Wow. Apparently I haven't posted anything for two and a half weeks. And for that, I am truly sorry. But as we all know, these last days of summer, before Labor Day, they're kind of a write off.
The thing is, it's not like I haven't been cooking. I went home to visit my family for a week and while I was there it seems like all I did was cook. Once again I made the black-eyed pea salad with roasted butternut squash, although this time I substituted fresh purple-hull peas that I picked up at a local farmers market for the black eyes peas. It wasn't as good. However, to go with the salad, using a recipe I found in a Jacques Pepin cookbook my mom had, I made apricot, brown sugar, and mustard glazed ham steaks. I guess I had forgotten, but ham rocks. I marinated and roasted some portobello mushroom caps, roasted a couple red bell peppers and made up some aioli (not from scratch - I cheated and doctored some store bought mayonnaise), which I used to construct a couple sloppy, delicious sandwiches that my mom and I ate with great fervor. My father was recovering from surgery and was only able to eat soft or liquid foods, so for him I made up a decadently comforting pot of mushroom bisque, using a recipe in Ruth Reichl's second book, Comfort Me With Apples. My last night with the parents I whipped up a spicy stew of creole shrimp with fresh okra, which I served over creamy polenta. If I had thought to bring my camera, I would have blogged about these, but don't fret, I'm thinking I'll be making a few of these again, in the not too distant future.
Upon my return to Los Angeles, I spent the next week eating out. After one such meal, a low-key brunch with Mark's cousin Elizabeth, her husband Peter and their adorably precocious kindergarten -bound son Rainey, in the fashionably down-trodden Silverlake we all headed to the farmer's market that was bustling with tattooed hipsters across the street. I picked up some zucchini, and a couple bunches of beets. You see, propelled by that pangs of guilt over the neglect of this blog, I had been looking through the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook. Despite the fact that it's still in the mid 80's here in SOCAL and people in my neighborhood are walking around in shorts and no shirts, as far as I'm concerned, summer and all the foods that go with it, is over. I mean, aren't we all tired of salads and grilling yet? I know I am. With giddy anticipation I leafed through the chapter celebrating autumn. This recipe caught my eye. It seemed perfect for the long weekend and as you may recall, I happen to have a small, half used jar of harissa in my fridge that I was not sure what to do with. That, combined with my farmer's market beets, and a couple snapper fillets I picked up at Bristol Farms, and my first foray into the flavors of fall was underway.
(For the fish)
6 snapper fillets, 5 to 6 ounces each, skin on
3/4 cup harissa (I used store bought)
1 bunch watercress, cleaned, tough stems removed
1/2 lemon, for juicing
(For the roasted beet salsa)
2 bunches of beets (I used one bunch of red and one bunch of yellow)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely diced shallot
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely diced jalapeno
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice
(For the caramellized carrot puree)
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
A handful of cilantro stems, plus 1/4 cup leaves
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced white onion
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
First of all, coat the fish with the harissa. (Note: The harissa I used was a bit dry, so I just added a tablespoon of so to loosen it up and make it easier to spread into the fish)
Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Next we roast the beets. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the greenery off the beets, leaving 1/2 inch of the stem still attached. If the beets are different sizes, slice the larger ones in half. Clean the beets well, and toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Place the beets in a small roasting pan with a splash of water in the botttom.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast for about 40 minutes, until tender when pierced. While the beets are roasting, place the shallot, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, mint, cilantro, lime juice and 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and stir to combine.
When the beets are done, carefully remove the foil. Let cool, and then peel the beets by slipping the skins off with your fingers.
Dice the beets and add to the herb, ginger, garlic, jalapeno mixture, stirring to combine. Taste for seasoning.
To make the carrot puree, steam the carrots with the cilantro stems for about 20 minutes, until tender.
When the carrots are almost done, heat a large pot over high heat for 1 minute. Pour in 1/2 cup olive oil, and add the onion. Season with 2 teaspoons of salt and a frew grindings of black pepper, and cook the onion for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until it's translucent.
Add the steamed carrots and cilantro leaves and cook another 8 minutes, stirring and scraping the pot with a wooden spoon, until the carrots are lightly caramelized.
Puree the mixture in a food processor until it's smooth. With the motor running, slowing pour in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, and process until the oil is incorporated and the puree is very smooth. Taste for seasoning.
To cook the fish, heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is rippling, place the snapper fillets in the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Gently flip the fillets over, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until the fish is beginning to flake and separate a little and the center is still slightly translucent. Remember that the fish will continue to cook a little more once it is removed from the pan.
To serve, spoon the warm carrot puree onto each plate. Scatter the watercress over the puree and arrange the fish on top. Season the fish with a squeeze of lemon juice (I forgot to do this step) and spoon the roasted beet salsa over the fish.
So very typical of the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook, the flavors in this dish are complex and there is a sophisticated layering of textures. The snapper is flakey and spicey, but not exactly HOT hot. (I wonder if you could substitute a chicken breast for the fish. I bet you could.) Topping the fish is the roasted beet salsa, sweet and herbaceous. For some reason, beets always seem to be a vegetable I avoid. Let's face it, beets are not exactly sexy. And yet whenever I eat them, I'm reminded how enjoyable they are. The texture is so interesting, almost like fruit. It contrasts really well with the lime juice, the mint and cilantro, and the potpourri of garlic, shallot, ginger, and jalapeno. However, perhaps my favorite part of the meal was the velvety bed of cilantro scented caramelized onion and carrot puree. I could serious just sit and eat a bowl of this. It would be a brillant side for a roasted pork loin, a baked chicken or slices of buttery turkey. I'm thinking about Thanksgiving already. But if you do make it, make a lot. You'll want to keep eating it.
Serves 4 to 6.