Winter is hanging on here with a firm grip, but it’s not as dire as it might seem. It’s cold and clear, with skies ranging in color from powder- to cobalt-blue. It’s especially lovely at dusk when the sky becomes infused in color, and the leafless trees explode in full relief against their canvas. And, I have my systems in place. Pellet stove on early in the morning to offset the oil flowing freely and expensively through the boiler. A heating pad to warm my bed. A humidifier that travels from room to room. Smartwool socks! I do look longingly at my sandals and lightweight yoga pants and will enjoy skipping out the door without scarf, mittens, boots, and the like — when the time comes.
A harbinger of spring in the Pine Tree state is Maine Maple Syrup Sunday. Annabella and I ventured out to take part in the celebration. Winter’s earnestness (?) commitment (?) has made for a sparse sugaring season since sap flows best when nights are cold and days are warm-ish (temps in the 40º-range rather than 20º-). We visited Merrifield Farm in Windham, about 25 minutes from Portland heading northwest. It was cold and mucky, and we joined the long lines to buy maple syrup, maple butter and maple cotton candy. Then we headed to the cast iron vats, (witch’s cauldrons) where they boiled sap over an open fire. We also passed through the sugar house and stuck close to the fire that fueled the evaporator. This stainless steel contraption heats and boils the sap to remove excess moisture so all that’s left is the liquid gold of maple syrup. Early season sap yields a lighter syrup, which is less flavorful and apparently what I came home with in my haul. Next year, I will hold out for the dark amber, which has the most intense maple flavor on the spectrum.
Despite my love of the season, I have tired of my winter menus. Comfort food, soups, risottos and lots of squashes. I still have some butternut squash soup in the freezer, but it has lost its allure. Saluted in the fall and relegated by spring, my butternut squash stalwart will end up as a second choice as a catch-as-catch can weekday dinner. So, what to cook? I have been eyeing composed salads and am craving greens. I thought of writing an aspirational blog post on asparagus or pea shoots, but that’s just too premature. I will stick with the middle way. Halibut and its shellfish companions make for a light March dinner, and the papillote (in parchment) adds a little drama to the table. Who couldn’t use more drama? The sauce that accompanies the goodies in the pouch is absolutely delicious. Use any leftovers for pasta or soft polenta. It’s really fantastic. Butter and white wine. Oh, you have to love the French.
By the way, I enabled the comments section on the blog, so you can shoot me back a response if you so desire. Help me outnumber the spam.
Halibut with Shellfish en Papillote
1-2 T olive oil
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 small serrano pepper, finely chopped
1-2 tsp dried thyme
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
4 T unsalted butter
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 12-ounce filet of halibut (cut into 1-inch cubes)
10 mussels or clams
6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1. Preheat oven to 400º. Heat olive oil, shallots, garlic, chile and salt in large sauté pan. Cook until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add chopped thyme leaves and white wine. Simmer for 20 minutes until wine is reduced to about 1/4 cup.
2. Whisk in butter. When the butter is melted, add cherry tomatoes. Let tomatoes simmer for 10-12 minutes or until tomatoes soften. Set sauce aside.
3. Place two pieces of parchment paper (12-inch square) on counter. Place halibut pieces, shrimp and mussels in the center. Spoon sauce over top. Add fresh thyme sprigs. Fold parchment like you are wrapping a gift, without the scotch tape. Tuck edges under, and place on a rimmed baking tray. Bake for 12 minutes. Open parchment to make sure shellfish has opened and halibut is cooked through. Shrimp should be pinked up, as well.
4. Serve with grilled bread, pasta, polenta or rice.
- Modify seafood to fit your needs. I used much less halibut as that is a lot of seafood per serving.
- Shallots are king. I just adore them and they make the sauce. Again, you have to love the French.
- A nod to the source, this came from The Tasting Table, a tasty newsletter delivered to me daily.