Monday, July 19, 2010

Just Us Two

Originally, the dinner party plan for this weekend involved the two of us, two of our friends, and four giant bowls of Bouillabaisse.  But then, at more or less the last minute, something unexpected came up for our friends, and we found out they wouldn’t be able to make it.  I made a few quick calls, but unfortunately everyone was either already busy, or not a fan of fish.  And here I was, with a refrigerator full of shrimp, scallops, halibut, mussels and clams. 

I consulted with Ben.  Did he think it would still count as a dinner party, even if we were the only two ‘guests’?   He jumped at the idea.  Yes, he thought, it would totally count.  I thought so too, and relished the idea of a laid back feast for just the two of us.  Fun as it would have been with our friends, it was so nice cooking a special meal for just my husband, and so nice too, having the entire weekend all to ourselves.  

Honeydew Salad with Fresh Herbs & Watercress
Bouillabaisse with Toasted French Bread & Rouille
Peach & Plum Popsicles

We started with a beautiful summer salad.  Lush, pale green slices of sweet, ripe honeydew, arranged over a bed of deep jade watercress.  Delicately dressed in an aromatic vinaigrette of lime, garlic, jalapeno, ginger and herbs, the melon was speckled with a fine confetti of fresh chopped mint, cilantro and basil.  A graceful pair, the bitter greens and sweet honeydew acted as a harmonious background to the sharp, bright hits of the fragrant sauce.  I simply loved this salad.  It’s a beautiful preparation of honeydew melon, a stunning fruit in and of itself.  Simply glorious all on it’s own, this fruit’s natural goodness is magnified by this simple preparation.  A wonderful first course for any meal – breakfast, lunch or dinner – this salad is a delicious and gorgeous example of the absolute best of summer’s bounty.



What can I say about the Bouillabaisse, that magnificent fish stew of Provencal France?  All I can say is that I will forever be amazed by the beauty of its subtle flavors.  Bouillabaisse is a masterpiece, a grand and brilliant mosaic of flavors – saffron, orange, fennel, garlic and tomato.  These beautiful aromas swirl together in the rich seafood broth, imbuing the fish and shellfish with their incredible essence.  And the seafood itself is just as splendid as the wonderful broth.  Fish and seafood of all kinds imaginable.  In our bouillabaisse - pure white fillets of halibut, plump scallops of the palest pink, huge and sweet freshwater shrimp, briny littleneck clams and dark, wide-shelled mussels.  We were in heaven, slurping the delicious broth, savoring its goodness, while trying to chose what bite to take next.  As a classic accompaniment to bouillabaisse, I served toasted French bread spread with rouille, a rich and garlicky sauce of roasted peppers, tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil.  Dunked into the broth, the bread soaked up the incredible flavors, the sauce swirling into the mix, adding is own beautiful charm.  What can I say about Bouillabaisse?  All I can say is ‘Mmmmmm’.

Clams & Mussels 
Marinating Halibut, Scallops & Shrimp 
For dessert, something chilly.  Homemade peach and plum popsicles, a whimsical end to grand summer meal.  These fun, tasty treats are all too easy to whip up.  Just a simple concoction of pureed stone fruits,  sugar syrup and a squeeze of lemon.  The hardest part is waiting for the popsicles to freeze!  But let me tell you,  they’re worth the wait.  These fruity, icy treats are just about as good as it gets, this time of year.  As the sun beats down and the temperature continues to climb,  little seems more satisfying than these ice cold pops of fresh, ripe fruit. We’ve been snacking on these guys all weekend.  In fact, it’s just about time to make another batch.  And I’ve got a bowlful of beautifully ripe pluots here, just begging to be  popsicleized!

