Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Eric Ripert's 'Salade Monique'

So we're sitting in the computer lab for our staff meeting, doing what else but surfing the internet! Tee-hee. A colleague of mine was browsing through my blog and asked "Where's the vegetarian section?" Alas, I have no veggie-only section per se, but I do have quite a few veggie recipes. Regardless, I happened to have a bunch of photos from a veggie meal that Lissa and I had just recently eaten that were waiting to be posted. The meal was a wonderful salad: Salade Monique.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite books, Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman's A Return To Cooking. The Global Gourmet describes A Return To Cooking as:
"Ripert's journey back to his culinary roots. Over the course of a year, Ripert left his famed restaurant Le Bernardin for a short stretch each season: Long Island, Puerto Rico, Napa Valley and Vermont were his carefully chosen destinations. Using local seasonal ingredients, Ripert became inspired by the countryside settings and the home kitchens where the group gathered. Each locale "dictated" its own dishes."

The beginning of the book starts with Ripert's relections on a meal that was an homage to his mother and grandmother: Smoked Salmon Croque-Monsieur, Salade Monique, and a Peach and Plum Tart. "This is why I'm here" he said "I want to leave the chef that I am and let the cooking fill me again."

The salad was name after Ripert's mother, Monique. Ripert recalls:
"I cooked at her side when I was a boy. She's the one who said to me, 'Be a chef, and you can be anything.' She cared about food. She shopped everyday at markets. I don't think she set foot in a grocery store-ever. She worked but would come home every day to make lunch. Often they were big rustic salads. It's only when I'm putting the ingredients together in a big bowl-an abundance of blanched and raw vegetables, apple, avocado, radishes, potato, haricot verts, corn, all from a roadside market-that I recognize where this salad comes from."

This is so much more than just a cookbook. Again, from the Global Gourmet... "A Return to Cooking's recipes are interspersed with narratives offering insights and suggestions prompted by the moment: Ripert reflects on the difference between soups and sauces; how to recognize the freshest fish; on a chef's process; on the power of the vinaigrette; how to poach or roast to perfection, and much more." The narrative that has inspired me the most is on "how a chef becomes a cook." Ripert explains that:
"'Chef' is a title. A chef can be good or bad or everything in between...Chef denotes a job. But when you are a cook, that is what you are. It's your spine and your soul. It suffuses all that you touch. When you see the soil bursting with young lettuce, with tomatoes, with light green vines of peas, all the molecules between your gaze and those vegetables are charged with the energy of cooking. The air sparkles."
Indeed, this musing could be thought of as the foundation of the book itself, and for me, it is certainly the most beautiful. It helped me find pride in myself and in my cooking. I am not a trained chef, but I am a cook. Anyone can be trained as a chef, but how to become a cook is not something that can be taught.

Cristina Velocci wrote an article on Ripert's homage salad in the Oct/Nov 08 issue of Private Air, in which she posted the recipe:

Salade Monique

Serves 6

1/2-pound small potatoes
1/4-pound haricots verts, ends trimmed
1/4-pound asparagus, tips only
1 ear corn, shucked
1/2-pound mesclun greens
1/4 hothouse (seedless) cucumber, cut lengthwise in half and thinly sliced
12 grape tomatoes, halved
2 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 green banana pepper, cut into tiny dice
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
1/2 apple, cored and thinly sliced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

It is important to note that true to Ripert's homage, one should purchase what is fresh, local and in season, so if some of these ingredients are unavailable, buy what is and looks good.

Place the potatoes in a small pot of cold water, add 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a small knife, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool in the refrigerator. Once they are cool, peel the potatoes and thinly slice them.

Place three pots of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt to each pot. Drop the haricot verts, asparagus, and ear of corn into the pots. Blanch until the vegetables are tender but still a bit crisp: about 3 minutes for the asparagus and corn and 4 minutes for the haricot verts. Plunge all the vegetables into an ice water bath to stop the cooking.

Cut the corn kernels off the cob.

Place the greens and all the vegetables and fruit in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the balsamic and olive oil over and toss to coat. Divide the salad equally among six chilled plates.
Serve immediately.

"Eric Ripert's food is delicious sustenance, but here it has arrived entwined with usable lessons: When you cook, you do more than simply pay attention to the season and place, to ingredients that are close and fresh. When you cook-when you really cook-you pay attention to your past. When you cook, you welcome ghosts, and you honor them."

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