Category Archives: Appetizers

Grilled Asparagus with Lemonette Dressing and Marinated Tomatoes

Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit my good friends Becca and Kiki at their new (ADORABLE) apartment for a dinner party with some of their friends. Kiki made a fantastic ratatouille, though she forgot the tomatoes–so we thought maybe she could call it a “deconstruction,” a la Top-Chef-contestant-speak. A tomato-less ratatouille, perhaps?

Any opportunity to get together with these girls is special. We’re all super-busy and they’re both involved with theater in one way or another, so they’ve got wacky night schedules; combined with my homework and frisbee game schedules, it’s almost impossible to find a time with less than 4 weeks notice that we’ll all be able to make a date. So when I e-mailed earlier this week about having dinner tonight and they both could make it, I was thrilled, to say the least!

Of course I enlisted Mike’s help developing the menu. Kiki is a vegetarian, and Becca claims to only eat things encrusted with diamonds, so it’s a difficult crowd. We ended up with three Italian-inspired courses: a grilled asparagus with lemonette and tomato dressing; panko-crusted eggplant medallions with zucchini-squash marinara, and banana scallops with caramel-praline ice cream and grated chocolate.

(I just noticed all the hyphenated titles in that menu and you know what? I feel like a real cook for it.)

All in all, it was utterly fantastic. I’m a little short on photos because I was so distracted by the joy of prepping this meal (slash, I was really pressed for time because I had planned on 4 hours to leisurely prep then realized I had a meeting right in the middle and thus only had 2).

I’ll post the rest of this menu in the next few days, but for now, here’s Mike’s recipe for the appetizer. I made the dressing and tomato marinade, plus blanched the asparagus, all about 8 hours before serving, and I think you could get by on up to 24 hours of storing in the fridge. It’s a great way to kick off a small party with friends, but it also works well if you have a few minutes to refrigerate everything so the flavors meld well.

Grilled Asparagus with Lemonette Dressing and Marinated Tomatoes
Serves 2-3 as appetizer

1 bunch asparagus (approx. 1 lb)
1 large tomato, preferably golden, 1/2-inch dice
3-4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated fine
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of one lemon

In a small bowl, whisk together about 1 Tbsp olive oil, grated garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add diced tomatoes, lightly toss, and refrigerate for at least a half hour.

In a blender, combine equal parts lemon juice and olive oil (probably about 2 Tbsp each) with salt and pepper. Pulse for a few seconds and then slowly drizzle in more oil until mixture emulsifies. You’ll notice it changes color and consistency; that’s when it’s done. This should take another tablespoon or so of olive oil. Refrigerate this mixture for at least a half hour; whisk with a fork when you take it out to use it.

For the asparagus: Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Set up a large bowl filled with ice water nearby, probably in the sink. When you’re preparing asparagus, you need to take off the tough bottoms. The easiest and most effective way is to simply snap the end off–the point where it naturally breaks is the point between the good part and the tough part. After removing the ends from all of your asparagus, cut them all in half so you have approximately 3-inch pieces. When water is boiling, quickly add all of the asparagus and cook for about 2 minutes. VERY QUICKLY remove the asparagus from the boiling water and plunge into cold water (I used a pasta spatula for this) to stop the cooking process–this is blanching it! After asparagus is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes), drain and refrigerate for as long as you need to (up to 24 hours).

When you’re about ready to serve, grill the asparagus for about 1 1/2 minutes per side in a cast iron grill pan. Immediately after plating the asparagus, spoon approximately 1 Tbsp of lemonette on top of each serving, then about 2 Tbsp tomato mixture. Serve while asparagus is still warm.

I *love* my cast-iron grill pan so much–it’s one of our most-used kitchen tools. I HIGHLY recommend the $20 investment!

Yum yum yum. You could probably double the asparagus and serve 4-6 with this recipe–we had leftover tomatoes and lemonette after plating everything.


Salmon, Avocado, and Grapefruit Verrines (Savory Parfaits)

I can see how canned fish gets a bad rap. Tuna straight from the can just doesn’t do it for me–and until recently I thought the only cure was adding mayo, salt, and pepper. Canned mackerel tends to hang out on our shelves for a while, and I’ve never even seen an open can of sardines.

Enter canned salmon. I started eating it about two weeks ago after I learned a few things: it’s wild-caught, which is better for us and better for the environment. It’s also cheap, for salmon, and delicious! (I could go on about the nutritional benefits, too.)

Your first foray into eating canned salmon definitely takes some courage. The skin and bones are usually in the can, so the squeamish may struggle. It turns out that the canning process softens the bones enough that they’re safe to eat straight out of the can, and they offer a great source of calcium. Just close your eyes, pretend they aren’t there and stir up as usual. Eventually you’ll feel like a pro when you toss the spines in without a thought.

This recipe is adapted from one I found in the Boston Globe’s online archives. A “verrine” is essentially a layered sweet or savory dish in a small glass, sort of like a parfait. Apparently I am waay behind the verrine trend–but I’m pretty sure I’m about to start this trend in my own kitchen!

The original recipe is for Crab and Avocado Verrines, but I wanted to incorporate canned salmon. I also went a little heavier on the flavor components–the lime juice, the salt, the pepper.

I find if you add your spices in layers and taste as you go, you’ll always use more than a typical recipe calls for. Thanks go to my roommate/former professional cook/resident Southerner/best friend Mike (who should be introduced by now), who taught me that food is actually…wait for it…supposed to taste GREAT, ALL the time! I used to think the things I made were bland because I made them at home, but it turns out I just needed more salt and pepper. Get brave with those pinching fingers!

See the picture of the avocado above? That’s what it should look like when you dice it–just cut carefully while holding the avocado half in one hand, then use a spoon to scoop the pieces into the bowl and voila! Easiest method ever.

Finally, the original recipe used these ingredient amounts to make four appetizers. I used larger glasses than technical “verrines” (usually small juice glasses), so I only made two servings and ate them as smallish meals.

Salmon, Avocado, and Grapefruit Verrines
Adapted from Beatrice Peltre’s Crab and Avocado Verrine

*I also just discovered via Google that Beatrice is also La Tartine Gourmand. Her blog is full of beautiful photos and fantastic recipes (including a different verrine from two weeks ago). Check it out!

1 grapefruit
1 medium avocado
2 scallions, chopped (reserve 1 Tbsp white ends)
Grated rind, fresh juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp olive oil
7 oz. canned salmon (half of a standard can)
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, plus some for garnish

1. Supreme the grapefruit. [These are good directions if you’ve never done it before: How to Supreme (Segment) an Orange.]

2. Split the avocado in half and remove the pit. Dice the flesh and drop into a medium-sized bowl. Add the scallions, lime rind, 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, and salt and pepper. Lightly toss. Be sure to taste while adding your salt and pepper.

3. In another medium-sized bowl, combine the salmon, lime juice, ginger, chopped cilantro, the white ends of the scallions, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Use half of the salmon mix to fill the bottom layer of the glasses (so you should have half left after making this layer). Repeat with the avocado mix, then the rest of the salmon, and finally the rest of the avocado. Top with slices of grapefruit and garnish with cilantro. You can eat immediately, but it’s best refrigerated for at least an hour.