Peaches Peaches & Plums

Honeydew Salad with Fresh Herbs & Watercress
Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison
Serves 4
Honeydew Salad with Herbs & Watercress   
1/4 cup finely diced shallot
zest from 1 lime
juice from 2 limes
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
2 Tbl finely chopped mint
1/2 small jalapeño, finely diced
1/2 tsp finely minced fresh ginger
1/4 tsp finely minced garlic
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 small (1 1/2 – 2 #) honeydew or other green melon
1 large bunch watercress, washed and dried
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk to combine the shallot, lime zest, lime juice, cilantro, basil mint, jalapeño, ginger, garlic and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and whisk to combine.
Peel the melon.  Slice in half and scoop out the seeds.  Slice the melon into wedges.  Pour the vinaigrette over the sliced melon, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat.   Arrange the watercress over a serving platter or small salad plates.  Arrange the sliced melons in the center of the bed of greens.  Serve immediately.
Bouillabaisse with Toasted French Bread & Rouille
Adapted from Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, by Alice Waters
Serves 4
Prep the fish & shellfish:
2 # boneless, skinless halibut filets
12 medium-sized scallops
12 very large shrimp
12 littleneck clams (plus 6 more for the fish stock)
12 mussels (plus 6 more for the fish stock)
Slice the halibut into even-sized pieces, about 2 inches long by 1 inch wide, making sure to keep them all about the same size so they cook evenly.  Refrigerate.
Remove the abductor mussel (that little flap on the side) from the scallops.  Refrigerate.
Peel the shrimp, removing the hard outer shells, but leaving the tail intact.  Reserve the shells for the fish stock.  De-vein the shrimp (i.e. remove the intestinal tract).  Use a paring knife to make a shallow slice along the center of the outer edge of the shrimp.  This will expose the dark grey ‘vein’, running along the length of the shrimp.  Scrape it out with the knife.  Refrigerate.
Scrub the clams, and scrub and de-beard (pull off the raggedy brown stringy ‘beard’).  Soak the clams and mussels in separate containers of cold, salted water for 30 minutes.  Drain, rinse and refrigerate. 
Clams, Mussels, Halibut, Scallops & Shrimp
Marinate the halibut, scallops & shrimp:
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tbl Pernod
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs tarragon
3 sprigs parsley
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half
pinch saffron
Whisk to combine the olive oil, wine and Pernod.  Place the sliced halibut, scallops and shrimp in a large bowl, along with thyme, tarragon, parsley, garlic and saffron.  Pour the marinade over everything, and toss very gently to combine.  Cover and refrigerate. 
Marinating Halibut, Scallops & Shrimp
Make the fish stock:
about 4 # fish bones (from any white-fleshed fish such as cod, bass or halibut)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
the reserved shrimp shells
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small leek, roughly chopped and thoroughly washed
1 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
6 mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
6 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs tarragon
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 tsp crushed black peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 cup dry white wine
6 mussels
6 clams
peel of 1 small orange
1 Tbl Pernod
pinch saffron
pinch cayenne
kosher salt, to taste
Thoroughly rinse the fish bones.  Make sure the gills have been removed and that there are no bloody parts.  Chop the bones into large chunks, small enough so that they will fit easily into a 12-quart stock pot. 
Heat the olive oil in the stock pot over medium heat.  Add the fish bones, shrimp shells, carrot, leek, onion, tomato, mushrooms and garlic.  Gently sauté the bones, shells and vegetables for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. 
Combine the parsley, tarragon, thyme, fennel seeds, bay leaf, peppercorns and coriander seeds in a small satchel made from a square of cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine.  Add this satchel to the stock pot along with the wine, mussels, clams, orange peel, Pernod, saffron and cayenne.  Add enough water to just cover the bones and vegetables.  Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, skimming frequently and discarding the froth that collects on the surface.  Allow the stock to rest off the heat for 15 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.  If you’re making the stock in advance, allow it to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. 
Vegetables for Fish Stock
Make the rouille:
1 small red bell pepper
1 small ripe tomato
1 slice good-quality white bread, crusts removed
2 Tbl fish stock
2 egg yolks
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
pinch saffron
pinch cayenne
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Roast and peel the pepper & tomato: Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Place the pepper and tomato on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, turning every 5-7 minutes, until the skin is loose and blistery.  Remove from the oven and place the pepper in a container,
