Monday, August 19, 2013

easy does it

The other weekend, I somehow managed to make one of the best dinners I've made in awhile. If I sound a little bewildered it's because I didn't really do much at all. That's the brilliant thing about late-summer cooking. All this wonderful stuff is right there for the taking, all you have to do is bring it home (and uh, $hell out for it at the farmer's market), dress it up a little bit and let the compliments roll in. Seriously, the less you do, the better.

Here's what you do:

Take some bell peppers—the tinier the better—and roast them in a 350 degree oven until they are soft, about 20 minutes. Then stuff them with feta cheese and top with a generous spoonful breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil, chopped fresh herbs and a little salt. Pop back into the oven for 15 minutes or so, until the crumbs are golden on top. Thank you, David Tanis for the inspiration.
Now, take a piece of fish—any kind you like—I was in the mood for something meaty, so I picked up some thick swordfish steaks. Season your fish with salt and pepper, and cook in a neutral oil (canola, vegetable) for a few minutes on each side, depending on how thick the fish is. You could also do this on a grill, of course. When the fish is cooked through, give it a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Plate it up with some tangy, verdant salsa verde (recipe below) and some boiled potatoes, if you're in need of a carb. A bed of couscous would be nice too.
 And if you need a snack before dinner, grab some fat green olives (I like Cerignolas because they almost sound like my last name), give them a rinse, pour them into an oven-safe dish then bake in a 350 degree oven with a splash of gin (yes!), a healthy glug of olive oil and whatever aromatics you like: I used fat strips of lemon peel, thinly sliced garlic cloves, a few sprigs of thyme and oregano and some red pepper flakes. Bake for 30 minutes or until everything smells so good, you can't stand it. Pull the dish out of the oven and top with some cubes of feta. Heidi Swanson, you're a genius.

The one miss on my menu was a mixed cucumber salad from the Franny's cookbook. Franny's is one of my all-time favorite restaurants but the recipes from this cookbook don't always translate at home. I had to track down three different kinds of cucumbers (although the authors of the cookbook suggest even more), peel and seed them, cure them in salt and sugar to add flavor and draw out the moisture, then toss them in a vinaigrette dressing with some herbs. Not much work, really, but it sure felt like it. And it didn't have the same pay-off in terms of flavor. Some tomatoes with pesto or a salad of shaved raw zucchini in the same vinaigrette would have been easier and less fussy.
For dessert, a bold move: some fruit on a plate. Peaches, apricots and blueberries. That's it. When fruit is good, why bother doing anything with it? Be lazy!

My new mantra these days is "It doesn't matter." Not that I go around not caring about anyone or anything, but whenever I find myself going numb with anxiety, or obsessing over this or that, I repeat that phrase to myself and almost instantly (sometimes I have to repeat it a few times), the thing becomes as trivial or unimportant as it really is. Most of the thoughts running through my mind do not matter in the big picture of my life, and it feels freeing to release them like balloons.
Sorry to get heavy on you here—we were just talking about cucumbers, you say!—but taking a less-is-more approach to feeding people feels just as good. It's tempting to overdo it, to overthink it, but that doesn't usually make the food taste any better. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.

Healthyish summer supper
Baked gin-marinated olives with feta
Swordfish with new potatoes and salsa verde
Cucumber salad with herbs
Feta-stuffed peppers
Peaches, apricots and blueberries

Franny's salsa verde
I would describe this luscious green sauce as zingy. A little bit on your plate goes a long way, but you can put it on pretty much any protein or vegetable, so it's easy to get carried away. The original recipe calls for lovage, but if you can't track it down (I couldn't), just use extra parsley and mint. I also added a bit of lemon juice and adjusted the recipe to be made in a food processor. If you like, you could also chop everything finely and combine it in a bowl.

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup mint
1/2 cup lovage (or more mint and parsley)
4 tsp. drained capers
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine the herbs, capers and garlic in a food processor and blend until it's a pesto-like consistency. Pour into a small bowl and add the salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice and stir until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. The sauce can be stored in the fridge for 24 hours; serve at room temperature.

1 comment:

Martha said...

I was there and I can testify: it was delicious! So much so that I feel I should probably apologize for my, shall we say, "over enthusiastic" consumption of the green sauce....


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