This was bound to happen.
I decided to get back on the cooking horse today, diving back in with a recipe from one of my Christmas presents: John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table.” I was thrilled to get this book for one reason, and that’s the scallop ceviche recipe, but I’ll address that when I tackle the recipe. As I cruised through the book, though, I realized quickly that it represented the deep end. No more Food Network “Recipe Level: Easy” dishes that have served as my crutch for the past few years. It was time to put on my big girl apron. But truthfully, I was intimidated.
The book is beautiful and inspiring, but at the same time, I need a stocked kitchen, a cup of coffee, and some chutzpah to make the most of these recipes. My only complaint (aside from the recipes being over my head) is that Chef Ash very clearly believes in eating seasonally. I think the book would be that much better if the recipes were divided into seasons in addition to their dish categories. Just my two cents, which is exactly what my opinion is worth in the kitchen.
In a move that might be considered sticking my baby toe in this deep end, I selected the very first recipe in the book, which just so happens to be in the salad section: Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Olive Oil and Pecorino Cheese (page 15). I like salads and I really like asparagus. However, Chef Ash at some point cautions that asparagus is a spring veggie. Well, back to my point about the dishes being segmented into seasons. And, hell, Central Market carries it, so I’m just going to go for it. One of his tasting notes recommends that, to make this more of an entrée, add some meats, good olives, and “maybe a sprinkling of some Fried Capers (page 33).” I check out page 33, and I think “okay, this sounds good; I can handle frying some capers in olive oil.”
I made my shopping list, and off I went to my friendly neighborhood grocery. I zoomed through the necessary sections and finally found myself standing in the olive oil aisle. Without using an ounce of hyperbole, I tell you that I stood in this aisle for 20 minutes. Twenty! There are so many oils, and so few of them are lemon-infused, and even fewer are under $20. And that’s kind of the bummer part of this experience: it is not inexpensive to stock your kitchen for the whims of your chef guides. Alas, with the help of Lee, resident Foodie, I picked the least expensive ($17). I’m going to jump ahead here and say that, wow, lemon olive oil smells delicious. I’m a convert. It was worth the cash.
Back at home, I start my water for some pasta (whole wheat linguine to be sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, an easy dish as recommended by Gina Stipo, a chef who taught a class on Tuscan cuisine last week at Central Market), and then set out to fry some capers. Chef Ash said to “heat 1/2 inch of olive oil until it shimmers (350 degrees on a frying or candy thermometer).” I looked (not very hard) for such a thermometer at the market but didn’t see one, and I figured, hey, I can wing it.
The oil looked like it was shimmering to me, so I dropped in the capers, and my pan instantly turned into a frenetic oil jacuzzi. I panicked, immediately pulled the bubbling pan off the heat, and watched as the capers turned from a beautiful sage green to something more… meteoric…
This is what a fried caper should look like.
And here are my massacred capers.
Fortunately, capers were but a mere suggestion, and my asparagus dish with my whole wheat linguine can be counted a success, with only a few points deducted for a house full of burnt caper smoke.
Next stop: a new dish and a thermometer for the kitchen.