To date, I have steered clear of barbeque recipes because I think that people have definite ideas about what and how they want to cook on a fire. No need for instruction on hamburgers or steaks or ribs or chicken or grilled vegetables. However, in keeping with my objective of providing recipes that are both out-of-the-ordinary and simple-to-make, I can’t resist passing on a few that have probably never crossed your path: Two are from southern Africa and the third is a simple riff on tandoori chicken. All three start with a spicy marinade and, need I say, are out-of-the-ballpark winners.

shrimp

Peri-Peri Prawns

This is not a dish for the faint of heart: It’s spicy and messy but I can’t think of a tastier way to cook shrimp on the barbeque. It originated in Mozambique where the prawns (shrimp) are abundant and highly prized.  Apparently the peri peri pepper, a close relative of the Scotch bonnet, was brought there by the Portuguese centuries ago and over time it was decided that their flavor enhanced the local prawns.  Peri peri sauce, which could be described as fiery, is popular in Mozambique, in Portugal, and in South Africa, where it is served with both prawns and chicken.  You can make it using fresh Scotch bonnets but I find them too explosive, so for heat I prefer to use dried crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne, or my favorite standby, piment d’Espelette.  I usually make extra peri-peri because it keeps for a long time in the refrigerator and, if you like things hot, a spoon or two of it is delicious on just about anything.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs. large unpeeled shrimp, preferably with heads on 

For the peri-peri sauce:

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons of hot red pepper (flakes, cayenne, or piment d’Espelette, which is milder)

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup vegetable oil

Pound the garlic, salt and spices in a pestle and mortar until you have a paste.  Add the lemon juice and then gradually the oil.  Wash the shrimp and pat them dry. Save half of the marinade for later use and pour the rest of it over the shrimp, tossing them until completely covered.  Leave them for 2-3 hours, or longer if it suits you. 

Grill them on a hot barbeque for 1- 2 minutes a side, depending on their size.  You can thread them on skewers if you think it’ll make them easier to handle. 

When cooked, you need to peel the shrimp (and take off their heads if necessary) and eat them with your hands, adding a squeeze of lemon juice or dunking them in the extra peri-peri sauce if you really like it hot.  So have lemon quarters and paper towels ready.  In South Africa they are usually served with rice, in which case add a tablespoon or two of the leftover marinade to the rice.

tandoori

 

Mock Tandoori Chicken

There’s a lot that’s appealing about chicken marinated in yoghurt and curry spices then cooked on the barbeque.  It’s a great diet dish, super simple to make, and the yoghurt marinade acts as a tenderizer. While It’s not quite chicken done in a tandoori oven, it brings the exotic flavors of India straight to your back yard.  I generally use boneless, skinless breasts but you can use any part of the chicken you choose as long as you adjust the cooking time accordingly. I like to serve it on a salad bed of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peppers and red onion, dressed lightly with a vinaigrette or oil and lemon.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of tendons and fatty bits

Marinade:

1 cup plain yoghurt (you can use low fat)

2 tablespoons good curry powder or garam masala

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds (optional)

1/2  teaspoon cayenne (optional, depending on whether your curry powder is hot or mild)

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon salt

Mix the marinade ingredients well and pour them over the chicken breasts, turning them over and over until completely coated. Refrigerate for 2-3 hour at least or preferably overnight.  Drain the chicken, leaving a light coating of the yoghurt mixture.  Cook on a medium-hot barbeque, 5-7 minutes a side, depending on the size of the breasts.  Watch for burning, the yoghurt can blacken easily although a little black and crisp adds to the flavor.  Slice the chicken thinly and arrange it on your prepared salad.  If you have enough of the marinade left over, you can heat it up and pour it over the chicken.

