HOT SUMMER DINNER PARTY
2010 and what a hot summer we are having. Everyone is in meltdown, especially chefs in their hot kitchens. I did a dinner party buffet this weekend and had to change my clothes three times as they were soaked. I was so hot that my skin tingled. Everyone on my clients guest list showed up - maybe 25 people. Here is the menu and details to follow:
HOME-MADE MAYONNAISE WITH CHOPPED CAPERS & CORNICHONS
FREGOLA, WHITE BEAN AND SHRIMP SALAD
MEXICAN CHICKEN SALAD
THAI BEEF SALAD
GRILLED VEGETABLES: Eggplant, Zucchini, Patty Pan Squash, Corn
SUMMER BERRY PUDDING
I don't know if that sounds like a lot to you but for one person to make, with no sous chef, it took a few days. Every dish had details, details. Recipes follow. Oh, photos? Once again, too much to do to think about the photos. All the salads were served in very large oval white bowls. The grilled vegetables and ribs were served in platters that were long with both sides coming to a sharp point. If I can think of what that shape is called, I'll let you know.
FREGOLA, WHITE BEAN AND SHRIMP SALAD
1 package dried cannellini beans
1/2 lb. fregola*
2 lbs. shrimp, heads on
1 lb. large shrimp, with shells
2-3 florentine fennel bulbs
1 jar pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon red peppercorns, toasted
1 cup chopped parsley
Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 cup, sherry vinegar and balsamic vinegar combined
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Make the dressing in a jar. Add the vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper and shake or whisk well, then add the oil. Shake or whisk well. Set aside.
*Fregola is a Sardinian pasta with saffron and cooks into small, about 1/4-inch, balls. They are a little bit expensive and will run you about $7-9 per pound. I cook them in a tasty shrimp broth. They add an interesting texture and taste.
For the beans there are some additional ingredients, follow along. Wash the beans in cold water, removing any bad ones or stones. Cover with water by about 3 inches and bring to a boil. Once the beans boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for about one hour. Drain and add more water plus some aromatic ingredients like: rosemary, onion, carrots, bay leaves, garlic, all roughly cut. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 45 minutes or until done. Don't let them cook to the point that the skins are breaking. Taste occasionally for doneness. Drain and cool. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
Peel the shrimp and slice them down the back, removing any black matter, until almost cut through. Cutting them this way will make the shrimp curl up nicely. Put the shells into a separate saucepan. You are going to poach the shrimp in one pot and make a shrimp broth in another pot. You will use the shrimp broth to cook the fregola. To about a gallon of water, add a slice or two of lemon and about two dashes of Old Bay seasoning. Bring to a boil and add the raw shrimp. Cook for about 5 minutes. Place into an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking. Refrigerate.
To the shrimp shells in the other saucepan add some cut up onion, 2 carrots, 1 tomato, and some parsley or parsley stems, a few peppercorn, about 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning. Bring to a boil and simmer about 25 minutes. Drain the broth through a colander; squeeze to get the juices out. Discard the ingredients and keep the broth. Add the fregola to the simmering broth. If there is not about one gallon of broth, add some more water. The fregola absorb a lot of liquid when they cook. They will take longer than you think to cook - maybe 30 minutes - just keep tasting them until they are al dente. Then drain and cool.
Clean the fronds and outer tough leaves off the fennel. I purchased the fennel at the farmers' market and those are different than the round ones you can get in a supermarket. You can use either but if you can find the Florentine fennels that are more flat, definitely get some. I only used about 2 or 3. If purchasing a large fennel or anise from the supermarket just get one. After cleaning, slice from the top to the core in very thin slices. Then saute them in a bit of olive oil until they get some color. Remove and cut into small pieces.
Everything in this recipe is cut about the size of the beans. Cut the shrimp into about 3 or 4 pieces. To assemble: combine the fregola, beans, shrimp, fennel, parsley and olives. Toss with your clean hands. Toss in the fennel seeds and red peppercorns, if using. Then add some dressing. Add the dressing in small increments because you don't want to drown the ingredients, though the beans will absorb a lot of the liquid. Keep adding dressing and tasting until it tastes close to what you like. Add more salt or pepper, to taste. Then chill and let the flavors combine. Put all into a serving bowl and sprinkle some chopped parsley on top. Chopping some of the fennel fronds would be nice too. Up to you. This is a very nice salad. You can eliminate the shrimp altogether for a vegetarian version. Then you would cook the fregola in a tasty vegetable broth.
