Across the Cutting Board with Ris
Courtney Overcash • July 26, 2011
Lewis Grizzard, American writer and humorist, said “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” and considering all the well-loved recipes which include them, one would be hard pressed not to agree. Often cooks think of tomatoes as an item to be served on the side or as an ingredient in a more complex dish, but with such beautifully plump and juicy tomatoes in season, why not serve them up as the entrée?
“Tomatoes are something to celebrate right now because they are here,” says Chef Ris Lacoste. “We wait for tomatoes and they always come mid-July. Finally they’ve arrived at the farmers markets. In celebrating the tomatoes, this is the time to serve them.”
Though when we think of tomatoes our thoughts typically go to a round, red fruit, there are actually countless varieties to choose from.
And just like with apples, it may become difficult to decide which breed you need. Green varieties are acidic so we use them in treats like Fried Green Tomatoes. Green tomatoes should be picked when they are under-ripe but still firm in order to cook them, otherwise they will shrivel up. However, green tomatoes are not to be confused with Green Zebras, which are fully ripe and just happen to be green. Green
Zebras almost have the tartness of an apple and their acidity allows them to go well with seafood.
A small variety, the Cherry tomato, is wonderfully versatile because there are so many different colors and tastes within this category. Cherry tomatoes have a sweetness that blends well in salads, while yellow cherry tomatoes have a lower acidity, giving them a softer, blander flavor which pairs with other fresh veggies very well.
No matter what variety you care to try, Ris suggests looking for Heirloom tomatoes. In recent years, big companies have taken a large market share of the tomato production. Most tomatoes are now mass produced and the seeds have been engineered. Hormonally engineered tomatoes make for larger more beautiful tomatoes and are readily available at any chain grocer, however they aren’t as tasty.
Heirloom tomatoes are natural and have valued flavors and colors, and are grown specifically for those characteristics.
But how do you know which variety you want and which ones are heirlooms? Ask your local grower. If you ask a grower at your local farmers market for a recommendation, they can usually point out which breeds are sweeter, or will hold up during baking, or which will breakdown for sauces, etc.
“The farmers will know about their tomatoes. They’re their babies,” says Ris.
The farmers also understand tomatoes are one of Mother Nature’s greatest phenomenons. Tomatoes are very sensitive to the weather, much more so than other types of produce. During seasons with a lot of rain, tomatoes tend to be soft, while during dry seasons, the tomatoes tough-skinned to lock in moister.
Once you’ve made your perfect tomato selection and you have them in hand, you need some ideas about what to do with them. Chef Ris has shown herself to be a culinary master, and she understands that cooking is a learning process and you have to do your research.
“I love classic recipes and I don’t want to mess with them. So I’ll research as many versions as I can. I look in books and see how they relate and what the different versions are just to get a good understanding of a dish that’s been around for the ages,” says Ris. “Sometimes I give my own special twist and hope it will be a Picasso, but I try to really hold true to the classic dishes.”
While it’s fun to put your own spin on a recipe, like Chef says, don’t neglect the classics. There are many tomato-y summer dishes you just can’t go wrong with.
“BLTs in the summer. I want thick cut tomato, white toast, mayonnaise bacon and lettuce. That’s just heaven. Go make a BLT right now,” says Ris.
Everything you need for Ratatouille: eggplant, summer squash, onions and, of course, juicy tomatoes are fresh on the shelves now. Try this dish as an elegant side to your Sunday omelet. Throw some tomatoes in the blender for a fresh Bloody Mary, and garnish with summer green beans. Make your own Panzanean salad with thick tomato cuts, cucumber, and feta or mozzarella cheese. Try Ris’ own perfected gazpacho recipe. The possibilities are endless.
And if you’re not in the mood to prepare one of Chef Ris’ recipes tonight, save it for tomorrow, but go cut yourself a thick slice. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and enjoy it right now, because now is the time for tomatoes.
Blue Goat Cheese Panzanella Salad
3 stalks celery, sliced
½ head radicchio, cut into roughly 1” squares
2 cups baby spinach, cleaned and dried
½ head romaine, cut into roughly 1” squares
6 radishes, sliced
48 cherry tomatoes, cut in ½, any or mixed colors
1 small red onion, cut into julienne
1 loaf raisin walnut bread, cut into ½” cubes for croutons
9 oz blue goat cheese, cut into ½” cubes
For the dressing:
Makes 5 cups, much more than you need
2 shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
zest and juice of two oranges
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped oregano
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup Kalamata olive brine
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup walnut oil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup peanut oil
freshly cracked black pepper
For the port glaze:
16 oz port
8 oz balsamic vinegar
To make the glaze, combine the port and balsamic vinegar in a heavy based non reactive pan and reduce to a thick syrup. The 3 cups of liquid should reduce to about 4 ounces. Let cool and keep covered in the refrigerator for as long as a month.
