I could not have conjured up a meal more catered to each and every one of my Mom's strongly opinionated epicurean taste-buds if I had tried. I mean really, really tried. And so, I didn't.
You see, the Birthday girl herself picked out the meal for her very special day. And straight she turned to her favorite chef, Suzanne Goin and Sunday Suppers with Lucques. If there's any day that you deserve to have exactly what you want, just the way you want it, it's your Birthday. And this year, Ing wanted to celebrate with Wild Striped Bass with Farro, Black Rice, Green Garlic, and Tangerine--amongst a gaggle of other delectable goodies--and all prepared the day of, while various family members and friends lent their hands and mouths to the preparation of one epic meal of equally epic proportions.
Word to the wise (from the admittedly not-always-so-wise): This is a menu best suited for a smaller crowd. Smaller, perhaps, than even Suzanne's suggestion of six. And yet, we had ten. Because cooking batch after laborious batch of seared Sea Bass while trying desperately not (without succeeding) to melt out of your clothes (if you can't stand the heat...) and simultaneously "entertaining" a guest or two while tasting for seasoning and pouring that extra glass of gloriously chilled Sauvignon Blanc, was not exactly the easiest of tasks. In fact, it was downright daunting. Perhaps pushing a bit more towards masochistic. But hey, it's all for the best of causes. And silver lining? We became the entertainment.
Because understand this: This meal is so spectacularly special, refreshing, lively, I'd shutter at the thought of anyone not being able to treat themselves to it--if not but only once--to fully experience the mélange of textures and flavors that come together here. Each and every note pronounced and yet, with certain inexplicable subtleties that can only come from the most professional and well-seasoned of chefs.
And from the Birthday girl with the impeccable eye and taste to spot a phenomenal menu--the phenomenal menu--when she sees it.
"Sooo...should we, like, start soon?"
Wild Striped Bass with Farro, Black Rice, Green Garlic, and Tangerine
Recipe Courtesy Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
6 wild striped bass fillets, 5 to 6 oz. each, skin on
3 tangerines, zested, plus 1-1/2 cups fresh juice
1 tbsp. thyme leaves
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. granulated sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
farro and black rice with green garlic pea shoots (recipe to come)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the fish with the tangerine zest, thyme, and parsley. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Remove the fish from the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking, to bring it to room temperature.
Slice the stem and bottom ends from the tangerines. Stand the tangerines on one end and, following the contour of the fruit with a sharp knife, remove the cottony white pith. Work from top to bottom and rotate the fruit as you go. Then hold each tangerine over a bowl and carefully slice between the membranes and the fruit to release the segments in between. Discard all the seeds. You should have about 1/3 cup tangerine segments.
Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Swirl in the olive oil and wait 1 minute. Carefully lay the fish in the pan, skin side down, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until the skin is crisp. Turn the fish over, lower the heat to medium0low, and cook a few more minutes until the bass is almost cooked through. Be carefully not to overcook the fish. When it's done, the fist will begin to flake and separate a little, and the center will still be slightly translucent. Remember, the fish will continue to cook a bit more once you take it out of the pan.
Wipe out the pan and return it to the stove over medium-high heat. Add the tangerine juice and sugar and bring to a boil. When the juice has reduced by half, turn the heat down to low and quickly whisk in the butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the tangerine segments. Taste for seasoning.
Place the farro and black rice with green garlic and pea shoots on a large warm platter. Arrange the bass on top, and spoon the sauce over the fish.
Grilled Pizza with Swiss Chard, Goat Cheese, Currants, and Pine Nuts
Recipe adapted* from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques
1 ball of fresh pizza dough
1 large bunch Swiss chard, cleaned, center ribs removed
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1 extra-large egg yolk
1/2 cup crème fraiche
6 ounces semi-aged goat cheese
currant-pine nut relish (recipe follows)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Tear the chard into large pieces. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the shallots, and the thyme. Sauté a few minutes, add half the Swiss chard. Cook a minute or two, tossing the greens, and season with a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently, until the greens are tender.
Spread the greens on a baking sheet or platter to cool. When they've cooled, squeeze the excess water out with your hands.
Place the ricotta, egg yolk, and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Purée until smooth, and remove to a mixing bowl. Gently fold in the crème fraiche, and season with a healthy pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
Roll out pizza dough on a lightly floured surface and place on pizza peel. When grill is up to temperature, brush olive oil onto one side of the pizza dough and place (oil side down) dough onto grill. Brush the other side of the dough with olive oil, close the grill, and allow to cook for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, flip the pizza dough onto the other side and close the lid for another 3 minutes. Remove cooked pizza dough from the grill, turn it down to low, and bring pizza back inside.
Spread the ricotta mixture on the grilled pizza base. Arrange the greens on top and sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese. Place back on grill (just before serving) for two minutes to heat through.
When ready to serve, spoon some of the currant-pine nut relish over the pizza and cut into slice with a pizza cutter or large knife. Pass the remaining currant-pine nut relish in a small bowl for anyone who would like a little more.
*The original recipe calls for making this into a tart with puff pastry. This was our alternative.
Currant-Pine Nut Relish
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 sprig rosemary
1 chile de arbol (or a sprinkle of chile flakes)
3/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/3 cup dried currants
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat a small sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, and add the olive oil, rosemary and chile. When the rosemary and chile start to sizzle, add the onion nad season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Turn the heat down to low, and let the onions stew gently for about 10 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a small bowl to cool and discard the rosemary sprig and chile.
While the onion is cooking, place the currants in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let the currants soak for 10 minutes, and then drain well.
Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan the onions were in, and reduce it over medium-high heat to a scant 1 tablespoon. Stir the reduced vinegar into the onion mixture.
Add the toasted pine nuts, currants, and parsley to the onion mixture, and stir to combine. Taste for balance and seasoning.