Four Appetizers : Leeks, Beets, Asparagus & Beans


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 gets… app3My only responsibility was to make the appetizers… 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 dish…so intense, only a deep burgundy color of a fine red wine competes with it in the natural world…

We also made a cold dish of braised leeks with a mustard vinaigrette. app2 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 “crunch,” 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 sophisticated…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 app4freshly 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 app5blanched and peeled then sautéed in olive oil with pancetta or prosciutto…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 meal… 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…

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10 Responses

  1. Ingenious approach to use lima beans – they grow everywhere but you brought its new destiny and appearance on fine dining. Your beets salad has a perfect visual appeal with the mint in it – picture perfect. Never occur to me leeks can go on its own with a little help from mustard and vinegar. With your honed kitchen skills all I can say is great leeks solo appearance. The beauty of the asparagus really came out with the shower of Parmesan cheese. With these foursome salads – a great dinner starter with all the flavor and texture combined truly a way to start an evening filled with joy and hearty foods!

  2. Hmmm. Maybe I should give beets another chance. I don’t eat beets. When I look back, I think it’s because my only exposure to them was in that “Russian salad” of my childhood which we seemed to have for every gathering. My mom kept on forcing me to eat the beets, when all I wanted to eat was the potato.

  3. the leeks got me, the leeks got me…have to go find some nice leeks so i can try them with mustard vinaigrette soon!

  4. jules, we had a Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, Vintage 2004, that was an “okay” match for the dishes…though vinaigrettes and vinegared beets may have “fought” with the well thought of bottle of wine… millet, look for the medium sized leeks and only use the white parts… wendell, yes, lima is patani and you can even do this recipe with bacon… ctl, try beets if you know someone or a restaurant that does it right…sometimes, local beets are a bit too “earthy.” Maria Clara, we laid out platters of each dish so we could all take as little or as much as we wanted…

  5. the 2004s are supposed to be the best california chards ever, not to mention that the exact bottle you had seems to have rated really well. it really must be all that vinegar mm, or perhaps the cheese(?).

    i really enjoy winespeak… the vinaigrette ‘fought’ with the chardonnay. ü

  6. Amazing lookinbg appetizer platter! Thanks again for the tips on the lima beans…it’s really delicious this way! The next day I tossed the leftovers with some pesto and penne and had a super quick and yummy pasta dish :)

    The other dishes above look great too. I had been wanting to give the beets a try and I love leeks and asparagus…so I hope you don’t mind me nicking more of your appetizers ;)

  7. Yum Yum! Those veggies look good. I eat my patani with some Bacos (the closest to pancetta that a vegetarian can get) and parmesan cheese.

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