Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ladies Who Lunch

I'm taking advantage of the last few days of summer break to catch up with friends I don't often have time to see during the school year.  Today it was luncheon al fresco with fabulous Alicia.  I decided to keep things simple: soup and salad.

The soup was creamy cauliflower (deceptive because no cream is actually involved).  Sauté some chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until just golden, then add head of cauliflower, roughly chopped, and sauté that for a few minutes longer.  Then add enough water just to cover.  Add salt, white pepper, a bay leaf and fresh thyme leaves.  Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender.  Remove the bay leaf, puree until smooth (I use an immersion blender), adjust seasonings.

The soup has a rich and velvety texture; if you really want to gild the lily, you can use chicken broth instead of water, or finish the soup with a drop of cream, but honestly, it is so luxurious that it doesn't need it.

I served the soup hot, but it's also good cold -- reminiscent of vichyssoise (another one of my favorites).

I whipped up a pesto to garnish the soup (despite its loveliness, it wants a little color and texture contrast).  Toasted almonds, parsley, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Of course no soup-and-salad meal is complete without home-baked bread.  (My go-to recipe calls for all-purpose flour; I usually use two parts AP and one part whole wheat for a heartier loaf. Today's loaf uses the same "white whole wheat" flour I used in the cobbler recently; it definitely works better in bread than in pastry, but for some reason it didn't rise as well as my usual mix.)

The main dish was a Niçoise salad, one of my summertime staples.  It's very easy but it has so many components that I rarely make it just for myself.

I usually use canned tuna (oil-packed, to be sure) when I make this salad.  But a few weeks ago I got my hands on some beautiful fresh albacore; I bought more than I could use and froze some of it.  So I decided to try poaching it in olive oil, following these directions.  It was very simple and the fish was moist and flavorful.  And the oil won't go to waste; strained and refrigerated, it should keep some weeks and can be used to poach a new batch of fish.  (At least that will be my experiment!)

Dressing: Dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, minced shallot, salt and pepper.

Tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, niçoise olives, hardboiled eggs (from Fogline Farm), tuna, anchovies on a bed of lettuce.
Alicia brought dessert, which is always a treat -- not only is she an accomplished cook and serious all-around foodie, she used to be a professional pastry chef!  She made a luscious lemon pound cake and topped it with fresh strawberries made extra decadent by a splash of stravecchio balsamic vinegar (the real stuff from Modena; the balsamic that every other "balsamic" wants to be when it grows up).  Simple but extraordinary.

A lovely meal on a lovely day.