Monday, July 18, 2011

cooked with citrus


There are a few things that happen to me when summer time rolls around, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who experiences these side effects. 

1) I want to spend all the time possible in the world outside and in the sun, trying to gain that lovely tan back from the good ole days of being a lifeguard/swim coach. (Seriously, the good ole days!)
2) I have a hankering for hibiscus margaritas, caipirinas and mojitos.
3) I want to cook everything over open fire - meat, corn, fish, pizza, marshmallows, whatever. Unfortunately, living in city, I do NOT have the luxury of open fire cooking.
4) Since the above is not possible, my brain then shifts to: Mexican food.  Fish tacos, fresh salsas and guac, but even more so: ceviche. 

I absolutely love ceviche - it's any type of seafood that is essentially "cooked" by the acids in citrus fruit juice.  These dishes can be found anywhere from Central and South America, to the Caribbean, all the way over to Hawaii and Fiji.  Obviously, the different regions will add different flavors into their dishes, but the concept is all the same.  Hands down, one of the best ceviches (in this case, aguachile) I've had was in Yelapa, Mexico at Hotel Lagunita.  Fresh lobster meat is doused in a marinade of lime juice, and a ton of jalapenos.  To say that the dish is spicy would be an understatement. Thinly sliced red onions and cucumbers are scattered about, and you can't really beat it. But I'll save that for later this summer!

On with this dish.  When I'm in the mood for ceviche, I generally go to my local Japanese store to check out their sashimi-grade seafood section.  Anytime you make ceviche, even though it is "pretend" cooked, be sure you get the freshest product possible.  Not only did I pick up a beautiful piece of hamachi and some wasabi tobiko, but I also found a lovely, fresh wasabi root.  I knew I was in store for a treat tonight!

This recipe is so freaking delicious, I don't even know what to do with myself.  Yes, it has Japanese flavors and elements to it, but anytime you add citrus fruit, I'll call you ceviche in my book. This is an adaptation of an Eric Ripert recipe that is absolutely out of this world.  The flavors, even though when wasabi is involved you may think otherwise, are delicate and refreshing - and the dish itself is a thing of beauty.  So, gear up for a hot day, find yourself some of these ingredients, and cook away!

Hamachi Ceviche with Ginger-Wasabi Emulsion
Adapted from Eric Ripert
Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ginger-Wasabi Emulsion
2 teaspoons freshly grated wasabi, or wasabi paste
3 T fresh lime juice
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 T ginger oil (see instructions right below - leave a couple hours for this to come together!)
1/4 cup canola oil
Pinch of sugar
Sea salt and fresh ground white pepper

To start, make sure you prepare the ginger oil. This really couldn't be any simpler.  Peel and dice 3 T fresh ginger, and place in a jar with 1/4 cup canola oil.  Let this sit for at least 2 hours to gain a nice gingery flavor.  Easy as that! When you're ready to make the emulsion, place the sugar, juices and wasabi either into a regular blender or a container that can handle an emulsion blender.  Blend together.  With the motor running, add the ginger and canola oil until the mixture is smooth and light in color.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside for later.

Hamachi Ceviche
8 oz hamachi, finely diced
2 t wasabi paste
1 t ginger oil
1 t canola
1 t fresh lime juice
1 t fresh lemon juice
4 t minced cilantro
Sea salt and fresh ground white pepper
2 t wasabi tobiko

In a small bowl, gently mix all of the ingredients except salt, pepper, and the tobiko.  To ensure that the flavors are properly distributed, you can even whisk together all ingredients before adding the hamachi.  If you're concerned about eating raw fish, you can let this sit for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator - otherwise, season with salt and pepper, and slowly fold in the wasabi tobiko.  Be gentle, as you don't want to crush any of the roe.

