We had a guest over for dinner last Saturday who is also a serious wine enthusiast. Planning dinner was a bit difficult as we had a previous important appointment set for about 3-6p.m. on the same afternoon, which meant we had to either prepare things in advance or pull it together all at the last minute. Mrs. Marketman decided she was going to make the main course, a fabulous and incredibly rich cassoulet, which tastes better the older it getsâ€¦ My only responsibility was to make the appetizersâ€¦ Almost entirely vegetable based (except some pancetta in the patani/lima beans), the appetizers were incredibly easy to make and everyone could just pick and choose what they wanted to eat. First up was a vinegared and marinated beet salad with mint leaves. The beets at the market looked pretty good on Saturday morning so I decided to get some. Just bake these or boil them in water unpeeled and when soft, chop or cube them and marinate in some good vinegar, add some salt and pepper, a touch of olive oil if you desire and some fresh mint leaves just before serving. I always love the color of this dishâ€¦so intense, only a deep burgundy color of a fine red wine competes with it in the natural worldâ€¦
We also made a cold dish of braised leeks with a mustard vinaigrette. To make, blanch or braise the leeks in water or chicken broth and when soft remove and cool. Dress with a grainy mustard vinaigrette and season properly. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. This dish has a terrific mixture of texture and flavor. On the one had it is soft, but chewing it yields a bit of deceptive â€œcrunch,â€ I think from the way the fibrous leek stems get broken down in the gnawing process. Also, the sweetness of the leek is offset by the sharp vinaigrette dressing. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy leeks and it is so easy and so seemingly sophisticatedâ€¦perfect for a French bistro style meal.
Always an easy fall back for an appetizer is blanched asparagus served with good olive oil and a generous sprinkling of grated parmiggiano reggiano. Also season with lots of freshly cracked black pepper. To make, boil up some water, pick some supremely fresh and thin asparagus and trim the bottom of the stalks if necessary. Then plunge for a minute or two into the boiling water to just blanch until tender. Remove and immediately plunge into an ice bath so that the cooking process stops and the color remains a vibrant green. Dry off the asparagus with paper towels, place in a serving dish and drizzle with good olive oil, parmesan and pepper. Easy and always appreciated (unless, of course, your guests dislike asparagus)!
Finally, I experimented with some fresh lima beans that were first blanched and peeled then sautÃ©ed in olive oil with pancetta or prosciuttoâ€¦I used the latter. This is a dish modeled after those tasted in Spain and Italy and it was really quite good. Again the effort to utility and taste trade-off was also really worth it. These four appetizers, served with some warm French bread and a nice white wine was the perfect start to our mealâ€¦ I would also like to point out, ALL of these vegetables are locally grown…only the prosciutto, parmesan and olive oil is imported, but locally sourced…