Thursday, June 11, 2009

Choi Sum Two Ways

Okay, barring any acts of God/unforeseen disasters/insert your own force majeure clause joke here (can I say that Contracts was my favorite 1L class?  Don't believe The Paper Chase, ya'll), the Great Housing Hunt of Aught Nine is OVER.  

You'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) how hard it is to find a non-crappy 2-bedroom with outdoor living space, a good kitchen and a driveway gate in a safe-ish part of midtown (it is obvious that I live in midtown, right?  And that I'm not leaving?).  That's all.  No hardwood floor/carpet requirements.  Was willing to live without closet space.  Heck, I even considered what my life would be like without a washer and dryer.  For about a nanosecond.

But I think my roommate and I have found a house that has it all---even a washer/dryer.  I have no closets in my bedroom, but that's alright.  I'm thinking of turning it into an open-air closet-type deal.  Hmm.  Domestic wheels are turning.  Am foreseeing dropping some cash on fluffy decorating magazines very soon.

But mostly, the kitchen is amazing.  I'll post pics as soon as I can, and I cannot wait to start cooking there.

Anyway!  These are two dishes featuring a vegetable from the Ly Vu family's stand.  A fellow market volunteer, Linda, gave me an edible tour of the stand last Saturday.  The world of Asian vegetables truly is amazing, and biting into things nearly always yields a surprise---as in where did these flavors come from? I didn't know they'd be here.  Linda pointed out this vegetable, which she said her mother cooked when she was young and called in Thai what translates to "tender young vegetable," but she didn't know the actual name for it.  Typing "mustardy Asian green with yellow flowers" into La Google turns up the answer---it's choi sum.  And it's not mustardy like mustard greens, which usually make me tear up.  This is an addictive, short, quick, clean bite of sharp flavor that I couldn't stop eating raw as I was making this dish.

The sausage is not technically Memphis-local... the pig began its life in our backyard in Florida, went off to the county fair, and came home again... to live in the freezer.  I brought back a couple pounds of frozen sausage and brats when I visited a few weeks ago.  Aside from tripping up security at the airport ("Ma'am, do you know what that is in your carry-on?"  "Yes, sir, it's frozen meat.") it survived the trip nicely.

Rotini with Choi Sum and Sausage
From the Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (who recommends, alternatively, kale, broccoli rabe, or chard)

1 large bunch of greens
1/2 pound fennel or Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
salt and pepper
large pinch of red pepper flakes
3/4 pound rotini, fusilli, orecchiette, penne rigate...
more olive oil
Parmesan cheese (I used feta because, um, I had some.  And I like it)

Trim and wash the greens.  Chop coarse and cook until tender in salted boiling water.  

Drain well, saving the cooking water to cook the pasta in (do this!  It makes the pasta taste mustardy, too)

Form the sausage into small balls.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Add the sausage and cook over medium heat until browned and cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes.  

Remove the sausage and drain on a paper towel.

Add the onion to the pan.  Saute, tossing now and then, over medium-high heat until the onions soften and caramelize a bit.  

Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper.

Add the cooked greens and sausage, and cook for a few minutes, tossing and stirring.  Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain and return to the pan, whereupon you shall drizzle it immediately with some salt and extra-virgin olive oil.  The yummy, fruity kind.  

Plate and top with the sauce and cheese.  Serve immediately

This was pretty good.  Spicy and fruity all at once.  I made my "sauce" kind of chunky, but the next go-round, I think I'd try for smaller balls of sausage and chop the greens up a tad finer, to make it a little easier to eat.

So, that's a super-hot option for choi sum that is not really altogether practical in the summer.  Except that summer is when I have choi sum.  Anyway.  Today after a bike ride I craved something light so I threw together this salad:

What it has in it:

Olive oil/Florida orange, juiced/garlic/s&p vinaigrette
roughly chopped raw choi sum+flowers
Van Cheeseman's shiitake mushrooms+Whitton's red carrots, sauteed over low heat in a pat of butter
topped with goat cheese

Perfect, perfect, perfect.  The ever-elusive contrast:  bright citrus, warm mushrooms, tangy leaves, sweet carrots, creamy cheese.  Call it random, but it was delicious.  It's the thrown-together that keeps me excited about this business of feeding myself.

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