A Just-Picked Party

By Gwinn, Alison | Sunset, September 2015 | Go to article overview

A Just-Picked Party


Gwinn, Alison, Sunset


GATHER

For a relaxed dinner outdoors, let fresh summer ingredients do the work for you.

WHEN CHEF ALEX Seidel hosts a party at his farm in Larkspur, Colorado, only one thing is rarefied: the location (7,200 feet above sea level, with views west to meadowlands and trees). Everything else is as lowkey as Seidel himself. "No fuss, no muss- that's what I like," says the chef, who owns Denver restaurants Fruition and the new Mercantile Dining & Provision. "We'll scatter around hay bales to sit on. We might have a bonfire. It's gorgeous out here under the stars."

Seidel grows vegetables, raises sheep and pigs, and makes cheeses on the 10-acre farm he bought in 2009. "From the time I started cooking, the ingredients were what inspired me," Seidel says. That's his approach to parties too. "Every dish doesn't have to be a lS-step concoction," he says. "Get some fresh ingredients, highlight those, and what you'll get is deliciousness and fun."

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD wfth ARUSULA. BURRATA. and EGGPLANT CROUTONS

SUIVIS 6 TO 8 / 1 ½ HOURS

For this salad, Seidel uses a mix of tomato varieties-whichever are ripest at the moment in his greenhouse. The eggplant "croutons" are small cubes, breaded in seasoned panko and briskly fried. Fruition Farms also produces the burrata cheese, which is fresh mozzarella filled with ricotta and cream.

½ small Japanese eggplant (about 2 oz.)

About 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided

¼ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

¼ tsp. dried thyme

Black pepper

6 heirloom tomatoes (about 3 lbs.), in a mix of colors

2 tbsp. minced shallot

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

¼ tsp. white pepper

¼ cup canola oil, plus more for frying

¼ cup flour

1 large egg, beaten

8 oz. burrata or fresh mozzarella

4 loosely packed cups arugula

12 basil leaves (optional)

1. Dice eggplant into '/a-in. cubes and put in a colander. Toss with '/a tsp. salt and let drain 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, make seasoned bread crumbs: Heat panko in a medium (not nonstick) pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to 5 minutes; stir in thyme and a couple of pinches each salt and black pepper. Let cool.

3. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice and cold water. Using a sharp paring knife, core tomatoes by cutting a cone around stems. Score bottom of each tomato with a small X.

4. Blanch tomatoes 20 seconds, immersing two at a time. With a slotted spoon, transfer to ice water. When cool, lift tomatoes to a plate and peel them. Slice tomatoes thickly and arrange over twothirds of a platter.

5. Make vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine shallot, red wine vinegar, '/a tsp. salt, and 'A tsp. white pepper. Whisk in 'A cup oil.

6. Pour oil for frying into a small pot to a depth of 1 */a in. Insert a deep-fry thermometer and heat over mediumhigh heat until oil registers 325°.

7. While oil is heating, rinse eggplant and pat dry with paper towels. Set a metal cooling rack in a rimmed baking pan and put next to stove.

8. Put flour in a shallow bowl, egg in another, and seasoned panko in a third. Coat eggplant cubes in flour. Using a slotted spoon, lift out cubes while shaking off excess flour; drop cubes into egg. Using a second slotted spoon, lift out cubes and drop into bread crumbs; toss to coat. Now use the first (dry) spoon to transfer eggplant to hot oil.

9. Fry eggplant in two batches if necessary until crisp and golden brown, S to 7 minutes per batch, and transfer with the dry slotted spoon to drain on rack in pan. Season croutons with salt.

10. Drizzle tomatoes with 3 to 4 tbsp. vinaigrette. Slice cheese thickly and arrange over tomatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

11. In a medium bowl, toss arugula with l'/a to 2 tbsp. vinaigrette. Arrange arugula on platter next to tomatoes. Scatter with warm eggplant croutons and tom basil leaves, if using. …

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