-ROCK COD BAKED IN FIG LEAVES
-SAUTEED SPICY SQUID
GARDEN SALAD WITH PAIN AU LEVAIN CROUTONS
RASPBERRIES WITH ROSE-SCENTED CREAM
How do you compose a menu? This one started with a craving, for roasted potatoes with aioli. Right now—early summer—is the perfect time of year to satisfy such a craving. Garlic has just been harvested; the sharpness is fresh and true, the cloves delicate and juicy, all the better for pounding to a puree with a mortar and pestle for aioli. (By “aioli,” I mean nothing but the classic southern French garlic mayonnaise, freshly made with egg yolks, a smidgen of Dijon mustard, wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and lots of extra-virgin olive oil, flavored with pounded garlic.) New potatoes, thin-skinned and sweet, are emerging from the ground, too.
What else does aioli love, besides potatoes? I’ve dipped many things into aioli over the years; what satisfies the most? Beets, roasted to sweet tenderness, peeled, cut in wedges, and dressed with vinegar, salt, and young wild fennel. Green beans, simply blanched. Yes: right now in early summer, beets, usually thought of as a cool-weather crop, are still growing well, roadsides are lined with wild fennel, and green beans are in their first flush. Aioli loves fish and shellfish, too, so how about fish baked in fig leaves, and a little sautéed spicy squid?
And the lettuces are still sweet, containing the memory of all the spring rain, but not yet bolted from the summer heat…so let’s have a big green salad, too, while we still can, with good croutons.
How to conclude such an aromatic, sensual meal? With more aroma and sensuality, of course: the first raspberry crop (there is a second smaller one in early fall) is upon us, so why not point up the raspberry’s rose ancestry with a rose-scented panna cotta cream alongside fresh, lightly-sugared raspberries? There. So, that’s how you make a menu—pay attention to your cravings, and then see what’s there to satisfy it.
When cooking this menu, make the rose-scented cream first (assure your happy ending, I tell everyone). Wash, spin dry, and chill the lettuces. Wash and chill the radishes. Make the croutons, then turn up the oven and roast the beets, and blanch, cool, and drain the green beans. Cool, peel, slice, and dress the beets. Wash and cut the potatoes. Clean and slice the squid, assemble the fish in fig leaves, and finally make the aioli. About an hour before mealtime, remove the lettuce, radishes, and berries from the refrigerator—all these are better served at room temperature. Wash the berries, if necessary, drain well, and toss with a little sugar—the sugar will dissolve into the berries’ flavorful juice by the time they are served. Have the oven at 400 degrees, and roast the potatoes. After the potatoes come out, put in the fish—it only takes a few minutes. Saute the squid a few minutes before the meal. Arrange platters of potatoes, beets, green beans, radishes, fish, and squid, with bowls of aioli in the center. Very last thing: toss the salad. Instruct your guests to open their fish fig leaf first, place a little squid atop the fish, then vegetables all around, and finally, aioli generously drizzled over everything. Serve the salad on separate plates. For dessert, simply place a big spoonful of chilled cream alongside an equal amount of berries, and some of the berry juice, in shallow bowls.
(Many thanks to Dianne Faw for the marvelous photos in this post!)
SERVES 6 to 8
Early summer is the best time to make aioli, when the garlic is fresh, sweet, and sharp. If you are using garlic older than a couple of months after harvest, it may have a tough inner sprout, which tastes especially harsh and bitter, and should always be discarded for raw preparations such as aioli. Your olive oil should taste buttery and rich, not harsh and spicy. (This recipe may also be found on page 427 of The Commonsense Kitchen.)
2 large, fresh cloves garlic, halved and inner sprout removed, if necessary
½ teaspoon salt, plus more as necessary
3 organic egg yolks
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 cups (1 pint) extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup water
juice of ½ lemon, plus more as needed
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic to a smooth puree with a pinch of salt. Alternately, you can crush each half-clove to a puree using the back edge of your chef’s knife, as if you were chopping it. In the bowl of a stand mixer (you can also use electric beaters, or even a whisk, if your stamina will allow it), combine the garlic, salt, yolks, mustard, and vinegar. Blend this mixture on medium speed until uniform. Measure 1 cup of the olive oil into a vessel with a spout, so that a finely-controlled drizzle of oil can be achieved. Raise the speed of the mixer and begin to drizzle the olive oil into the egg mixture in a very thin stream. After the first cup of oil has been added in this manner, the mixture should appear lightened in color and slightly thick. Blend in ¼ cup of tap water, which will lighten and loosen the mixture. Then, reduce the speed of the mixer, and drizzle in the second cup of oil—it can be added a little faster this time. Finally, blend in the lemon juice. Taste the aioli—it may need more salt, or a little more lemon juice.
