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NIGELLA FRESHDelicious Flavors on Your Plate All Year Round
By NIGELLA LAWSON
HYPERIONCopyright © 2010 Nigella Lawson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFIRST COURSE
CROSTINI DEL MARE
I've been harboring a memory of these for eight years now, but this is the first time I've actually cooked them myself. I came across them while I was on holiday in Porto Ercole in Italy, at a little restaurant called Il Greco over the way in Porro Santo Stefano. I sat by the water's edge, voluptuously savoring the menu while the waiters brought plates of lozenge-shaped toasts covered with the still warm meat of finely chopped mussels and clams, deep with garlic and sprinkled with parsley. It was when I was cooking the pasta with mussels for this book that the briney, winey smell of the steaming seafood made me desperate to recreate these. And yes, they're fiddly, but so very, very good.
You will have a little pool of marine juices left after you've chopped and smeared the seafood for the crostini and the best way I can think of for using this up is to dunk the remaining half of your French loaf straight into it and slurp it all up. You can of course, though, just bag it up as it is and freeze it so you have a small but concentrated stash of deep-scented fish stock to use at some later date. And once you get into the habit of crostini-production (and I find I do), you might find it easier anyway to buy a baguette, or ficelle (either will do), slice it and bag it up and keep it in the freezer to be oil-dabbled and toasted whenever you want.
Half a skinny baguette (in other words, a ficelle) approx. 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus more to decorate 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 pounds mussels 18 ounces littleneck or Manilla clams 1 tablespoon vermouth or white wine
Preheat the oven to 400?F. Cut the bread into slices, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick: in other words, neither too thick, nor too thin. You need about 25 slices for the amount of chopped seafood topping here. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, dab the bread, on both sides, with the olive oil and sit these lightly oil-brushed dices on a rack over a roasting pan and bake for about 5-10 minutes, turning once. Frankly, it's just a matter of cooking until the slices begin to turn gold, and this takes more time the fresher the bread. In other words, if you've got stale bread, use it for this. When the bread is toasted and gold, remove it from the oven and leave it to cool while you get on with the mussels and clams.
Put the garlic and parsley into a large saucepan with the oil and cook, stirring, over a low heat for a couple of minutes making sure it doesn't color. Tip in the cleaned mussels and clams, turn the heat to high, add the tablespoon of vermouth of wine and clamp on the lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes, shaking the pan a few times to disperse the shells until they are all gaping open. Remove the lid and take off the heat so that the shellfish can cool a little, then pick out the meat with your fingers.
Chop the shellfish flesh finely with a mezzaluna or knife (you can use the food processor but be careful not to turn everything into undifferentiated mush), then spread onto the crostini and sprinkle over some more chopped parsley. Eat while still warm.
Makes approx. 25.
GRILLED EGGPLANT WITH FETA, MINT AND CHILLI
You can fry or broil these eggplant or just blitz them in the heat of the grill: I really don't care. The point is this: once your slices of eggplant are cooked, you pile up one short end with lemon-soused crumbled feta, chopped red chilli and fresh mint and roll the whole thing up; it's really more of an assembly job than cooking.
I tend to think of these simple snacks as an ideal vegetable picky-thing to serve either as a starter before, or alongside, a generally meat-heavy barbecue, but they don't have to be: frankly, just serve these with drinks and you don't have to think of a first course for the rest of summer. And I eat these happily deep into winter too.
2 large eggplant, each cut thinly, lengthwise, into about 10 slices 4 tablespoons olive oil 8-9 ounces feta cheese 1 large red chilli, finely chopped, seeded or not, depending on how much heat you want large bunch fresh mint, finely chopped, with some saved for sprinkling over at the end juice of 1 lemon black pepper
Preheat a grill, stovetop griddle or broiler to a high heat.
Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the oil, and cook them for about 2 minutes each side until golden and tender.
Crumble the feta into a bowl and stir in the chilli, mint and lemon juice and grind in some black pepper. You don't need salt, as the feta is salty enough. Pile the end third of each warm eggplant slice with a heaping teaspoon of the feta mixture and roll each slice up as you go to form a soft, stuffed bundle.
Place seam-side down on a plate, and sprinkle with a little more mint.
Makes 20 rolls.
HOT SALT COD FRITTERS WITH COLD SEAFOOD SALAD
These are actually two completely independent, separate recipes, but I so love the palate-searing, heavy hotness of the potato-fluffy fritters with the anise-clear coolness of the seafood salad that I had, quite bossily, to stick them together here.
