There is a little restaurant a quick stroll down the street from us that serves a ridiculous brunch on the weekends. You might be tipped off to the fact that they have some tricks up their sleeves when, come Saturday at 10am, you see the line of chipper people trailing out their door and down the sidewalk, drinking coffee and chatting as they wait for a table. Your suspicions would be further aroused by the amazing technicolor underwater scene painted across their bathroom walls. It’s ebullient, playful, borderline garish, but oh so enticing, just like their food.
They make waffles so large and airy you could raft them down a river (of maple syrup, at least), their pancakes piled with enough fruit to fill a decorative bowl on a coffee table, and they have been known to make a popover the size of your head and fill it to overflowing with creamy eggs, sausage, vegetables, and hollandaise. That last one is something I’ve been thinking about recreating at home, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I think you might need to get a special permit to make popovers that big.
Their suppers, I’m afraid, don’t quite live up to their brunch standard. We’ve tried twice, giving it the benefit of the doubt, but both times the food was fine, but relatively uninspired. It had a couple things going for it anyway, though. One was the extreme and helpful frankness of the servers. All of our questions were answered fully and honestly, and then some. The crab cakes were fine, we were told, but they were more cake than crab. The burger was more worth getting, we were counseled. And the enchiladas, it was explained, would be good if what we were looking for was the extremely-gooey-cheesey type of Tex-Mex (Joel was, in fact).
The other thing the place had going for it was the vegetables. I get irked when I go to restaurants and all the more vegetables they provide you with are 3 elegantly plated green beans or a thimble-sized nest of micro-greens. This place was much more my style. That style being the, “why yes, my meal will consist of 2 servings each of 4 different vegetables perhaps drizzled with a delectable sauce, thank you,” style. Each dish came with a riot of seasonal veggies, a mountain of veggies, a jumble of veggies…
That is the spirit of this dish as well. You take an assortment of vegetables from the ever expanding bounty that the spring earth provides, cook each until just tender and then toss them all together in a wonderful, colorful jumble. I simply used the spring vegetables I had on hand, so you can also augment with others of your favorites if you wish (I’m thinking things like baby artichoke hearts, or snap peas, or baby fennel, or adding some sauteed mushrooms at the end). If new potatoes were to host a cocktail party for all the other young spring vegetables, I imagine this is what it would like, all of them mingling playfully together.
And of course, since it is a party, they must be dressed in all their best finery, which is where the lemon-tarragon butter comes in. I don’t know if you can get finer than a lemon-tarragon butter sauce. The butter is silky and rich, but the lemon shines through like a dapple-y beam of light. And, the tarragon just tastes of spring, sweet and light, warm and cool, laced with licorice and hay. We recently started a pot of tarragon growing on our porch and it may not know it yet, but I’m planning on becoming bosom-friends with it (the lavender will be invited into our circle too, I think).
In spite of the jumbled quality of this dish, and the ease with which it comes together, it manages to convey extreme elegance as well. Perhaps because lightly cooked vegetables with a butter sauce seems as French as designer scarves and tiny dogs. The French somehow can’t help but ooze elegance. If you are feeling tres, tres gourmand when you are cooking this, you can cook each vegetable separately, perfectly controlling its cooking time. If you are feeling plain old gourmand, then you can do as I did and add the vegetables to the pot in a timed sequence that allows you to finish cooking all of them at the same time and skip the step of trying fish each vegetable batch out with a slotted spoon.
This certainly felt gourmand enough to me as we sat down with our gorgeous platter of vegetables and pan seared fish. And, Joel told me, “you know how there’s farm to table? Well this is kind of like restaurant to table.” Which, I think may have been his way of saying, “this is better than restaurant food. Why do we ever even bother going out to restaurants?” And, I must say, much of the time I feel the same. Well, except when I need a popover larger than my head. But, since that isn’t the case at the moment, pour a glass of wine, give the lemon-tarragon butter a final stir, and stay home for supper.
Spring vegetable jumble (serves 4)
- 8 tiny new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
- 8 radishes, tops removed except for a little sprig of green stem, cleaned and halved
- 8 baby carrots (actual baby carrots, not those bagged ones that are pieces of big carrots), halved, or 1 larger carrot, in matchsticks
- 1/2 bunch asparagus, stemmy ends removed and cut into 1-inch lengths
- 1 young leek, cleaned well and cut into thin slices, just the white and light green portions
- 1/2 cup English peas (you can resort to frozen if you can’t find fresh)
- olive oil
- sea salt and white pepper
- lemon-tarragon butter (see below)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and turn to a low-boil. After about 3 minutes add the radishes and carrots. Cook another 3-5 minutes, at this point the vegetables should be starting to get slightly tender. (if they aren’t, continue cooking until they are) Add in the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes more. Then drain all these vegetables and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Spread them on a clean towel or baking sheet to hang out while you sautee the leek.
- In a large sautee pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced leek and cook until softened. Add the potatoes, radishes, carrots, asparagus, and peas to the pan.
- Stir in the lemon-tarragon butter stirring to coat the vegetables well. Cook for about a minute or two until everything is just reheated. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and serve warm. Garnish with a bit more tarragon if desired.
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1 Tbs. pieces
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
- Combine the shallot and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for a couple of minutes, until the juice is approximately reduced by half.
- Stir in the cream and simmer for 1 minute. Then, turn down to the lowest possible heat. Stir in the butter, 1 pat at a time, stirring constantly as they melt and adding each as the one before it finishes melting. Take off the heat and stir in the tarragon. Add to the cooked spring vegetables.