A Dinner for a Hot Summer’s Night
It’s really here now, isn’t it? Summer in all its tomato-eatin’, mosquito-swattin’, water-fightin’ glory. The cicadas are winding themselves up to a frenzy out there in the night, and there have even been a few days when it’s been almost-but-not-quite too hot to cook. I’m deep into it, reveling in eggplant and ice cream and firing up the grill, but also painfully aware that it’s beginning to slip away already, that the light is almost gone by 8:30, and when I went looking to buy water blasters they had been displaced by school supplies. But I’m an autumnal refusenik right now, digging in my heels against September and stretching each August day to its full length.
In that spirit, I recommend our menu from last night which seems almost too simple to report, but was deliciously and utterly summer. There was gazpacho to start — a very simple gazpacho of tomatoes, seeded cucumber, red onion, some bread crumbs, cilantro, sherry vinegar and water given a quick swirl in a blender (bonus points for a serious dent in the farm share!). There was a bottle of chilled pinot grigio. At the end, there were chilled cubes of watermelon (more farm share, more bonus points).
And in between? There was an amazingly simple and amazingly good fish that caused us to halt conversation every few sentences and say “oh man! How about this? This is good!” I was inspired by a recipe in Lynne Rosetto Kaspar’s book The Splendid Table. She reports that this is a classic preparation from Italian sea side restaurants. The concept and the execution are simple. A paste of herbs, garlic and olive oil, a little time for the fish to soak in the flavor and a few minutes over a hot grill. We used a $6.00 piece of Trader Joe’s frozen swordfish, and it turned out brightly flavored and wonderfully succulent; I can only speculate and drool over what this would taste like with some fancy fresh fish. We may have been sitting on our citronella-surrounded deck in downtown Ann Arbor rather than a patio overlooking the Mediterranean, but it felt like la dolce vita to me.
Mediterranean Grilled Fish
1 lb. of firm fleshed fish fillets (Kaspar recommends bluefish, mackeral, tuna or swordfish)
4 T minced fresh herbs (I used a mix of flat leaf parsley and basil at about a 1:3 ratio)
1 clove minced garlic
2 T olive oil
Grind the herbs, garlic, olive oil and salt into a coarse paste using the grinding apparatus of your choice. I used the mortar and pestle because I don’t own a food processor, but that’s not a point of pride. Cut a few shallow slits into the fish and rub on both sides with the herb paste. Wrap the fillets in plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for 2-5 hours.
When ready to eat (say just before you sit down with your gazpacho), light a charcoal fire and let burn until the coals are covered with grey ash. With the grill approximately six inches from the coals, grill the fish quickly on both sides (about 2-5 minutes a side depending on the thickness of the fish). Serve with a squeeze of lemon.
We also had some blanched green beans (see farm share, above) tossed in olive oil, lemon. fleur de sel and fresh marjoram, my new favorite way to eat green beans. I spent the better part of my life despising green beans and now I have a favorite way to eat them!
This menu best if eaten while crickets carry on and the stars shine overhead.