Feel free to alter the relative amounts of seafood in this; indeed, play with it as you want to. Don't think of making it just for some planned-for, guest-invited meal, though: nothing's lovelier in the summer (and beyond) than to have a huge, cold bowlful of this, standing in the refrigerator, for you to pick from when you want.
1 750 ml bottle white wine 4 bay leaves 8 black peppercorns 18 ounces baby octopus 18 ounces baby squid, sliced but tentacles left whole 18 ounces medium shrimp, shelled 1/2 cup olive oil juice of 2 lemons 2 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped 3 sticks celery, finely sliced large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped salt, if necessary
Make a stock to cook the seafood in by boiling the wine, bay leaves and peppercorns in a largo saucepan.
Cook the octopus, squid and shrimp separately in the stock as they will take different times to cook. It's very hard to be specific about lengths of time, though; fish changes in density, relative tenderness and size, from catch to catch. But taste as you go, and fish them out with a slotted spoon as they are done, letting them cool in a bowl. The liquid will go quite murky but that's to be expected, so don't be alarmed.
Whisk together the oil and lemon juice, and add the finely chopped chillies. Pour this mixture over the cooled seafood and add the celery and chopped parsley, mixing everything together thoroughly. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary. Add enough of the cooled stock to cover the salad so that it marinates completely covered in juice.
Refrigerate and let the flavors develop for at least a couple of hours; after a day, this will really come into its own, though. Spoon out excess liquid, if there is any, drizzle over a little more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over a bit more chopped parsley.
SALT COD FRITTERS
I can't pretend these aren't fiddly to make, but they aren't hard. The most taxing thing really is that you have to remember to start soaking the salt cod 24 hours before you want to cook it, and you do have to change the water regularly (just pour out then replace the water every time you think of it, or about four times during the whole soaking period). A friend of mine once told me that the best way of soaking salt cod was by sitting it in the toilet tank, so that every time someone flushes you get a change of water. I wanted to try this but the protestations in my household when I suggested it were simply not worth putting up with. I can't quite see the problem, though, since you're hardly soaking the fish in the water from the toilet bowl, but the flesh water kept in the tank. Still, perhaps you'll have more luck.
18 ounces salt cod, soaked for 24 hours, changing the water regularly 18 ounces all-purpose potatoes, peeled and quartered 2 1/2 cups milk 2 bay leaves 1 egg, beaten 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley quarter onion, finely grated, to give about 2 tablespoons 1 clove garlic, finely grated black pepper sunflower oil for frying
Drain the salt cod and put it in a saucepan with the potatoes, covering both with the milk. Add the bay leaves and bring to the boil, cooking everything for 8-10 minutes, or until the salt cod's tender, then lift it out. Let the potatoes cook for a further 20 minutes.
Let the cod cool slightly, until you can remove any bones without burning your fingers, then flake the fish into a bowl and beat it to threads with a fork of whisk, of even easier still, with the paddle attachment of a standing electric mixer. Drain the potatoes, keeping some of the liquid, and add them to the fish, mashing them with the beater again. Or you can just push both through the coarse disk of a food mill.
Stir in the beaten egg, chopped parsley, grated onion, garlic and black pepper, adding a little of the poaching liquid to make a smooth mixture. Then shape, using two spoons, into quenelles or lozengey ovals. Place these on baking sheets, lined with plastic wrap (so they don't stick), and refrigerate to cool completely before you fly them. This helps them hold their shape.
Heat some oil in a frying pan to make a layer of about l/2 inch, and drop in the fritters a few at a time. Cook, turning as necessary, until golden on all sides, and drain on paper towels.
Makes about 20.
THAI CRUMBLED BEEF IN LETTUCE WRAPS
Given that I made this out of my head rather than out of a book, I don't know how authentically Thai it is, but I do know it's authentically wonderful. What I was after was that first course (among many) I always order in Thai restaurants, of crumbled meat, quite dry, sour-sharp with chilli, which you eat by scooping with crunchy, boat-shaped lettuce leaves.
One of the joys of this, in my version at any rate, is how easy and quick it is to make. If you're having people over to dinner midweek, you could make this as a first course before a plain roast chicken and provide a full-on dinner with next to no effort. Mind you, as a meal in its entirety, for three or four of you, it's hard to beat, too. Reduce quantities (or not) for a five-minute supper for one.
You may need to be rather brutal with the lettuce as you tear the leaves off to provide the edible wrappers for the beef, which is why 1 specify one to two heads of iceberg. If you want to perk the leaves up a little, making sure they curve into appropriate repositories for later, leave them in a sinkful of very cold water while you cook the beef, then make sure you drain them well before piling them up on their plate.
