Sunday, December 29, 2013

Brooklyn Cooks: A Cold Weather Escarole and Radicchio Salad from Parish Hall

During the day, Parish Hall restaurant in Williamsburg is sun soaked. Sunflowers bloom on each table and the minimalist decor is calming and inviting. Owner George Weld and Chef Evan Hanczor have put together an operation that achieves what many Brooklyn restaurants strive for, and they take terms like "knowing the land," "local," and "farm to table" seriously, even if those words aren't conspicuously printed all over the menu.

How do I know? For one, Weld grows produce used at the restaurant at his farm, Goatfell Farm, in Upstate New York. I've been to the farm, and it's beautiful. Chef Hanczor told me that every Fall, Weld takes his staff on an "Eggscursion" upstate to work on the farm for a few days. They sleep in tents, tend to the fields, upkeep the greenhouses and eat really well. It makes the romanticized idea of farm to table, like this "Chicken Farm" scene from Portlandia, seem like a reality and like a really good idea.

The focus on knowing-thy-farmer is central to what Parish Hall is all about. During my visit, as though perfectly timed, a farmer dropped off a whole goat as I was leaving. Chef Hanczor and his team butcher the goat whole at the restaurant.

While I can tell you that Chef Hanczor cooks a mean goat, I visited the restaurant to try making something far simpler, but just as satisfying: Radicchio and Escarole Salad with Smoked Walnuts and Ewe's Blue Cheese. You'll find it on the menu at Parish Hall, or you can follow this recipe to make it at home.

“This year we start using some lettuces like radicchio and escarole," said Chef Hanczor. "They’re heartier and stand up to cold weather. They're best when the weather cools down a little. In the cool weather they have that bitterness but it’s a little milder.”

This is a versatile salad. It can be served at lunch with good bread as a meal on it's own, or supplemented with the addition of a poached egg on top. For dinner, Chef Hanczor suggests serving it along with something rich—a well-seasoned rib eye steak or even roast duck.

Or, you can dumb this salad down for more picky eaters (we know who you are). Romaine replaces bitter greens well, and cheddar can pinch hit for the rich ewe's blue cheese, a hearty sheep's milk blue.

The most important point to making this salad a success is the quality of the ingredients. New Yorkers struggle to find good produce during the winter, but the ingredients here lend themselves well to the colder months and aren't difficult to find.

I know Chef Hanczor used quality ingredients when a small, green ladybug crawled out from the head of escarole. Nothing says fresh like a happy visitor from the farm.

Radicchio and Escarole Salad with Smoked Walnuts and Ewe's Blue Cheese
Serves 2

1/2 cup smoked walnuts (available at Sahadi's in Brooklyn and other specialty stores)
1 teaspoon nut or canola oil
1 tablespoon honey

1/2 small head of escarole, torn into pieces
1/2 small head of radicchio, torn into pieces
1 bartlett or bosc pear, slices into thin segments
10 leaves fresh mint, torn into pieces
10 leaves fresh, flat leaf parsley, torn into pieces

1/4 cup Creamy Squash Seed Oil Dressing (recipe below)
1/4 cup crumbled ewe's blue cheese

In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, oil and honey. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat and add the mixed walnuts. Toast the walnuts, tossing frequently, for 1-2 minutes until the honey sizzles and the walnuts begin to brown. Remove from the heat.

Combine the escarole, radicchio, pear, mint, parsley and candied walnuts in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing until well-coated.

To serve, divide the salad among two plates and top evenly with the blue cheese. Serve and enjoy.

Creamy Squash Seed Oil Dressing
This will make a few cups worth of dressing, but it can be halved and also saves well in the fridge for a few days. 

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon minced shallot
juice of 1/2 an orange
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey

2 cups canola oil
2 tablespoons squash seed, walnut, or hazelnut oil

salt and pepper

Whisk the egg yolk, cream, shallot, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar and honey in a large bowl. Begin incorporating the canola oil by drizzling it into the mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously until you have created an emulsified dressing. Add in the squash seed oil and whisk to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


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