Making Dinner Dashing

I discovered recently that most of my regular dinner-time
recipes had gotten so boring I couldn’t even remember what they
were. And when I browsed through my cookbook collection, my eyes
would glaze over: These other recipes were the rejects.
I discovered recently that most of my regular dinner-time recipes had gotten so boring I couldn’t even remember what they were. And when I browsed through my cookbook collection, my eyes would glaze over: These other recipes were the rejects.

But I did have the new copy of Gourmet magazine I had bought in my fascination with Ruth Reichl, and I had a copy of Everyday Food magazine from the supermarket, so I decided to pick a couple of recipes from these magazines and see what happened.

My first choice was from Gourmet’s section entitled Gourmet Every Day: Quick Kitchen. The Salmon with Endive, Dill and Cream sounded good. I grew fond of Belgian endive when I lived in the Netherlands (where it is called “witloof”) and I knew we had some salmon in the freezer.

Belgian endive not really an endive at all but is actually a member of the chicory family. The tightly bundled creamy white leaves are good either cooked or raw, with a mild but distinctive tang. Raw, they have a pleasant crunch, and they keep a lot of their texture when cooked.

So, I went shopping. Most of the ingredients – shallots, cream, fresh dill and lemon juice – were easy to find, and I opted to leave out the white wine.

But after going to the three major supermarkets in Hollister, I had found nary an endive. Belgian endive is relatively unusual in this country but it’s in season, and I thought at least one of the ever-more-competitive produce sections would have some.

In the end, I bought a small specimen of baby bok choy, thinking that even though it’s a member of the brassica – or cabbage family (same as broccoli and mustard) – the texture and flavor would be close, if not identical.

The results of my experiment were tasty, although I’d still like to try the recipe with endive. Also, with its high water content, the bok choy shrunk more than I expected, ending up more like a seasoning than a vegetable.

My next experimental recipe was Arugula with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Mushrooms. I never dreamed arugula would be hard to find because after we grew it one summer, it naturalized, and we were whacking it back and pulling it out from between the paving stones for years.

However, when I looked for it at the new “world-market” style Safeway in Morgan Hill, it was not available. But guess what was: Belgian endive. (Note to self: Plan ahead.)

So, I settled on a springy fresh green head of escarole, which turns out to be a true endive. (Clearly, the world of green vegetable terminology is no place for cowards.) The escarole did have the crunch of arugula but not quite as tangy a flavor.

Will these two recipes become mainstays of my collection? Although the cream sauce on the salmon was tasty, I’m not sure it was a worthwhile improvement over plain grilled salmon, perhaps with the fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon. I might try it again (with Belgian endive, now that I know where to find it) as an accompaniment to fish that is less exciting on its own.

I will probably give the arugula salad another chance, because I cheated in more ways than using a different green. The recipe called for baking the vegetables at 425 degrees for 40 minutes. I thought, “No way I’m leaving a 425-degree oven on for 40 minutes with fuel prices being what they are,” at least not without some other items to bake at the same time. So, I microwaved the sweet potato for about 8 minutes first, and got it a bit too soft.

Here are the recipes as they appeared, with my notes on what I did differently. I promise that neither one will cause you to say, as a young friend once did when served a surprising broccoli dish, “Mmm, this is delicious! I don’t know WHY I can’t swallow it.”

Salmon with Endive, Dill and Cream

(adapted from Gourmet magazine)

Serves 4

4 (6 to 7-ounce) center-cut pieces salmon fillet with skin (1 1/4 inches thick), any pin bones removed

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

2 large Belgian endives (1/2 pound total), quartered lengthwise, cored and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch

pieces.

1/3 cup dry white wine (I left this out)

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Step 1: Preheat broiler. Line rack of a broiler pan with foil, then lightly oil foil. Pat salmon dry, then arrange, skin sides down, on broiler pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

Step 2: Broil salmon 4 to 5 inches from heat until almost cooked through, about 6 minutes. Keep warm, loosely covered with foil (fish will cook through from residual heat).

Step 3: While salmon is cooking, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet until hot but not smoking, then sauté shallots, stirring for 1 minute. Add endives and sauté, stirring, until softened, for 3 to 4 minutes. (Add wine and boil over high heat, stirring, until liquid is reduced to 1 Tbs., about 1 minute.)

Step 4: Add cream and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper and boil, stirring occasionally until liquid is thickened and reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes.

Step 5: Stir in dill, lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve salmon with the sauce.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Mushrooms

(adapted from Everyday Food magazine)

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3/4 inch chunks.

1 pound medium cremini or white button mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps halved

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 Tbs.. cup olive oil

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 to 3 bunches arugula, (about 12 ounces) stems trimmed

2 1/2 cups leftover sautéed corn (from another recipe in the magazine; I didn’t use this) or vinaigrette

Baked tortilla strips or store-bought tortilla chips, crumbled.

Goat cheese, crumbled (I used feta)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On rimmed baking sheets, toss together sweet potatoes, mushrooms, cumin and oil; season generously with salt and pepper.

Step 2: In a large bowl, combine arugula with vinaigrette and roasted vegetables; toss until arugula wilts slightly. Serve immediately, topped with tortilla strips or crumbled chips and crumbled goat cheese.

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