MEXICAN-STYLE CHOPPED SALAD [WITH CHICKEN OR NOT]
3 bell peppers of any color, red, green, yellow, orange, roasted, peeled, deseeded & diced
2-3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded & diced - or just diced - up to you
2 avocados, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small jicama, peeled & diced
3 tomatillos, flame roasted, paper removed, diced
2 corn cobs, roasted & kernels removed
1 iceberg and/or romaine lettuce, chopped
4 skinless chicken breasts
6 corn tortillas
1 cup cilantro, plus more for garnish
5-6 limes, juiced
1-2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, with or without seeds, minced
Mexican oregano, if available, or other kind
salt and pepper
Clean and marinate the chicken breasts.Butterfly some of the thick pieces so that there is an overall equal thickness in all the breasts. You can also cut them in half to make same-sized pieces.
Marinade: lime juice, canola oil, minced garlic, minced jalapeno, oregano, salt.
Place all the ingredients in a blender and buzz.
Place the chicken into a plastic bag and pour the marinade over. Squish around until the chicken is covered. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 4 hours. When ready to cook, remove from refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Then light up your grill and grill the chicken over a low heat until done. Place into a container to rest about 10 minutes. I made the chicken the day before and refrigerated it. I diced the chicken first. The marinade, after being in the blender, gets thick and looks like a pale green yogurt. It coats the chicken nicely and I didn't bother scraping it off before grilling.
Take the corn tortillas and cut them into 1/4 inch strips about 2 inches long. Pour some canola oil into a frying pan - about 2 inches - and fry the tortilla strips until lightly colored. Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt and some smoky paprika, if you have any. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
All the other ingredients should be diced and ready to assemble. Into a large salad bowl add the peppers, tomatoes, avocados, red onion, jicama , tomatillos, corn kernels. Add the chopped lettuces, and the chicken. Now here is the dressing:
Into a blender put: 1 cup chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 1/4 cup lime juice or lime/orange juice mixed, 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano, 3/4 cup canola oil or a combination of canola and olive oil, salt and pepper. Buzz until combined.
Just before ready to serve, mix some of the dressing into the salad. Don't pour the entire amount of dressing over the salad. Pour some dressing, then mix it in and taste it. Add more to taste. Add some more salt and pepper, perhaps. You can also marinate the salad ingredients in the dressing (before adding the lettuce) for about 15 minutes which gives the flavors a chance to blend. Just don't drown them in dressing; a light coating is best. Then add the lettuces and toss well. Be careful with the avocado as it tends to mush, so toss lightly with your hands.
Garnish the top with the fried tortilla strips and some cilantro leaves.
I know that I have not put quantities for some of the ingredients. It's not like you have never made a salad before, just use your previous knowledge and judgment. This is a really good salad but it doesn't like to sit around too long.
THAI BEEF SALAD
Skirt steak, or flank steak
1 bunch Mint, torn leaves, or to taste
1 cup Cilantro torn leaves, or to taste
1/2 cup Basil, or Thai Basil, leaves torn, or to taste
1/4 -1/2 cup minced red onion or scallions
2 Cucumbers, preferably Persian or Kirby, peeled, seeded, diced
3 Tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced
1/2 pound, Snow peas, blanched, sliced in half diagonally, optional
1/2 can hearts of palm, rinsed and sliced thin, optional
1 Thai chili or long red chili, minced
1 cup lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons sugar, or less
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Whisk all the ingredients together, then taste. It should taste a little bit strong but not a lot. Once you pour some on the salad the taste will mellow. This makes a lot of dressing and you will not use it all. Put the remainder into a glass jar and refrigerate.
Rub a little bit of oil on the the skirt steak and grill it in the usual way, preferably with a charcoal grill. You can also use an indoor grill pan. It's all good. Grill to the degree you like, preferably a bit pink. Remove and let sit on a plate about 10 minutes. When ready to serve, slice the steak in thin slices on an angle. Toss with some of the dressing, adding the juices that have accumulated in the plate..
Into a large salad bowl put the salad greens, mint, cilantro, basil, red onion, cucumber, tomato, hearts of palm, snow peas, and toss with some of the dressing. Do not drown in dressing. Toss with your hands. This takes quite a bit of salad greens. Place the steak on top of the salad and serve.
So that is three salads to play around with this summer! If you want the recipe for the Summer Berry Pudding, and who wouldn't? You can ask.