions, which have a curious folded vertical green, as well as nettles. These will be available at the markets, but if you're headed out on a hike, here's a guide to foraging wild onions and garlic.

Calçots, that spectacular Spanish scallion relative pioneered in Oregon by Manuel and Leslie Recio at their late, lamented Viridian Farms, are appearing, too, so make some salbitxada sauce and throw a spring calçotada! Spring onions like Walla Walla and red onions should be appearing soon, but green garlic is here now—use them like scallions or make a pesto to toss with pasta or serve it alongside grilled meats and fish.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

Dribs and drabs of local asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli—refer to it as PSB if you want to sound cooler-than-thou—are just now coming into season, but Josh advises that you need to get to the markets early to get the little asparagus available, at least for the next couple of weeks before the full harvest comes in.

Bundles of fresh spring herbs like parsley, oregano, chervil, thyme and chives are beginning to show up, so chimichurries and other herb sauces are definitely called for. Microgreens and young shoots of favas and peas should also make your list. They will only get more abundant as the season rolls along.

Roots and More

Radishes, spring beets and the small, white hakurei turnips as well as their greens are terrific roasted and served with the herb sauces mentioned above. Small local bulbs of fennel will be here toward the end of the month.

Rhubarb.

One of my favorite vegetables-that-cooks-like-a-fruit, rhubarb, is flashing its red stalks, and Josh said a green variety that, unlikely as it seems, is a bit more sour than the red variety, is also being grown locally.

Look for local mushrooms like maitake and lion's mane are coming in from forests and fields, and I've heard whispers that this year's morel harvest may be a big one. Though Josh warns that false morels, or verpa bohemica, a species of fungus known informally as a "false morel" is sometimes sold as a true morel, so be sure to ask your vendor.

Strawberries?

Still two to three weeks off, according to Mr. Alsberg. Look for them at the end of April or the beginning of May. He said that Unger Farms in Cornelius is the driver for strawberry season in the Willamette Valley, and the first to appear will be Albions, followed by Seascapes. The first Hoods will most likely be available around Memorial Day, though—and this is a mantra we should all take to heart—"everything is subject to Mother Nature."