We go to great restaurants for magic, for an extraordinary experience that is beyond our reach as home cooks. And so how to explain that the single most memorable dish I had at Alain Passard’s Michelin three-star restaurant l’Arpege in Paris was a salad, and one that you could make quite easily at home?
Passard is undoubtedly a culinary magician, but of a decidedly subtle sort. Rather than creating elaborate constructions, his gentle touch coaxes out flavors that can change the way we look at ingredients.
Particularly at this time of year, when the markets are lined wall-to-wall with some of the best fruits and vegetables you’ll ever taste, this is the kind of cooking that resonates.
And so, yes, Passard’s guinea fowl roasted in hay was spectacular, and so was the slow-cooked turbot. But the dish that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind was an assortment of spring vegetables served with a sweet-sour dressing he calls aigre-doux.
Spring Vegetable Salad with L’arpege’s Aigre-Doux
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 to 6 small, slim carrots
½ cup shelled green peas
1 head fennel
2 heads Belgian endive
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced chives
In a small bowl, blend the honey, white wine vinegar and lemon juice with an immersion blender. With the blender running, slowly add the olive and vegetable oils, blending until you have a smooth sauce with a consistency somewhere between heavy cream and loose mayonnaise. You will have more dressing than required for the recipe; the remainder will keep tightly covered in the refrigerator for several days (just blend briefly before using it).
Cook the whole peeled carrots in a large pot of rapidly boiling, generously salted water until just tender-crisp, about 4 minutes. Refresh in an ice bath to stop cooking, pat dry and, if they are big enough, cut them into lengthwise quarters. Cook the peas in the same pot of water, refresh in an ice bath and pat dry.
Quarter the fennel, cut out the solid core and slice it lengthwise as thin as you can. Collect it in a large work bowl. Slice the radishes as thin as you can crosswise and add them to the work bowl. Quarter the heads of endive lengthwise, cut out the solid core and cut the leaves into thin strips. Add to the work bowl and set aside.
When ready to serve, blend the dressing briefly to recover the consistency. Spoon a generous tablespoon of the sauce in the center of a salad plate and use the back of the spoon to carefully spread it in a circle. Lightly season the shaved vegetables with salt and pepper and arrange over the top of the dressing in an attractive pattern (this must be done at the last minute or the salt will soften the vegetables).
Drizzle a half-teaspoon or so of dressing over the shaved vegetables and arrange the carrots and peas over the top. Sprinkle with minced chives and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Each serving: Calories, 186; protein, 6 grams; carbohydrates, 25 grams; fiber, 13 grams; fat, 9 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; cholesterol, 0; sugar, 8 grams; sodium, 135 mg.
Mixed Berry Cobbler with Orange-Scented Biscuits
1½ cups flour
¼ cup plus 2 table- spoons sugar, divided
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons orange zest
¼ cup butter, cold and cubed, plus more for buttering dish
2/3 cup heavy cream
1½ pounds blackberries and raspberries
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons orange juice
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch-square baking dish.
In a food processor bowl, pulse together the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse together just until the mixture has the texture of lightly moistened cornmeal. There may be a few pea-sized chunks of butter remaining; that’s fine.
Pour over heavy cream and then pulse 4 to 6 times just to moisten the dough. Do not overmix or the dough will be tough.
In a bowl, toss together the blackberries, raspberries, one-fourth cup sugar and cornstarch to coat lightly. Add the orange juice and stir gently to moisten.
Spoon the fruit into the prepared baking dish and then use 2 spoons to scatter generous 1- to 2-tablespoon clumps of the dough over the top, covering the berries nearly completely. Bake until the topping is puffed and golden and the berries have turned jammy and fragrant, about 45 minutes. Serves 8 to 12.
Each serving: Calories, 192; protein, 3 grams; carbohydrates, 26 grams; fiber, 4 grams; fat, 9 grams; saturated fat, 6 grams; cholesterol, 29 mg; sugar, 9 grams; sodium, 116 mg.