just a little fleur de sel

A trip to the grocery store on its best day has the same excitement as visiting an art supply; on its worst day it is a test for sanity. During the holidays, I try my best to make do with what I already have on hand but sure enough the holidays this year arrived and my cupboards and I were unprepared. I was forced to go to Trader Joe’s, a beloved placed located in one of the most horrid parking lots of my neighborhood. Despite the odds, the visit wasn’t too bad and an unexpected encounter prompted this post and recipe.

As I strategically moved about the aisles, practicing my yoga breathing so that I could expertly ignore the college co-eds attempting to read packaging for gluten-free items while they shared stories a jungle-juice laced weekend, I heard a polite, “Excuse me?”

A tall brunette with eyes all sparkly with Christmas wonder asked me if I knew where the coconut oil was.  We were of course in the aisle with all the oils: olive, extra virgin, toasted sesame, canola, etc.

“I thought it would be right here.” She thought right but it wasn’t there. No jar of white solid oil just a spray can that wouldn’t do.  She was making salves for gifts.  I staggered over to the baking shelves just thinking perhaps the jars had traveled there but no dice.

“Oh! I need this though!” and she picked up a couple of small silver $5 canisters of fleur de sel. Now, I took French in school and have plenty of cooking shows under my belt to know that fleur de sel is salt but in all my cooking I had not ever thought to opt for the expensive salt that I could really only define up until this point as damp salt. She clearly was happy to have found something she needed so I apologized and continued to look for what I had needed, linguine. No dice.

 I substituted my linguine for a package of gnocchi and being the eaves-dropper I am over heard the fleur de sel lady ask a worker if they had lavender. I assumed that she was referring to lavender oil so when the worker left her to her own devices, I piped up and told her the Whole Foods across the street carried the essential oil.

“Oh no, it isn’t for the salves. I want the flowers. I’m also making pre-made seasoning. Fleur de sel and lavender blossoms.” I felt myself getting a bit stalkerly but I needed to know more and with the animation of a Disney character, she described how she’d mash the lavender blossoms into the fleur de sel and use a sprinkle to season roasted carrots and squash. We were salivating together.

I grabbed a canister but just before she was out of sight she turned back with a gasp, “Have you tried their lemon ricotta ravioli? It is amazing with the lavender salt sprinkled over it.” I hadn’t but I looked down at my recently selected gnocchi, remembered that I had freshly picked lemons from a neighbor, and zucchini from the CSA at home.

To the tall brunette who managed to still be happy in a grocery store and talk to a stranger in the middle of a holiday rush, this recipe is for you:

Serving four,

Ingredients: 

  • 1 package of potato gnocchi
  • 1-2 zucchini* sliced and quartered
  • 1 shallot finely diced
  • 1 lemon worth of zest
  • 1.5 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon of dried lavender buds
  • 1/4 tsp of fleur de sel, maybe a pinch more
  • olive oil
  • freshly cracked pepper

Set a large pot of salted (not fleur de sel salted) water to boil while you heat up olive oil in your skillet.  Once heated, add diced shallot, stirring to make sure it does not brown.  Once tender add the heavy cream, lowering the temperature if necessary to make sure your cream doesn’t get crazy bubbly, you want the moisture.  Toss in the zucchini and half the amount of zest.  Add gnocchi to boiling water.  Gnocchi is done when all those adorable dumplings are floating at the top of the water.  Remove from water, saving about a 1/4 cup of the used starchy gnocchi water.  Start by adding half to your cream so that it thins out your sauce.  More if necessary.  If your sauce becomes too watery, let it cook down, stirring frequently or add a touch of cream.  Once your sauce is pretty much done, add cheese and a pinch of the lavender mixture, stirring a few times in the heat to open up flavors.  Follow this up with the rest of the zest.  Plate, sprinkling each serving with the lavender/fleur de sel mixture and freshly cracked pepper.