Dinner for One: King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

Clayton’s working tonight, so it’s all Lolita time.  Although he’s a great consumer – as in he eats what I make without (much) complaining – there are dishes I prepare for myself that I don’t seem to ever make for him.  I don’t know why; there’s no real reason or rhyme, frankly – it’s just the way it is.  Tonight’s meal began with the leftovers from some huge-ass king crab legs we enjoyed for last night’s dinner, and a couple of odds and ends I picked up today at Trader Joe’s.  The result? An elegant but simple salad of nutty avocado and tender sweet crab meat, accompanied by an easy antipasti: a light but rich supper as delicious as it is beautiful.

King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

1 ripe avocado
1/3 lb fresh picked cooked crab meat
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbs mayonnaise
1 handful maché (lamb’s lettuce)
1 boll burrata cheese
2 slices prosciutto di parma, split and rolled into 4 tiny cigars
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, balsamic vinegar

Whole Foods had a special on King crab legs this weekend – something I’ve had a hankering for for a while now.  We bought 2 pounds, not realizing just how much meat these bad boys were going to yield.  I think we’ve established that we’ve never actually had King crab legs prior to these — likely only snow crab clusters — since neither of us can remember ever seeing such huge unbroken chunks of leg and knuckle meat before.  And it was so dense and packed that the discarded shells weighed next to nothing; we easily ‘harvested’ 30 oz of succulent pink deliciousness.  After gorging ourselves on not much more than crab and butter, we had about 1/2 lb leftover.

I pull my crab meat into nice sized hunks, and mix it with a little mayo and several teaspoons of lemon juice, along with some salt and pepper.  I just want the mayo to bind the crab – not make it gooey; I also just want the lemon juice to cancel out the egginess (eggyiness? eggyness?)  of the mayo – not make it lemony; and I just want the salt and pepper to brighten the salad – not overpower it.  The idea is crab and nothing but that which is needed to ‘hold it together’ for the sake of shaping the tian.

Speaking of which — here is how I’m shaping this “tian” – my stacked, formed salad of crab meat and avocado.  I’m not sure why it’s called a tian — in fact, although I see several examples of this term being used in this context online, traditionally a tian in French cooking is something completely different – either more like a vegetable tart, or an earthenware cooking device.  But when I envisioned this dish, it was as a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered salad.  And when I order a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered dish in a restaurant, it’s usually called a tian on the menu.  Hence my usage of the term.  Anyway, using my kitchen shears, I cut the ends off of a beer can to make a perfect form.  It would have been better to use a soup can, but all the cans I have in the house are designed to stack, so my can opener won’t work on their bottom sides.  (I figured this out only after dumping the contents of several cans of soup.)  Using a beer can just meant I had to be careful not to cut my fingers on the sharp edges.

I start by pressing my avocado, which I’ve blended with a dash of lemon juice, some salt, pepper, and EVOO, into a more-or-less flat 1″ thick layer on the bottom of my can.

Then I layer in the crab meat salad.

I vary carefully slide the can up and off the filling so it maintains its shape, pressing down on the crab meat to keep the filling on the plate.  Oiling the can a bit beforehand helped.

A basic antipasto of rolled prosciutto di parma, burrata cheese, capers, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar, along with some EVOO and lemon juice dressed maché, add extra dimensions to this already sophisticated presentation.  Crab and avocado, although not meant to co-exist in nature, seem destined for each other’s company on the plate: the sweet, tender sinews of crab absorb the buttery texture of the stone fruit’s green goodness, creating a harmonious marriage on the palate unrivaled in the realm of simple pleasures.  Along with a cold glass of sparkling rosé, this delectable dinner is truly a treat – tonight, for one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it for your sweetie whenever the mood strikes you…

Weeknight Wondermeal: Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am a total fish-head this time of year.  If it swims in the ocean, bottom-feeds off the sea-floor, or otherwise spends its life in salt-water, I want it during the summer.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a pretty poor swimmer; maybe if I eat more sea-creatures, I’ll absorb their floating abilities and be able to improve my dog-paddle.  I know, I know – suggesting that ingesting swimming things to make me a better swimmer is as logical as thinking that pears and avocados would taste good together because they have the same silhouette, but they DO taste good together, so…. (I’ll leave you to construct an irrefutable ratiocination for my syllogism).  Anyhoo – after the super-hot, thoroughly humid, and completely unpleasant weather recently (which threatened violent thunderstorms that never came, leaving us without the welcome break from humidity rain usually brings), I wasn’t too hungry either – so a light dinner was in order.  Hake is a nice, flaky white-fish, kind of like cod or haddock, and is perfect for a pan-sear.  Along with some quickly minced olives for a garnish and an easy side salad, this fresh, healthy supper was just right: it took only about 15 minutes to make, used very little heat (only one pan to quickly sear the fish), and cost only $20.  Technically, I made it on the weekend, but it shares all the right characteristics for a Weeknight Wondermeal (cheap, easy, and quick), so I trust you’ll forgive the misnomer…

Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

1 lb fresh hake filet
1 tbs butter
flour
seasoned salt, black pepper
fresh arugula
burrata cheese
tomatoes
fresh basil
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar
4-6 oz mixed olives, the brinier the better

I love this product, even though I have no idea what it really is.  OK – I have an idea: it’s fine sea salt blended with chinese-five spice and some sort of hot pepper, likely schezuan.  But despite the fact that the label is replete with English language errors (they marinated the powder?), it is truly hot and flv. and salty — and it is a really delicious seasoning.  I start by splitting my filet into two roughly equal sized halves (which requires that I cut it lengthwise, since it is thicker at one end – and I need to pieces that will cook in the same amount of time), and dousing them with this salt before dusting them thoroughly with flour.

A glug of EVOO and a pat of butter go into my largest non-stick pan over high heat.  You’ve seen me use this combination before: the EVOO alone can smoke and alter the flavor of the fish, but the butter alone can over-brown.  A mix of the two makes just the right balance of milk-solids to foam and straight oil to sizzle.

See?  Once it’s foaming…

… I gently lay my planks of fish on the froth.  Since these pieces are irregularly shaped, I’ll need to sort of roll them so that they brown on all sides, and I sear for about 3 minutes each time.

Like so.  I’m aiming for a nice golden brown, and for fully-cooked through fish — which takes about 10 minutes total.

Me and my burrata cheese.  I know I am a freak for it, but what can I say?  It’s DELICIOUS!  These three ingredients – tomatoes, basil, and burrata – are the makings of a lovely caprese salad…  …but I had some arugula, too, so I added that to the mix.  Oh – and these are OUR tomatoes, grown in our little garden in the sky, just in case you were wondering.  Their skins are a little thick, but they are wonderfully sweet.  I toss everything together with a little salt and pepper, some EVOO, and some white vinegar.

I honestly don’t know what I did before grocery stores started stocking antipasto bars.  Whole Food has a particularly good selection of olives, and I like to pick and choose some of the sharpest, briniest, and strongest varieties they have.

To remove the pits from those that had ‘em, I smash the olive with the flat of my blade, which sort of cracks them open and allows one to fish out the stone from the center.  Then I chop them all up to make a nice relish sort of thing.

My delicate, flaky fish is blanketed by a healthy sprinkling of salty, flavorful olives – a perfect marriage of mild and strong sensations.  The creamy burrata, peppery arugula, fragrant basil, and sweet tomato salad is a nice compliment.  Since I realized I was hungry nary 20 minutes ago and am now sitting down to dinner, I’m pretty happy with myself.  And the husband?  Why, he’s THRILLED – mostly because it tastes so damn good.

Lobster Risotto with Buratta, Pluot, and Mint Salad

My oh my but I’ve been busy — way too busy to blog lately, which I admit with regret.   That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking, though!  Quite the opposite, actually, since last week I catered a party for about 70-80 people, and I’ve been cranking out the home-cooking for the husband since I last spoke to ya’ll as well.  But taking the pictures and birthing them on the web has been a labor I haven’t been up for, and for that I apologize.  Today is a new day!  It’s warm outside my Cambridge windows, and the sun shone all the livelong day – the first of my bike-riding season.  Penelope the Purple Bicycle ventured out with newly inflated wheels and a recently lubed chain on her inaugural ride to Whole Foods and Alive & Kicking Lobsters for the fodder needed for tonight’s feast.  Home-roasted red peppers blended with creamy risotto studded with chunks of lobster and fresh Italian peppered cheese, served with the magical fresh flavors of cool mint, milky burrata, and juicy red plums and purple pluots.

