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Last Chance Foods

Recipe: Carrot and Calamari Salad

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Paul Cézanne once said, “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” It was in that spirit that I created this dish after I’d worked at Gramercy for only three months. What’s beautiful about the salad is while it’s relatively easy to make, it has complex textures and flavors.

I like to let the vegetable be the star and the calamari the supporting actor. It’s amazing that it has taken us so long to begin to shift the focus of a dish from the protein to the vegetable. We are so used to giving meat, fish, or poultry the spotlight because we usually think about food from a European point of view. Other cultures, mainly Asian, consider vegetables first.

In the restaurant we use a combination of citrus flavors, including lemon oil, lemon vinaigrette, and cured Meyer lemons, because we always have them on hand. I love the lemon vinaigrette, but feel free to season with a good squeeze or two of lemon juice and your favorite olive oil instead.

Serves 4

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 1⁄3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Onion Puree (recipe follows)
  • 1⁄2 tablespoon honey
  • 1⁄2 cup Lemon Oil (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon wasabi tobiko (wasabi-infused flying-fish roe)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3⁄4 pound cleaned calamari
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 carrots, julienned
  • 1⁄8 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1⁄4 Cured Meyer Lemon (recipe follows; optional), rinsed, pulp removed and discarded, peel minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • A small handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves

Make the lemon vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice, vinegar, onion puree, and honey in a blender.

With the blender running, drizzle in the lemon oil, followed by the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette with the tobiko. Set the rest of the vinaigrette aside. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Season the calamari with salt and pepper and cook until just opaque, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the calamari to a cutting board. Cut the bodies and tentacles into strips about the same size as the carrots.

In a large bowl, combine the calamari, carrots, and pine nuts. Toss with some of the reserved vinaigrette. Stir in the cured lemon, if using, and chives and season with salt and pepper. Mound the salad onto plates, drizzle with the tobiko vinaigrette, and scatter the parsley on top.

Lemon Oil

Makes 1 cup

Making lemon oil requires a small investment of time to infuse the flavors, but this can happen overnight. It is such a flavorful addition to a salad dressing, sautéed vegetables, or a pan sauce for fish.

  • 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral vegetable oil
  • Peel of 1 lemon
  • Peel of 1 lime
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised with the side of a chef’s knife and roughly chopped
  • One 1⁄2-inch piece of ginger, peeled, smashed, and roughly chopped
  • 1 sprig lemon thyme or thyme

In a jar or other container, combine the oil, lemon and lime peel, lemongrass, ginger, and thyme.

Cover and refrigerate overnight; strain. The lemon oil will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Cured Meyer Lemons

Makes 4

When Meyer lemons are in season, we make batches of cured lemons to use all year round. They show up unexpectedly to accentuate the fresh ingredients in a salad or to brighten the rich flavors of a meat braise.

  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 4 Meyer lemons
  • 1⁄2 cup kosher salt
  • 1⁄8 cup sugar
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Fresh lemon juice to cover

In a small skillet, combine the star anise, cardamom, peppercorns, and fennel, cumin, and coriander seeds and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let the spices cool completely.

Meanwhile, deeply score the lemons from top to bottom, leaving about ½ inch of the base of each one intact so the fruit stays in one piece. Put in a large bowl, add the salt, and pack the salt into the lemons. Add the sugar, pepper flakes, and toasted spices to the lemons and toss until thoroughly combined.

Transfer the contents of the bowl to a pint jar, evenly distributing the salt mixture and pushing down on the lemons to fit them in. Add enough lemon juice to cover the lemons, leaving a little room at the top of the jar. Seal the jar and refrigerate for a month, shaking it frequently to distribute the salt mixture and juices. The cured lemons will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for many months. Rinse thoroughly before using.

Onion Puree

Makes about ½ cup

There is a reason to make this subtle and delicious puree for the cauliflower recipe and other dishes: like butter, the puree binds the ingredients together and coats the cauliflower, quinoa, prunes, and peanuts.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they are completely soft but have not taken on any color, 15 to 20 minutes. A bit of water helps here.

Add the vinegar and cook for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a blender and process until satiny-smooth.

The puree can be cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Reprinted from THE GRAMERCY TAVERN COOKBOOK. Copyright © 2013 by Gramercy Tavern Corp. Photographs © 2013 by Maura McEvoy. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.