After an inexcusably long break from anything other than the most rudimentary cooking I attempted an evening of gastronomic wonder last night. My inspiration was the August 2017 issue of Bon Appetit titled, “the Simple issue.” Each recipe maxes out at five ingredients (or at least it’s supposed to. Ahem. gazpacho. Whatever.) , so for a novice chef it was rewarding without being overwhelming.
I made a caprese salad replacing the tomatoes with fresh figs, a flank steak with zucchini salsa, a green gazpacho, and pickled blackberries. I also, unrelated to Bon Appetit, made cornbread because cornbread is always welcome.
- Figcaprese: I didn’t follow the recipe on this one, just looked at the picture and thought, “I can do that.” Having dubiously reliable cooking instincts however sometimes results in accidental genius, but often enough spells disaster. In this case I artfully displayed fresh mozzarella, quartered figs, and roughly chopped basil on a green plate, sprinkled it all with sea salt, then doused it with olive oil. It now occurs to me that I might have needed a bit of vinegar. Although each individual part was lovely, and the simplicity of the dish allowed it to be successful despite my bumbling, it was not entirely a success. Too much basil gave it a bit too much of a herby medicinality, and I went overboard with the olive oil. The poor bastards were just swimming in it. Still, if you want to try what is obviously a wonderful dish I suggest going to boba-petit.com/figcaprese and attempting it the right way.
- Sippin’ Green Gazpacho: Although my son refused to even look at it, and my wife had only modest acceptance to report, my two-year-old daughter and I thought this was just lovely. The vibrant, almost buoyant green color is delightful. It’s peppery and salty and refreshing and it makes you feel like a much healthier person that you might normally. So it’s just win after win in my opinion.
- 2 lbs cucumbers (they say English, but I used Persian and it seemed fine. Perhaps a bit less refreshing since the ones I used were smaller and therefore more numerous.)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 cups coarsely chopped arugula
- 2 cups coarsely chopped mixed tender herbs (like basil, parsley, cilantro, and/or mint). I used everything but cilantro since the wifely counterpart hates the stuff. Sigh.
- 3 Tbsp (or more) sherry or red wine vinegar
- Kosher salt
- 3/4 cup (or more) olive oil
You start by blending the cucumbers, garlic, and 1/2 a cup of water then you just keep adding the rest bit by bit. Finally you drizzle the olive oil in with the blender running. In the end you’re just standing there with salt, vinegar, and olive oil, tasting and adjusting as needed. It should chill for at least 4 hours, but I threw the whole thing in the freezer for 1/2 an hour because I was in a hurry and that seemed fine. This morning I had a small cup as well. It was amazing.
3. Pounded Flank Steak with Zucchini Salsa: This turned out pretty good. My knife skills are just “knife” without the skills part, so the zucchini salsa which is supposed to be very uniform was, um, rustic, but nice. Not being a super frequent steak eater I usually associate it with complete indulgence, as in, large slabs of fatty juiciness with fries, or roasted potatoes and green vegetables locked in the basement. This felt fairly light, all things considered, so there was a moment of adjusting my palletary expectations.
- 1.5 Los zucchini, cut into 1/4″ pieces (about 5 cups)
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. coarsely choppedoregano, plus leaves for serving
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1.5 lb. piece flank steak
- Everything goes in a bowl except the flank steak. Salt and pepper to taste. The flank steak you take and pound with whatever is handy, they say mallet, but I used a rolling pin, to about 1/2″ thick. Salt it thoroughly and rub a bit of olive oil on it. I fried it in a pan for approximately two minutes on each side which got it to a fairly nice medium-rare. I didn’t get quite the browning on the outside that I wanted, but didn’t want to risk overcooking. Make sure to rest the steak for 5-10 minutes and then cut it in half once down the grain before slicing it thin across the grain.
4. Pickled Blackberries: So, um, this calls for 6 oz of blackberries, 6 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar, 2 Tbsp each of fish sauce and sugar, and that’s it. Sounds simple. You shake everything up in a jar then submerge the blackberries in it and chill for four hours. I’m still trying to figure out what I did wrong. My result was sour, fish sauce blackberries which, as you might expect, taste pretty awful. The blackberries I used, though delightful in appearance, were not sweet at all on their own, so my best guess is that I should have upped the sugar by a fair bit. I still like the idea of these pickled blackberries, though my stomach turns at the thought of eating another one. Nem jó, as the Hungarians might say.
Everything was super OK. I had fun doing it. It seems that food tastes a little more exciting when you make it yourself. Most importantly: cornbread. Watching the Great British Baking Show folks are always, “whacking” stuff in the oven, or the prover, or whatever. I’ve been looking forward to employing the word ever since those charming folks over the Atlantic introduced me to it so, without much further ado, I just whacked the cornbread batter in the oven for 30 minutes at 425 degrees. With whipped butter and buckwheat honey it’s an absolute dream. Besides, I had to make up for the zucchini and the gazpacho. I wouldn’t want to neglect my impending cardiac showdown.