Chef’s Roundtable: Craving comfort food on cold days
February 4, 2014
Larkspur’s Fresh Tomato Soup
3/4 pound yellow onion (small dice)
1/4 pound celery (small dice)
1/4 pound carrot (small dice)
4 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons blended oil
5 pounds Palisade tomatoes
1 Bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 pinch Pimente de Espelette
1/2 Tablespoon black pepper (ground)
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup polenta
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
To taste basil, chopped
To taste salt
To taste black pepper (ground)
1 Tablespoon grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
Chop garlic with a few Tablespoons of warm water.
In skillet, make a soffrito: sauté garlic, onion, celery, carrot and oil on medium high heat until amber color is achieved (at least 15 to 20 minutes). Remove from skillet.
Wash and slice all tomatoes in half. Place in skillet and heat on high until liquid is boiling. Add spices/aromatics. Simmer for one hour. Whisk in polenta, add soffrito back into the soup, and simmer for one hour.
Puree soup in a blender, in small batches; pass through chinois (a fine-mesh sieve).
To finish: Bring soup to simmer, season with cream, sherry vinegar and honey, season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with chopped basil, extra virgin olive oil and grated cheese.
Makes approximately eight 10-ounce servings.
One very snowy day in early January, my husband, David, and I were where we always are when the powder gods are laughing out loud like that: Vail's Back Bowls. Fortunately for our marriage, we both love storm days best, and this was one of those magical, upside-down days when the snow fell harder and the skiing got better with every passing hour. We were having so much fun that we didn't even notice, as the morning turned to afternoon, how far the temperature had plummeted and how much the wind had picked up. Until the 2 p.m. ride up Tea Cup, that is. We noticed it then. In fact, for six brutal, white-out minutes, as we rode in shocked silence through what felt like a sandstorm of dry ice, all I could think of were two things: the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup lunch at Larkspur, and the fastest way to get there from the top of Chair 36.
Which begs the question: Is there something about coming in from cold weather that exponentially increases the deliciousness of the food you sit down to, or are there specific elements in a particular dish that make it most delicious on a cold day? The chefs I talked with all agreed: It's mostly the latter, with a pinch of the former as an enjoyment-enhancing boost.
"A cold snowy night a couple of weeks ago, I came in to Larkspur for dinner as a diner," said David Dein, sous chef at Vail's Larkspur. "We started with the pappardelle and white truffle fonduta and the roasted golden beet risotto, both of which are creamy, rich and warming — perfect for setting the stage for a really satisfying meal. And I had the veal sweetbreads 'Oscar,' our elegant version of the homey comfort food you crave when it's cold outside. It so good I had a melt-in-your-chair experience."
Prepared sous vide, the sweetbreads are pan-seared to order, served with a grape must beurre fondue, pickled asparagus and topped with steamed king crab.
"It's our play on the traditional veal Oscar, and the rich, dense sweetbreads as an alternative to veal shanks are especially satisfying when you're craving a hearty, nurturing meal," Dein said.
Comforts of home, redux
Hearty and nurturing are key elements to what satisfies on a cold day — and we tend to hark back to what most comforted us when we were kids, said Eric Berggren, chef de cuisine at Vail's Lord Gore restaurant.
"Our most popular dish for people who are coming off the mountain after a long day of skiing is our short ribs entree," Berggren said. "It's basically our version of the meat and potatoes comfort food our guests grew up on. We use braised prime angus boneless short ribs, seasoned, seared and slow-cooked with mirepoix. They're served on a bed of truffle-whipped mashed potatoes, with pan-roasted heirloom baby carrots. It's unbelievable. Especially if it follows our gnocchi appetizer, filled with potatoes and wild mushrooms, and served warm with arugula and sweet green peas."
Creamy and crisp contrast
Richard Bailey, chef and owner of Taste 5 Catering in Vail, especially enjoys cooking for his clients during the winter months.
"People just eat with more gusto after they've been out skiing, riding or snowshoeing all day," he said.
The dishes he offers that are most popular in the dead of winter are his warm wilted spinach salad and veal osso bucco with soft polenta.
"I top my spinach salad with sauteed potato gnocchi to give them a crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside contrast," he said. "It's dressed with a simple olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper dressing, finished with a little Parmesan cheese. The osso bucco is marinated overnight and then slow cooked in a covered pan with flavored stock. I serve it with the rich, creamy polenta and for contrast, I top with a spoonful of gremolata made with chopped parsley, chives, fresh mint and lemon zest."
As an added bonus, both the osso bucco and polenta are prepared gluten-free.
So, in summary, when we're cold and hungry, what we crave most is food that's rich and hearty, with elements that comfort the palate instead of challenging it. We seek food that makes us feel as nurtured as we do satisfied when we're enjoying them.
Not unlike that grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch I had at Larkspur, for example. After I ate it, I felt warm, toasty and absolutely loved. (And by the way, in case you're reading this at the top of Chair 36, it's Whiskey Jack to Flap Jack to Klickity Klack.)
Madeleine Berenson is a freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur, located at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Visit http://www.larkspurvail.com.
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