Seared Tuna Niçoise

Salade Niçoise was our summer staple growing up in Provence. We picked fresh tomatoes and green beans from the garden every day, seasoned them with a garlic vinaigrette, and added the niçoise olives, tuna, anchovies and other classic ingredients to complete our lunch.

20130725-205406.jpgPersonally I like to sear fresh tuna steaks as much as possible, although a good quality canned tuna in olive oil makes a great alternative. Traditionally, we included hard boiled eggs for convenience of preparation ahead and have them on hand any time. If you have the luxury of cooking soft boiled eggs at the last minute, they add a delightful note of strong color, fine texture and delicate taste.

20130725-205510.jpgIngredients:
1 1/4 lb fresh tuna steak
3/4 lb French green beans
4 fresh farm eggs at room temperature
4 medium size red potatoes
4 vine ripe tomatoes
2 oz flat filets of anchovies
A bunch of fresh flat parsley
2 cloves garlic (or one large one)
2 dozen oil and herb cured black olives or niçoise olives
6 tsp Dijon mustard
6 tsp Balsamic vinegar
10-12 Tbsp Olive oil
2 Tbsp Grape seed oil
Freshly ground sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

20130726-054404.jpgSnap the ends of the green beans to pull the threads out if any.

20130726-054452.jpgPlunge them in salted boiling water.

20130726-054528.jpgBoil them till firm tender.

20130726-054608.jpgDrain them in a colander.

20130726-054649.jpgImmediately cool them in a bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking process and preserve their bright green color.

20130726-054738.jpgWash the potatoes. Cut in half and in thick slices.

20130726-054819.jpgThen, cube all the potatoes.

20130726-054900.jpgBoil the cubed potatoes in lightly salted water till firm tender, and leave in water off the stove to keep them warm.

20130726-055009.jpgChop the parsley, garlic and cut the anchovy fillets into small pieces.
Separately, cook the eggs the same way as for the Asparagus with Salmon Caviar and Black Olive Vinaigrette (see recipe for photos), by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil, adding the eggs, bringing back to a boil and cooking for 3 minutes on timer. Drain hot water from pot and rinse the eggs under cold running water till cool. Set aside.

20130726-055208.jpgPrepare garlic vinaigrette into three separate bowls. Place 2 tsp of Dijon mustard in each, add 1/3 of the chopped garlic in each, a little salt and pepper, 2 tsp of balsamic vinegar, mix well. Add 3-4 Tbsp of olive oil and whisk.

20130726-055253.jpgWash and quarter the tomatoes. Remove the hard core. Slice thinly and place in one of the bowls with the garlic vinaigrette. Toss, add parsley and set aside.

20130726-055332.jpgPlace the green beans in another bowl containing garlic vinaigrette, add chopped parsley, toss and set aside.
For the third salad bowl, drain the potatoes and place them in the last bowl, add anchovy pieces, chopped parsley, toss and set aside.

20130726-055412.jpgWhile I was finishing preparing the salads, my boyfriend offered timely collaboration to sear the tuna. He oiled the fresh tuna steak with grape seed oil and cracked some black pepper. The grape seed oil has a higher smoke point and is well suited for high temperature cooking and can be safely used for searing.

20130726-055455.jpgPlace a tablespoon of grape seed oil in a cast iron pan on high heat to get the pan very hot.

20130726-055546.jpgOnce the pan is hot, place the tuna steak on the bottom and do not move it.

20130726-055629.jpgCover with a splatter guard to prevent the oil from spreading around the cooking surface.

20130726-055714.jpgOnce the bottom of the tuna steak is brown, turn it over with a metal spatula.

20130726-055759.jpgContinue cooking the other side, without moving it, until it browns the same way. Again, cover with the splatter guard.

20130726-055841.jpgWhen both sides are seared, place on a cutting board and slice the tuna thinly.

20130726-055916.jpgStart to plate the salads, peel the soft boiled egg.

