Think thin for veggies and fruit

Some close shaves make mouth-watering difference

May 31, 2006|By LESLIE BRENNER | LESLIE BRENNER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

There's nothing more alluring than a nice, close shave.

And it doesn't apply only to a man's face: Vegetables and fruit could use a shave, too. No, they don't get a 5 o'clock shadow. And no, you don't shave them with a Gillette. You use a mandoline. Or a good vegetable peeler. Or sometimes a very sharp knife.

The transformative power of the simple technique of very thin slicing is nothing short of stunning.

Anyone lucky enough to have been in possession of a truffle, black or white, knows the pleasure of that particular shave -- and how slicing it so thin changes it from a fungus you'd never want to bite into one of the most amazing things you can eat.

But for a much less recherche example, take the prickly artichoke. You'd never think of eating one raw. Eating even a baby artichoke would be akin to eating wood -- with a garnish of prickles.

But shave baby artichokes and the texture changes radically: The slices, in their wonderful thinness, are tender. Somehow, even the flavor changes: Air becomes an ingredient and the raw thistle is suddenly delicate rather than impenetrable.

That's the idea of the artichoke salad at La Botte in Santa Monica, Calif., where chef Stefano De Lorenzo shaves baby artichokes into lengthwise slices. When he tosses them with a mustardy lemon-olive oil dressing, they really soak it up.

At Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, chef Judy Rodgers has been known to shave raw white asparagus for a salad with sliced blood oranges and shaved bottarga (salted, pressed dried tuna or mullet roe).

She uses a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices off the peeled asparagus, making lovely white ribbons that get draped over the blood oranges. A microplane grater is used to shave the bottarga (tuna is her preferred roe with this salad).

That dish raises the question: Why not shave green asparagus? In fact, that makes a compelling salad, too. Trim the bottoms of the spears, then peel them. Lay one flat on a cutting board and start shaving -- which, in this case, means more peeling.

Toss the pale-green ribbons with some julienned prosciutto or ventresca (Spanish tuna belly canned in olive oil; other high-quality canned tuna works well, too) and a little vinaigrette, and it's pretty fabulous.

Carrots done this way are brilliant. Use a peeler to shave pared red, yellow and orange carrots from the farmers' market.

Shaving completely changes the nature of fennel. Cut it thick and you get plenty of crunch and a strong, sweet, aniselike flavor that some people find overpowering.

Shave it on a mandoline and the flavor goes much more subtle, making it a more cooperative partner for smoked salmon (dress the fennel with a mustardy vinaigrette to make a nice bridge). Or even yellowfin tuna carpaccio and shaved watermelon. That's how Dakota Weiss, the new chef at Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey, in California, serves it.

The shaved fennel, she says, isn't sweet, and, "The shaved watermelon adds a note of sweetness." Unlikely as it sounds, drizzled with a lemon zest-infused olive oil, it's quite appealing, with a wonderful contrast of textures between the silky tuna, the barely crisp fennel, the juicy-fresh watermelon and crunchy crystals of black sea salt.

You can even shave ripe cantaloupe, giving a textural spin to the old classic prosciutto and melon. Let the ribbons fall on a plate, add a squeeze of lime, a drizzle of ruby port and some unexpected chopped mint, then scatter julienned prosciutto on top.

Leslie Brenner writes for the Los Angeles Times. A recipe for Tuna Carpaccio with Shaved Fennel and Watermelon can be found at baltimoresun.com/taste.

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