The insides of peaches
are the color of sunrise
The outside of plums
are the color of dusk.
Robert Hass, Praise
August, August, August. How is it already August? It hardly seems like summer has started at all. Last week Alex’s Mama and Blase snuck away from Old Frog Pond Farm and came down South for the opening of Alex’s solo show at the Crimson Laurel Gallery. They got to Asheville just in time for the rain to cease, the clouds to part, and our entire three-day summer to start and end. To christen our new Montford front porch and celebrate what little summer we could snag, the four of us had a big outdoor feast replete with whole grilled fish, as many vegetables as possible, a chilly bottle of Corsican rose and a fresh peach and blueberry cobbler for good measure.
What I love most about good summer cooking is that it hardly requires much cooking at all. It's mostly a matter of picking the right fruits and vegetable, putting them together just so, and trying not to get in their way. A trip to the Montford Farmer’s Market sent me home with armfuls of patterned Fairytale eggplants, snappy green beans and sugar peas, thumb size heirloom potatoes, sweet torpedo onions, baby leeks, basil abounding, zephyr squash, peaches the color of sunrise and a melon so ripe it left musk in its wake as I toddled through the neighborhood with my loot.
Alex and I recently had a revelatory dish at Chez Panisse--that Mecca of seasonal, New American fare--of seared tuna and a simple Nicoise-esque salad with a garlic aioli that I wanted to recreate. Good fish can be prohibitively expensive, especially in these landlocked mountains. But fishmongers reward the home chef who is willing to stare their dinner in the face: tuna filets go for $29 a pound. A whole red snapper, head to tail? $9.99 a pound. And if you've never experience the sweet and delicate meat from Snapper cheek, then I'm glad to be the one who lets you in on that secret.
An Easy Summer Feast for Four
Grilled Whole Red Snapper
Grilled Zephyr Squah & Fairtyale Eggplant with Honey-Yogurt Sauce
Nicoise-esque Warm Salad with Garlic Aioli
Peach & Blueberry Cobbler with Fresh Whipped Cream
Grilled Whole Red Snapper with Grilled Vegetables
Cooking a whole fish is inexpensive, looks impressive on an East Fork Pottery platter, provides bones and skin to make homemade fish stock in a snap and is shamefully easy. If you can’t find snapper, try a trout or any small sea bass like branzino. Mullet, baby blue fish, and porgie are all good candidates. Avoid very soft fleshed fish like sole, cod and flounder. If you're at unsure, just ask your fishmonger! You can have someone scale it for you at the grocery store or fish market, but make sure they leave the head and tail on.
So let's get started. You'll need: Your fish, some salt & pepper, your favorite herbs (for this vaguely Provencal meal I went with basil and parsley, but thyme, chervil, lovage, tarragon, and cilantro are all good bets), citrus (a lemon, lime or tangerine), and olive oil.
- First score the fish deeply with diagonal cuts on both sides.
- Stuff the fish with any combination of herbs, thin sliced citrus, salt & pepper (in this case we used basil and parsley but depending on what you’re serving it with, try thyme, rosemary, dill, fennel, chervil, cilantro, tarragon and on and on)
- Rub the fish down with a little olive oil and ample salt & pepper.
- Make sure your grill is hot, clean, and well oiled. Place the fish perpendicular to the grates. Depending on the size of your fish, it should take anywhere from from 3 to 10 minutes to cook on each side. Our four pound snapper took 8 on each side. You can tell when it’s ready to flip when the skin no longer sticks to the grill and the fish separates easily from the bones.
- Using 2 big, wide metal spatulas, carefully sandwich the fish and flip gently. Cook for the same amount of time on both sides, and voila!
Yogurt Sauce with Honey & Herbs
I brought so many beautiful treasures home from the Montford Farmer's Market, I just couldn't help but cook all of it. We tossed some zephyr squash, baby leeks, and fairytale eggplant in olive oil, salt, and pepper, grilled them on both sides, squeezed lemon juice all over them and served them with this sweet, tangy, cooling yogurt sauce. It complimented the char from the grill perfectly. And it takes 2 minutes to make.
In a medium sized bowl, stir until combined:
- 1 cup of full-fat Greek Yogurt
- 1 tbsp of honey
- ½ cup of chopped mint and parsley
- the juice from ½ a lemon
- 3 large pinches of salt
- pepper to taste
Farmer’s Market Nicoise with Garlic Aoili
For this salad, I blanch the vegetables that require cooking and then toss them together in a sauce pan with the seasonings to warm them just before serving.
Put the pinkie sides of your hands together to make a cup. Thats's about how much you'll want of each of the following: cherry tomatoes (cut in half), green beans, snap peas, romano beans (any fresh beans in pods will do!), new potatoes*
Plus: about a half cup of pitted kalmata or Nicoise olives, a half cup of parsley, a few tablespoons of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
- Get a big pot of water boiling. Toss in a child size fist full of salt. Meanwhile, make an ice bath by putting ice and cold water in a large bowl.
- When the water is boiling add: the snap peas, cooking only about 40 seconds or so, until they turn bright, bright green. Strain and toss in the ice bath.
- Next add the green beans & romano beans, cooking again just briefly 1 to 2 minutes, until they turn as green as they’ll ever be. Strain and toss in the ice bath.
- Lastly, add the new potatoes and boil until they can be pierced with a fork. If your potatoes aren’t all the same size, cut the larger ones until they’re about the same size as the smaller ones (no need to be exact). Make sure you don’t stick your potatoes full of holes while they’re boiling or they’ll become waterlogged. When those are done, toss those in the ice bath too (make sure to replenish your ice as it melts!)
- Strain the vegetables
- In a large saute pan, melt a couple tablespoons of butter and a splash of olive oil on Medium Low heat; add your blanched vegetables, the cherry tomatoes, the olives, and the parsley. Toss and stir until everything is warm and the tomatoes get good and taut.
- Remove from the heat and in a large bowl toss with salt, pepper, parsley and lemon juice. Tada!
- In a clean stand mixer with whisk attachment, drop 2 whole eggs & 1 separated egg yolk; mix on low speed until well combined
- Add 1 tablespoon of good Dijon mustard; my favorite is Maille
- Once well combined, begin to drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1/3 cup of vegetable oil; Aioli can certainly be made with just olive oil but I find the results too astringent & too expensive! Drizzle slowly! Don't overwhelm the eggs. They need time to soak in all that oil. Let the drizzles be a little thinner than a mouse's tail.
- Once your aioli is fluffy and full, add a few very large pinches of salt (I'll never give exact measurements for salt - we like food on the saltier side than others) and the juice from 1/2 a lemon and a dash of white wine vinegar too.
I promise, I promise: when I get used to this whole blogging thing I'll try to be more precise with measurements. I'm just not used to it!
Connie & Alex