Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Garden of Eden (Spring 2019 Edition)


Garden of Eden is not really a dish, it's a concept. It changes with season, mood and weather; depending on what shines at the market, and who's coming for dinner. It can be celebratory; it can be indulgent. It can be light or dark, elegant or down to earth, a weeknight dinner or a star of the table. But it definitely is a pleaser. A homecoming. One only needs a slice of nice, crusty bread, a glass of wine (or a spritz), and voila, magic happens.

As I said, it's not one recipe, but dozens of them, even more, if my menu folder is to be trusted. Those who've eaten at our place know that we like to put our dishes on paper. It's a habit that started over a decade ago, entirely by accident. We had a large group of friends over for dinner, and a small army of dishes on the table; tired of explaining things over and over again, I went to my desk and wrote it all down. Typed it down actually and printed it out. The font was a bit boring, and the paper too thin, plain old white printing paper we get in bulk, and being a person with somewhat elevated attention to detail, I went back and gave it a brief polish; I changed Times New Roman to Garamond, improved upon spacing and margins, and sprinkled in some italics and bolds. I hit save and printed another copy, this time on ivory card stock paper. I placed the menu on the table and forgot about it. It was a nice dinner, with many stellar dishes, but that night, oh-that-night, the menu stole the show. A silly thing, I know, but I guess that's what makes us humans; we go for the icing on a cake, and for umbrella in a daiquiri; we don't buy the Kinder Egg for the chocolate, but for that little yellow plastic capsule inside. The surprise, the fun-element, that's what the thrill is all about.

What to say, I've been in business of making menus ever since. They reside in a dedicated folder on my computer: every dinner, every party, birthdays and anniversaries, visits from friends form out of town, and friends from nearby, days we were happy and days we were sad, all those moments remain forever captured in this virtual file cabinet. My menus are the guardians of my memories: June 2007 -- roasted polenta, grilled mushrooms, arugula, jamon -- we brought Miss Pain from the NICU, and Jelena and Giovanni came with a mango pie and a bottle of Brunello; 2012 New Year Eve dinner -- Bora and Lola visited from California, and we celebrated with a 12-dish tasting dinner for 12 -- smoked paprika cookies, pimenton crusted oysters with mango mayonnaise, egg yolk pappardelle with veal, sausage and chestnut ragu, citrus glazed yams with sesame and nigela, just to name a few; the annual school auction dinners -- we do them every year to support Miss Pain's public school, and in doing so make so many new friends -- roasted vegetable broth, miso and sweet wine glazed salmon, duck meatballs a l'orange; October 2010 -- Serbian baked beans, caramelized sauerkraut, pork roast with apples, chocolate ischler -- it was Mom's last visit, even though we did not know it at the time, we celebrated St. Thomas, our patron saint together, and toasted to many more happy reunions.

When Miss Pain was seven years old, we started the tradition of naming the dishes. Who said that it can be done only in fancy restaurants or on Chef's Table on Netflix? No, no, no, forget about the Michelin starred chefs and their menus, because, and now allow me a tiny self-tap on a shoulder, Miss Pain and I are the ruling champions of menu creation. We are the geniuses behind "Obsidian on Snow" (a salad of red beets, black currants and goat cheese), "Life on a Cloud" (cauliflower panna cotta with smoked salmon tartare), "Between the Land and the Sea" (pan roasted scallops, roasted wild mushrooms, yellow pepper cream), and "The Dark Side of Filet Mignon" (pan seared filet mignon with tamarind glaze).

Didn't I tell ya?

Which brings me to the Garden of Eden. As I said it's not a dish, it's a concept. One starts with a canvas -- hummus, puree, mash, or anything alike, and on it, one spreads the glory of the best seasonal vegetables -- broiled, grilled, or sautéed, and then one keeps on building -- some cheese perhaps, seeds or nuts, and one keeps on building -- a drizzle of sauce -- lemon, cardamom yogurt, chimichuri, blackberry coulis, pesto... A beautiful mess, a vibrant plate of the best that season has to offer, a garden of Eden. It's been a staple on our menu since the early days, and it still runining strong. Now that I sparked your imagination, let me share our current favorite. Let's call it The Garden of Eden, 2019 Spring Edition. And I promise, there will be more to come. Because, I just realized, that despite so many years of blogging, I have not posted a single Garden of Eden recipe. What was I thinking?! A grave mistake that OUGHT to be corrected. So stay tuned my friends, stay tuned, because the summer edition is just around the corner.

Green Pea Hummus, Broiled Ramps, Sauteed Green Garlic, Fiddlehead Ferns, Garlic Oil, Lemon Tahini

for the pea humus

1 lb frozen baby sweet peas, thawed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 oz feta
1/4 cup of mint leaves
1/8 tsp cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the toppings

16 steams of green garlic
16 - 20 ramps
16 - 20 fiddleheads
about 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the lemon tahini

1/4 cup tahini
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cups water (or as needed)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
3 tbsp olive oil 


First make the green pea humus. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Place the hummus in the refrigerator and chill at least two hours before serving for flavors to combine.

Make the lemon tahini. In a blender, process the tahini, water and lemon juice until tahini is all fluffed up. Add the yogurt, olive oil and salt and process some more. Add additional water until you get the consistency you desire (I like my lemon tahini a little bit on a runny side). Taste and adjust salt and acidity.

Prepare the fiddleheads. Wash the fiddleheads in cold water carefully. Fill up a medium pot with water, add salt, and bring to a boil. Boil the fiddleheads for for about 8-10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Make the sautéed garlic. Wash the garlic steams and dry. Cut of the tops. Reserve the stems for another use (if you do not know what it might be, try this hummus). If the spring garlic us very young and tender, use whole tops, if it is more mature, slice them in halves, quarters, or if the garlic is quite mature, slice them in rings crosswise. In a medium sauté pan, combine the 1/3 cup of olive oil with the garlic. Put the heat to low and sauté slowly, for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and the oil is very fragrant. Increase the heat to medium. Add the fiddleheads to the sauté pan and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and keep aside until ready to serve.

Make the broiled ramps. Preheat broiler. Place ramps on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated. Place the ramps under the broiler, but not too close, and broil, turning occasionally, until tender and charred, about 2 minutes.

To plate the dish, prepare one large platter or 4 medium plates (the size of a dining plate). Spread the pea hummus on the plate. Top with ramps. Add the garlic and fiddleheads. Drizzle generously with the garlic oil all over. Drizzle sparingly with the lemon tahini, just a drop or two really, and place the bowl of tahini on the table so that guests can finish the dish according to their liking. Serve with nice bread. 


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