All good cooks are lazy by nature, or so I tell myself when I leave the mushroom stems untrimmed and boil the potatoes unpeeled yet again. Certainly working with professional chefs is a lesson in how to save time, and this menu makes use of a few of their tricks of the trade.
Frying, for example, is quicker in a wok than in a regular frying pan. For a dish like Quick Ratatouille, which involves browning a variety of sliced vegetables, one type at a time, a wok is a boon. Not only do the vegetables absorb less oil, they stay agreebly, if unconventionally, crunchy. For a more orthodox result, all you need do is cook the mixture of bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant and onion a bit longer until they soften and blend.
Swordfish Steak Marchand de Vin is a contemporary version of an old French bistro favorite that is more traditionally made with beef steak instead of fish. The pan juices left after frying the fish form the basis of a sauce with shallots and red wine, enriched with cream and butter. No wonder so many contemporary chefs favor this method, for a sauce can be made to order in just a few moments. It can be kept hot, too, as I suggest here, but in a water bath rather than over direct heat.
Red wine sauce and Garlic Fried Potatoes may sound odd companions for fish, but I find they go remarkably well with anything robust like swordfish, tuna or shark. I start garlic fried potatoes on top of the stove until sizzling, then cook them in the oven where they need only a stir or two to brown evenly. Garlic cloves (unpeeled to save work) can be squashed with a knife, yielding a delicious pure'e to eat with the potatoes or spread on the fish.
Lastly comes Peach Soup, a refreshing pure'e of fruit and yogurt with the peach flavor intensified by a few drops of almond essence. Peeling ripe peaches can be a messy job, so tumble them straight into the processor or blender, adding lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Press the button and voila! It's a handy pick-me-up for any time of day.
Timetable If dessert is made ahead, this menu can easily be completed in an hour.
Up to 24 hours ahead: Make peach soup and chill. Set the table. Chill wine (if you like red wine chilled).
One hour before serving: heat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare vegetables for ratatouille.
Forty minutes before serving: Fry potatoes and cook in oven.
Thirty minutes before serving: Cook ratatouille and leave to cool.
Fifteen minutes before serving: Cook fish, make sauce and keep both warm. Drain potatoes and garlic and keep warm. Reheat ratatouille if serving hot.
After serving ratatouille: Arrange fish on plates, add sauce and watercress.
After serving fish: Spoon soup into bowls.
QUICK RATATOUILLE (4 servings)
Only bell peppers are essential in this recipe and one or more of the others can be omitted.
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut in strips
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut in strips
2 zucchini, sliced
1 small eggplant, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Sprinkle all vegetables with a little salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon oil in a wok, stir-fry bell peppers 2 to 3 minutes until just tender and remove them. Add a tablespoon more oil and stir-fry zucchini about 2 minutes until browned and remove them. Add a tablespoon more oil and stir-fry eggplant 2 to 3 minutes until brown and remove.
Heat remaining tablespoon oil and stir-fry onion 1 to 2 minutes until brown. Stir in all vegetables with coriander, salt and pepper. Continue to stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes until vegetables are well blended. Taste them for seasoning.
Ratatouille can be refrigerated up to 3 days. Serve it hot or at room temperature. SWORDFISH MARCHAND DE VIN (4 servings)
For a lighter but less rounded sauce, substitute white wine for red.
1 tablespoon oil
4 swordfish steaks (1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger root
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons cream
3/4 cup cold butter, cut in pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs -- tarragon, chives, parsley, oregano
Bunch watercress for garnish
Heat oil in a heavy frying pan or skillet. Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper, add to pan and saute' 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until the fish is browned and no longer transparent in the center. Remove it and keep warm.
Add shallots and ginger to pan and cook until soft but not brown. Add wine and boil, stirring to dissolve pan juices, until reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Add cream and boil until reduced by half. Take pan from heat and whisk in butter a few pieces at a time, working on and off the heat so the butter softens and thickens the sauce creamily without melting to oil. Whisk in herbs and taste for seasoning. The sauce can be kept warm in a bowl in a warm water bath for up to 30 minutes.
Note: Do not let it get too hot or it will separate.
To finish: Arrange fish on individual plates, spoon over sauce, decorate with watercress and serve at once.
GARLIC FRIED POTATOES (4 servings)
The leftover fat from frying these potatoes can be used again and again.
1 1/2 pounds potatoes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
12 to 16 whole garlic cloves, unpeeled
Salt to taste
Peel potatoes, cut them in 3 to 4 pieces and trim sharp edges so that the pieces are rounded. Heat oil and butter in a shallow flameproof baking dish and add potatoes. They should all touch the bottom and be half covered with fat. Heat them on top of the stove 3 to 5 minutes until bubbling.
Fry potatoes in a 400-degree oven 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and continue cooking 15 to 25 minutes until potatoes are very brown and crisp and garlic is tender. Lift out potatoes and garlic with a draining spoon, dry on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
PEACH SOUP (4 servings)
A light idea for hot weather.
1 1/2 pounds ripe peaches
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup plain yogurt
Few drops almond extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, or to taste
4 mint sprigs for decoration
To peel peaches, if you wish: Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Immerse peaches 1 minute, drain and peel them. Halve them, discarding pits. Dice 2 peaches, cut rest in chunks and sprinkle with lemon juice. Note: Add juice at once to peaches so they do not discolor.
Pure'e chunks in a food processor, add yogurt and almond extract, then work in confectioners' sugar to taste. Stir diced peaches into soup. It can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Just before serving, spoon soup into bowls and top with a mint sprig.