Lobster Risotto with Buratta, Pluot, and Mint Salad

1/2 lb freshly shelled, parboiled lobster meat
1 red bell pepper
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 qt vegetable stock
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 oz fresh peppered Italian farmer’s cheese
2 tbs butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 pluot, 1 red plum
1 boll burrata cheese
8-10 leaves fresh mint
1 cup baby greens
balsamic vinegar
chives, for garnish

Today’s lobsters came from Cambridge’s best kept secret – Louie’s Lobster, a.k.a. Alive & Kicking. It’s nestled at the back of a deepset driveway just north of the corner at River and Putnam.  They have the best lobster sandwich, um, anywhere… and they always have fresh and well-priced bugs available for purchase.  I grabbed a 2 lber, which I par-boiled and shelled, and which yielded about 1/2 lb of tail, claw, and knuckle meat.  I didn’t take pictures of this process, but you can check out my recipe for butter-poached lobster to see how it’s done.  This is my new go-to technique for my most delicate and sophisticated lobster preparations.

If you are a loyal Lolitaist, then you’ve seen my risotto before, too (here and here and here, for example), but I’ll give a little refresher course now.  I start by melting my butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then gently cooking my shallots and onion in the hot fat until they transluce.  I add my short grain rice, and toss thoroughly over the heat to warm each kernel to just-before-toasted.  That all takes about 6-8 minutes.

I lower the heat, and add my wine, stirring well so the rice absorbs all the delicious liquid.  I let this simmer and evaporate for about 3-4 minutes.

Adding 3 oz at a time, my warmed vegetable stock gets gently stirred into the pot, teasing the thickening starches off each kernel of rice, plumping every grain with its flavorful moisture.  This simmers on low, each new scoop of stock added only when the last scoop is absorbed by the rice, turning it into risotto.  30 minutes, more or less.  It is a labor of love.

Meanwhile, my pepper gets doused with EVOO and sprinkled with salt and pepper before roasting on all sides in a 450° oven.

After about 10 minutes total on roast, my pepper is blackened all ’round, and I chuck it into a paper bag to cool, and to loosen the skin for easier removal with the flat of my chef’s blade.

A quick chop later, and they’re ready for the risotto.

At the 25 minute mark or so (or when a random grain of rice tasted on the tongue is just still barely firm in the center), I add the pepper and stir well.

The Cambridge Winter Farmers Market is in full swing, and Clayton and I had fun checking it out on Saturday.  This lovely product is from Wolf Meadow Farm; it is a peppered version of their Primo Sale, one of their youngest, freshest cheeses.  The super-sexy cheesemaker sampled his wares with gusto, and I was charmed into purchasing this beautiful 6oz block for a very reasonable $6 with the vague idea of cooking with it this weekend.

I cut 1/2 the cheese into small hunks, and stir it into my thick, rich rice.

Finally, my lobster is lovingly chopped…

… and stirred into the pot.

The heat is off, and the final ingredient is a couple tablespoons of chives, to add green and tang to the risotto, a shot of heavy cream to add silk to the sauce, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste.  Sitting off the heat will thicken everything up perfectly, but with the lid on it will stay piping hot for the last 5 minutes before plating.

The final component is a sweet, light salad to be the cool complement to my hot, rich rice.  I’m all about the basics of a caprese salad: a sweet or tart juicy fruit or vegetable, a green fresh herb, and a milky mozzarella cheese.  Tonight’s variation was inspired by the ruby red plums and perfect pluots Whole Foods hawked in today’s market.  I’d sub their silky sweetness for the ubiquitous tomato, freshen those fruit slices with leaves of icy mint, and blend them with burrata cheese.

A slice of fruit, a pinch of baby greens, a wedge of ricotta-stuffed mozzarella, and a leaf of mint – I layer this horizontal Napoleon across my plate, drizzle it with balsamic glaze, and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and EVOO.  It is as sumptuous as it is beautiful.

My creamy risotto sports mouthfuls of sweet, tender lobster meat, all bathed in a rich sauce redolent of roasted red peppers and milky farmer’s cheese.  It’s all warm and thick but light and herbaceous — just the right balance of flavors, just the perfect blend of textures.  The sweet juicy pluots and plums sugared the curds and cream, spiced with the fragrant mint leaves and concentrated molasses of the thick balsamic glaze.  What a wonderful platter of perfection — warm and cool, hearty and light, fresh and homey.  It may have been a while since I cooked for you last, my friends, but if you could but taste this meal, I think you’d agree it was worth the wait.