You might -- as I did -- assume that any recipe written by the likes of Thomas Keller is completely out of reach for us mere mortals. Yes, he of the Best Restaurant in New York publishes books, with recipes in them. I have one of these books, and it isn't even the crazy-complicated one. It's Ad Hoc, the most approachable of his books, which documents the food from his family-style restaurant in Yountville. I've read it through several times; it's a beautiful volume. It's found a permanent home on our coffee table. Unfortunately, I've been too flat-out intimidated to actually make his food. The recipes look simple enough - farro with butternut squash, summer vegetable gratin, etc - but when you dig deeper, every recipe subtly calls for like eight other recipes. I was a bit put off.
You probably think I'm being lazy, or weak, or something. After all, better women have cooked every recipe from his high-end cookbook without breaking a sweat. (Okay, maybe a little sweat.) But I am not so bold. I confess, I tire at the site of long, involved recipes, especially when they're ultimately meant to be eaten as a weeknight dinner. I believe there's plenty of time to cook good food at home, even on weeknights, but multi-step recipes require either lots of time, or lots of foresight. These days, I have neither. But after this weekend, I do have a newfound enthusiasm and can-do spirit: I'm cooking (slightly adapted) Keller, and you can too.
I've been eyeing this salad of chickpeas and curried cauliflower for as long as I've had Ad Hoc at Home on my coffee table. The picture in the book is gorgeous: it features both dried and fresh chickpeas, sliced green and red endive, little coin-sized cauliflower florets, pretty pickled onions, the works. It looks so fresh and colorful, like something I would totally make.
In reading the recipe, I thought the flavors in the dish seemed really well-balanced, so I hesitated to make any changes. But then I realized that I wanted to actually bite the bullet and make this recipe, so I forged ahead. No fresh chickpeas at the markets these days, and canned chickpeas are really fine: one step eliminated. I happened to have some pickled onions left over from another recipe, so I used those. If I hadn't had them, that step is actually quite easy. As for the wine-soaked raisins, I had only currants and red wine, instead of the white wine and golden raisins called for. Still, the end result was quite delicious. I even added dill, because I didn't have any parsley leaves (nor the time to fry them), and I think the salad benefited from the addition.
Does this prove that you can mess with Keller recipes successfully? N of 1, so I'm doubtful. But it does prove that Ad Hoc is more than coffee table eye candy. It's a book with recipes in it. Those recipes are for making, and after this experience, I'll be making more of them.
Also: One year ago today, I got hitched. Craziness! 10/17/10 was warm and sunny, joyous and spirited, and absolutely unforgettable in every way. Some of you were there in person to share that day with us, others shared it virtually via my post on the blog and your wonderful comments. I'm so happy to find myself in this space one year later, able to reminisce on that wonderful day with y'all. You're the best....and so is my awesome wife. Happy anniversary, D.
Curried Cauliflower and Chickpea SaladAdapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home
For the Cauliflower: 1 head of cauliflower salt 1 tablespoon white vinegar
For the Salad: 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts 3 heads endive (mix of red and green is pretty) 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained 4 oz. oil-cured black olives, pits removed 1/2 an onion (red or white), halved and sliced into thin rings 1/4 cup white vinegar 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 1/4 cup raisins or currants, plumped in 1/4 cup wine (red or white) 1 tablespoon minced chives 1/4 cup chopped dill salt and pepper
Curry Vinaigrette: 2 teaspoons good quality curry powder (preferably Madras) 1/4 cup champagne vinegar 1/2 cup canola oil 1 teaspoon minced garlic salt and pepper
Prepare the Cauliflower: Core the cauliflower and remove the leaves. Halve the cauliflower, then cut into florets about the size of a quarter or slightly larger.
Set a medium pot full of salted water on high heat and bring to a boil. Add vinegar and cauliflower, and cook until cauliflower is fully cooked but still firm, about 4 minutes. Strain cauliflower into a bowl and cool completely.
Prepare Onions: Combine onions, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl. Stir to combine, then set aside for about 10 minutes, longer if you have it.
Prepare Dressing: In a small dry pan over medium heat, toast curry powder until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble the Salad: Remove the ends of each endive head, and slice into 1/4-inch rings. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cooled cauliflower, chickpeas, pine nuts, olives, onions (drained of their pickling liquid), raisins, and dill in a large bowl. Add dressing, stir to combine, and adjust salt and pepper levels to taste. Serve with chives sprinkled overtop.
Salad can be kept in an airtight container for a few days after serving, but is best the day it is made.