 

Sosaties

lamb

 

This is another dish of Cape-Malay origin and could well be called the national dish of South Africa. Lamb is marinated for a few days in a sweet-sour curry mixture and then put on skewers with dried apricots and onions and grilled on the barbeque (or braai as it’s know in South Africa). Nowadays it is often made with chicken but I think that lamb is hands-down better.  Traditionally this is served with yellow rice but I prefer it with a salad, as in the tandoori chicken recipe above.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 – 2 lbs leg or shoulder of lamb, cut in about 1″ cubes

1 dozen dried apricots, split in two if large

1/2 onion, cut into pieces to match the size of the lamb cubes

 For the marinade:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 onion, chopped fine

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

2 tablespoons curry powder (hot if you like)

1/2 cup vinegar (red, white or cider)

1/2 cup sugar, preferably brown

1/2 cup water

Salt

Make the marinade: Saute the onion in the oil until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and curry powder and stir until well mixed, another minute or two.  Add the vinegar, sugar, water and salt and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.  Let cool completely and then pour it over the lamb, apricots and onion, tossing them around until completely covered.  Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 24 hours but up to 3 days, tossing the ingredients around once of twice.  Thread them onto skewers – piece of lamb, apricot, piece of lamb, onion, until all the ingredients are used up.  Grill over a hot charcoal fire 4-5 minutes a side until crisp on the outside but still pink inside.  Serve with a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and onion, either dressing it with oil and vinegar or boiling up the remaining marinade and pouring it over the veggies.

Each of the above dishes will make a delicious – and different – addition to your barbeque reportoire. 

 

When I spent a summer on a Greek island almost fifty years ago, there was a great deal of excitement one day when one of the locals caught a big fish. It wasn’t seriously large like a swordfish or marlin, more like a 5 pound Mediterranean sea bass.  But it was still cause for celebration because in those days there weren’t many fish in that part of the Med that weighed more than a few ounces, except of course for octopus.

A party was planned to cook the fish and fortunately I was invited. It was there that I first heard the melodious term “Psari Plaki” (SAR-ee PLA-kee) – psari being Greek for fish and plaki meaning something like “laid flat.” A fire was lit, and a large pan produced. The fish, after being cleaned and scaled, was laid flat in the pan on a bed of tomatoes and onions and herbs and garlic, decorated with lemon and tomato slices and annointed with olive oil. It was then covered and baked on the fire for about an hour: The marvellous aroma of tomatoes and garlic and baking fish filled the air as we stoked our appetites on meze and retsina. Finally it was uncovered and served, and it was the best fish I had ever tasted.

Since then I have cooked psari plaki whenever a suitable fish presents itself. I sometimes do it with two smaller ones, and I usually add potatoes to the pan to make a complete meal.

Psari Plaki

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 2-3 lb. whole fish such as sea bass, daurade, or snapper or two weighing about a pound each

1/2 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

3 large ripe tomatoes

1 lemon, sliced thin

2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or fresh oregano

4 medium potatoes, peeled and parboiled 10 minutes

Salt and pepper

Scale, gut and clean the fish, leaving the head/s on. Salt and pepper well inside and out. Set it/them aside. Cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over gentle heat for 5 minutes. Meanwhile plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute to loosen the skins and then peel them. Chop two of them coarsely and add them to the onions along with the garlic and herbs. Cook the mixture gently for 5 minutes, then pour it into a pan large enough to hold the fish. Place the fish on top. Cut the remaining tomato into slices and lay them on top of the fish, alternating with slices of lemon. Cut the cooled, parboiled potatoes into fairly thin slices and lay them down each side of the pan. You’ll find the assembling of the dish easy to follow if you look at the picture. Finally sprinkle the remaining olive oil over the fish, tomatoes and potatoes.

Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake it in a 350 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the fish. You should check it regularly after 30 minutes so you don’t overcook it. Insert a knife close to the bone to make sure the flesh is firm and the juices run clear. 

Summer is fast slipping away. The last of our figs have been eaten or made into confit. The vendange is under way and promises an excellent, if somewhat reduced, production of rosés and reds. The time has come to start packing up for our return to San Francisco. It’s always sad to leave – we’ll miss the glorious weather, the wonderful food and wine, the trips to Spain and Italy and to other parts of France, and of course, the vibrant local markets (including Bread Lady, overflowing with joylessness). But there’s the liveliness and diversity of San Francisco to look forward to, as well as our family whom we’ve been away from for too long.

To pique your interest and hopefully steer you in this direction someday soon, here are some pictures of our local market.

