Dinner Party Menu: March
Warm Smoked Black Cod Salad with a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette
Braised Minted Lamb Shanks Ossobucco
Risotto Bianco with Peas and Pea Shoots
Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse
On the west coast we are on the home stretch of winter, some days still holding on to the cold and damp, while occasionally being treated to inspiring sunny, clear blossomy days which happily signal the Spring season.
Planning our dinner party menu for this month, Julie and I began by talking about the main protein and the cooking methods suitable to this time of year. We chose lamb in a slow braise (a recipe just in time for your holiday dinner) inspired by Molly Stevens in All About Braising. The technique is perfect for dinner parties because much of the preparation can and should be done in advance – the sear, the addition of flavourings, vegetables and liquid, the slow cooking – then finished and plated just before serving. And this dish allows us to use this cooler weather braising method while we still can.
What is different about this recipe is the brining step which infuses the lamb with the often used pairing flavour of mint. But instead of using mint sauce when serving, a large quantity of mint is pureéd and added to the brining liquid to create a minty bath for the lamb to settle into for a few days before cooking. The resulting flavour is clearly mint, but not overwhelmingly so. We decided to serve this with the classic Risotto Bianco providing a fresh, Spring-y background to the lamb with peas and pea shoots adding a flavour-matching vegetable and garnish.
For the first course, Julie suggested a warm smoked black cod salad that she first prepared in the kitchen of Lumière, the now-closed but well known elegant Vancouver restaurant. Each bite of this salad is a fantastic combination of the smoky and salty taste of the fish and the crisp textures and spiciness of arugula and radishes. It would be a fine main course for lunch or even, in slightly larger portions, a light dinner.
How the dinner party menu was tested:
Julie and her business partner and dear friend, Sarolta, host dinner parties in Julie’s home. Groups can book a night, help to design the menu, and show up for an evening of great food and laughter. It was my good fortune to have booked such a night at Julie’s with friends and we decided to try out our March menu. It was with this event in mind that we added another aspect to the evening: an olive oil tasting. This matched nicely with our Italian inspired dinner with each course featuring olive oil.
We started off the evening in the kitchen tasting two Italian extra virgin olive oils and learned from Julie and Sarolta about the conditions under which the olives are grown, the process of tasting and the taste sensation that a good olive oil will trigger in your mouth and throat. The first oil we tasted was an inexpensive generic brand from SuperValu (Terra Delyssa). The second one was the Famiglia Creanza oil from Puglia ($28.99 at Marché St. Georges, $33.95 at Zara’s at Granville Island). The latter tasted more buttery in the mouth and more spicy in the throat.
Following the tasting, we enjoyed appetizers which featured the Famiglia Creanza olive oil: crostini with cooked and mashed dried Italian beans (cicerchia, purchased in Puglia, but dried fava beans can also be used) topped with cooked dandelion greens and shaved parmigiano; burratta cheese with bread (Altamuran) from Puglia; pickled mushrooms; and prosciutto…all washed down with Valdobbiadene Prosecco. Most of these ingredients were purchased at Cioffi’s at 4142 E Hastings in Vancouver.
We then sat down to the first course, accompanied by St. Hubertus Riesling:
Warm Smoked Black Cod Salad and a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette
3 teaspoons grainy mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1⁄4 cup sherry vinegar
3⁄4 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 leeks, white and light green parts only
6 x 2 oz (56 g) portions of smoked black cod, skin removed
2 cups whole milk
1⁄2 cup water
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
3 cups of arugula
3 radishes, thinly sliced
In a medium saucepan cover the potatoes in water, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
While the potatoes are boiling make the vinaigrette by whisking the grainy and Dijon mustard together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add in the sherry vinegar and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle cut the potatoes in half and place in a bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of the vinaigrette and set aside.
Bring another medium saucepan, filled with salted water, to a boil. Cut the leeks in 1⁄2 inch rounds and rinse well. Blanch in the boiling water for 3 minutes until the leeks are tender. Drain and add them to the bowl with the potatoes and add another tablespoon of the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
In a medium saucepan bring the milk, water, thyme, bay leaf and the garlic to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and place the pieces of black cod in the liquid. Poach fish for 4 to 5 minutes until fish is warmed through.
While the fish is poaching assemble the salad.
Check the leeks and potatoes for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and/or vinaigrette if necessary. Place on warmed serving plates. Dress the arugula and the sliced radishes with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat in a small bowl and then top the potatoes and leeks with the arugula. Place the black cod on top of the greens and garnish with additional slices of radish. Serve at once.
Serves 6. Recipe is adapted from “Rob Feenie Cooks at Lumière
In Advance: The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days ahead. On the day of the party, cook the potatoes and the leeks and dress them with vinaigrette as instructed. Just before serving, poach the black cod, warm the potato/leek mixture in a microwave or on top of the stove, then layer the warm ingredients with the cod, arugula and radishes.
