|That weird-looking little round green thing is a caper berry. If you think it looks cute here, you should see it stuck to a skewer sticking out of a Bloody Mary or two - freakin' ADORABLE!|
So, over the past week, I have been perfecting a recipe for a party dip. It's a very, very good dip. So good, in fact, that in having a very small group of people test it, I'm also having them sign nondisclosure agreements because it is a super frozen product, and I've been combing through the US Patent Office website to see what my options are, and I need to get the ball rolling as I only have a year once it becomes public knowledge.
The downside to recipe development is the tasting. Most people would think that's the upside, but it's not - you taste dozens of "Not quite right" until you get the DING! And sometimes it's a texture thing, not a flavor thing, that keeps you tinkering with the recipe. Sometimes it's a food chemistry thing - this happens frequently in commercial recipe development - the recipe works great in a small batch, but once you start scaling it up (Making, say, 20 dips instead of 1 - which would still be a tiny little batch compared to commercial production), the ratios of ingredients don't hold stand up to produce the same consistent product. My dip, needless to say, has cheese in it... imagine eating cheese for 4 hours each day for a week. Yeah. I hit the point where the dip was coming out my ears by Sunday. At this point, I might never walk past a wheel of brie without flipping it the bird again.
It's not like I'm thin to begin with, and it's not like about half my booty hasn't been made out of Bearnaise Sauce for the last 15 years... but, seriously, I got to the point where I looked at Brent and somewhat fearfully confessed, "I know you are LOVING this project I'm working on, but if I don't eat a bucket of some kind of green vegetable matter soon, my heart is going to come exploding out of my chest like the monster in Alien!" He laughed. Oh, suuuure... he's under 30 and still immortal. I remember those days. Bastard. He would eat nothing but sides of beef wrapped in bacon for two meals a day if I let him get away with it; three, if I gave him a vat of Deitz & Watson Smoky Horseradish sauce for dipping it in.
Hence, my lunch today was, by design, on the Lighter Side. Not just in terms of calories and good monounsaturated fat, but I craved lemon, and vinegar, and the crunch of blanched asparagus. Craved a nice healthy salad. Craved something vegetarian.
But I'm swamped, and only had about 15 minutes to make my own lunch today, because I'm running around like a crazy woman, making up samples, printing out nondisclosure forms, writing blog posts about the rambling dustbunnies in my brain, and letting them come out to hop around for you , dear reader.... Are they fricasseeing dustbunnies, do you think?
Seriously, be glad you don't live with me. My twisted mind goes off on tangents like this all day long.
So here's what I threw together. Honest to Blog, it took longer to wait for the water to boil before hand while I did other things, and take the pictures afterwards, than it did to make this salad:
Asparagus Cannellini Bean Salad with Lemon Pesto Vinaigrette
1 bunch fresh Asparagus snapped, woody stems discarded
1 19 oz. can Cannellini beans (also called white kidney beans) (I used Progresso)
For the dressing:
Pesto Sauce - 1 heaping tsp. (I used Buitoni, pre-made "light" pesto. Really.)
White wine vinegar - 1 Tbsp.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - about 3 Tbsp.
Zest of 1 lemon
Lemon juice - 1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
Start by putting a big pot of water on to boil, unsalted, and while that is heating up, wash and snap the asparagus, throw way the woody stems. Set up one large bowl of ice cubes and water for refreshing the asparagus after you blanch it. Using a colander, rinse the beans thoroughly under cold running water.
In a medium-sized bowl (big enough that you will be able to toss the asparagus and beans in once they are ready) make the Lemon Pesto Vinaigrette by first putting the pesto in the bottom of the bowl, and then, using the tines of a fork (or you could dirty a wire whisk if you wanted - I didn't) beat in the vinegar and then, very slowly, drizzle in the olive oil as you are beating to get a nice fluffy emulsion.
Toss the beans gently into the dressing so they have a little extra time to absorb the dressing, and season with a little salt and pepper - you can adjust more later. Cut a few thin peels off the lemon for zest, then halve it to squeeze in a few minutes. By now the water is boiling, so throw in all the asparagus, and count slowly 30-35 seconds (I go by color - brightest green wins). Using tongs, remove the asparagus from the boiling water and plunge into the ice bath, and leave there for a few minutes to chill fully. While it is chilling, cut away any pith from the underside of the lemon peel and finely slice or mince the zest ( I did a little of both - mixed the minced into the salad, used the sliced zest to garnish). Once the asparagus are nice and cold, move them to paper towels to gently dry, (you don't want them to water down your nice handmade dressing, right?) then place them in the bowl with the beans and dressing. Give everything a good toss to coat the asparagus with the dressing, then squeeze the lemon half over all of the salad, and adjust the salt & pepper, and divide onto two plate, arranging as you like. Garnish with extra lemon zest.
And yes, now that I've told you all of that, let's get a certain fine point of cooking out of the way, since this is only, like, my 5th post here on the Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go Blog: never, never hesitate to use a good-quality pre-made product when it suits the purpose of the recipe, especially when it's just for your own self to enjoy. If I was making this for a client? I'd use fresh. For entertaining, if we had a party? Fresh. But just me when I'm hungry (or my kid's school lunches?) - whatever's on hand that we need to use up around here before it would get thrown away works fine for us.
I'm not that kind of snotty, foo-foo, nose-in-the-air chef. Can't stand 'em.
I'm talking about the pesto sauce I used today. Of course I can make my own pesto sauce. And, at the end of the summer, when the farmers are begging for people to haul it away by the Hefty bagful, I will make my own pesto sauce! Gallons of it. From scratch. Using the really good olive oil and pine nuts and Parmesan. And I will freeze it and enjoy it all winter until it runs out - on burgers, on pasta, swirled into soup, spread on bread - until we run out of homemade again. When you use it as a condiment, you go through a lot of pesto, and you keep it on hand as par stock. At least we do. Our favorite homemade cheeseburgers around here are made from buffalo meat patties, topped with pesto, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes. The point being, having something like that on hand makes a "gourmet" lunch yours in less time than it would take to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so don't get overly hung up and stressed out on the whole "must be made from scratch" mindset; the point is to just enjoy Great Food.
And not have your heart literally explode out of your chest. Like in Alien.