{Editor’s note: When Jake sent me the email containing this photo, it had just one line accompanying it: “It tastes way better than it looks.” Disclaimed! -Sam}

You may have noticed that, unlike most food blogs, this one isn’t loaded down with desserts. The reason is that we’re not all that creative in this field and actually prefer a piece of cheese or fruit at the end of a meal. Best leave the sweet stuff to the experts.

When a birthday or other special occasion demands something more, we fall back on one of the local patisseries here in France and, as often as not, the local Safeway in San Francisco for their gaudily decorated chocolate supreme birthday cakes. Some in the family just can’t get enough chocolate.

But the beautiful peaches we bought at the market yesterday made us think with longing of Richard Olney’s Peach Bread Pudding. We haven’t made it in a few years mostly because it has a zillion calories in each serving, even without the crème fraîche we like to ladle on top.  But an indulgence every now and then can’t be that sinful, particularly when the memory of the last bite sustains you for a couple of years.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 oz. unsalted butter

2 cups day-old country bread (not levain) cut into 1″ cubes, crusts left on

3 ripe peaches

2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the peaches

2 eggs

2 cups half and half (mixed milk and cream)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt half the butter in a large frying pan and cook the bread over medium heat, tossing it until it’s lightly golden and crisp and adding more butter as necessary. Empty into a buttered baking dish.  

Plunge the peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skins.  Peel them and cut into fairly thin slices. Scatter the peaches over the bread, tucking them in to form a fairly even surface.

Whip the sugar into the eggs, then whisk in the half and half.  Pour over the bread and peaches – it should just about cover them.  Bake for about 35 minutes until the custard is set.  Serve tepid, with cream if you like. 

As soon as the tomato season gets into full swing in Provence around the beginning of July, we jump up early on Sunday mornings and head to the nearby village market. First things first: Our Sunday ritual of coffee and croissants on the terrace has to wait until our return. There are many vegetable stalls at the market but for those in the know there is one that hands down wins the tomato gold medal, and you need to get there early to make sure you’re in the running. We often buy 3 or 4 kilos (6-8 pounds) to take care of our tomato addiction – we certainly wouldn’t want to run out during the week.

Aside from gazpacho and simple salads, there are a zillion other ways we use them: In sauces and vegetable tians, in tarts and omelettes, stuffed and sundried, to name just a few. Except for maybe the onion is there any vegetable more useful than the tomato?

Here are a few of our favorite quick-and-easy recipes which I hope will add to your repertoire for those occasions when your palate (or your family) demands a change.

MY COLD TOMATO SOUP

I actually made up this recipe about fifty years ago. It was so well received that I’ve continued to make it every summer and then hand out the recipe to friends who ask for it once they’re tasted it. It does require tomatoes at the peak of perfection so don’t even think about making it with inferior ones.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 perfectly ripe tomatoes (depending on size, you want to end up with about 4 cups)

1 1/4″ thick slice baked ham (not proscuitto) chopped very finely, about 1/3 of a cup

2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber

1 tablespoon each chopped basil, parsely and chives (save some for the garnish)

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/3 cup whipping cream or creme fraiche

Salt and pepper

Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute, drain, rinse in cold water and peel. Chop them up roughly and puree them in the food processor, leaving a bit of texture. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse a few times to combine, then add salt and pepper to taste. Chill well and serve. This is a wonderfully rich soup.  Don’t leave out the ham – surprisingly, most people think it tastes like crab. 

PERFECT PANZANELLA

Panzanella is not the kitchen sink, as in everything but….Wikipedia, in its definition says “panzanella is generally made of stale bread soaked in water and squeezed dry, tomatoesolive oilvinegarsalt, and pepperOnions and basil are often added.” It goes on to say “other ingredients—lettuceolivesmozarellawhite winecapersanchoviescelerycarrotsred winered onioncucumber,tunaparsleyboiled eggsmintbell pepperslemon juice, and garlic— are sometimes used, but Florentine traditionalists disapprove of them.”

Well, add me to the list of disapprovers.