(Please see “Simple Roasted Potatoes” on page 247 of The Commonsense Kitchen for a complete recipe.)
Scrub a variety of smooth-skinned potatoes—red, white, yellow, pink, purple—under running water. Cut off any blemishes or green spots. Cut the potatoes into even wedges. Toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat the potatoes, and salt—about a teaspoon for every 1 ½ pounds of potatoes. Arrange the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until soft throughout and lightly browned around the edges. If you like, when the potatoes are just tender, you can toss them with a small amount of very finely chopped fresh rosemary, then return them to the oven for the last 5 minutes of roasting.
BEETS FOR AIOLI
(Please see “Marinated Beets” on page 281 of The Commonsense Kitchen for a complete recipe.)
If you have different colors of beets, cook and dress them separately, otherwise, they will all turn out red.
If the beets have greens, cut off the greens (leaving at least ½ inch of greens attached to the beets) and save the leaves to cook separately, like spinach or chard. Scrub the beets well under running water, and drain well. Put the beets into a baking dish in which they will fit in a single layer. Drizzle a little olive oil over the beets, and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Toss the beets to coat with olive oil and salt. Add enough water to the baking dish to just cover the bottom. Seal the dish very well with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for about an hour. Carefully lift a corner of the foil (beware of the steam that can build up inside the dish), and poke a beet with a small knife—if it offers no resistance, they are done. Depending on the beets’ size and freshness, they can take anywhere from 40 minutes to almost 2 hours to cook through.
When the beets are cooked, remove the foil and let cool in the baking dish. Using a small knife, cut the tops and bottoms off the beets, and slip off the skins (stubborn skin can be pared off with your knife). Cut the beets in wedges, and dress with a fair amount of red wine vinegar (start with a tablespoon for every pound of beets) and a little salt. For this aioli-based meal, I also added a small amount of finely chopped fresh wild fennel flowers—about ½ teaspoon for every pound of beets. Fennel is a wonderfully agreeable flavor with beets, as is (in the winter) orange. Serve the beets at room temperature.
SIMPLE BLANCHED GREEN BEANS
I don’t usually blanch vegetables, as I suspect it removes vitamins, minerals, and other good things, but for green beans, it remains an excellent method, especially when the beans are destined for rich aioli.
For a nice presentation, you can use both green beans and yellow wax beans. The flatter, larger romano beans are excellent, too, but as they generally take longer, they should be cooked separately.
Pinch the tops and tails off the green beans. Bring a large pot of water—enough to amply contain the green beans—to a rolling boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Salt the boiling water until it tastes lightly salty, and stir a little salt into the ice water, too. Throw the beans into the boiling water all at once, stirring them to distribute the heat. When the water comes back to a boil, taste a bean—when done, it should still be slightly crisp, but just tender. Depending on the size of the bean and how fresh it is, it could take from one to several minutes of boiling to reach the desired state of tenderness. When the beans are cooked, scoop them out with a skimmer and plunge them into the ice water. Drain the beans from the ice water as soon as they are cool. Serve the green beans at room temperature, but refrigerate if you’re not serving them right away.
FISH BAKED IN FIG LEAVES
Fig trees are readily found in temperate climes. Once you know how to identify them, you start seeing them everywhere. Harvesting a few leaves does not harm the tree. This excellent preparation I always fondly associate with Chez Panisse. For the class, I used local California rock cod, and fig leaves from the tree in my back yard. Fresh halibut is wonderful baked in fig leaves, as is wild salmon.
Cut 4- or 5-ounce pieces of fish. Wash the fig leaves, and pat dry. Cut the stems off the fig leaves. Lightly brush both the fish and the darker, glossier side of the fig leaves with olive oil. Salt the fish, and lightly salt the oiled side of the fig leaf, too. Place a portion of fish bottom-center on the oiled side of a fig leaf. Fold the flaps of the leaf over the fish. Invert onto a baking sheet to keep the flaps in place. Keep the packages at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Repeat until you have seasoned and wrapped all the fish. The wrapped fish may stand at room temperature for up to a half-hour until you are ready to bake.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the fish until it is opaque throughout and flakes easily—it’s best to check a piece rather than rely on timing—thin pieces of fish can take as little as 6 to 7 minutes. The fig leaves will release a unique, coconut-like perfume into the fish and into the air. Remove the fish from the oven as soon as it’s done, and remove the packets to a platter. The fig leaves are not edible—they keep the fish juicy, and lend their perfume.
