What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been! With an old culinary school friend staying here for ten nights, plus another visitor to boot, for five of those ten, and then two more surprise guests who, with hardly a night in town on their haphazard cross-county trip, stayed not nearly long enough – well with all these extra bodies, our already cozy apartment was for a while downright snug. And our days were just as crowded as our little apartment, the hours packed full of neighborhood tours, downtown sight-seeing and eating all around the city, at all the best Chicago spots. Wanting to share with our friends our favorite foodie places, we hardly ate a bite at home the entire time. But on this one night, about half way through our crowded week, we snuck in a nice and homey dinner party.
Ratatouille is a summertime staple around here. This time of year, I make it every other week or so, usually as a vegetarian dinner, and serve it atop a bed of nutty brown rice, chewy quinoa or a spin on mashed potatoes kinda like the ones above. But on this night, I was in the mood for something a little more substantial, and decided to fishify our favorite summertime meal.
And so I added to the mix some lovely white fillets of halibut. Drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then roasted atop fresh sprigs of thyme and thin slices of lemon, this meaty yet wonderfully flaky fish was imbued with the delicate citrus and heady herb flavors. A simple preparation, subtle yet elegant, and delightfully delicious.
Although you could consider it a demotion, from a main course down to a side dish, I still think the ratatouille was the star of tonight’s meal. Thin spicy strips of sautéed onions, tender cubes of purple-skinned eggplant, sweet ribbons of sliced bell peppers, green-rimmed half moons of zucchini, seedy red cherry tomato hemispheres, a touch of garlic, a swig of extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of licoricey fennel seed, sprinkle of flowery thyme, dash or fresh oregano and shower of tender green basil. A perfect distillation of a late summer harvest. Like a vegetable garden in a bowl, all ready for the eating.
Another great dish worthy of more than its status as a simple side are these wonderful mashed potatoes. With their earthy specks of pretty red skins, creamy swirls of pale white goat cheese and silky slivers of spicy green onion, they’re absolutely, positively sensational. I just love them. And ah, I’m so glad I made lots of these lovely mashers, because along with some surplus ratatouille, they made for some pretty glorious left-overs throughout the next few busy days of houseguest hosting!
And now, finally, dessert. A new dessert, one I made for the first time this week. And one I know I’m going to make again and again in the future. This glazed pear and walnut cake was simply incredible, moist and sumptuous with a dense yet tender crumb. Crowning the top and dripping decadently down the sides, a buttery caramel sauce. And inside, gleaming gems of crystallized ginger, tiny pieces of cracked walnuts, a hint of warm cinnamon and tender, juicy slices of Bosc pear.
Wow oh wow, one bite and I was in dessert heaven. I’m so glad I decided to try this cake, and I definitely can’t wait to make it again. I think the next time someone invites us over for dinner, this will have to be that something I offer to bring!