First of all, it should be made of top flight ingredients – ripe, summer-sweet tomatoes, stale crusty bread (Tuscan unsalted if you happen to live in Tuscany), mild red onion, your very best olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of  fresh basil. That’s it. Well, some chopped cucumber and a little garlic won’t hurt but any of the other ingredients listed above are strictly taboo, at least in our household.  We also don’t like to soak the bread in water as it makes it mushy. Better to add it directly to the bowl with the other ingredients, toss it around and it will absorb the tomato juices, oil, and vinegar while retaining some of its chewiness.

 Serves 4

 Ingredients:

 4-6 ripe tomatoes (about 1-1/2 lbs) cut into bite-size chunks

1/2 a small red onion cut into very thin slices

3 tablespoons best olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or you can use half balsamic, half red wine)

2 tablespoons torn-up basil leaves

2 cups crusty bread, such as sourdough, 1-2 days old, crusts left on, cut into 1″ cubes

Salt and pepper to suit your taste

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly until the tomatoes release some of their juices and the bread is no longer dry but still crisp around the edges.   Let sit for 10 minutes and toss again before serving.

Additional suggestions:  If your bread isn’t completely dry, put the cubes in a low oven (150 degrees) for about 10 minutes.  

You can use a Vidalia or other sweet onion or, if your red onion seems sharp, put the slices in a small bowl and just cover it with a mixture of boiling water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vinegar and let soak for 10 minutes or so. Drain well. This is a good way to tone down raw onions for any recipe.

UNCOOKED TOMATO SAUCES FOR PASTA

These are two summer pasta dishes where all you have to cook is the pasta.  We love the contrast between the hot pasta and the cold sauce and even if the pasta cools a bit, they are still a summer delight – easy and quick to make with ingredients you probably have on hand. Both recipes are for four but you can obviously increase or decrease quantities easily, depending on whether you’re serving it as a first or main course. Although we prefer lighter pastas such as angel hair or spaghettini for both, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand.

FRESH TOMATOES, BASIL AND CHEVRE 

Serves 4

4-6 ripe tomatoes, cut into large dice (about 1-1/2 lbs.)

2 -3 tablespoons torn basil leaves

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons of your best olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 oz. soft goat cheese (such as Montrachet) 

12 oz. pasta of your choice

Put the tomatoes and basil in a bowl to which you can add the cooked pasta.  Make a vinaigrette: Pound the garlic clove with a teaspoon of salt in a pestle and mortar (or bowl if you don’t have one). Add the vinegar, olive oil and pepper and stir to combine.  Pour over the tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Soften the goat cheese by whipping it with a fork so that it will melt into the sauce. If it still seems stiff, add a teaspoon of cream or milk.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions, drain well and stir it into the tomatoes.  Serve immediately with a dollop or two of chevre crowning each serving.  

If you don’t happen to have chevre on hand, this dish is still wonderfully simple and satisfying without it.

FRESH PUTTANESCA

You’ve probably seen recipes for spaghetti alla puttanesca or “whore’s spaghetti.” There is always a lengthy discussion on the origins of the dish and why and when the whores of Naples made it. It actually dates from the mid-20th century, but who cares? Enough to say that they got it right – it’s a lusty, warming dish for a cold winter night. But the ingredients are so invitingly earthy that I thought why not put them together without cooking them so that the dish could be enjoyed when tomatoes are at their peak? Needless to say, I was not the first person to have this insight.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 ripe tomatoes, cut into smallish dice (about 1-1/2 pounds)

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

4-6 anchovy filets, drained and finely chopped

8-10 black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes (or more, if you like things really spicy)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

12 oz. pasta of your choice

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate them and the pasta.  Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions.  Drain well and add to the bowl, tossing  to coat with the sauce.  Check for salt – you won’t need pepper. Serve immediately.

The thought of pickling fish is hardly something to make you salivate, but please don’t be put off by the name. It should be called Absoutely Delicious Cold Curried Fish. It’s perfect summer fare, keeps in the refrigerator for a week and is delightfully different. There are many South African dishes of Malay origin. Malays, mainly Javanese, were first brought to the Cape as slaves in the 17th century and were in time valued for their cooking skills. Cape Malay curries tend to be sweet-sour and are less spicy than their Indian cousins. You can serve pickled fish as a first course or as a main course with a salad such as the herbed potato salad in the previous blog and a plate of sliced tomatoes.