To serve, you can go as simple or as fancy as you like.  I used a shallow serving bowl and assembled everything with a ring mold.  First, the hamachi mixture is spooned in and topped by a bit more wasabi tobiko, with the emulsion spooned around the side - I finished mine with red shiso leaf chiffonade.  For something less involved, you can spoon the hamachi onto a plate, and sprinkle with more tobiko, and drizzle the emulsion over top.  It's all about creativity, so do what you want. Heck, make a parfait out of it if you want! 

As I was saying before, even if you eat with your eyes, you won't be disappointed.  The emulsion and hamachi mixture are both smooth and velvety, while the tobiko adds a great little crunch in every bite.  The green coloring is just as striking - the pale green of the emulsion, combined with the (almost) electric green of the tobiko counter the pale flesh of the hamachi perfectly.  More importantly is the flavor. The combination of all the ingredients work together like magic - the wasabi isn't too powerful, and the citrus isn't too sour, and the fresh flavor of the hamachi comes through with every bite. And, it's even better when you get to share it with some great people!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fava Boats

People seem to get all riled up about fava beans when they're in season.  They're so delicious, fresh, and popping with flavor but oh lord they are just such a pain to prepare! I would kindly like to re-evaluate this common thought.  Unless you are shelling a 10 pound bag of fava beans, it really isn't that big of a deal! In fact, it's an opportunity to share a moment with someone - akin to shucking corn, no? Actually, I'm going to make THIS statement: shucking corn is actually the worst.  All that silk all over the place, one or two strands always sticking to the cob, making a mess everywhere! But no one seems to hate on corn as they do fava beans.  Either way, it's no big deal, and they cook up in a pinch! I made this simple treat a few days back, and it was oh so heavenly.  So good, in fact, that I went to the farmer's market the next day to pick up four, yes four fava beans to make just a couple.  The farmer looked at me like I was a crazy woman (happens often), but what's a girl to do when she fancies just a bite or two!

I must apologize - I don't really have an exact recipe, so if you make this, you'll have to wing it like me! 

Fava Bean Bites
8 large, fresh basil leaves, plus a bit more minced
1 cup shelled fava beans
A load of olive oil
2 T pine nuts
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Pinch sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Starting with the fava beans, take all of those little buggers out of the pod.  Be jealous that fava beans have such a velvety, plush home to live in before being shelled. Bring a pot of water to boil with a couple large pinches of sea salt, and prepare an ice bath.  When the water is boiling, blanch the beans for about one minute and immediately shock in the ice bath.  Drain on a paper towel.  Most people pinch out the fava bean from it's secondary outer shell, and discard that - but I'm not one for waste and utilized them.  They tasted just as good, and bulked up the dish! 

In a small skillet heat about 1/2 inch of olive oil over medium low heat.  Be careful! Don't let the oil burn and start smoking, lest you'll have to start all over again.  When the oil is hot, carefully slip in the basil leaves one at a time.  The leaves will fry up quickly - remove them after about 5-10 seconds (depending on the size of the leaf) and place on a paper towel.  Repeat with the remaining leaves. At this point, you should have a bunch of crispy, cute little basil leaf boats to hold the fava beans! 
In the same oil, quickly fry up the pine nuts until warm - remove to a paper towel.  Toss in the blanched fava beans to heat them up quickly, and remove to a paper towel as well.  In a small bowl, toss everything together! The beans, pine nuts, a 1/2 teaspoon (to start) lemon zest, about a teaspoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of minced, fresh basil, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Taste for seasoning - you can add more of anything if you please. Be sure not to eat it all!  Once everything is well mixed and scrumptious, carefully spoon about 1/2 tablespoon or so onto each fried basil leaf.  Serve on a platter and enjoy!

Las favas son muy sabrosas!!  (??) Really, a great little treat.  The combination of flavors is exciting, albeit classic, flavorwise - but the combination of the crispy and fresh basil really amp it up a bit.  It's refreshing and crisp, but also has a nice velvety, creaminess from the pine nuts that makes you think you're eating something that's not so healthy for you.  Everyone will love these, and the presentation is fun. The actual fava bean mixture would be just as good on a nice little crostini, or frankly...just on a spoon! Try your hand at this, and let me know how you like it!

