July 26, 2011
The ‘Best of Summer’ seafood dinner to enjoy with friends

By LYNNE FOSTER


As many of you know, I am a dedicated advocate of seasonal food and this is prime time!

Summer suppers are meant to be easy and it is not hard to achieve when there is such a variety of fresh seafood and produce around.

For a dinner with some good friends, I decided to use as many fresh food items as I could reasonably fit into one meal without spending all day over the hot stove or even turning on the oven.  This was as easy as it was meant to be and, if I may say so myself, the meal was filled with freshness and complementary flavors.

We began with a gift from another friend, a surprisingly delicate dip she made with eggplants from her garden in the woods up in Buxton.  I served it chilled but not cold, and the warm earthiness of eggplant shone through.


BABA GANOUSH OR EGGPLANT HUMMUS

1 eggplant
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.  Place eggplant on baking sheet and poke holes into the skin with a fork.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally until soft.  Remove from oven and place in a large bowl of cold water.  When cool enough to handle, pour out the water and peel the eggplant.

Place eggplant flesh, lemon juice, tahini, sesame seeds and garlic in a blender and puree.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to medium-sized bowl and stir in the olive oil.  Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.


Our salad was abundant with the flavors of summer -- watermelon, tomatoes and mint from my porch garden, sliced green onions, and ricotta salata cheese.  This cheese has the same mild flavor as the ricotta we use in baked pasta dishes but is harder and crumbles beautifully.

The salad is a refreshing counterpart to the rich chowder.


WATERMELON SALAD

There are no precise amounts you need to concern yourself with but I suggest you use slightly more watermelon than tomatoes so you don’t lose their touch of sweetness.  This is one dish where you can let the ingredients tell you how much of each you want.

I have both red and yellow little tomatoes growing, and it is lovely to add the extra color if you can. Slice a few thin green onions and slice or chop fresh mint. 

Gently stir all together and crumble the cheese over it, just enough to get a taste of cheese in every bite but not so much that it overpowers the watermelon.

The main course was Best of Summer Chowder, an extravagance of summer’s abundance -- sweet onions, sweet corn, sweet shrimp, sweet crab tempered with salty bacon, and celery and potatoes to absorb the creamy, flavorful broth.

BEST OF SUMMER CHOWDER

1/2 pound good quality, thick cut bacon, snipped with kitchen shears into small strips
Butter as needed for frying
1 1/2 sweet onion (Mattamuskeet if you have it or Vidalia), diced
3/4 of a bunch of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, whole
About 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
About 1 pound of small new potatoes, cut in half (I used white-skinned because of the color.)
6 ears of corn on the cob
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and halved
1 pound Mattamuskeet jumbo lump crab
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 boxes of organic chicken stock
1 1/2 pints half and half
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a large heavy bottomed pan, fry the bacon until it is nearly crispy and has released its grease.  You can remove the bacon and reserve it for garnish or leave it in the soup.  If there is not a lot of bacon grease, add butter.

Add onions and celery and fry slowly until they are soft but not browned.  Add the garlic clove and thyme and continue cooking another minute or two.

Turn off the heat or remove the pan from the heat and add the wine.  Return to heat and turn it up to reduce the wine and to scrape up any bits of bacon that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan.

When the pan has been deglazed, remove the garlic.  Add chicken stock and bring it up to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until they begin to soften, but don’t let them get mushy.  There is more cooking to be done.

Season with salt and chipotle powder and then add the corn that you have scraped off their cobs.  It will cook quickly so have your seafood ready.

Next the shrimp goes into the pot and as soon as it starts to turn pink add the crabmeat as it is already cooked and only needs to be heated.

Taste and adjust seasonings to suit your taste.


The dessert course was also a bit rich but we had small servings!  Chocolate mousse was topped with fresh sliced peaches that had been macerated in sugar to release their juice.

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE TOPPED WITH PEACHES

10 ounces semisweet chocolate (or 12 ounces if that is the size available)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler or a heatproof glass bowl (like Pyrex) that will sit over a sauce pan without fitting into it too far.

Bring water to a simmer in the bottom pan and place the top pan or bowl over it but do not let the top pan or bowl touch the water.  Heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the chocolate melts.  It isn’t a lengthy process so don’t leave the stove.  Scrape the melted chocolate into a large bowl.

In another large bowl beat together the cream, confectioners’ sugar, espresso powder and vanilla at medium speed until firm peaks form.

Whisk about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate until smooth.  Fold the remaining whipped cream into the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula.

You can now spoon the mousse into individual bowls.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours but it is better to leave it overnight.

Serve cold, as is or top with fresh fruit -- in our case, peaches.

Slice 6 peaches into a bowl and add about 1/2 cup sugar.  I also added 1/2 teaspoonful of orange flower water but you could also use pure almond extract or vanilla extract.  Allow them to sit for a few hours until the juices have emerged and the peach slices are still somewhat firm.


Let’s just review the fresh ingredients I was able to get here for one dinner - and there were more that I didn’t include (like beans since one of my friends had already had her fill of pole beans or zucchini and summer squash since it seemed like overkill!).

Eggplant
Watermelon
Tomatoes
Green onions
Sweet onions
Sweet corn
Potatoes
Garlic
Mint
Thyme
Shrimp
Crabmeat

Take advantage of the harvest, from the sea and from the land and support local harvesters as you enjoy the fruits of their labor.

(Lynne Foster lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront.  Both love to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment with recipes for locally caught seafood.)

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