1 teaspoon vegetable oil 2 red birdeye or other small, hot red chillies, finely chopped 3/4 pound ground beef scant tablespoon Thai fish sauce 4 scallions, white parts only, finely chopped zest and juice of 1 lime 3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 1-2 small heads iceberg lettuce
Put the oil in a nonstick frying pan on medium heat and when warm add the finely chopped chillies and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. It's wiser not to leave the pan, as you don't want them to burn. Add the beef, turn up the heat and, breaking up the ground beef with a wooden spoon or fork, cook for 3 or 4 minutes till no trace of pink remains. Add the fish sauce and, still stirring, cook till the liquid's evaporated. Off the heat, stir in the scallions, zest and juice of the lime and most of the cilantro. Turn into a bowl, and sprinkle over the remaining cilantro just before serving.
Arrange the iceberg lettuce leaves on another plate-they should sit one on top of another easily enough-and let people indulge in a little DIY (do-it-yourself) at the table, filling cold crisp leaves with spoonfuls of sharp, spicy, hot, crumbled meat.
RICE PAPER ROLLS
I'll be honest with you: I had longed to make some version of these little rolls for years but either essential laziness or fear that they would be frighteningly complicated put me off. Now that I've made them, I can't quite see what I was on about. Fiddly they may be, but I think they must be one of the easiest recipes to make in the whole book. And also one of the loveliest: there is something about the light, unwheatenness of rice pasta (which in effect these sheets just are) and the bundles of fresh herbs within that make them compulsive and uplifting eating. You can, and this is how I ate them first in a Vietnamese restaurant, add some cooked shrimp and cooled, stir-fried chopped pork along with the herbs and rice vermicelli, but I can't honestly see that you need to.
You can often find the rice pancakes, or rice sheets (emphatically not rice paper) in the supermarket. If you're unlucky in this respect, you will have to track down an Asian store, which offers a gastro-reward of its own.
4 ounces rice vermicelli or any thin-strand rice noodles 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped bunch fresh Thai basil, roughly chopped half a cucumber, cut into thin batons 6 scallions, finely sliced 12 rice pancakes soy sauce for serving (optional)
Soak the vermicelli according to the instructions on the package, and drain once the translucent threads are rehydrated.
Flavor the vermicelli with the rice vinegar, soy and fish sauces, and then add the chopped herbs, cucumber and scallions. Mix gently with your hands to try to combine the noodles, herbs and vegetables.
Soak the rice pancakes (again, according to package instructions) in a shallow bowl of hot water and then lay each one on a tea towel to pat dry. Run a fairly narrow strip of noodle mixture down the middle of the pancake, fold over one half and then carefully roll it up as tightly as you can. Slice each roll into four and then arrange them on a plate.
If you want, pour some soy sauce into a few little bowls for dipping the rolls into as you eat. They are also fabulous with the Vietnamese dipping sauce, in the form of the dressing on page 75.
Makes 48 rolls.
I know that suggesting you cure anything sounds as if I am about to get you in a mob cap sitting in a pantry for days on end, but just think marinade: the ingredients and the refrigerator do all the work. And look at it this way: the steeping, which asks very little of you in the first place, means you then dispense with any actual cooking later.
I suppose this is a tentatively Asian gravlax, but I think it's important not to get bogged down in post-hoc definitions. All you need to know is that you end up with fleshy salmon, salty-sweet and infused with the hot breath of ginger, edged aromatically with a grassy green covering of cilantro. Eat it finely sliced as it is for a starter, or with a salad and maybe some steamed new potatoes as a light lunch.
2 pounds 3 ounces salmon fillet, skinned, pin boned and of equal thickness throughout its length 2 ounces fresh ginger, coarsely microplaned (or otherwise minced or grated) 4 tablespoons Maldon or other sea salt 4 tablespoons granulated sugar juice of 2 limes bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Put the salmon into a dish large enough for the fillet to lie flat, skinned side down. Combine the ginger, salt, sugar and lime juice and press it onto the top of the salmon, spreading evenly. Sprinkle over the chopped cilantro so that there is a thick layer of dark leafy green.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap, weigh the fish down-I just sit three or so unopened cans of tomatoes on top of the plastic wrap-and stick it in the refrigerator for three to five days.
When you want to eat it, just remove your weights and the plastic wrap, transfer the lawn-bordered piece of fish to a wooden board and slice across at an angle as thinly as you can manage.
Excerpted from NIGELLA FRESH by NIGELLA LAWSON Copyright © 2010 by Nigella Lawson. Excerpted by permission.
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