Friday, July 1, 2011

14-karat carrots

I woke up in the morning thinking about carrots - Thumbelina carrots to be exact.  It may be because I've been drinking a questionable amount of carrot juice as of recent, or maybe I was just having premonitions about the day ahead.  Or maybe I'm turning into Bugs Bunny? I love the fact that we can go to the market now and get heirloom varieties of carrots, as opposed to having to purchase those flavorless (relatively speaking) stock size horse fodder, or worse, "baby carrots".   I hate the thought of food going to waste, so seeing those tiny little buggers and imagining the giant carrot they once came from makes me kind of sad.  Heck, I even went to far as to use my carrot tops to make tea! (Steeped with a little mint...not bad, and super healthy!)

So began my carrot hunt! Which also happened to turn into my "cool-looking vegetables" hunt. Purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, why not! 

But my heart was still with the Thumbelinas.  I visited a trifecta of markets, picking up some young yellow, deep purple, and white carrots.  After a couple hours of traipsing around, I just assumed that I would be without the one item I truly wanted - which was okay, considering I already had about four thousand pounds of carrots.  But alas, I saw them, at the last farmer's tent, hidden amongst other vegetables that were NOT carrots!  Did I need more carrots? Probably not.  But did I get the Thumbelinas? Absolutely!

That being said, I was ready to showcase each one of these carrots.  They really do come in an astonishing array of colors: our standard orange, purple, maroon, white, red, black, purple with an orange or white center - you name it, it's probably out there somewhere, except maybe blue.  I find that orange really helps to bring out the flavor of carrots without overpowering it, if you do it right.  And anise is a killer combination as well! So on we go with a nice little veggie dish that is both flavorful and great to look at!

Tender Carrot Confit with Orange and Star Anise
3 lbs carrots, peeled, tops removed (if you have a variety, make sure at least half are orange to preserve the color of the puree)
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
3 whole star anise
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
2 cups olive oil
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
1 t ground star anise
A pinch sea salt

Coarsely chop half of the carrots, and combine with the orange juice and star anise in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Let this mixture simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots are beyond fork tender, and the OJ has reduced to about 1/3 cup - about 30 minutes.  Be sure to stir every once in a while.  When ready, discard the star anise and puree until smooth in a blender or food processor.  If you want to make the puree even smoother, pass it through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.  Keep this warm for later plating.

Depending on the size of your carrots, you can either leave them whole, half them, or really go to town on them.  You want to have pieces that are about 4 inches or so long, maybe smaller, but definitely no larger! For me, I like to preserve the shape of most vegetables, so the small carrots I used were cooked whole - some I only had to halve.  Heat the oil, thyme and rosemary in a heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat until aromatic, about 10 minutes.  Add the carrot pieces and cook until very tender, about anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on the variety of carrot you use.  Be sure to check every once in a while to ensure they don't get overcooked.  Sidebar: if you are using multi-colored carrots, be sure to cook the darker once last (purple, maroon, black) - they tend to bleed their color, discoloring the other vegetables.  Then again, that's just me being anal - you can totally put them all together and get a Jackson Pollock-esque carrot montage!

When the carrots are cooked, transfer to a cutting board and cut each in half for presentation.  Spoon the warm carrot puree into the well of a bowl, or right onto a plate. Arrange the carrot pieces on top, finishing with ground star anise, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper.

Simple, easy, mouthwatering! The carrot puree was perfectly sweet, with just a hint of anise to it - all of the flavors played together well, without one overpowering the other.  And the color was just super intense!  As for the carrots - you start to get excited when you smell the herbs and oil heating up, without even using the carrots yet.  The long, slow confit method of cooking for the carrots really imparts a subtle flavor throughout.  If you ever wake up with a craving for carrots like me, go ahead and try this recipe out. Everyone is sure to love it!