Much of what inspired my cooking this week came from our trip to the Queens Park Farmers’ Market, held in the large courtyard of the local primary school. It’s an easy 20 minute walk from our apartment, back to the neighborhood where my dear husband lived when we first were reunited. Finally, there’s more than potatoes and apples and carrots to choose from! We came across wild garlic and lettuces and squash blossoms and new leeks – the countryside is blooming. One of my favorite discoveries required no cooking at all – the lovely small cakes of A Little French Tart tasted as good as they looked and we snapped up a couple to bring home for tea time. Here is more of what I actually cooked.
My darling husband loves tuna steak. Anytime we walk near a fishmonger he peers in to see what their tuna looks like. Fresh enough for him? So while in Chelsea we stopped to get some halibut and he just couldn’t resist picking up a couple of meaty chunks of tuna as well. When I think of tuna my mind always travels back to a cooking demo I saw at the French Culinary Institute before I was a student. Tyler Florence (yes, him again) demonstrated to the gathered culinary enthusiasts (mostly women who gave him a rock star’s welcome) how to make a simple tuna dish out of his new cookbook, Eat This Book. We all got a small taste of his dish and it was so delicious and so simple and so healthy that it’s my go-to when a tuna steak gets deposited on my counter by my hungry husband. The key to the dish’s success is the ginger soy vinaigrette that you add to the fish when it’s almost done cooking – it’s so good that you’ll be finding ways to add it to almost everything you prepare.
1 large bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
1 green chilli, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated on your microplane
1 large garlic clove, grated on your microplane
Juice of 4 limes
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
For the fish dish: 2 large tuna steaks (take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to cook) and 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed.
Mix all of the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl and allow to sit for an hour to let the flavors come together. Now take your tuna steaks that have been well seasoned with salt and pepper and brushed with a little bit of olive oil and sear them on a VERY hot grill pan (skillet would be ok too). Only cook for about one minute per side. Just before you’re finished cooking on the second side pour a bit of the ginger soy vinaigrette over the top and let it bubble around the fish. Remove the fish from the pan, put the avocado on top of it and drizzle the vinaigrette over everything.
At the market we came across a stall selling beautiful raviolis. I love ravioli and if you make them with love and care and some unconventional ingredients, as these obviously had been, you’re going to get a sale. I was immediately drawn to the beetroot ravioli while my husband wanted to try the walnut and gorgonzola. I wasn’t exactly certain what I was going to do with them, but the cheerful Italian man selling them suggested we make a radicchio and butter sauce for the walnut and gorgonzola, this would add a lovely bitter quality that would stand up to the strong cheese. Hubby hates bitter greens so he asked to be left in charge of his own raviolis (but next time I’m definitely going to try that combo). For my little beet pillows, I ended up being inspired by an ice cream I’ve made several times: beet, poppyseed, orange and marscarpone. While the water for my raviolis was coming to a boil I sauteed some minced garlic in a little butter, added creme fraiche (because that’s what I had on hand) and let that melt in the pan, then added poppyseeds and orange zest. It was a terrific quick meal and just goes to show, you never know where your inspiration will come from.
The chicken stock I made this week was particularly rich and flavorsome. I attributed this to the wonderful chicken we got at the market, but whatever the cause I wanted to make something worthwhile with the lovely broth. My yearning for soups is fading a bit as the weather turns warmer, but they’re such a lovely staple to have in the fridge for those times when I want something nourishing. This week I decided to play with the yellow split peas that are sitting in my pantry and do something heady with the aromas of the Indian Subcontinent. It’s easy: soak about one cup of yellow split peas in cold water, overnight. In a large stockpot sautee one large chopped onion in some olive oil. Once this is softened add a large clove of garlic, 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds, one teaspoon of ground coriander and allow to cook for a couple of minutes more. Drain the split peas and put them in the pot along with 2 peeled and roughly chopped parsnips Allow these to cook in a quart of your chicken stock for about an hour and then puree with your stick blender. It was a triumph!
My kitchen is not always as organized as I want it to be nor am I always inclined to be popping up to the shops on the high street to pick up this or that to make the perfect dinner. For nights like these, when I’m feeling a little less than enthusiastic about preparing anything for myself (and because the takeaway/delivery here is really pretty bad), I keep a few things on hand in my pantry. One staple for me is a can of salmon. This is a dish I remember my mom making when we were growing up in Moscow and getting your hands on fresh fish was nearly impossible. I believe her recipe originally came from the Joy of Cooking and mine is a very close approximation. I still even serve them with the same sides: egg noodles (spinach noodles if I can find them) and green beans. To me it’s comfort food and couldn’t be easier to make.
1 can of salmon (carefully removing the bones and skin from the flesh)
1/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs (I use Progresso which is also always on hand in the cupboard)
1 large egg, beaten
a dash of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill (I have used dried if need be)
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper
butter and lemon wedges
Flake the salmon and add the breadcrumbs, egg, and seasoning. Form the mixture into equal size patties and allow to firm up in the fridge for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a skillet and add your salmon. Allow them to get nice and brown on each side, about 3 minutes. Remove them from the skillet and drain on paper towels. Put them in the oven for 5 minutes (perfect amount of time to get the rest of your meal finished up) just to make certain they’re warmed all the way through. Serve with lemon wedges.
Finally, it’s courgette flower season again (squash blossoms to you and me)! My favorite harbinger of warm weather and hope for a new season of delicious fruits and vegetables. When we were at the market not only were these little delicacies on sale, but a couple of young guys from Seasonal Suffolk Farm were selling wild garlic. My husband had never tried this fleeting green of springtime before and was shocked at its pungent garlic taste and loving garlic as much as me, insisted we buy a bag and play with it at home. I made these squash blossoms last year as well and so this recipe is a riff on that earlier one, changed because my husband detests the goat cheese that I used last time (he was traveling somewhere last time) and also to show how versatile these delicate treats can be.
Fried Squash Blossoms filled with Garlic
4 squash blossoms
1 cup ricotta at room temperature
1/3 cup finely chopped wild garlic leaves
zest and juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
To make the tempura batter:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup sparkling water
pinch of salt
canola oil to fry
fleur de sel
Mix together all of the ingredients for the stuffing of the blossoms. Gently pry open the flower and spoon the mixture in, making sure it’s quite full. Now take the tips of the squash blossom and roll them together to form a natural seal.
Start heating your canola oil. It should be deep enough in the pan to cover your squash blossoms.
In a separate bowl whisk together the tempura batter ingredients. Gently coat the stuffed blossoms and place them in the hot oil. Allow them to turn golden brown – about 3 to 4 minutes in the oil total. Drain the blossoms on a paper towel. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and squeeze on a little lemon juice.