To make the vinaigrette, combine all of the ingredients except the oils in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the oils one at a time starting with the walnut oil followed by the olive oil and then the peanut oil. Vinegars and oils vary in strength and flavor. Each dressing is different. You may therefore not need to add all of the oil in this recipe.
Be sure to taste the vinaigrette before adding the last of the oil to check for desired level of acidity. Taste for seasoning and adjust. The vinaigrette can be made and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to a month. However, it is best served at room temperature.
Toss 1 ½ cups of the raisin walnut croutons in olive oil and toast in a 350 degree oven until golden.
To make the salad, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, including the croutons but not the cheese. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Dress to your liking with the olive vinaigrette and divide the mix into 6 bowls. Stud each salad with about 1 ½ ounces of the blue goat cheese and drizzle with the port glaze. Delicious.
Weekend Roundup July 7, 2011
Courtney Overcash • July 7, 2011
Prints In Pieces: Views of South County Opening
JULY 8TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM
After capturing the people and places along Maryland’s Western Shore with her camera, Frances Borchadt puts her photographs into mosaic-like pieces to create an intriguing display of repetitions and patterns. Be sure to catch this exhibit at The League Gallery before it closes August 1.
6th Annual HERA Climb4Life
JULY 8TH, 2011 AT 06:00 PM
From July 8 to 10, HERA Climb4Life invites climbers and hikers of all abilities and ages to participate in the 6th Annual HERA Climb4LifeSM Metro DC weekend. For the first time ever, this event will be held outdoors among the crags of the Potomac River, namely Carderock, Maryland and Great Falls, Virginia. The registration fee is $50 per person which includes an event t-shirt and goodie bag as well as entrance to various social occasions. Event proceeds go to raise funds for ovarian cancer research.
Women by Women
JULY 8TH, 2011 AT 06:00 PM
Please join Heiner Contemporary for the opening reception of Women by Women, Friday, July 8th, 6-8 pm. Women by Women is a group exhibition of work by women portraying women. The exhibition runs from July 8th – August 20th 2011.
Art Deck-O: DC Playing Card Originals
JULY 8TH, 2011 AT 06:30 PM
Fifty-four of Washington DC’s finest artists created unusual designs to form a playing card deck exhibit unique to our area. The deck is composed of a fantastic array of genres and mediums, which are a big hit with artists, magicians, game players and art lovers everywhere. Exhibit runs from June 29 – July 29.
Havoc in the Harbor
JULY 9TH, 2011 AT 07:30 AM
M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, will be invaded by Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam® the world’s premier monster truck series, creating “havoc in the harbor” on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Art & Live Jazz Saturday
JULY 9TH, 2011 AT 05:00 PM
Join us for an evening of live jazz, wine and the opening of Art-To-Wear Trunk Show by Peggy Russell of iro Design. Live Jazz starts at 5 PM with Ivor Heyman on keyboard, Nathan Garrett on bass and Richard Parrell on tenor sax. Wine tasting by Delaplane Cellars
The Quill Cocktail Competition
JULY 10TH, 2011 AT 02:00 PM
Its inspired mix of classic concoctions and signature drinks has made Quill, the elegant lounge at The Jefferson, Washington, DC, a treasured enclave for those in search of the enlightened cocktail. On July 10, 2011, six of the capital’s finest drink dons will prove their worth with Tequila Ocho Plata Single Estate at the third Quill Cocktail Competition. Tickets are $50 per person, which includes a sample from each competitor’s inspired libation (guests’ votes are tallied with the judges), tastings from Quill’s own signature cocktail menu and an assortment of canapés and cheeses.
Across the Cutting Board with Ris
Courtney Overcash • June 28, 2011
Soup tends to be associated with nourishing the soul, warm and hearty. In the dead of winter, a bowl of potato soup wards off a chill and during the weakest day of an illness, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of homemade chicken soup. While all this might be good for our heat-flattened soul, we are expecting a high of 88 degrees, and it’s just too hot. The heat continues to pummel the cobblestone streets of Georgetown in the familiar haze of humidity DC is famous for. Hungry and hot, locals and tourists alike drag themselves along sweltering sidewalks in search of an oasis, craving something cold, light, and refreshing.
“French Onion is everyone’s favorite, but I have to take if off the menu once the thermostat reads 70 degrees” says Ris Lacoste, at her namesake restaurant, RIS, on the corner of 23rd and L.