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a first course

 Ingredients:

1 lb. firm thick fish filets, such as cod

1 tablespoon seasoned flour

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, sliced fairly thinly

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed

1/3 cup white wine vinegar (you can use red if it’s all you have)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup water

salt

3 bay or lemon leaves 

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional)

Cut the fish into approximately 2″ x 2″ chunks. Pat it dry and coat it lightly with the seasoned flour (I shake it gently in a plastic bag). Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan large enough to hold the fish in one layer. Fry the fish in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes a side, depending on its thickness. Do not overcook. Drain the fish on paper towels and allow to cool.

Make the sauce: Fry the onions in the remaining tablespoon of oil over low heat for five minutes then add the garlic, curry powder, turmeric and coriander, stirring the spices around for a few minutes to release their aromatic oils. Add the vinegar, sugar and water, bring to the boil and simmer the mixture gently for 10 minutes. Add salt and check that the vinegar-sugar ratio suits your taste. Let cool.  

Assemble the dish: Put half the sauce and the onions on the bottom of a dish that will hold the fish in one layer. Cover it with the fish and the remaining sauce and onions. Tuck the bay leaves in between and sprinkle with the optional cilantro. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two days, turning the fish over after a day. Serve each portion with some of the sauce and the onions. It will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week. 

These are my two favorite potato salad recipes – not your usual American potato salad with loads of mayo and maybe sour cream and hard-boiled eggs and celery and whatever. Except for the potatoes, these two couldn’t be more different.

The first is herbed potato salad. When I co-owned Fête Accomplie, a catering business and gourmet carry out in Washington D.C. in the 80’s, it was one of our most popular dishes. I think people liked the fact that it’s healthier than most potato salads, goes with just about everything, keeps for days,  and – need I say – is also quite delicious.

Herbed Potato Salad

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs. small red (or white) potatoes

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped mint

1/4 cup chopped dill

1/4 chopped chives or green onions

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked. Drain well. When cool enough to handle, cut them in half and put them in a bowl along with the chopped herbs.  

Make the dressing:  Mix all the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar or bowl. Add to the potatoes and herbs. Toss well. It can be served at once but keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

Note: I have found that it tastes quite differently if dressed when the potatoes are warm and absorb the dressing well. If you dress them when they get cold, the dressing mostly simply coats the potatoes.  I’m not sure which I prefer. You’ll have to try it both ways and decide for yourself. 

Note from Brad:  If you happen to have any cooked mussels on hand (here in France we often do), shell them and mix them into this potato salad, leaving out the mint and dill. It’s a poor man’s Salade Francillon (minus the black truffles), a recipe created by Alexander Dumas.  It’s a real treat.

The second is my version of Ensalada Rusa, which, surprise, surprise, originated in Russia, but has for many years been found on the counters of tapas bars in Spain. It is also wildly popular in Latin America and elsewhere. The original Russian version called Salade Olivier contained such exotic ingredients as grouse and crayfish, but it has moved a long way since then. It is still quite exotic with, beside the potatoes, additions such as peas, carrots, green beans, roasted red peppers, olives, tuna and hard-boiled eggs. I usually make it for festive occasions like the Fourth of July or Bastille Day. I like to mound it up on a platter like a cake so that it can be cut into wedges. As you can see from the picture, I sometimes get a little carried away with the decoration.

If I’m going to serve it on its own as a tapa or separate course, I usually add the tuna and  hard-boiled eggs. But I leave them out if it’s accompanying a barbeque or other main course dishes. It’s very rich and goes a long way but is still worth making in fairly large quantity, as it’ll keep in the refrigerator for a few days and is certainly worth a second visit.

Ensalada Rusa

Serves several

Ingredients:

2 lbs. medium-sized potatoes such as Yukon Gold, peeled

2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice 

1 cup frozen peas (or you can use 2 cups frozen peas and carrots)

1 roasted red pepper cut into thin strips (you can use canned)

10 pimento-stuffed green olives

1 – 1-1/2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon garlic 

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Optional:

1 cup cooked small green beans, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 6 oz. can tuna, drained and flaked

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped fine

A few black olives, pitted

Boil the potatoes until cooked but still firm. Drain them, and when they’re cool, cut them into about 1/2″ dice. Cook the carrots, adding the peas to the water for the last few minutes (or cook frozen peas and carrots according to the package directlons.) Drain well. Cut half the pepper strips into small dice, saving the rest for decoration. Slice the green olives into 4 or 5, saving half for decoration. Put the potatoes, carrots, peas, chopped peppers and olives into a mixing bowl, along with the optional green beans.  If you’re planning on using tuna and/or eggs, add them as well, saving some of the chopped egg for decoration.

Mash the garlic with a little salt and mix in the mayonnaise and the lemon juice. Add one cup of it to the bowl and gently  and thoroughly toss the whole thing, adding salt and pepper to taste.  The mayo should just bind the ingredients. You may need a bit more but you should not end up with a bowl of goop. (It will still taste good if you do.)    

Now comes the fun part: Mound the salad on a platter, shaping it like a cake. Decorate with the sliced peppers, olives, and chopped egg if you’re using it. I add a few black olives for color if I have them on hand. The flavor will improve if you let it sit for an hour or two. Be prepared for lots of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” when you serve it.

This is the chicken version of the Piedmontese dish, vitello tonnato. It’s less trouble to make, less expensive, and some would say equally delicious. It’s best made with poached chicken breasts which are then thinly sliced and layered in a mayonnaise-like tuna sauce. In a pinch you can use a store-bought roasted chicken or – as I often do here in France –  a smoked chicken, readily available at supermarkets. With a green or tomato salad and some crusty bread, it’s perfect for a summer lunch or light supper. For a larger gathering or festive occasion, it can even be made a day ahead of time, knowing that the flavors will only improve with time. In fact I think that, like vitello tonnato, it’s at its best if allowed to sit for a while so that the chicken absorbs the flavors of the sauce.

Serves 4

 Ingredients:

 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 5-6 oz. each

2 cups chicken stock, salted

For the tonnato sauce:

1 – 6 oz. good quality canned tuna

6 anchovy filets

1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

1/2 cup light olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the garnish:

2 – 3 tablespoons capers

Lemon slces

Remove any fat or unpleasant bits from the chicken breasts.  Heat the chicken stock to boiling point in a shallow pan that will just accommodate the chicken breasts. Add the chicken and when it comes back to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer the chicken very gently for two minutes.  Turn the chicken breasts over, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let the chicken rest for a further 5 minutes.  Check that it’s cooked by cutting into a piece or by pressing it with your finger tips.  If it doesn’t give at all, it’s cooked.  Drain the chicken, saving the stock. Slice the chicken crosswise into thin slices (5-6 to each breast).  It doesn’t matter if the slices aren’t perfect – no one will know when you layer it.

Make the tonnato sauce:

Put the tuna and anchovies in a food processor and reduce to a thick puree. You can add the oil from the tuna can if it’s good quality. Add the mayonnaise, then the oil and the lemon juice. You want it to be a thick but pourable sauce; so you’ll need to thin it with a couple of tablespoons of the chicken stock. Taste for seasoning – you can add some pepper, but won’t need much salt (maybe even none) because of the anchovies.

Assemble the dish:

On a deep platter that will take all the chicken, spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce and spread it around.  Cover with a layer of chicken.  Spread enough tonnato on the chicken to cover it.  Sprinkle with some of the capers.  Continue to layer the chicken and tonnato, ending up with a layer of tonnato.  Sprinkle with the rest of the capers and decorate with lemon slices. Refrigerate the dish for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, making sure you remove it from the fridge at least an hour before consuming it. You may have some tonnato left over — it’s especially delicious with hard-boiled eggs or sliced tomatoes.

I’ve been chomping at the bit to write this blog for some time, but had to restrain myself until summer actually arrived. These are our favorite salads that we make over and over again – for picnics, for lunches on the terrace, and for cold suppers anywhere. Aside from being really delectable, they are ALL very easy to make — you won’t spend hours in the kitchen “dragging your tits over a hot stove”, as our friend Charles used to say.

