From food52: A Twofer

After Mike’s 40+ mile bike ride yesterday morning, he was craving a hearty dinner, and in looking at the recipes I had bookmarked for my week of food52 dinners, I had just the thing in mind.

Caesar Salad with Pancetta

First up, my friend Marie‘s Caesar Salad with Pancetta, the runner-up in the somewhat controversialYour Best Caesar Salad” contest. This salad has everything I love in a Caesar – rich egg yolk (in this instance, gently coddled), lots of garlic and anchovy, and crisp homemade croutons. Marie’s additions of pancetta and lime juice are what make this salad really special – we loved the crisp bits of pancetta in the salad, as well as the flavor the rendered fat gave to the croutons, and we could have eaten the lime-spiked dressing by the spoonful.

The (Not Barefoot) Contessa's Fish Pasta

For our main course, I went with The (Not Barefoot) Contessa’s Fish Pasta, an early food52 recipe challenge champ, and a really delicious dish. The olive and caper-spiked tomato sauce is evocative of a puttanesca, and the chunks of meaty white fish (in our case, halibut) give the sauce heft without heaviness. We would have liked a little more salt and acid in this dish (and perhaps a pinch of red chile flakes), though that’s totally a personal preference – this is a wonderful seafood pasta dish that we’ll definitely make again.

In Dreams

halibut

When you’re sitting at a desk or behind cubicle walls, thinking about what you’d rather be doing, how you’d spend your days if money were no object, or if your circumstances were different, what do you dream about?

My answer has changed over the years, but it’s getting clearer, to the point where I now find myself taking notes, making lists, looking longingly through the windows of empty storefronts in my neighborhood, pondering the possibilities.

A storefront. A market.

Specifically, a seafood market, but more than just that.

halibut in marinade

There’d be a little space for retail, where I’d sell a small, well-curated selection of fresh, local seafood, and perhaps even a few sustainably-fished favorites from farther afield. There’d be things prepared in-house, seafood salads and cured and smoked fish, and things you could take home, heat and eat. There’d be baskets of lemons, good white anchovies and glass jars of briny capers for sale, homemade butter spiked with fresh herbs or lime and chile, sauces and salsas, a variety of tasty things to serve with your seafood.

There’d also be a small adjoining space, cozy, with a raw bar like our beloved Marlow and Sons with their oyster happy hour. We’d have tables and chairs and a small seafood menu, fritto misto and seafood rillettes, chowders and stews and seared or grilled fillets – simple, honest seafood dishes, prepared with whatever good things are in season. A neighborhood place, filled with laughter and conversation. A place that celebrates what we so love about living here – the ocean, the people, the bounty of this beautiful state we now call home.

Dinner:  May 20, 2009

And when the weather warms up after the long winter, we might even put some chairs out on the sidewalk, throw open the doors to let the breeze in, pour frosty beverages and linger, listening to the sounds of chirping birds and passing traffic. And maybe, just maybe, we’d serve up some grilled fish tacos.

Someday? Who knows. I have neither the means nor the experience to make it happen right now. But it sure is a nice dream.

Light and bright

When temperatures rise, our whole way of eating changes – we often make dinner out of nothing but a good, lean protein and a whole mess of veggies. Again, it’s about stripping things down, simplifying flavors so that the freshness of the good stuff we bring home from the market shines through.

Last night was another of those meals. A couple halibut filets, seared in olive oil until golden, and served on top of a beet “carpaccio” – red and golden beets sliced as thinly as possible (and since my mandoline slicer has disappeared since our move, I did it the old fashioned way), steeped briefly in vinegar (champagne vinegar for the golden beets; sherry for the red), then layered on our plates. They got a sprinkling of lemon thyme, some thinly sliced purple scallions, Maldon salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of grassy olive oil before the fish went on top, and I finished the plates with a salad of baby mustard greens and picked flat-leaf parsley.

Dinner:  July 2, 2008

The flavors were fresh and vibrant, and dinner was ready in minutes, with minimal cleanup – leaving us more time to enjoy the warm evening. Isn’t that what summer cooking is all about?

swirly

Burnin’ love

fiery

I know that in these last weeks before our move I really have no business adding more items to our pantry, but I couldn’t help myself. I kept hearing and reading about harissa, and when I spotted this little jar at Formaggio Essex recently I had to pick it up. This North African chile paste is most commonly described as “fiery” and I’m telling you, that’s no joke. But the burn is the best kind of burn, sharp and complex, a welcome bit of kick when added to a dish or served alongside.

Dinner:  March 20, 2008

I had a beautiful piece of halibut that I wanted to cook for dinner last night, but none of my usual preparations were really sending me. I remembered that little jar of harissa and decided this would be a great time to put it to use. I put together a quick marinade for the fish, a combination of harissa, ground coriander, cumin and fenugreek, a bit of salt, fresh lemon juice and olive oil, which I poured over the halibut about half an hour before cooking it (I removed most of it before adding the fish to the pan so it wouldn’t burn). We had one Meyer lemon lingering in the citrus basket, so I chopped it up and combined it with some chopped sundried tomatoes and oil-cured olives, picked flat-leaf parsley (mint would have been great, too), salt and olive oil to make a quick relish to serve on top of the fish. I served it all on a bed of couscous and pine nuts, a nice neutral counterpoint to the zippy flavors of the fish and lemon-olive relish. Mike passed but I couldn’t resist adding a little more harissa to my plate, dabbing a bit of it on random forkfuls of my fish and couscous. It was lovely, and a welcome bit of heat on a blustery night.

