Puffs and Pansies for Mother’s Day
By Tom Yates
For years, I made the 300 mile round trip trek to my grandmother’s house to plant pansies for her on Mother’s Day. I’d load up the bed of my Ford Ranger with flats of multicolored pansies and ramble the back roads of Kentucky until I reached her farm, the very farm I grew up on years earlier. After scrubbing her weathered, chipped, and cracked clay pots, I packed them full for ultimate impact before maneuvering the heavy pots around her front porch for optimal country road curb appeal. When the dirt settled, I’d wash up and join her at the kitchen table for a short visit over warm chess pie and sweet iced tea before heading home.
Even with cheery colors, the pansies certainly weren’t showstoppers. They were barely tall enough to peek over the planters and flutter in the afternoon breezes. We both knew their delicate nature would succumb to the heat of summer. But, that wasn’t the point. They brought us together on Mother’s Day and made my grandmother happy.
So, was the long drive worth the trouble for a few potted flowers and brief visit?
Driving away and watching her wave goodbye as her image slowly disappeared from my rear view mirror made every single mile worthwhile.
And, there was pie.
How much trouble is too much trouble? On Mother’s Day, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
Spring Asparagus Tart With Smoked Salmon
To puff or not to puff.
Store bought puff pastry is dependable, fabulous, and a very good thing. With very simple ingredients (flour,water, butter, salt) and a lot of rolling, scratch made puff pastry is a doable labor of love.
Roll. Fold. Chill. Repeat.
Classically, puff pastry is made by wrapping a simple dough around a block of butter, rolling it out, folding it into itself, chilling, and repeating the process six times to achieve a laminated dough with over 1000 layers. Working with a block of butter is the tedious hurdle that makes it intimidating. Skip the hurdle.
There are also gorgeous varieties of gravlax, lox, and smoked salmon available at the market. But, what the heck, it’s very simple to pull off. Why not go all in and cure a little salmon?
Although a variety of ingredients can be added to the curing process (dill, juniper berries, gin, aquivat, fennel, spices), I kept it very basic. I mixed 2 cups sugars with 1 cup kosher salt. After drying off a beautiful 1 pound sockeye salmon filet, I brushed the flesh with 2 tablespoons vodka and placed the filet over fresh parsley sprigs and half of the sugar/salt combo. After covering the filet with the remaining cure and sprigs of parsley, I wrapped the salmon in parchment paper, sealed the salmon in plastic wrap, and slid it into the refrigerator to cure.
After 48 hours, I rinsed the salt and sugar away from the salmon, patted it dry, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and tucked the cured (or cold smoked) salmon into refrigerator.
Working on a floured board, I rolled the pastry into a large rectangle and used a straight edged ruler to cut it into a 14″x 5″ slender rectangle. After carefully scoring a 1/2″ border on the inside of all four sides of the pastry to help the borders puff, I added a few squiggles from rolled out leftover dough scraps, brushed the pastry with an egg wash (one beaten egg with a splash of water), docked the pastry with the tines of a fork, and slid it into a preheated 400 degree oven to par bake for 10 minutes. Before it poofed, I pulled it from the oven, poked down the slightly puffed base and brushed the base with a thin layer of dijon mustard. After scattering freshly grated gruyere cheese over the mustard, I nestled pencil thin spring asparagus into the cheese, drizzled the asparagus with good extra virgin olive oil, and slid the tart back into the oven for 20 minutes.
When the pastry puffed and turned golden brown, I pulled it from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before finishing with thin slices of the smoked salmon, flaky sea salt, and Elmwood Stock pea shoots splashed with lemon juice and olive oil.
The pastry shattered and scattered bits of flaky crumbs throughout the simple tart. Enveloped by the nutty cheese, the slight earthy undertones of the delicate asparagus countered the tangy bite from the dijon, the silky salinity of the salmon, and the bright acidity of the perky pea shoots.
Mother’s Day. Worth every bit of trouble.
This article also appears on page 14 of the May 2019 print edition of Ace Weekly.
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