These are not composed salads which can serve as an entire meal, but rather are meant to be part of a team for a picnic or buffet. While these four go together, any one of them would be happy with other players you might prefer to select.

Tuscan Bean Salad

This is my version of the famous tuna and white bean salad. Couldn’t be simpler, and the flavors are not muddied by unnecessary additions like olives and sundried tomatoes which, in my opinion, don’t improve it at all. It’s wonderful to take on a picnic, kids love it, and if by some remote chance you have leftovers, it can be trotted out a second or even a third time.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

 2 cans of your best cannelini beans, rinsed and well drained

1 can of tuna (see below)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

Dressing:

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon each lemon juice and red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

I like to use the best canned tuna I can find – usually bottles of albacore packed in olive oil from Spain or Italy – but the salad will still be good even if you choose to use any-old-tuna packed in water. Make the dressing: Crush the garlic with a half-teaspoon of salt, add the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and pepper, stir well to blend.  Put the beans, parsley and onion in a serving bowl and add the dressing.  Drain the tuna, flake it, mix half of it into the beans and decorate the top with the rest of it. Taste to make sure the seasoning is right. 

Squid and Tomato Salad

This is a Richard Olney recipe from his Provence the Beautiful Cookbook.  Provided you have squid on hand, it’s a snap to make. Usually I use frozen squid, readily available in France and at Trader Joe’s in the U.S., but you can of course use fresh. Small squid remain meltingly tender if you cut them into rings and cook them over high heat for no more than a minute. Overcooked, they toughen and you end up with rubber bands.  I usually thaw the squid about halfway, cut it into 1/4 inch rings and then let it completely thaw in a colander.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 

2  ripe tomatoes cut into fairly large dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. small squid, 3-4″ long, cleaned and cut crosswise into rings

1 tablespoon chopped parsley and/or basil

Salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette:

1 small garlic clove

Pinch of coarse salt

1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoon olive oil

Pepper

Put the chopped tomatoes into a strainer to drain for 20-30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a pan large enough to accommodate the squid in a single layer.  Pat the squid dry, throw them in the pan, and stir fry them over high heat for no more than a minute or until they have released their liquid and turned opaque. Scoop them into a salad bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the liquid in the pan to a teaspoon or two.

Make the vinaigrette: Pound the garlic and salt to a paste (preferably in a mortar), add 1 teaspoon vinegar, one tablespoon oil and the reduced squid liquid.

Mix the drained tomatoes with the squid along with the chopped parsely and/or basil.  Pour over the dressing, toss well, add some pepper and check the seasoning. You may want to add the rest of the vinegar and oil.  It’s best if you can serve it immediately as the warm squid and the cold tomatoes make a lovely contrast.  However, it’s still certainly worth making if you need to save it for later.  It’s also delicious with pasta.  

Greek Beans

If you go into the kitchen of any simple taverna in Greece you are likely to find a pot of these green beans simmering gently on the stove.  I first encountered them almost fifty years ago and have been cooking them ever since, although I have recently changed how I make them.  Greeks simmer the tomatoes and beans together until the beans are tender which can take 40-50 minutes, but I have found that cooking the beans halfway first and adding them to the tomato mixture for a shorter cooking time works just as well. And the beans keep their color instead of turning a rather sinister  shade of green. They also usually start the dish with sauteed onions, but I prefer it with just olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, herbs – and of course the beans. I like to use young runner beans for this dish but any good quality green beans will be fine.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1- 2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1-14 oz. can

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley 

1 lb. runner beans, or use any best-quality green beans

Heat one tablespoon olive oil over low heat.  Add the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to the pan and cook

slowly for about 10 minutes until you have a nice thick tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, top and tail the beans and cut them into about 1″ pieces.  Depending on how young and fresh they are,

cook them (uncovered) in boiling water for about 5 minutes.  They should still be crunchy.  Drain them and add them

to the tomato mixture and continue to cook, uncovered, about 10-15 minutes.  Check the seasoning and stir in the parsley and a little more olive oil.  At this stage you can add some chopped dill, basil or mint if you choose (not all 3).  I like these beans best warm but they are also good hot or cold.  And they last for several days in the refrigerator.

