Ingredient Challenge: Fingerling Potatoes & Figs
Like the couple who created them, it was such a perfect two-course pairing that it was decided to plate both this month!
Chef Yves Fournier, Executive Chef at Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails in Irvine, California, provides a tasty first course with lots of eye appeal that belies its unpretentious ingredients. The chef’s Roasted California Sea Bass with Fingerling Potatoes, Bell Peppers and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette relies almost entirely on each ingredient’s natural flavor. Using just a smattering of fresh herbs and the perfect vinaigrette, Chef Yves creates a unique taste influence that turns three relatively ordinary components – whitefish, potatoes and bell peppers -- into something very special, indeed. Taking very little prep and cooking time, visually colorful and looking more complicated than it is, this is a perfect dish for the home chef hosting a large dinner party.
I much prefer fingerling potatoes to regular-sized tubers; they just seem to have more flavor per square inch. The thin, delicate skins come in an array of assorted colors from light pastel pinks to a deep purple. There is something rustically elegant about these elongated, finger-shaped potatoes when they are plated. Chef Yves pairs these creamy little nuggets with the vibrant primary colors of red and yellow bell peppers. For me, the combination set up a taste expectation that was quickly forgotten with the first bite by the unique flavor that the chef’s vinaigrette adds to the mix. This little taste surprise evoked smiles of delight by guests at my own table. It was fun to watch, so be prepared for it
For dessert, Elyssa Fournier compliments her husband’s elegant main course with a rich and slightly decadent almond flour Fig Tart. Again, a collection of simple ingredients that add up to a taste delight! Elyssa is in charge of all pastry on the Andrei's menu as well as the baking needs for the restaurant’s busy Special Events catering program. Her résumé is a collection of the finest eateries in New York. In fact, that is where this culinary couple met and married before making the move to California to apply their skills in an environment more conducive to raising a family; a six-year-old boy and an almost one-year-old daughter. A future kitchen crew!
I am not sure if I included figs in this challenge because they are a good seasonal item for the article or it just gave me a professional excuse to enjoy this delectable fruit. Actually, I am sure and they were delicious! If you need an excuse to enjoy this luscious fruit, know that figs are a completely guilt-free food with many healthy qualities. The fruit is a natural appetite suppressor; twenty percent of the fiber in figs is called soluble fiber, which makes one feel fuller longer. This kind of fiber helps to regulate fat and cholesterol absorption and assists the body in maintaining a balanced blood sugar count, an especially important attribute for diabetics.
Of course my little fig tasting plan turned out to have two flaws in it, dough and an oven. Chefs who have participated in this feature seldom choose a dessert to present their ingredient and if they do, it rarely involves baking. However the Fourniers blind-sided me with their one-two culinary punches! Baking is an exact science and, frankly, a little intimidating for this writer.
The only consolation is the knowledge that I am not alone. In fact, the current rash of competitive cooking television shows include some of the finest chefs in the country, who have crumbled like cake in defeat because of a dessert deficient culinary repertoire. I am comfortable in the kitchen and have cooked for award winning chefs, yet share the same fear of flour syndrome as many culinary professionals.
Admittedly and embarrassingly, now that I review the pictures, my first attempt at Elyssa’s tart got a diplomatic, but unanimous, two thumbs down landside vote against. Elyssa sent a digital of one of her tarts, which helped immensely as a model to replicate both the thickness of the shell [think thin!] and the color of the filling when baked correctly. This long distance approval process between myself and the chef is possible because of a unique talent that I find most all professional chefs possess -- the gift of being able to imagine the taste of a dish by reading its ingredients and preparation or even by just studying a picture. An ability that continues to fascinate this writer.
Resolved to get it right, the best advice I can offer fellow flour-phobes is deliberate adherence to the recipe and patience. Pay attention to the description of the desired texture required for the dough and when you think you have achieved the proper consistency, mix it another five minutes. Most of all, stop with the flour attitude; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Relax and just have fun with it. It was very rewarding to please the Fourniers with the second attempt. It bolstered my rolling pin confidence enough that a few days later I even improvised a little when I ran short of the almond flour in the middle of the third prep of this recipe, so filled the gap with coconut flour. It worked! So I am amending my earlier statement; baking requires a positive attitude as well as accurate measurements!
Figs and fingerlings! A wonderful meal combination that is guaranteed to dazzle the eyes, entertain the palate and satisfy the decadent gene in all of us. Chef Yves Fournier and master baker Elyssa Fournier create as much of a balance on the plate as they apparently have in their own lives; a rarity in the demanding world of the culinary arts. Seems that this talented couple has the answer to life’s “ingredient challenge” both in and out of the kitchen!
Roasted California Sea Bass with Fingerling Potatoes,
Bell Peppers and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
2 x 6 oz Filets of California Sea Bass, with skins on
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Sprig of Oregano
1 Lemon zested and juiced, keep separate
8 oz Melissa’s Fingerling Potatoes
4 oz Red Bell Pepper, washed and cut into 1 inch squares
4 oz Yellow Bell Pepper, washed and cut into 1 inch squares
2 Green Onions, chopped
White Ground Pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
4 Leaves Basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
Marinate the sea bass with oregano and grated Lemon zest and one tablespoon of the olive oil and set aside
Vinaigrette – in a bowl whisk the mustard and lemon juice together, and then slowly add in 2 tablespoons olive oil to make an emulsion, season and reserve
Wash fingerling potatoes, put into a pot and cover with water and season with salt, cook until the potatoes are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes, drain and cool. When cool, cut into 1 inch pieces.
In a sauté pan with some olive oil, sauté the potatoes and bell peppers for 2-3 minutes, season and add in green onions and set aside and keep warm. In a sauté pan, season and cook the fish skin side down first, for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side depending on the thickness of the fish.
Center fingerling potatoes, peppers, green onions and place fish, then drizzle with lemon vinaigrette.
Fresh Figs – slightly firm to the touch – quartered
1 recipe Sweet Tart Dough – rolled into tart mold(s)
1 recipe Almond Cream – at room temperature
Apricot Glaze or Powdered Sugar
Sweet Tart Dough
3 2/3 cups Flour
¾ cup + 2 Tablespoons Sugar
2/3 cup Almond Flour
2 ¾ sticks Unsalted Butter (11 oz)
¾ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Mix all dry ingredients together. Cut butter into small pieces. Add butter to dry ingredients and mix till it resembles breadcrumbs. Add in eggs and vanilla. Mix just till combined. Shape into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. Roll out dough to 1/8”-1/4” thick with flour to desired size. Fit into tart pans and chill until ready to use.
2 ½ cups Almond Flour
1 ¼ cups Sugar
1/3 cup Flour
2 ¼ sticks Unsalted Butter (9 oz)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Cream butter and sugar. Add in almond flour. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Add in flour. Set aside until ready to assemble tart
Spread ¼” thick layer of almond cream into chilled tart shell. Arrange quartered figs on top of almond cream - either in rows or circles in the tart shell with flesh facing up. Bake at 350 degrees until almond cream is baked to a cake like texture. Cool and glaze or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Served with your favorite vanilla ice cream.