Monday, February 7, 2011

Citrus Week Continues with Ahi Nicoise!

          Citrus week has been unfortunately delayed by the flu.  I took a nutrition course in college in which the professor claimed 90% of instances we self diagnose as flu, are really cases of mild food poisoning.  With this in mind and plenty of time on my hands, I researched salmonella and other food borne illnesses.  The symptoms are remarkably similar to that of flu.  I like to think that what I had, have and am trying to recover from, was really flu.  Somehow it’s just less disgusting.  But who really knows?

Hot Ahi Nicoise
          In any case, I’m sure that this dinner, prepared Thursday night, had nothing to do with my illness.  With the combination of garlic and citrus (both great immune boosters), it’s kind of amazing I managed to get sick at all.  This dish is easy to prepare and perfect during winter, the immune system threatening, time of year.  It has a spicy kick to it from the raw garlic and the acidity of the citrus in the pesto, mellowed with creamy mashed potatoes and meaty ahi.  Mmmm!  And don't worry, when I say "Hot Ahi Nicoise," I'm referring to the temperature, not the spice.  (Nicoise is traditionally served cold.)
             I roasted the tomatoes the night before.  Roasted tomatoes are so easy and delicious!  Previously, I had only roasted other vegetables, like beets and maybe garlic before, but the tomatoes were a great success.  I enjoyed them all last week on sandwiches, in omelets, and in the pesto recipe below.  I’m sure you could think of many other ideas!

Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Time:  1 Hour, 10 Minutes
1 large package cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
          Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Lay the tomatoes out on a baking sheet, skin down.  Drizzle remaining tablespoon oil over the tomatoes.  Top with minced garlic and bake for around an hour.  Tomatoes should shrink in size and become a darker red color, but not brown.  Remove and transfer to storage container when cool.
Hot Orange-Pesto Nicoise
Time: 40 Minutes
Makes: 2-3 servings
3 cloves garlic, minced raw
6 tablespoons or more fresh basil (leaves of about 3 stalks), finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 large (or 2 smaller) raw ahi tuna steak(s)
10 small red potatoes
½ cup skim milk
1 bunch asparagus
          Let’s begin with pesto.  The trick to making a really delicious pesto is using a knife, not a food processor.  A food processor chops everything to one size, leaving your pesto with only one texture.  Really good pesto has a hand chopped variance that allows for textural interest and really expands the flavor.  But don’t get carried away.  No one should bite into a giant piece of raw garlic.
Pretty Marinating Ahi
          Stir garlic, basil, 1 tablespoon olive oil, basil, oregano, juice and zest of ½ lemon, juice and zest of ½ orange, pinch salt and a pinch pepper in a medium sized bowl.  With a slotted spoon, move most thick, solid parts of the pesto to a smaller bowl.  This is not a thorough job, a little of the pesto should remain in the bowl along with the leftover liquid.  This is your marinade.  Place the ahi in the liquid, move it around and spoon some over the top of your steak.  Set aside.
           Add ½ cup roasted tomatoes to the smaller bowl of thick pesto.  Stir and set aside.
          Bring potatoes to a in a medium pot, covered.  Simmer until soft, about 10-15 minutes.  I check by stabbing them with a fork.  If the largest potato crumbles, they're done.  Drain and put them back in the pot.
          Add milk, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and mash.    I begin with a hand potato masher to break apart potatoes, and then finish with an electric mixer to get a light and fluffy texture.
          While the potatoes simmer, prepare the asparagus. 
          Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
           Instead of slicing the tough ends from the asparagus stalks, I prefer to snap them off.  The asparagus will break right at the point on the stalk where it becomes tender.  When you slice them you could waste some good asparagus, or more likely end up with a little of that tough end still attached.  To break ends, hold asparagus ¾ of the way down the stalk in one hand, take the pale end in the other hand.  Bend stalk until the tough, white end breaks.  Do not force it.  Each stalk has a different breaking point.  The idea is to try not to waste any of the tender asparagus, while removing the tough part.
           Lay asparagus in single layer over baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and juice of ½ lemon.  (Asparagus and lemon juice is one of my favorite flavor combinations.  The lemon is an amazing complement to the rich, earthy taste of asparagus.  And the bitterness in the asparagus makes the lemon taste sweeter.)  Sprinkle with a pinch salt and one pepper.  Bake 5-10 minutes until asparagus is moist and tender.  I also like to add lemon wheels.  They add aroma and make a pretty garnish.
Seared Ahi Steak
          Lastly, the ahi.  My beautiful, sushi grade steak from Fresh Fish of Carroll Gardens has been marinating.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan.  You want to sear the meat, so make sure that the frying pan and oil are hot before adding the ahi.  Add the ahi and drizzle remaining marinade over the tuna steak.  It should sizzle.  Sear both sides (about 3 minutes per side, like a beef steak) and remove from heat.  Slice when ready.  The outside should be cooked, while the inside remains a deep red-pink.  Sadly, I overcooked mine.  I aimed for medium-rare, but ended up with more like medium-well.  It was still delicious!
          Assembly:  Dollop of mashed potatoes on a plate.  Add asparagus.  Sliced Ahi topped with pesto and we’re done!
         A little note on measuring:  These recipes aren’t set in stone, in fact just the opposite.  The amount of salt or olive oil used may vary depending on the particular potato, the juice from a particular orange, or maybe mood.  I like to cook with a lot of wiggle-room.  Innovation is what makes it worthwhile and the ability to bend and change any recipe to fit what you want it to be is the fun part.  I joke that when I’m cooking, I’m like a juggler.  I through a whole lot of balls up in the air and then try to catch them as they land.  Sometimes I’m successful, other times I’m a complete failure and sometimes I get a few things right and learn some I would like to change. 
           I’m always sitting in front of a plate of freshly prepared food, criticizing, trying to come up with new ideas, elements to change.  That way, each thing that I make gets better (hopefully) each time.  At very least, I’m engaged and interested, using my mind and my palate. 
         There is a funny consequence of finding innovation the best part of cooking.  After I’ve created a great meal, a recipe that is balanced, flavorful and satisfying, I tend to lose interest.  I move on to new ideas.  I wonder if it is frustrating to be a diner at my house.  They are always guinea pigs.
          Thank you everyone for the wonderful feedback!  Thank you for reading!  Please feel free to share any ideas you may have.  I have a recipe for blood orange panna cotta along with a few other tricks up my sleeve coming up in our celebration of citrus.


  1. Another mouth-watering post to heat up the wintry scene!

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