On the first day of spring, I headed to the Bay Area to cook dinner for 9 people. Now, why in the world would this consummate Yankee be invited to fly all the way across the continent to prepare dinner in a town where there are more great cooks per capita than perhaps anywhere on earth? Well, long story short, it had to do with an auction for charity run by my sister and her bright idea that it would be fun to plan a party 2000 miles away. In the end, it was a blast – and dinner turned out beautifully! (I did, however, make my sister come along, to help schlep and prep, which only added to the fun.)
For starters, I travel to San Francisco fairly often and whenever I do, I head to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market to ooooh and ahhh over all the amazing produce, meats, cheeses, dried beans, flowers, breads, and so on.
It’s a cook’s paradise, but normally, I behave like a tourist and have to refrain from buying anything beyond a cup of Blue Bottle coffee and an Acme Bakery pastry because I’m staying in a hotel with nowhere to cook. But this time, I arrived with my market bags and loaded up on pea shoots, fat asparagus, the tiniest French breakfast radishes, bundles of tender spring carrots, feathery curly cress, spicy arugula flowers, plump little all-white salad turnips, green garlic, spring onions, two amazing baskets of the earliest – and sweetest – strawberries ever, herbs galore, three kinds of mushrooms, salad greens, eggs, and, oh yeah, a cup of that Blue Bottle coffee.
At the market, I met up with my friend Daphne Zepos of Essex Street Cheese who had selected three perfect cheeses for the after-dinner cheese course. Then, we headed down to Avedano’s Meats in Holly Park Market for a few pounds of heritage pork that they had just got in. The butcher pounded slices of fresh ham into cutlets that I was planned to bread and panfry to make a sort of pork schnitzel.
By the time we arrived at the host house it was early afternoon. Over sandwiches, we planned our attack, and then set to work transforming the ingredients into a lavish dinner.
The menu went like this:
Deviled eggs with chives and lime
Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp and mint
Roasted asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
Mushroom and spring onion tart with herb and arugula flower salad
Heritage pork schnitzel with turnips, carrots, pea shoots and Parmesan pudding
An assortment of artisan cheeses
Chocolate stout cake with chocolate glaze and a perfect bowl of strawberries
Now that’s the way to celebrate the arrival of spring!