And the main course, accompanied by Bolla Valpolicella Ripasso:
Braised Minted Lamb Shanks Ossobucco
5-6 lamb shanks, cut into 2” rounds off the meaty end, as in Ossobucco (ask the butcher to cut the rounds as evenly as possible, to ensure one meaty piece per person. Make sure that the shanks are on the small side, since large rounds do not make for an elegant presentation)
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. Kosher salt
4 c. fresh mint, loosely packed
7 c. water, divided
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine
Gremolata for garnish, optional: 4 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley; 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest; and 2 cloves garlic, minced
Brine the Lamb (for 2 days)
Put the lamb shanks in a deep baking dish or bowl, large enough to hold the lamb with 7 cups of liquid. Remove woody stems from mint. Wash and drain. Combine mint, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of water and process to a coarse purée. Pour the mint purée over the lamb. Add the remaining 6 1/2 cups of water to cover shanks completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days, stirring occasionally so that they brine evenly.
Braise the lamb
Heat oven to 300°.
Remove the lamb shanks from the brine and pat dry on paper towels. Some mint leaves will stick to the meat, and that’s OK. Strain the brine, reserving the mint purée. Save 1 cup of the brine, discarding the rest.
Heat 2 T. oil in a Dutch oven, or large braising pot with lid, over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and brown them well on all sides. Do this in batches if the pan is not large enough to hold the lamb without crowding, allowing the meat to brown well. This is an important step, because the browning adds to the flavour of the dish. As they brown, remove to a plate. When the last batch is done, pour off excess fat, and return the shanks to the pot. Scatter the shallots over the meat and stir until they brown slightly.
Pour in the wine, let it boil to reduce by half over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved mint purée and 1 cup of brine and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing it down to tuck in the meat, extending the paper over the sides of the pot. Cover with lid or with foil and place on the lower oven rack. Braise, turning shanks after the first hour, for about 2 hours, or until tender. Transfer shanks with a slotted spoon to a baking sheet, large enough to hold them all in one layer.
If using, make the Gremolata: combine chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic in small bowl and set aside until ready to serve. This can be done a couple of hours in advance.
Finish the lamb
Strain the braising liquid into a medium saucepan, without pushing down on the solids, discarding the mint and shallots. You should have about 1 1/2 cups liquid. Skim off the surface fat and taste. If it is not too salty, you can reduce the sauce to half the volume to intensify the flavour. If it is already salty enough, keep it warm. The sauce should be minty and salty, but not too much so. It will be used in moderation when plating the meal.
Place a spoonful of risotto on the centre of each warmed plate, top with one lamb shank, gremolata, pea shoots and some sauce. Serves 6
In Advance: Brine lamb 2 days ahead. Braise and finish day of party.
Risotto Bianco with Peas and Pea Shoots
3 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive
2 shallots, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh peas, or frozen
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup pea shoots, for garnish
Heat the chicken stock in a medium pot and then keep warm throughout risotto preparation. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and the tablespoon of oil, then add the shallots and celery and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté one more minute but do not allow it to brown or this will impart a bitter taste.
Add the rice and stir to coat, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes. The rice will begin to lightly fry so ensure that you keep stirring it. Add the wine and stir until the liquid is absorbed.
Once the wine is absorbed add 1 cup of the warmed stock and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring gently and regularly until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the rice is tender but still al dente. This should take approximately 20 to 25 minutes. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water. Add the fresh or frozen peas and stir until heated through. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes before serving.
In Advance: Most recipes for risotto will recommend cooking and serving the dish just before serving. This, to my mind, makes it inaccessible to home cooks who want to enjoy their company and not be in the kitchen stirring the risotto before dinner is served. Julie let me in on the restaurant method for advance preparation. Cook the risotto as instructed in the recipe until almost all of the liquid has been added but the rice is still very much al dente, or still firm to the bite. Remove it from the heat and quickly spread it on a large baking sheet and let it cool completely in the refrigerator. This stops the cooking at this point. When you are about 10 minutes from serving dinner, put the risotto back into the cooking pot and heat, adding the peas and stirring the mixture for a minute or two. Then add the rest of the warm broth and 2 T. butter, stirring until just done.
And for dessert…
Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse
10 oz (284 g) high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup, plus two tablespoons of granulated sugar, divided
1⁄2 cup good quality, extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons espresso coffee
1⁄4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
pistachios, shelled, toasted and chopped
Place the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water and melt, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Place the egg yolks and 1⁄2 cup sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until pale yellow. Whisk in the olive oil, coffee and salt until combined. Add the melted chocolate and whisk until smooth.
Beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat just until stiff peaks form. Add a generous spoonful of the egg white mixture to the chocolate mixture. Stir firmly until completely incorporated. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of the egg whites. Gently fold with a spatula until completely combined.
Divide the mousse into six small glasses or ramekins, cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to several days before serving. Serve garnished with toasted and chopped pistachios.