Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pea Soup for Spring and Summer

Ina Garten's pea soup tastes like spring. It's not a heavy, winter-time split pea soup that cooks for hours and warms the house. There's a time for that soup and June in DC is not it. This soup is a puree of fresh peas and mint, which can be served hot, warm or cold with equally good results. Ms. Garten even invites you to substitute frozen peas and as peas have not yet come into the local farm markets, that is how I've made it. I don't think I would even bother to use fresh peas even when they are available, as this soup can be made pretty quickly unless one had to first shell peas. Save those peas for popping in your mouth raw and use the petite, sweet frozen ones here.

I was so excited about this recipe when I first made it as it hit all my benchmarks - it's delicious, relatively healthy and easy to make. Paul and both kids, even my teenaged son who doesn't like peas, enjoyed the soup. I tried to share my excitement with a couple of friends and both told me unequivocally that they hate pea soup. Please don't be judgmental about this soup! Try it - even Teddy liked it!

I've made the recipe, as written (with just one little change - I replaced the butter with olive oil), several times with great success. It's filling enough to serve with some bread and cheese for a light dinner or could also serve as a first course to a full dinner. you could easily sub in garlic rubbed bruschetta for croutons as I've done in this photo or even (gasp!) use packaged ones in a pinch.

Last time I made this soup I divided the soup into three before adding the creme fraiche. In one portion I added creme fraiche and in the other two, lower fat options of fat free Greek yogurt and virtually fat free Israeli quark. In this soup, I much preferred the fullness and mouth feel that the creme fraiche affords. I was hoping to like one of the other options, but they both had too much bite without being rounded out by the cream. I think this recipe needs a little fat to balance the peas. However, I did exchange the butter for olive oil, so I felt virtuous enough to enjoy the creme fraiche laced version.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spicy Tuna Tartare

Vernon, the fish seller at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, had some Atlantic bigeye tuna (Monterey Bay Aquarium "Best Choice") last week. Just because it was there I had to try it although we weren't sure how we'd eat it. We'd already had a salade Nicoise the week prior so I figured on doing it Asian style with some sesame seeds and a quick sear on each side. I bought a huge bag of snow peas to serve with it. Sometime later in the day, though, I decided to play around. I ended up using the tuna raw as it was so fresh and Vernon so reputable but couldn't decide on any one method. Finally, I made three different dishes for us to sample. One was ceviche style with some lime juice and red onion and a little splash of olive oil. The second, Paul's favorite, was an Italian style crudo - thinly sliced and then just drizzled with a little olive oil and lemon juice and then sprinkled with Maldon sea salt.

The third method tasted a little like a spicy tuna roll. We ate it with great quality taco chips, but would be delicious with fried egg roll wrappers or rolled into a seaweed cone. Even Neva-Betta crackers.

Spicy Tuna Tartare

(serves 4 - 6 as an hors d'oeuvre or appetizer)

1/2 Cup Mayonnaise ( I used Hellman's Light Mayo and it was fine)
2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 pound piece of really fresh tuna from a reliable source
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
2 stalks very thinly sliced green garlic (or 1 fat garlic clove, minced)

1. Mix first three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Dice up the tuna as finely as you can without shredding it.

3. Place cut up tuna into a medium bowl, add the onion and garlic, and then add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of the Sriracha mayo and gently mix. Add more mayo bit by bit until you get a taste and consistency you like. Save the leftover mayo for another dish!

4. Serve with good quality taco chips or fried wanton skins, or make a roll with a seaweed cone.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Salade Nicoise

Way back in 9th grade French class, Ms. Gold introduced me to salade Nicoise. She was one of those teachers who inspires students and encouraged us to appreciate France and French culture in addition to teaching us grammar. We listened to Plastic Bertrand in class ( I do hope some of mes amis are reading!), went to see French films and ate in French restaurants in New York. She was young, hip and quirky and we loved it all.

Each year with Ms. Gold and then, later, with Madame DeMuth, Randi Cohen and I baked a traditional Buche de Noel for the class holiday party. Randi's mother always let us bake the Buche at their house, and as best as I can remember, was also nice enough to clean up after us. Despite this largesse, and as much fun as I remember having, I suspect the complicated and labor intensive recipe which required many pans, pots and a candy thermometer, is why I don't bake much now. I still have the recipe, a faded blue "ditto" with creases from where I had it folded into eight for many years, just in case.

But the salade Nicoise stuck. As soon as it gets warm in DC and the farmstands start carrying green beans and new potatoes, I begin to crave this perfect salad as a light meal. Recently, the stars aligned: it was warm and I was able to buy some fresh potatoes and beans.

This is, as is often the case with me, not really a recipe. I'm not a traditionalist and I love to improvise a little so I'll just give you some guidelines.

A bed of butter, Boston or leaf lettuce

A few handfuls green beans, I particularly like thinner ones or haricots verts, lightly steamed or blanched and then plunged into ice cold water

A few new red or fingerling potatoes per person, can also use baby Yukon golds, cut in half or quarters if large and boiled for about 10 minutes until fork-tender

grape or cherry tomatoes, or cut up tomatoes

tuna in oil - use a great quality brand in olive oil. For the salad in the picture, I used a 10 oz. jar of Flott.

hard boiled egg (I like to try to leave the centers just a little under hard-cooked) - 1 per person - cut in half


thinly sliced red onion

capers for a garnish - well rinsed, salt-packed are best

anchovies - curl one on a few of the egg halves

vinaigrette - recipe below

This photo shows our salad before I dressed it, as the second after I drizzled on the vinaigrette, everyone pounced! You'll notice, however, that there are neither anchovies nor olives, both traditional components of a salade Nicoise. As whole anchovies are not a favorite in our house, I sometimes add a little anchovy paste to the vinaigrette in lieu of curling the fillets atop the eggs, although this time I did neither. As I'm the only olive eater, I add those to my plate alone. The cucumbers are a non traditional addition - I had a seedless cucumber in the salad bin I felt like using up and thought it would add some crunch.

Here is the piece de resistance (wish I could figure out how to add in the accents!)...I used a jar of Flott tuna from Sicily on this salad. I was raised in a "tuna in water" house and have bought only that for much of my adult life. For a mayo tuna salad, that's still what I buy. But for salade Nicoise, tuna in oil is preferred. If you buy a really great brand like Flott (or Ortiz "conserva" as I've learned from a food52-er), the tuna is packed in high quality olive oil and just adds to the flavor of the dish. You can drain it just a little bit before serving and you can cut back a little on the oil in the dressing or just not drizzle the dressing on the tuna. If you buy a great quality tuna in oil, the oil itself is a great quality olive oil.

If you prefer, this is also terrific with some thinly sliced, lightly seared fresh tuna. No matter which tuna you use, serve with a crisp white wine and some good French bread.

Basic Vinaigrette for Salade Nicoise

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt
few grinds pepper

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar.

2. Slowly pour in the olive oil with one hand while whisking with the other.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste.