Sunday, June 28, 2009

A light dinner for the first hot summer night of 2009

Long absence from Tuttipiatti - we had no kitchen of our own for about a year, what with the return to New York from Italy first, then a nine-month wait for the renovation of our new apartment to be finished, requiring far too many restaurant meals. Now we are happily settled at home - and cooking.

This June there have been weeks of rainstorms and thunderstorms, much cloud and humidity - then some sunshine, but the equinox is now just behind us, and the New York heat is on. Parents in town, many meals at home. And a few days ago, we were eight for dinner, including a refined 92-year old lady who likes her meals light and elegant.

So we started with my cold avocado and cucumber soup, a favourite for hot weather, and very easy to make. I quite unexpectedly found the recipe some years ago in the free "AM New York" paper they give outside the subway (haven't found anything as good in there since):

Mash two or three long cucumbers, or 5-7 short ones, along with two avocados. Transfer to the serving bowl, add a cup or so of tomato puree, a whole pint of good, plain, full-fat yogurt, stir. Pour in the juice of a lime or two, a good handful of chopped coriander, and about a teaspoon of freshly powdered cumin. Salt to taste, add black pepper. Put in the fridge. If time is short and the ingredients weren't very cold, throw in a few ice cubes.

Then, some simple tilapia fillets, cooked with shiitake mushrooms, tamari (soja sauce), ginger, and fresh lemongrass:

First, sauté the sliced shiitake with a bit of olive oil in a wok, and once they start to sweat, add the tamari and chopped ginger. Continue to cook on a medium-low flame, add a piece or two of fresh lemongrass, and a little white pepper. Add some water - the combination of mushroom and soja naturally form a thick sauce, which requires some dilution. Once the liquid is of a good consistency, throw in the fish fillets. Keep the flame on for about two minutes, then turn it off, grind some black pepper over the fish, scatter some chopped coriander, a little bit of salt, and a pinch of espelette pepper. Cover the pan tightly.

Meanwhile, chop some courgettes into roundels, and cook them in olive oil and garlic in another pan, over a high flame.

Cook some jasmine rice with chopped coriander.

Once you are ready to eat the main course, uncover the fish pan: the steam should have finished cooking it through to tender perfection. Transfer the fillets to the serving dish, or to the plates if you are plating individually. Turn the flame back on - high - add some water, and reduce the sauce just enough - it should be quite thick. Pour over the fish, dispersing the shiitake mushrooms carefully. This is the umami dish par excellence. Serve along with the rice and courgettes. All very healthy, fresh, light, and virtually fat-free.

Dessert was straightforward Haagen Dasz ice cream - vanilla and strawberry - served in little pots with raspberries and blueberries scattered on top.

Wines: whites. After the excellent Bison Prosecco, we drank first the Brunier brothers' "Le Pigeoulet en Provence" - Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Clairette - vin de pays du Vaucluse, 2008, fabulous; then a substantial Vin de pays du jardin de la France by the Couillaud brothers - pure Chardonnay, "Domaine Petit Chateau" at La Regripière, 2006.


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