20130726-060025.jpgAdd a few slices of seared tuna, some olives, cut the egg in half… Enjoy!

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Cardamon Honey Chocolate Mousse

An old fashion dessert that remains a favorite of all ages across cultures. It is fluffy, tasty and a perfect ending to a dinner in any season. Best served in individual ramequins or cocottes, chocolate mousse can be prepare a day ahead and, as such, perfectly suited for entertaining.
20130718-153311.jpg The flavor of the mousse depends on the type of chocolate. Personally, I enjoy particularly dark chocolate and used 99% in this recipe. I understand that not a lot of taste buds are accustomed to this flavor, and using 70-85% is probably more along the lines of what most of you will truly enjoy. Either way, be sure to use a high quality chocolate Callebaut, Valrhona, Guittard, Sharffen Berger.

20130716-213701.jpgIngredients:
140g or 5 oz dark chocolate
60g or 2oz butter (I rarely use butter, and I like to use a high quality French butter when I do. It has a lower water content than butter typically found in the U.S. and a smoother, tastier finish)
3 eggs plus two egg whites
1/4 cup honey (up to 3/8 cup if you like it sweeter)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cardamon (can be omitted, or more added if you like a stronger cardamon flavor)
Pinch of salt

20130716-213738.jpgChop chocolate to ensure even melting.

20130716-213813.jpgMelt chocolate and butter ‘au bain marie’, which is basically over a water bath in a double boiler, by placing the pot containing the chocolate and butter over a pot of water on the stove, set at medium low heat. I like using a chopstick to mix melting chocolate.

20130716-213852.jpgOnce the chocolate and butter are completely melted, remove the heat source and add honey and cardamon. Mix well and let cool.

20130716-213935.jpgSeparate egg yolks of the 3 eggs. Add the additional two egg whites in a mixing bowl for a total of 5. Adding the extra egg whites makes the mousse extra light and fluffy.

20130716-214011.jpgOnce the chocolate mixture is cool enough so it won’t cook the egg yolks, add each egg yolk one at a time, immediately whisking vigorously to ensure they mix well without cooking from the heat of the melted chocolate.

20130716-214058.jpgWhisk egg whites with a pinch of salt and a little. vanilla till firm peaks form. For those who enjoy a sweeter tasting mousse, you might add a couple tablespoons of sugar to the egg whites while whisking.

20130716-214146.jpgAdd 1/4 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture.

20130716-214230.jpgWhisk together to fully homogenize.

20130716-214339.jpgPour this mixture over the remaining fluffy egg whites and carefully fold them together with a curved rubber spatula.

20130716-214519.jpgContinue folding until fully incorporated but do not over mix, otherwise you’ll loose the lightness of the air in the egg whites.
20130718-153348.jpgPour in individual serving dishes, preferably with a cover to refrigerate.
20130718-153437.jpg Refrigerate for a minimum of four hours to allow the mousse to set. You’ll obtain best results and consistency if you prepare them a day ahead so they sit overnight.

20130716-215157.jpgEnjoy!

My Grandmother’s Summer Eggplant

My grandmother used to make this dish almost daily during eggplant season. She would prepare it early in the morning when the temperature outside was still pleasant and then serve it cold, as an appetizer for lunch in the shade of our hot and dry summer days.

20130714-215916.jpg Both refreshing and fragrant, it is infused with garlic and profusely sprinkled with parsley to balance the strength of the garlic.

20130714-220005.jpg Ingredients:
1 large eggplant
6 medium tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
A small bunch parsley
3/4 cup olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Cracked sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F.

20130714-220713.jpg Wash and cut the eggplant in 1cm thick slices lengthwise. Remove stems.

20130714-220805.jpg Brush olive oil on one side. The oil will be quickly absorbed as the eggplant acts as a sponge.

20130714-220856.jpgPlace the olive oil side down on a baking sheet, brush the other side (now on top) with olive oil, generously sprinkle cracked sea salt. Bake for about 20 minutes.

