A couple weekends ago, Annie and Pierson had a big afternoon housewarming shindig at their lovely new home down in the city of Culver. Parents flew in from Pennsylvania and down from Oakland. Friends gathered, co-workers dropped by. It was a lovely affair. The new home owners rented a couple bar height round tables which were topped with crisp white table clothes and casual little flower arrangements popping out of pretty little goblets. A blanket had been splayed on the lawn in the shadow of the avocado tree, and a bar set up beside the garage. And then there was the food. Annie and I were at it again.
The menu consisted of:
- A trio of pizzette - One topped with figs, pancetta and ricotta cheese on a bed of caramelized onions. One with sauteed escarole, currants, golden raisins, and gruyere. And the final was topped with grilled eggplant, halved cherry tomatoes that were tossed with basil and mint, and fontina. (Well it was supposed to be, but somehow we forgot to pick some up.)
- Peaches wrapped with basil and Serrano ham.
- Mini corn cakes topped with smoky tomato couli, a dollop of creme fraiche, and a scattering of minced chives.
- A spinach salad with a citrus vinaigrette and shards of Parmesan frico crisps.
- Crostini spread with tapenade, and topped with an arugula leaf, paper thin slices of rare pepper crusted beef tenderloin, and horseradish cream.
- Lest I forget the signature cocktail, which was a ginger-peach prosecco bellini.
There were a few issues with the dessert that I won't go into. I don't want to embarrass the person who's task it was to bake them.
Despite that little mishap, Annie and I were really pleased with the menu. For the most part it was quite manageable and didn't require too much pre-prep. I was really happy with how all the flavors worked together and complimented one another and thought the hierarchy of the dishes was right on target. However...
During the kitchen was a flurry of activity. Annie's father grilled the eggplant. Annie rolled out and topped the pizzette. Heather assembled the crostini. Annie's mother was in charge of the peaches as well as being our sous chef. And I was managed the corn cakes. The "however" refers to the fact that as happy as we were with the dishes and as much as I'd love to share them, it was far too chaotic to get pictures. For that I apologize. You see, typically when I cook at home, poor Mark has to sit and wait, knife and fork in hand stomach growling as I methodically plate the finished meal, set it up by my light source, and take picture after picture, turning the plate ever so slightly, changing angles, trying to get the perfect shot. For a party, that just wasn't realistic. But don't worry, like some of the dishes from Heather's birthday that Annie and I catered, I plan to revisit and recreate many of the recipes.
First up is this smoky tomato coulis, which as I mentioned, topped the mini corn cakes. For those who don't know, a coulis is a thick sauce made of either a vegetable though more commonly a fruit puree that has been strained so that it is perfectly smooth. For example, a strawberry or blackberry coulis, that you might serve with cake or ice cream at the end of a dinner party. This recipe comes from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. It is not, however, on her website. Anyway, after the party I ended up with about a cup of coulis left over. Although it was great on the corn cakes I decided it might be interesting to sort of repurpose it. Definitely try it on mini versions of these corn fritters as an appetizer, or use it in a meal, as I've done here.
(For the tomato coulis)
8 to 10 tomatoes
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
3 or 4 oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 chipotle pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
(For the shrimp)
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
First make the coulis.
Roast the tomatoes over a gas flame or on a grill until the skins are charred and blackened, which takes almost no time at all.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, quarter them and place in a saucepan, along with the garlic, shallots, and sun-dried tomatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chipotle pepped and the chile powder and then cover and cook for another 30 to 40 minutes. Depending on the kind of tomato you use (romas have more flesh and less of the juice than other tomatoes), the sauce might seem a little thick. If it is, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of water.
When the mixture is finished cooking, strain it through a sieve, set over a bowl, pressing down on the solids. Make sure to scrap the underside of the sieve.
The resulting sauce should be about the consistency of ketchup. Season with salt. The couli can be made several days in advance, stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
To make the shrimp, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the shrimp on a sheet pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and juice, and roast in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes.
To serve, spoon some of the coulis onto a plate and then mound several shrimp on top, then scatter with chopped chives. A chiffonade of basil would also be appropriate. Or some tarragon. Or dill (duh).
Roasting is a really simple, basic way to prepare shrimp. It takes such little time, and best of all, it's completely hands off. I like that you don't have to flip each shrimp, one by one. It's great if you've got several other dishes going on that do require attention. This method would be a great way to make shrimp to add to a salad, toss with pasta, or for use in a shrimp cocktail, where it would be a great variation on the usual poached shrimp.
Speaking of which, the tomato couli is very reminiscent of cocktail sauce, but without the horseradish of course. It's tangy and fresh, but with a smoky undercurrent and two levels of subtle heat, that hit different parts of the tongue at different times. It's really nice. The sauce is great with the shrimp, although I can also see it accompanying some grilled fish, chicken or swirled into soup. It would be fantastic on a burger as a kind of home made ketchup. It would also be very elegant served alongside some steak frites. You could also use the couli as a pasta sauce, however if that were the case, I might not bother pressing it through the sieve.
1/2 pound of shrimp serves two as a meal
the couli yields about 2 cups