Spring is unquestionably James McDevitt's favorite season. The executive chef at Four Food Studio and Cocktail Salon in Melville can hardly wait for the fava beans, English peas, cardoons, asparagus and baby artichokes to show up.
McDevitt's passion for vegetables is rare and wonderful. At most Long Island restaurants, the plant offerings range from mesclun greens to steamed broccoli to sauteed escarole. An early spring menu at Four in Melville featured celery-root puree, grilled asparagus, crispy Brussels sprouts, creamy wild mushrooms, fried artichokes, fried cardoons, broccoli rabe, sweet-potato puree and salsify puree - and that's not counting the salads, of which there are usually four, each of which exploits a different leaf: Bibb lettuce, romaine, endive, escarole.
"How excited can you get about cooking a steak? Vegetables are what bring us to work every day." That's a pretty fair distillation of the chef's philosophy.
McDevitt, 37, came to Four in January 2007, after helping relaunch Manhattan's Le Cirque in its new Bloomberg Tower location. But his formative kitchen years were spent in the West. He first won national recognition at his Restaurant Hapa in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Hapa" means "half" in Hawaiian and refers, in island slang, to people who are half Asian, half Caucasian. This not only describes McDevitt, whose mother is Japanese and father is white, but also his style of cooking. His next venture, Budo, in Napa, Calif., quickly established itself as a wine-country destination for East-meets-West cuisine.
Out West, McDevitt recalls, "I had eight farms growing things especially for me."
Here on Long Island, he has developed a strong relationship with the Cutchogue organic grower Satur Farms, but since local vegetables are a few months behind the West Coast's, he has to go farther afield to satisfy his green craving. "Luckily," he says, "with a computer and FedEx, you can pretty much get anything you want."
CRAB-AND-ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH LEMON AIOLI
Lump crabmeat makes this an opulent salad, but you could substitute claw meat or cooked shrimp - or lobster. Or you could simply double the quantity of asparagus.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 fingerling potatoes or 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled until tender
16 stalks asparagus, trimmed and blanched in salted water until just tender
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 bunch watercress, bottom few inches torn off
1. To make aioli, cut an inch or so off one end of the lemon and squeeze juice into a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise and the garlic, combine well, and refrigerate for at least an hour for the flavors to blend. Cut the rest of the lemon into thin slices and grill on a ridged grill pan or broil for a few minutes until they just begin to char.
2. Combine olive oil and vinegar with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3. Cut fingerling potatoes in half lengthwise, or cut Yukon Golds into quarters. Cut the asparagus spears on the bias into 11/2-inch lengths.
4. To assemble the salad, toss crabmeat, potatoes and asparagus with enough of the vinaigrette to coat. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the aioli on the bottom of each of four plates. On top arrange the crab, potatoes and asparagus. Garnish with watercress and drizzle with a little remaining vinaigrette. Makes 4 servings.
PEA TORTELLINI WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
The pea-puree tortellini filling also can be used as a side dish.
1 1/4 cups shelled English peas or frozen peas
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
About 20 square wonton skins for tortellini
1 shallot, thinly sliced
8 to 10 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup mushroom or chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
Snow-pea shoots (optional)
1. Blanch the fresh peas in boiling water for about 90 seconds. If using frozen peas, soak them in cold water for a few minutes until they are defrosted. Place 1 cup of peas, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor and puree until smooth. Empty into a bowl, fold in ricotta and salt and pepper to taste.
2. Except for the one you are working with, keep wonton skins covered while you make the tortellini. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of pea puree in the center of each skin. Dip your finger in water and run it around the edge of the skin, then fold it over to make a triangle. Press down along the edges to firmly seal them. Dampen the tips of the two equal "points" of the triangle, and draw them around into a ring, overlapping them and pressing them together. Continue making tortellini until all the puree is used. Set aside.
3. When you are ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a wide skillet over medium heat, sweat the shallot, shiitakes and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add last 1/4 cup of peas and the broth and simmer briefly to thicken slightly. Cook tortellini in boiling water until the skin becomes translucent, about 2 minutes, then transfer into the skillet and toss with the mushroom mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, add the butter to the liquid in the pan and gently swirl until it melts. Divide tortellini and butter sauce among 4 plates and garnish each one with shaved Parmesan, pea shoots, if desired, and a little more olive oil. Makes 4 servings.
Sunchokes, also called Jerusalem artichokes, are the gnarly, tuberous roots of a variety of sunflower. They have a distinctive nutty flavor that can be enjoyed raw (when thinly sliced) or cooked. This rich gratin will work with any starchy root vegetable - potato, parsnip, turnip - or with fennel. Whichever you use, it's critical to slice the vegetable very thin.
2 cups heavy cream
2 pounds sunchokes, peeled
2 cups grated Gruyere
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, reduce cream by one third. With a mandolin or in a food processor, slice sunchokes very thin.
2. Generously butter a small casserole (9 inches round, 8 inches square or the equivalent) and arrange a thin layer of sunchokes. Top with a few spoonfuls of cream, a few spoonfuls of both cheeses, and salt and pepper. Continue layering until you have used all the sunchokes, ending with a layer of cheese.
3. Bake until gratin is tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. If it is not nicely browned on top, place under the broiler for just a few minutes, making sure it doesn't burn. Makes 4 servings.
CRISPY ARTICHOKES WITH HONEY AND CHINESE MUSTARD
This recipe, featured on today's Explore LI cover, can be made with Brussels sprouts, which should be trimmed and halved before frying.
1/2 cup honey
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard
1 tablespoon fish sauce (a
Southeast Asian condiment available at Asian markets
and some supermarkets)
Canola or peanut oil for frying
1 1/2 to 2 pounds baby artichokes, trimmed (see note)
12 leaves fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon sichimi togorashi
(a Japanese spice mixture available at Asian markets)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. For the dressing, whisk together honey, lime juice, mustard and fish sauce; set aside.
2. In a large, deep, heavy pot, bring 4 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Working in 2 batches, fry artichokes until they just start to color but don't burn, about 2 minutes. Remove artichokes with a slotted spoon, place in a bowl and toss with the dressing, mint leaves, sichimi togorashi and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Note: The smallest artichokes need virtually no trimming, but as they get larger, you'll need to trim more, hence the need for a larger quantity. To trim an artichoke: Fill a large bowl with cold water and the juice of one lemon. For each artichoke, cut off all but about an inch of the stem and the sharp ends of the leaves (if they are, in fact, sharp), and pull off any outer leaves that are not tender. Using a sharp paring knife, peel the base of the artichoke and then the stem. Cut each artichoke in half and, using a teaspoon, scoop out the choke. As you trim each artichoke, place it in the bowl of lemon water. The very smallest artichokes are so tender that they require neither peeling nor de-choking.