Luckily for her many soup fans however, Ris has a relatively simple solution to compliment her daring and creative menu: cold soups, the summer’s ready cousin to the wintery favorite.
Ris attributes her delicious soup creations to the not-so-secret concept of incorporating fresh local ingredients. We are fortunately returning to a locally grown society, appreciating the need for real food. Summer bears the fruits of local labor. By nature, summer’s bounty provides us with the perfect ingredients for cold soups – beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes.
“I was just at the Farmer’s Market and the bounty is here: fresh things from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. So now I can plan my summer menu,” Ris says.
Ris and her staff have been anticipating the bounty of summer since early spring. They’ve worked diligently to come up with soup ideas and turn them into reality. Ris is using simple logic to invent bold new combinations.
“Crops that are grown at the same time and in the same place should be paired with each other.” Ris says.
Pair foods that grow together; “If they grow together, they go together.”
Though I, like many people, claim to have a passion for food, Ris possesses a palpable intuition about her craft. She describes her love for food, her restaurant, and even the content of this column as being something more than just a simple enthusiasm about cuisine.
To create her summer soup calendar, Ris engendered variations on classic favorites and modern cold soups and experimentally perfected the flavor combinations. Ris mixed up five savory soups embodying everything from veggies to nuts to fruit to liqueur. She then let Jessica Buchanan, who consults Ris on recipes, work through the restaurant sized recipes to make smaller printable versions, so others can try them at home.
There is no wrong way to fashion a cold soup, chunky or smooth, nippy from the start or cooked and chilled. Try experimenting until something tastes precisely right. Skin the vegetables, or leave the skins on. Try adding a splash of your favorite dressings. Think of your favorite salad ingredients and imagine the flavors and textures in a liquid base.
Some tips from the chef: Freeze a portion of your soup into ice cubes and add them to the soup just before serving. Your soup will stay icy cold without being watered down. Chill your bowls. Make your cold soup enough time in advance that it will be very cold. A day in advance is great. They often taste better after the ingredients have had time to mingle together.
Garnish is the final step. To finish off your summery soup, embellish with crunch and texture, balancing acts to what is already in the soup.
“Love garnishing, just go crazy,” she says.
Cold Beet Coup
Yield: 6 cups
3 C. Red Beets (6 small red beets), roasted & coarsely chopped
½ Onion, sliced
3-4 Cloves Garlic, roasted
1 Small Fennel Bulb, coarsely chopped
(Save a few fennel fronds for garnish)
¼ C. Fresh Parsley
2 T. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
½ tsp. Ground Cumin
2 C. Vegetable Stock or Water
½ C. Orange juice (1 orange)
1 T. Pernod (or anise flavored liquor)
1 T. + 1 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
6-8 Grinds Fresh Group Black pepper
1 tsp. Salt
¼ C. Pernod
1 T. Honey
½ C. Sour Cream
Note: To roast beets & garlic, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim tops & bottoms of beets & cut the top off a bulb of garlic (so some flesh of the garlic is exposed). Season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan, cover loosely with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Let cool before peeling skin and roughly chop. Squeeze roasted garlic out of skins into a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
In a Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté onion, fennel, roasted garlic, salt and pepper until slightly soft or translucent, about five to eight minutes. Add parsley, roasted beets, cumin and sauté for another three minutes. Add vegetable stock and simmer soup for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add orange juice, Pernod and vinegar. Let cool slightly. Puree soup until smooth, adding more vegetable stock if needed to thin out. Season with ground black pepper and salt. Chill immediately overnight.
Meanwhile, bring Pernod and honey to a simmer and reduce until it’s a light syrup, approximately 10 minutes. Cool syrup. Combine with sour cream, thinning out with a little water or milk until able to drizzle.
Serve cold beet soup with a drizzle of Pernod Cream and fennel fronds.
You can also garnish with a small crumble of goat cheese or feta, or just plain sour cream.
Cucumber & Yogurt Soup
Yields: 6 Cups
4 English/seedless cucumbers (approximately six cups), peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 pieces of white bread
Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste for salt, if needed. Chill immediately for four hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the crust off the bread and then piece into ¼ inch squares. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast in the oven for eight to 10 minutes. Slice the cucumber and radish very thin or use a mandolin, and set aside.
For serving, garnish soup with a slice of cucumber, radish and a few croutons for crunch.
You can also substitute the dill for fresh cilantro and garnish with a Greek raita and toasted pita chips. Or try it with mint or parsley for a different twist on flavor.