I threw the most horrendous dinner party last week. Thankfully it wasn’t for paying clients, however that said, the fact that it was friends visiting from far and wide, actually makes it almost worse to me. I had carefully planned the menu weeks in advance and since the weather was promising to be most un-British we went as far as to move our dining table outside on the terrace in our garden, thinking an early summer dinner under a slowly darkening sky would be terribly festive. I planned to prepare several dishes inspired by our trip to Istanbul, bought beautiful flank steak from The Ginger Pig, thawed the wild garlic I’d been saving in the freezer for my special starter, brought out my grandmother’s china, cleaned the grill. Everything was in place.
First hiccup was that my photographer and dear husband found out he would be traveling to Iraq to cover the recent crisis unfolding there. While he answered just one more email on his incessantly buzzing Blackberry, I scurried around. I asked him if he would take photos of the table, the food, the guests for my blog. Of course he would. I pulled out the spicy candied nuts I’d prepared the night before and reheated the blue cheese and black pepper gougeres until they were crispy and fragrant again. As the guests arrived, two more announced they too were going to Iraq over the weekend – much comparing of notes began.
The starter, wild garlic gnocchi sauteed with asparagus and morels. Lots of lemon zest, probably not enough wild garlic, plus the greens were soggy from being frozen. I should have squeezed what little I had dry. Much ado smashing the baked potato flesh through a sieve, however the final mixture seemed fine and the plump little pillows sat on trays in the fridge waiting to be boiled and then sauteed. What I ended up serving was more of a potato mash with asparagus and morels. The flavors were delicious but the gnocchi had completely disintegrated when I sauteed them – I still think it was the excess moisture from the wild garlic. Lesson one.
While the starter was being bungled in the kitchen I had the men tend to the grill in the garden, making certain it would be hot enough to properly sear and quickly cook the flank steak I’d been marinating all day in a sweet soy mustard sauce. Once the starter had been cleared I presented them with the room temperature steaks, seasoned carefully, ready for their 10 minutes on the grill. Sitting at the table, hoping the next course would go more smoothly than the second, I heard no sizzle when the steaks went on the grill. Alas, they tried their best to get the fire hotter, but I ended up taking the steaks inside and putting them under the broiler to try and get a lovely crust on the outside. By this time they’d been cooking far too long, albeit slowly, and when I cut into the steaks I was heartbroken to see tough, grey beef.
The saving grace was the zucchini fritters I’d made earlier in the day with a lime yoghurt sauce (although they were cold as I’d had to take them out of the oven early to accommodate the meat). These were a common item on menus all over Istanbul and I think my version based on several around the internet was delicious. I’ll be adding all kinds of fritters to my repertoire as they’re wonderful to entertain with – prepare in advance and simply reheat in the oven. A simple green salad rounded out the main course….I dipped my beef in the pools of dressing on my plate to help salvage it.
Finally, after a break, I pulled my homemade Turkish sour green plum and raki ice cream out of the freezer to serve with strawberry shortcakes. I had been really excited about this part, having thought that raki ice cream would have a lovely aniseed flavor to it. My beloved Clifton Greens was selling the Turkish sour plums we’d snacked on with our raki in Istanbul and I decided that poaching them in some raki and sugar and then smashing them before incorporating them into my ice cream base, would be delicious. It had all gone surprisingly well and I have to say it wasn’t bad, although I was so disheartened by the previous courses that I didn’t do more than try a spoonful of the ice cream. Dishes towered precariously on every surface in the kitchen and I realized that not one photograph had been taken of anything we’d done.
Istanbul Zucchini Fritters
4 medium zucchini
2 teaspoons salt
4 green onions, sliced thinly
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Olive oil for frying
Grate the zucchini into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes and then take baseball size clumps of the zucchini and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add the remaining ingredients and more salt if you think necessary and combine them well. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan and add a good coating of olive oil. I used an ice cream scoop to make sure the fritters were all the same size, flattening them out once in the pan. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment and reheat in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes or until warmed through when ready to serve.
Lime Yoghurt Sauce
1 cup Greek yoghurt
zest and juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl a couple of hours before serving to allow the flavors to marry. Serve on the side of the fritters.