Tosca’s Adam Vickerman on Eating Seasonally
The Heavy Table asked Chef Adam Vickerman of the hot new Linden Hills restaurant Trattoria Tosca (younger sibling to the Turtle Bread Company and Cafe Levain) for a seasonal recipe to share with our readers. Vickerman enthusiastically replied by providing his recipe for Local Vegetable Salad (below). He also answered a few questions for us along the way.
Are you still with Cafe Levain ? If not, do you know what their plans are?
I am no longer with Cafe Levain. I’ve been over there on and off since I started cooking in 2004 — I thought I would still have a hand in things over there, but the workload over here is more than enough for one person. Remle [Colestock], my Levain sous chef, is as of right now the chef — he has been keeping things on lock-down the past couple of months and I hope he continues his success thus far.
How is your approach to Trattoria Tosca different from your approach at Cafe Levain?
Having been a chef for a year has given me a bit more experience when it comes to seasonal menu planning. I’ve been lucky with Harvey [McClain] (owner of Levain, Tosca, and Turtle Bread) in allowing me to change the menu whenever I feel the need to — whether that is because we get a bunch of something in one day or because a dish needs to change. With Levain, we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants in terms of what to expect from the local purveyors. Now that I’ve had a growing season to order from, I have a much better idea of what to expect, when to expect it, and how much to order of it for various things. If anything, we ordered less than we should have last year in terms of local produce. With Tosca, I hope to do a lot more.
What is your greatest challenge / delight in working with seasonal ingredients?
Greatest challenge is finding new and interesting, albeit simple, preparations for the ingredients. A lot of people have put a lot of time and energy making this produce taste as great as it does. It’s important to make it taste better but still understand that they don’t need much physical manipulation — to practice restraint — making sure the ingredient is the first thing that shines through. The delight comes from hearing from the purveyors (whether that be in an email or over the phone) what each week has in store for the restaurant — with the open-endedness of our menu, we can change things on a moment’s notice. It creates a great environment for collaboration and brainstorming with the other chefs in the kitchen… keeps us on our toes and keeps us thinking.
What impressed / surprised you most on your recent trip to Italy?
Landon [Schoenfeld, Trattoria Tosca’s first chef] and I went to Bologna, Lucca, Florence, and Sienna; we were there for about two weeks and the reason why Harvey took us was to get inspired about Tosca, and to just have a vacation during the slower time of the year.
What I keep telling everyone is that the thing that impressed me the most had to deal most with ingredient selection. If it wasn’t available locally, they didn’t ever use it — which is next to impossible here in the Twin Cities, especially outside of the summer months. For example, margherita pizza — basil wasn’t available locally, it was never on the pizza there. The pride in their food in the kitchens we staged in was quite apparent… a lot of proud people showing us their food. Quite a good feeling seeing how important food, and more importantly, locally grown, beautiful food is to them.
Anything else you’re really excited about?
An important thing that I’ve observed since I’ve started cooking in 2004 (so I can’t speak from much experience) but the growth in people taking a huge interest in not only local food, local restaurants, but the whole culture of food. That’s urban farming, CSAs, the prominence of the co-ops, chef followings, etc. Total appreciation, care, and love for the food not only produced by the top restaurants, but by the people growing the ingredients, selling the ingredients, purchasing the ingredients, preparing the ingredients, enjoying the ingredients with friends and family. I didn’t grow up in that sort of environment in the south suburbs — it was an incredibly refreshing and rewarding thing to see these past 5 years. Restaurants come and go with the wind but the movement towards slowing things down, enjoying food a bit more, understanding where it comes from a bit more, who makes it a bit more, growing it a bit more… that excites me about living in the Twin Cities. It takes a lot for a restaurant to survive, but as long as the movement grows, the other aspects beyond restaurants will continue to strive.
Local Vegetable Salad
(per 8 servings)
8 ounces local snap peas
8 ounces local shelling peas (shelled and blanched)
8 ea. local radishes, such as French breakfast
2 ounces chopped herbs, such as chive and parsley
4 bunches local greens, such as mizuna, arugula, or heirloom lettuces (washed and cleaned)
½ cup fresh toasted breadcrumbs (toasted in brown butter, lightly seasoned)
½ cup Buttermilk Vinaigrette (recipe below)
4 ounces pickled watermelon rind (available in the pickle section)
4 ounces Parmesan Reggiano or Grana Padano (shaved)
You can go 2 ways with this simple, light salad. I like to either keep the vegetables raw — dressed in the buttermilk vinaigrette and seasoned — or char the peas with extra virgin olive oil (evoo) in a hot pan and season with salt and pepper — and toss with chopped herbs. I like to dress local greens in just evoo, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, since the greens have such a great flavor on their own.
Top with the toasted breadcrumbs (toss in some chili flake with the breadcrumbs if you’d like), thinly sliced watermelon pickles, and shaved cheese.
Basic Emulsified Vinaigrette (Buttermilk)
(per 1 quart +/- of vinaigrette)
Pureed flavor base to equal about 1 cup. Usually for simple vinaigrettes include about half a shallot, 1 clove of garlic, some (2 tablespoons) Dijon mustard (mostly for emulsifying purposes — not flavor — unless a mustard vin), some egg yolk (for a quart — about 3-4 yolks), the acid (buttermilk — about a cup), herbs (if any), salt, pepper, sugar (or other sweeteners, like honey, etc.)
1 quart of Canola oil
Water (for thinning)
Salt / Pepper / Sugar — To Taste
Keeping emulsified vinaigrettes simple is the most important aspect of making them — if it’s a Dijon vin — add more Dijon to make it the most prominent flavor — tarragon? Add tarragon. Sage? Add sage. Etc. etc. Whatever the flavors are — make sure once you’ve made your base, it has a strong (you will be adding oil to it to mute the flavors a bit, keep in mind) flavor of how you think it should taste — pureeing raw garlic and shallot can be a bit risky if used in larger quantities — they take on a almost acrid taste after the flavor developments after a day or so. Don’t go crazy with the sugar, omit it if you feel it isn’t necessary. If using buttermilk as your main flavor — keep the vinegars and mustards down to keep the buttermilk the highlighted flavor.
Once you have your pureed base in the blender, put the machine to the lowest it can go, and slowly drizzle in the oil to start, once about half is in, you can go quicker — if the vinaigrette is getting too thick add some of the water until it thins out again, add the rest of the oil, and adjust the consistency with not only water — but if the flavor is too weak — add some vinegar or whatever liquid flavorings you used to help the flavor out — season with salt and pepper to taste. Usually a quart at a time is plenty of vinaigrette for about a week. Rarely should we ever make more than that.