SAUTEED SPICY SQUID
Squid populations are abundant in our waters, and squid is inexpensive, nutritious, and delicious when briefly sautéed. Start with small, fresh squid, the bodies measuring anywhere from 3 to 8 inches. Hold a squid by the body, letting the tentacles hang free. Lay the squid on your cutting board, and cut off the ring of tentacles just below the eyes—the tentacles should stay in one piece. Grasp around the eyes, and pull out everything remaining from the cone-shaped body. Using your knife, squeeze out any remaining insides from the body, like crimping a tube of toothpaste. Using a finger, catch hold of the clear, plastic-like “quill” that runs the length of the inside of the body, and pull it out. Cut the body into bite-sized rings. Set tentacles and bodies together into a bowl, and discard everything else. Marinate the squid with a few pinches of hot red pepper flakes and a good drizzle of olive oil. If excess liquid accumulates around the squid, drain it off before cooking.
Get a big skillet very hot over a high flame. The skillet should be able to accommodate all the cleaned squid in a single layer without crowding. Add a bit of olive oil to the skillet, and swirl it around in the pan—the oil should begin to smoke. Add the squid all at once, spreading it out in the pan. Let the squid cook, undisturbed, for at least 30 seconds. After this initial sear, toss the squid around in the pan for 10 to 15 more seconds, just until all the pieces have turned opaque. Transfer the squid to a bowl, and lightly salt to taste. Serve immediately.
LEVAIN BREAD CROUTONS FOR GREEN SALAD
First, about the salad: Many varieties of salad greens are available in all but the hottest seasons. Choose a blend of sweet lettuces, such as butter lettuce or romaine, and bolder-flavored varieties, such as arugula or chicory. For the class, I used 2 large bags of baby arugula, a couple of heads of butter lettuce, and about 4 small heads of red oak leaf and lollo rossa—heirloom sweet lettuce varieties. I also included a fennel bulb, shaved thinly, and a bunch of finely chopped chives (from the garden of one of the students!). For further information on green salads, please refer to pages 269 to 272 in The Commonsense Kitchen.
Wash the greens, spin dry, and cut or tear into bite-sized pieces. Dress the salad simply, with enough good olive oil to very lightly coat the greens, just enough red wine vinegar to sharpen and enliven their flavor, and just enough salt to bring everything together (taste a leaf of lettuce with each of these steps). Twist pepper over the salad, too. Toss well. Toss the croutons in with the salad, letting the croutons absorb some of the dressing. Serve immediately.
Now, for the croutons: Take a day-old loaf of levain bread. This is a sourdough-type artisan bread, made with a blend of whole wheat and white flour, with a very chewy, tangy crumb and an extraordinary flavor. The starter for this bread derives from grapes, a good source of wild yeast. Acme, a bread bakery based in Berkeley, makes a renowned levain that has been compared to that of the famous Poilane bakery in France. Cut the crusts off with a serrated knife, and tear the bread into uniformly small pieces. Scatter the pieces onto a baking sheet, and have the oven at 325 degrees. Drizzle the bread with a little olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt, tossing well to distribute the oil and salt. Bake for 7 minutes, then remove the sheet from the oven and toss the croutons around on the sheet, to promote their cooking evenly. Return to the oven and continue baking, checking, and tossing at 5-minute intervals, until the croutons are golden brown and crispy. Drizzle a little more oil over the croutons—good extra-virgin olive oil is best here. Lightly pepper the croutons, and add more salt, too, if they need it. Croutons are best the day they’re made.
SERVES 4 TO 6
Raspberries and blackberries are botanically related to roses, and the flavors make a natural pairing. This cream, similar to panna cotta, with a lovely, faint hint of rose, is meant to be served alongside lightly sugared raspberries or blackberries--I like equal volumes of cream and berries, and a spoonful of the berries' juice.
For the original recipe (flavored not with rosewater but with almond, vanilla, and lemon extracts, and excellent with peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and other stone fruit), please refer to “Almond Cream” on page 516 of The Commonsense Kitchen.
1 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin (not a full envelope)
3 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
1 teaspoon rosewater
Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl—the gelatin will absorb the water. Pour the heavy cream into a saucepan, and add the sugar. Place over medium heat, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved: when you tilt the pan, you should not see any granules of sugar. When the sugar is dissolved and the cream is hot, stir in the gelatin mixture. Using a wire whisk, whisk the mixture well to dissolve the gelatin completely: when you tilt the pan, you should not see any granules of gelatin. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then whisk in the yogurt, and finally add the rosewater. If you would like the cream to set quickly, pour it into a shallow pan. If you have several hours before you will serve the cream, pour it into a bowl. Chill thoroughly, and serve chilled.