20130714-221150.jpgMeanwhile, prepare the tomatoes in the same way we prepared them for the Mussels in orange, tomato an saffron sauce, by peeling them and seeding them. Then, chop them.

20130714-221253.jpg Heat about one Tbsp of olive oil in a a pan and add the chopped tomatoes. Here I am using a cast iron pan as I like the way it evenly spreads the heat when simmering the tomatoes.

20130714-221422.jpg Peel, crush and chop the garlic cloves. chop parsley and set aside.

20130714-221512.jpgAdd the garlic to the tomatoes, a little cracked sea salt and simmer together for about 30-40 minutes.

20130714-221638.jpgWhile the tomatoes are cooking, removed the cooked eggplant from the oven. It should be golden brown.

20130714-221723.jpgImmediately sprinkle vinegar on top of the eggplant while still hot. Set aside and let cool in the baking sheet so the heat emanating from sheet fully infuses the flavors.

20130714-221823.jpg Arrange the eggplant slices in a serving dish where they can be spread out.

20130715-054036.jpgOnce the tomato sauce has finished cooking, it should have a unified consistency.

20130715-054146.jpgSpread the tomato sauce on top of the eggplant.

20130715-054247.jpgSprinkle chopped parsley, refrigerate and enjoy as a cold summer appetizer.

Spicy Chickpea Herb Salad

The simplest and fastest to way to make a last minute picnic to go, quick meal for impromptu lunch guests, or side dish/salad to accompany a main dish.

20130705-212427.jpg This recipe includes a variety of herbs as we would use in the south of France for a flavorful meal and also some jalapeño in addition to the garlic for an additional kick the American way.

20130705-212511.jpgingredients:
2lbs cooked chickpeas (if dried, soak them the day before and cook them in salted boiling water)
1 orange pepper (I typically like using red but the red peppers at the market were not organic so I picked an organic one over the color)
1/4 jalapeño pepper
2 garlic cloves
A handful of each herbs: parsley, basil, chives, thyme
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp grape seed oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper, about 1/4 tsp each
4-5 oz arugula

20130705-213407.jpgStart by mixing the salt, pepper and mustard.

20130705-215259.jpgAdd vinegar and mix well to dissolve mustard.

20130705-215341.jpgPrepare two garlic cloves and 1/4 jjalapeño pepper.

20130705-215428.jpgRemove the white lining and seeds from the jalapeño.

20130706-065736.jpgPeel garlic, slice in half and remove the inner part.

20130707-151744.jpgCrush the garlic and cut the jalapeño in thin stripes.

20130707-151835.jpgChop both finely.

20130707-151937.jpgAdd to the mustard and vinegar.

20130707-152034.jpgMix well and seaside.

20130707-152111.jpgGently remove the thyme leaves from the stems. set aside.

20130707-152153.jpgPrepare parsley leaves and basil leaves by removing the stems and clustering them together, stacking the basil leaves on top of one another.

20130707-152239.jpgChop all the herbs finely, including the chives, parsley and julienne the basil leaves. Set aside

20130707-152320.jpgPrepare the orange pepper by cutting it in half, remove the stem, further cut into quarters and remove the inner white skin and seeds.

20130707-152541.jpgSlice each quarter into strips and dice.

20130707-152647.jpgAdd the grape seed oil to the vinaigrette.

20130707-152741.jpgMix in the orange pepper and let marinate a few minutes.

20130707-152823.jpgAdd the chickpeas and herbs.

20130707-152907.jpgMix thoroughly. The salad can be prepared ahead at this time and refrigerated.

20130707-153007.jpgBefore serving, add arugula. If taking on a picnic pack arugula separately and add at last minute.

20130707-153156.jpgMix the arugula with the other ingredients to ensure it is well coated with the vinaigrette.

20130707-153245.jpgTo serve as a lunch meal, you might add some avocado

20130707-153345.jpgor heirloom tomatoes. Enjoy!