My first date with harissa was such a roaring success that I couldn’t wait for our next encounter. My office is closed today and though I have plans to meet Mike in the city for lunch, a girl’s gotta have breakfast, right? Rye toast, a couple of fried eggs, and harissa, oh yes – my lips are still tingling. I think I’m in love.

(Happy Purim, Happy Easter, Happy weekend, everyone!)

Little Fish, Big Fish

Dinner:  January 28, 2008

We’ve been trying to get back into the habit of having seafood dinners a few times a week, both as a way to reduce our meat consumption and to increase our intake of the beneficial oils and fatty acids fish contain. Much as with our other sources of protein, I try to make the best choices possible when buying seafood, choosing types which are local when possible, which are sustainable, and which are low in toxins.

I love adding anchovies to sauces and I have come to love them on their own as well. This is a good thing since they’re not only tasty, but they fit my criteria for the type of fish we want to eat often. Halibut is another favorite, and the wild Alaskan halibut we buy via FreshDirect is Certified Sustainable – it’s far from local, but I can feel okay about buying it when we don’t have much available that is.

butter + olive oil

In looking for inspiration when planning our meals for the week, I turned again to Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and when I saw the recipe for winter vegetables with bagna cauda I immediately noted it in my little cooking planner. This meal was actually meant to be our Sunday supper this week, but as you know I neglected to thaw the halibut in time. We bumped it to Monday night, and let me tell you it was totally worth the wait. Since I had cut and blanched all of the vegetables Sunday night, this was ready in just minutes – perfect for a quick and satisfying weeknight meal.

batches

There are probably hundreds of recipes out there for bagna cauda; I used Suzanne Goin’s recipe for inspiration but tinkered around with my own proportions. While I think it could have used a bit more anchovy and garlic, it was so good Mike and I both finished our heaping helping of “bathed” veggies before either of us finished our halibut.

Bagna Cauda

1/3 cup good olive oil
5-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped anchovy filets
red chile flakes to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
kosher salt to taste

Melt the butter in the olive oil in a saucepan, stirring well. Add the anchovies and stir until they dissolve. Add the chile flakes, garlic, lemon zest and thyme and cook just a minute, until the garlic is fragrant and golden. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary.

This is traditionally served as a dip with blanched vegetables, but I tossed a mixture of raw endive and radicchio and blanched cauliflower, broccoli florets, radishes, carrots and fennel with small amount of the bagna cauda and spooned a bit more onto my sautéed halibut filets, finishing both with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Rain and Spain

Dinner:  October 24, 2007

I subscribe to Food and Wine magazine, and when the October issue arrived last month, I was delighted to see an article entitled “Spanish Food & Wine (A Crash Course).” I’ve been playing more and more with Spanish flavors, and I guess you could say I’ve developed a bit of a crush. A recipe for Galician Fish Stew sounded particularly appealing, so I decided to work it into our dinner rotation soon.

The unseasonably warm weather we’ve had these last couple of weeks has not been particularly stew-friendly, so I was hoping I would have to put the dish off for too long, but as it turned out, yesterday was the perfect day for it – cool and rainy, just the kind of night when you want to curl up with something warm and hearty.

I fiddled around with the proportions of the original recipe just a bit – since I had only purchased enough halibut for the two of us rather than the four fillets called for in the recipe, I decided to reduce the number of potatoes as well. I haven’t gotten around to making a fresh batch of fish stock yet so I substituted plain water, but I kept everything else pretty much the same, and in the end, we had a richly flavored, light yet filling dish. The aroma of the paprika-garlic oil alone makes this recipe a winner.

Galician Fish Stew
(Adapted from a recipe by Janet Mendel in the October 2007 issue of Food and Wine)

For the stew:
Two 4-6 ounce skinless halibut fillets
Kosher salt
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 cup water (you can substitute fish stock or clam juice)
1/2 cup white vermouth (or dry white wine)
2 bay leaves
1 medium red onion, peeled and quartered
3-4 cups coarsely chopped Swiss chard leaves

For the ajada:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Season the halibut with salt and refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, combine the potatoes, water or stock, vermouth or wine, bay leaves, onion, chard and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over low heat until golden. Add the paprika and red pepper off the heat, stirring well to incorporate, and set aside.

Lay the halibut on top of the potatoes and simmer, turning once, until the fish is just cooked through (6-8 minutes, depending on thickness). Remove the halibut to a plate, and spoon some of the stew into shallow bowls. Set the halibut on top. Ladle some of the broth into the garlic oil and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir well, pour it over the fish and serve.

Three-in-One

I’m in the midst of another busy time at the office. I worked Saturday and Sunday, so our weekend meals were pretty pared down. Mike cooked up a nice steak on Friday, but Saturday was so muggy the thought of cooking anything indoors went right out the window. I wanted something quick and light, so I decided on grilled halibut.

One of my favorite tricks to get a meal out quickly, particularly in hot weather, is to whisk up a batch of vinaigrette or dressing and use it in multiple ways. In this instance, I made my chile-lime dressing and used it to marinate the fish, as part of a mango salsa to go on top of the fish, and to dress an updated version of my quinoa and black bean salad. In just minutes I had the base for three different parts of our meal – and the rest came together in a snap.

Chile-Lime Dressing

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground smoked chipotle
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chile powder (Mike makes his own, but you can buy very good quality chile powders from Penzey’s or other vendors)
Juice of 4 limes
1/3 extra virgin olive oil

Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl and stir together until combined. Add lime juice and whisk well, then slowly whisk in oil until combined. (You can also combine the ingredients in a clean lidded jar and shake well to combine.) Refrigerate any unused dressing for up to 3 days.