This last week has been FRANTIC, with intentional caps lock. And additional exclamation mark. After a never ending workday on Monday, work on my desk kept piling higher by the minute I was at the office on Tuesday. The rest of the week until now: no different. So why, you might wonder, are there four images above, indicating four recipes to follow, and not just one as usual? Have I gone mad? Not entirely.
Normally, I come up with the post for the weekend during the week, then do the shopping, cooking and snapping on Saturday morning (because of time & lighting in my kitchen), write the text and – done. This week, things are a bit different. In about half an hour I am taking an insanely early train to Hamburg to visit one of my dearest and oldest friends, which I am truly thrilled about. However, this also means no coming up with anything, no shopping, no cooking and snapping in beautiful light. Cooking this week was entirely an evening-matter, and I just occasionally took an Instagram snapshot of what I put together. Et voilà: Going with the theme of a busy week with not a lot of time at my hands, I give you a quick run-through of my week’s eats, simply sitting here at the screen, typing away as I go, in one bulk, enjoying the therapeutic effect of it all. Bear with me, it’s worth it.
Sunday could have been the calm before the storm, but we were cleaning the flat like mad people and just got a quick laying down on the sofa before Marie & Martin, two dear friends and beloved co-eaters came for dinner that night. We had bought some beautiful tuna and fresh salmon the day before. So with 20 minutes to go until our guests arrived (no kidding), Alex (known to those of you who come here regularly as “my husband”) and I went total Ninja on the tuna and did a trio of tuna crudo with Japanese pickles that Marie & Martin had brought us from one of their recent trips there. We had tuna tartar with shallots, sesame oil and pickled cucumber, sashimi with pickled daikon threads (amazing) plus a gorgeously coriander crusted and flash-fried tuna fillet with pickled enoki mushrooms. One tuna steak, one plate, 4 pairs of chopsticks. Period.
For main, we kept it more on the mellow side of things, with a tenderly panfried and flaked salmon fillet served on one of my favorite risottos: with vanilla and garlic. Sounds weird, tastes wonderful, and goes like this: I concocted a vanilla broth with some celery root, cardamom, onion and peppercorns earlier the day. I am no snob when it comes to using a broth shortcut (a.k.a. cube or concentrate) for a weeknight quickfix, but for risotto I always like to make it myself. I stewed one middle sized onion and four (yes) fat sliced garlic cloves with the seeds and husks of 2 entire vanilla pods (another bring-along from Martin & Marie) in some olive oil until tender, then added a small handful of Carnaroli risotto rice for each eater and one additional handful “for the pot”. We like to think that whenever there is risotto left, we will make Arancini, the little fried risotto balls, which of course never happens, because with risotto and us, it’s automatic: whatever’s there – we eat. I will probably do a separate risotto-post one day, giving you all my tricks and do’s and don’ts for it, but for now: I quickly stirred the rice until glossy, then added a splash of white wine and let it cook away, from then on gradually adding the stock ladle by ladle and stirring the risotto for about 17 minutes until the rice was tender but still had the tiniest bite, and the risotto was moist but not liquid. In went about 100 grams of butter, some lemon zest and juice, and done. We had a feast.
Monday was my friend Nazli’s birthday and kind-of-housewarming-party. She and her husband recently moved and everyone gathered at their new home for some bubbly, Nazli’s signature “tart flambée”-style buns and – most importantly – gossip. I know that Nazli is all about Pavlova, the signature Australian dessert with a crunchy yet marshmallowy meringue base, heaps of chilled and whipped cream and berries on top. I quite like making it, because for some reason (which I suspect to be my fascination for cooking with egg yolk – as exemplified here or here), there are always egg whites piling up in my freezer. That’s right, I’m putting them in freezer bags and whenever there are 4 or more, I do a Pavlova. Well, not always. Much less than I’d like to eat one, for sure. So to give my friend something to smile about, I baked the base on Sunday afternoon (it practically did that on its own while we were relaxing) and had Alex bring it to Nazli’s with the trimmings to assemble it there.
To make it, beat 4 egg whites in a completely fat-free bowl, gradually adding 16 tbsp of castor sugar (don’t look at me like that) and beating until shiny peaks form. Preheat the oven to 180 °C top and bottom heat, Then sift 2 tsp of starch on top, plus 1 tsp of white or malt vinegar. Quickly fold this in, then pile the meringue on a baking tray with parchment and mold it into a circle of about 20 cm in diameter. Put it in the oven on medium shelf and immediately turn the heat down to 100 °C. Bake for 1,5 hours, then turn off the heat completely and let it cool off in the oven. The result is a crunchy meringue shell on the outside that hosts the most decadent marshmallowy soft meringue inside. Pile heaps (400 ml) of unsweetened cream on top and scatter with berries of your choice. For me, in winter, there’s only frozen ones that I like to thaw half-way to add another layer of interest of “cold” to the “smooth-creamy-crunchy-sugary-milky”. Pav really saved this day.
Tuesday night, I really craved something hearty and cozy, and meat balls had been on my mind for a few days already, because my mother told me about some she had made when my sister came for lunch. Unlike her, I wanted mine in a bright red tomato sauce and with pasta, sort of wannabe-Italian-but-actually-American-style. Now, when I’m hungry, I am absolutely unbearable. A total nuisance. I confess. So not only did I have to come up with a superquick version of meatballs in tomato sauce because I was hungry, I also had to make sure they were done before Alex came home, in order to spare him my starving-induced-strenuous company. So here’s what I did: I added one and a half tbsp of semolina to 250 g ground beef, then a good pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, a tad nutmeg, some chopped parsley, some more lemon zest, one finely diced shallot and about 2 tbsp ground Parmesan cheese. A splash of water (for the semolina to drink up), some kneading, done. While this mixture sets, I sliced 3 garlic cloves and added them with some more chopped parsley to a generous helping of olive oil, and fried the garlic a bit, not letting it turn (too) brown (=bitter).
You have seen me use canned tomatoes here before, and I think during the winter (all year round actually) they are a great alternative to the watery and metally-tasting things you sometimes get. So in went two cans of chopped tomatoes, plus half a can of water, rinsing the cans of whatever tomato pulp was left in them. I kept the sauce really simple in flavor, just adding salt and black pepper. While the sauce bubbled away (on hight heat), I pulled myself together and rolled the meat into cherry-sized balls, which is why I like to call them beef “pearls”. They are just so pretty. But pretty doesn’t save you, and so they went into the hot purgatory of the tomato sauce, where I let them simmer on lower heat for about 10 minutes until done but still tender. The lemon in the beef pearls goes so well with parsley, tomato and garlic – I urge you – DO try this. The portion (with some additional Capellini) was plenty for the two of us and Alex’ next day work lunch.