June 28, 2006

Box of books: "Eating Outdoors"

My parents, who believe that the way to a person's heart is through the stomach, helped us celebrate our anniversary earlier this month by sending along a box of new cookbooks. Nothing is more fun than getting a box of books from Amazon or Chapters than getting a box of books you didn't order yourself. Inside the box were three enormous volumes, and one slim one (though considering the size of the three others, slim is a relative term). I'll post a recipe or two from each over the next while, focusing on summery ones.

First up is Eating Outdoors: Cooking and Entertaining in the Open Air by Lindy Wildsmith. Wildsmith is an English food writer and cook, and her book is lovely -- most of the recipes are double-page spreads, with a color photograph (by Martin Brigdale) on one side and a fairly simple recipe on the other. The recipes are divided into four chapters, "Barbecues", "Families Outdoors", "Picnics" (more of the elegant English style than the slapdash North American kind), "Elegant al fresco", and "Drinks".

Here's Wildsmith's recipe for Catalan Salad, "a refreshing change from the more usual Salade Nicoise", from the "Families Outdoors" chapter:
Catalan Salad with tuna and aioli (serves 4)

3-1/2 oz. thin green beans (haricot verts)
2 heads baby romaine lettuces
3-1/2 oz. thinly sliced serrano ham or prosciutto
4 hard-cooked eggs, halved lengthwise (the photo shows the yolks still moist and not too hard-cooked, er, boiled)
6-1/2 oz. good-quality canned tuna, drained and broken into large chunks; for a variation, you can use chicken breasts
8 large pitted green olives, halved
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 egg yolk [raw; this doesn't seem to be the concern here it is for most North American cookbook writers and publishers; if you have doubts about the freshness of your eggs and the safety of eating raw eggs, cook the egg in its shell in gently simmering water for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes first]
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the aioli, put the garlic cloves in a mortar and bash them lightly with a pestle, pulling away the skin as it frees itself [you could use peeled cloves and just run them through a garlic press]. Add the salt and grind the garlic to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large, wide bowl, add the lemon juice and the egg yolk and whisk with a metal whisk. Continue whisking as you add the olive oil a few drops at a time; as the aioli starts to thicken, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. This should take about 5 minutes. If you prefer a lighter mayonnaise, whisk in 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill until required.

Cook the beans in salted water for 3-4 minutes until al dente, then drain and plunge into ice water. Drain and dry. Cover a large platter with lettuce leaves, then fan the beans around the rim of the platter, sticking out from under the edge of the lettuce leaves. Twist the slices of serrano ham and arrange them on the lettuce leaves, then arrange the eggs, tuna, and olive halves on top. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the salad, then add salt and pepper. Serve with the aioli in a separate bowl.
Bon appetit, and merci beaucoup!

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