Sunday, February 15, 2009

At Market...Sorrel

It's here...spring has (almost) sprung at our farmers market. Even though the weather in southern California has been darn cold and more rain is expected, there is growing evidence each week that spring is nearly here. I know this because there were pansies in the bags of lettuce today that looked like Easter morning, and the first asparagus has come in too. Asparagus! Oh how I have missed you! And another exciting discovery today was sorrel.

I love to buy things that I have never tried before. Variety is the spice of life, right? And when I plucked a grass-colored leaf from the bunch and bit into it, I was surprised at both its tender crunch and sour lemon flavor. The farmer (from whom I also bought some beautiful shiitaki mushrooms) said it could be eaten both raw (mixed in a salad), or cooked (like in a soup or sauce). Intrigued, I took a large bag home and immediately began pouring over my cookbooks (not too much luck...except for Local Flavors by Deborah Madison) and searching online for any information about sorrel, and any recipes that use it.

I discovered that sorrel is actually a perennial herb, native to Europe. It's sour flavor comes from oxalic acid, a compound that, when eaten in very large quantities, can have a laxative affect. Slightly disturbed, I delved further. It has been gathered in the wild for centuries and is commonly thought of as a weed. It is quite healthful, as it contains vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, calcium and magnesium. When I had sufficient evidence that our meal of sorrel wouldn't leave us upset (like I said it takes a very LARGE quantity to make you sick), I started looking for recipes.

My husband had requested pasta, and unfortunately there were no sorrel pasta sauce recipes that I could locate, except for some sorrel pesto, which sounded too garlicky to me. There were, however, several recipes for sorrel sauce for fish, which makes sense because it has such a pronounced lemon flavor, and a recipe for sorrel risotto from my Local Flavors cookbook. When I finally felt like I understood the herb, I decided to make a sorrel cream sauce for fresh, homemade pasta, tossed with some sauteed leeks and asparagus, that I also purchased today. Because I had read that the vibrant green color fades to an olive green when it is cooked, I set aside several leaves to chiffonade and sprinkle over the top of the pasta as a contrast.

The end result was better than I expected. The cream sauce looked almost grayish green when I finished pureeing it, and had an interesting smell...but when tossed with the pasta, asparagus and leeks, its tartness perfectly offset the rich flavors of both the cream and the asparagus.

Egg Pasta with Sorrel Cream Sauce

1 pound of fresh egg linguine (buy it at your favorite gourmet store or make it)
1 large shallot, minced
2 T butter, divided
2 T olive oil, divided
1/4 C dry white wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1 bunch of coarsely chopped sorrel (or spinach), reserving 4 whole leaves
1 C heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
1 bunch asparagus, washed and trimmed and cut into 2 inch segments
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved length-wise and washed well

Heat a medium, non-reactive (not cast-iron) skillet over medium heat. Add butter, olive oil (1 T each) and shallot and saute until shallot is tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce slightly. Add chicken stock and sorrel and continue to simmer for 5 minutes more, or until sorrel wilts and begins to break up into the sauce. Carefully transfer mixture into a blender. Add cream and blend until completely smooth. Pour back into skillet and simmer over medium heat until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes more. Taste for seasoning. Pour out into bowl and set aside. Wipe out skillet.

Slice the leek length-wise into 1/4 inch slices. Heat another 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil in skillet and add leeks and asparagus, sauteing until tender. About 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil. When boiling add a small handful of salt. Boil pasta for 3 minutes, or according to package directions. Take sorrel leaves and stack on top of each other. Gently roll into a cigar shape and slice into slivers with a sharp, stainless steel knife.

Pour pureed cream sauce into skillet with asparagus and leeks and heat over a medium flame for about 3 minutes or until bubbling slightly. Toss with hot pasta, top with grated Parmesan cheese and slivers of sorrel and serve. It may be necessary to loosen the pasta with a bit of water in which the pasta was cooked (a ladle full).

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