Jamie Oliver’s Watermelon Salad

This is a great hot weather dish – crisp watermelon and salty feta zapped with mint, lime and olive oil. Many variations have shown up on the Internet that add all sorts of unnecessary ingredients. More is not always merrier.  As with the all these recipes, I believe that keeping things simple and letting the chosen flavors shine through usually produces the best results. So I just go with Jamie’s original.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups watermelon, seeded, and cut into cubes

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

The juice of a lime or lemon

Freshly ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients together gently in a serving bowl.  What could be easier?

Note: I have somewhat arbitrarily said that the four recipes above each serve four. This would very much depend on whether you serve all four at once, and whether you add other bits and pieces to your “buffet” or picnic.  Any two of them would probably serve four not-too-greedy people.

There are a zillion recipes out there for ratatouille, right? Everyone from Julia Child to Martha Stewart has a version. So why am I bothering with it it when I usually only write about dishes you’re not likely to run into or ones that I have a strong opinion about the right way to make it? Check the latter.  Ratatouille is one of the most abused dishes in the universe. It seems you can just bung a pile of veggies into a pot with some olive oil and garlic and 15 minutes later, voila, ratatouille!

It’s not a complicated dish but it does require some care. I think it’s important to cook the vegetables separately before combining them, allowing each one to maintain its individuality, so that you don’t end up with a sludgy mound of undercooked eggplant and overcooked zucchini.

With its olive oil, garlic, peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and herbs, ratatouille is about as Provençal as you can get. You can make it year ’round but it’s at its best in the summer when the veggies are at their peak. Not only is it delicious but it’s high in nutrients and low in calories, making it super healthy. I like to serve it on its own, warm or at room temperature, where its flavors can best be appreciated, but it is also good hot with roasts or grilled meat.  As it does take a bit of effort, I usually make a fairly large amount so that by the end of a week we never want to see ratatouille again.

Ratatouille

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients:

3 medium eggplants (aubergines)

3-5 zucchini (courgettes) depending on size, the smaller the better

4-5 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 red and one either green or yellow pepper, sliced thinly into strips

3-4 ripe summer tomatoes (about 1 lb.), peeled and chopped coarsely

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a bay leaf (optional), chopped parsley and basil

Cut the eggplant and the zucchini into 1/2 inch cubes.  (If the zucchini are less than 4″ long, cut them into rounds.)  Put them separately into colanders, salt them with a teaspoon of salt each, weigh them down with something heavy, and let them drain for at least 30 minutes.  Pat dry on paper towels.  I don’t like to saute eggplant because it absorbs too much oil. So I line an oven tray with foil, and toss the eggplant and zucchini separately, each with a tablespoon of olive oil. If your tray is big enough, spread the veggies out separately on the tray – otherwise use two trays. Heat the oven to broil and broil the eggplant/zucchini for about 10 minutes until beginning to brown. Turn them over and bake for a further 5 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.  Ovens and grills vary widely so keep a close watch and do not burn. 

While the eggplant and zucchini are draining and cooking, saute the onion in two tablespoons olive oil until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for another 10 minutes.  Add 3/4 of the tomatoes, the garlic, thyme and optional bay leaf, salt and pepper, and simmer over low heat until the peppers are cooked and the liquid in the pan is reduced somewhat.  Add the eggplant and zucchini and continue to cook over low heat until you are satisfied with its texture.  I like it well cooked so let the combined mixture simmer gently for up to half an hour.  I also like to add the remaining tomato towards the end, especially if the mixture is beginning to stick, but also to give it a jolt of fresh tomato flavor.  This is of course optional.  Turn the ratatouille into a large serving bowl, check for seasoning, add the chopped parsley and torn  basil leaves and a splash of olive oil.  

Covered, it can last in the refrigerator for up to a week and is actually better on the second and third days.  

For something different, spread leftover ratatouille in a gratin dish, heat it and make indentations in its surface to accommodate as many eggs as you wish to serve.  Carefully break an egg into each indentation, return it to the oven at 350 degrees until the eggs are just set, about 10 minutes.