Monday, May 23, 2011

How a Fat Cat Led Me To Dinner

My first crush was in the third grade. He was cute, but I mostly liked him because he was really funny. David Letterman kind of funny. I could even overlook the fact that he was more prone to bursting into tears than the other boys because he was so darn funny.
And because we grew up in the 80s, he loved Garfield.
And because he loved Garfield, I loved Garfield.

I believe my first Garfield compendium was purchased that same third grade year at a book fair at school. I'm sure Mom was psyched to pay for that one. (Sidebar: Hey Parents! Remember in sixth grade when all I would read was Baby-Sitters Club books and you were deeply worried that I was stunting my intellectual growth? I told you I would turn out ok! Mostly.)

I read the Garfield book so often that I started to memorize the comic strips. One in particular stood out to me and thanks to the magic of the internets, here it is:

I think this particular strip hit home in part because I earned the name "Miss Fastidious" as a child, and while my particular brand of finicky eating had more to do with quality of ingredients, I could relate to the poor fat cat. But I was also taken with the magical meal Jon Arbuckle had prepared: Coquille Saint-Jacques garnished with Belgian endive and laced with French truffles.

Major dork that I was (am), I looked up "Coquille Saint-Jacques" in the Joy of Cooking. Let's please keep in mind that I'm eight years old here. And sure enough, the next time I went to the grocery store with Dad (who was always willing to let me go grocery shopping to get basically whatever I wanted to eat when staying with him - thanks Dad!), I identified the tiny, pale yellow, spear-shaped heads of endive right there in the produce section. And then I'm not sure I really thought about them much again.

Let's fast forward 20...ish (ahem) years to last week. A lovely little package of Belgian endive showed up in the farm box. It sat there for a few days. I didn't want to make a salad with it (BORING) and I didn't know what else to do.

An extensive search on Epicurious (where else?) led to a recipe for grilled endive with an orange vinaigrette. It didn't have many reviews, and worse, it only had a "3-fork" rating. Not at all promising. However, these cons were quickly mitigated by the most important measure of recipe potential: I could make it, as written, without fighting my way through the horror of the Franklin Street Whole Foods at 7pm on a Monday. Sold!

Grilled Endive with Orange Vinaigrette (adapted from this Gourmet recipe)
Makes 3 servings

1 navel orange
2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, pressed1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
3 Belgian endives

Prepare grill. (I did these in my cast iron grill pan on the stove. It worked perfectly.)

With a vegetable peeler remove two 1 1/4- by 1/2-inch strips zest from orange and cut lengthwise into very thin strips. Squeeze enough juice from orange to measure 1 tablespoon. In a bowl whisk together zest, orange juice, vinegar, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper to taste until combined well.

Halve endives lengthwise, keeping halves from separating into leaves, and brush all over with remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. 

Grill, cut sides down, 6 minutes. Turn endives and grill until just tender, 6 minutes more. 

Serve endives drizzled with vinaigrette.

This looks a little like fish, doesn't it? Funny. 

And here's the glamour shot:

Look at those gorgeous grill marks and zest strips!

But endive alone does not a dinner make. I also had the end of a baguette that needed eating, so while "les endives" were on the grill I made a little "French tuna salad" (drained tuna, olive oil, lemon zest, a bit of orange zest, chopped kalamatas, capers, salt & pepper) to top the baguette and accompany the main event (and, honestly, for a little protein).

As a finishing touch, I sliced the remaining un-squeezed orange and ground a little sea salt and pepper over it. This little trick will elevate your orange slices from greasy-spoon-breakfast-garnish to a little sweet-savory treat. 

I really would have preferred a nice French unoaked chardonnay with this, or maybe a rosé if it was a little warmer out, but red wine was what was open, so red wine was what got poured. Also, turns out tuna salad is not very photogenic.  
I bet you're wondering: how was it?

Well, the tuna salad was a bit dry. I should have added more oil...but didn't really want to eat more oil. So good flavor, but was a mess to eat, especially open-faced. It fell all over the plate.  

Orange slices, as described above, were savory and delicious. 

And the grilled endive was magnificent. Really. Magnificent. I never in a million years expected that a grilled lettuce-like item would be so very good. But I am really hoping the next farm box delivery includes more of these little suckers because I am going to experiment with other vinaigrettes to pour over them. They are meltingly tender and just kind of amazing. I'm actually a little in awe of endive now. But there you have it. 

Sometimes life surprises you. 

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