The thing about vacation is that eventually you have to come home. Always wanting to make it last a little longer, I hold on by bringing back ingredients, recreating recipes, or incorporating holiday habits to my everyday. In the past year, I’ve visited Paris and Mexico City, which is why I have tins of fois gras and impressionist teas on my shelves, half empty jars of caramel beurre au salé and cajeta in the cupboard, and stacks of corn tortillas in the freezer. This is also why I flounce around Brooklyn markets on the weekend with an enormous Provence basket and can’t stop making batches of salsa verde.
I got hooked on it at my cousin Caro’s where we’d have it in the morning over ham and eggs. Since then, Diana Kennedy’s salsa de tomate verde has become my favorite any-night, any-excuse recipe. Made in relatively small batches, it comes together so quickly there’s reason not to always have it on hand. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a croque madame a la Mexicana or croque señorita. Taking the elements of the traditional sandwich, I switched things around until I found a combination I loved – thickly cut wet-cured ham the butcher recommended, fresh ricotta for the béchamel, a steam-fried egg, and of course salsa verde. Instead of the corn tortillas I’ve been hoarding, I used a crusty Pullman loaf – a little less delicate but better to soak up runny yolks. For the eggs I went green, a splurge I allow myself every summer.I haven’t been the only one mixing up my French and my Mexican. Coming to Smith St. though still under construction, Jolie Cantina is adding a French-Mexican menu to the row of almost too cute bars and cafes that line the street. Despite combining my two country-crushes, it didn’t make sense at first until I saw the new graphic they put up – French and Mexican roosters facing off. Now that I’ve been mixing them up on my own, I can’t wait for them to open. In the permanent junior-year abroad that is Brooklyn’s Smith Street, it’ll be another excuse to linger when it’s too early to go all the way home but too late to go anywhere else.
I worried it would seem fussy to include recipes for salsa verde and ricotta since both can easily be found pre-made. But then it’s worth it and I am a little fussy. For the salsa verde, tomatillos, cilantro, white onions and serrano peppers have all been coming into the markets so I usually stock up on the weekend. I absolutely hate throwing away food so I get a small sense of satisfaction every time I get to the bottom of a bag of cilantro I feel a little sense of accomplishment.
High-quality ricotta is worth seeking out but it can be a little expensive and doesn’t last very long. Milk, cream and lemons are something I always have on hand, so I’ve gotten used to making a quick batch to use as needed. It really is as simple as heating milk. I usually make the ricotta first then set it to drain while I make the tomatillo sauce.
4 slices white pullman bread, sliced thickly and preferably day old
2-3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons fresh ricotta, homemade or high quality
6-8 ounces thickly sliced wet-cured ham
4 fresh eggs
Salsa de tomate verde (see below)
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Butter both sides of each bread slice and toast in the skillet until the edges are brown and crisp. Remove from the skillet and spread a heaping tablespoon of ricotta on each slice and top with a couple of slice of ham. Keep in a warm oven or top with aluminum foil while you fry the eggs.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in the skillet over medium heat. Crack the egg into a small bowl then drop it into the skillet. Repeat with the remaining eggs or cook separately. Cook until the edges of the egg turn white, about 1 minute. Drop one teaspoon of water into the pan for each egg. Cover tightly with a lid and cook over medium-low heat until the yolks are set, about 1-2 more minutes.
Remove from skillet and set over ham. Serve with salsa verde.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Line a colander with cheese cloth and set over a large bowl. In a large heavy pot, heat milk over medium heat until it reaches 190 degrees or until bubble just start to appear along the sides. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes until the curds and whey begin to separate.
Salsa de Tomate Verde
Barely adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy.
1/2 pound tomate verde (sold as tomatillos), husks removed and well rinsed
2-3 serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon white onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
Salt to taste
Place the tomatillos in small saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Stir occasionally so they cook evenly. They should be pale green and tender but still whole, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
While the tomatillos cook, combine the peppers, white onion, garlic and cilantro in blender and pulse until well chopped and combined. Add a little water as needed. Add the tomatillos one at a time, pulsing after each addition. Add water if needed to reach the right consistency. Add salt to taste and serve.