covered with a lid or with plastic wrap.  Allow it to set for about 15 minutes.  The tomato does not need to be kept in a container – Allow it to cool on the countertop.  Remove the pepper from the container.  Slice in half, length-wise, and then into quarters, lengthwise again.  Remove the stems, seeds, and any tough, pithy membranes inside.  Using a knife, scrape off the charred skin.  Peel the skin from the tomato, slice it into quarters, lengthwise, then squeeze out the seeds.  Discard the seeds, core and stems.  Place the roasted pepper and tomato flesh in the bowl of a food processor, and puree 1 minute.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, soak the slice of bread in the fish stock until it is very soft.  Add the egg yolks, minced garlic, saffron and cayenne.  Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Whisk until the mixture is well combined and slightly foamy.  Slowly add the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, just a few drops at at time, constantly beating with the whisk, until all the oil is incorporated and the mixture is thick and smooth, the consistency of mayonnaise.  Add the pureed pepper-tomato mixture to the oil mixture and stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Reserve.
Make the broth:
2 large ripe tomatoes
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white part only, finely chopped and thoroughly washed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 bay leaf
pinch saffron
the previously made fish stock
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbl Pernod
1 sprig tarragon
1 sprig parsley
peel of 1/2 small orange
2 Tbl finely chopped parsley, for garnish
8 small basil leaves, for garnish
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Peel and seed the tomatoes:  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Meanwhile, score a small ‘x’ in the skin on the bottom of each tomato, making sure not to cut too deep.  When the water comes to the boil, lower the tomatoes into the water.  As soon as the skin begins to peel back, after about 30 seconds, remove the tomatoes from the water.  Allow the tomatoes to cool slightly, then peel off the skins. Slice the tomatoes in quarters, lengthwise, then cut out the cores and squeeze out the seeds.  Finely chop the tomatoes.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the chopped leek and onion, and sauté, stirring occasionally until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the minced garlic, bay leaf and saffron, and continue to sauté about 2 minutes more, stirring frequently. Add the fish stock, wine, Pernod, tarragon, parsley and orange peel.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.   
Onions, Leeks, Saffron & Bay Leaf
Toast the French bread:
1 French baguette
about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced in half
Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Slice the baguette on the diagonal into sixteen 3/4-inch wide slices.  Brush the top of each slice with olive oil, and arrange on a parchment-line baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, crisp on the surface but still soft in the middle, about 10 minutes.  Rub the tops with the garlic while the bread is still warm.
Finish the bouillabaisse:
Add the clams and mussels to the hot broth.  Cover, and steam until they begin to open, about 2-3 minutes.  As the shellfish open, remove them from the broth with tongs, and place them in a bowl on the side, covered to keep in the heat.  Gently place the halibut in the broth.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the fish is just cooked through.  (Do not stir the broth or you will break-up the fish.)  When the fish is cooked though, lift the pieces from the broth with a metal spatula and keep them warm in a covered bowl.  Repeat this process with the scallops and the shrimp, gently simmering both in the broth until just cooked.
Arrange the 2-3 pieces of halibut and 3 scallops over the bases of four over-sized serving bowls.  Arrange 3 shrimp over the halibut and scallops, in the center of the bowl.  Place 3 mussels and 3 clams around the inside perimeter of each bowl.  Spoon about 1 1/2 cups hot broth over each bowl of fish and shellfish.  Garnish each bowl with whole basil leaves and a sprinkling of parsley.  Spread a small amount of rouille over the toasted bread and serve with the bouillabaisse.  Serve more rouille and toasted bread on the side.
Boullabaisse with Toasted Bread & Rouille


Peach & Plum Popsicles
Makes 6 popsicles
Peach & Plum Popsicles 
1 # ripe peaches or 1 # ripe plums (or 1 # of most any fruit for that matter)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 Tbl corn syrup
1 Tbl lemon juice
Wash the fruit under cool running water, then pat dry with paper towels.  Slice the fruit into large chunks, discarding the pits and stems.  Place the sliced fruit in the bowl of a food processor.  Puree until liquefied, about 1 minutes, scraping down the sides of the container with a rubber spatula as needed. 
In a small saucepot, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup.  Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. 
Add the sugar mixture and the lemon juice to the pureed fruit in the food processor bowl.  Process until combined.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids. 
Pour the strained juice into six popsicle molds.  (If you don’t have the fancy molds, just use plastic Dixie cups.  These turn out pretty cute too.)  Freeze until solid, about four hours.  To facilitate removal of the popsicles from the molds, place the mold into a bowl of hot water for about 10 seconds or so, then slide the popsicles from the mold.

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