June 13, 2010: A dinner for two
Seared Pistachio & Wasabi Encrusted Tuna
Garlic Scapes, Snow Peas and Baby Spinach
Pan fried Ziti with Feta and Kalamata Olives
This meal began as I was making room in our freezer for nearly twenty pounds of fresh pick-you-own strawberries. Something had to go.
Pulling out a couple of flash frozen tuna steaks, eyeing the bowl of pistachios on the counter, and knowing that, if we’re going to get garlic out of the garden, we’ll have to keep it from going to seed, and that we had snow peas ready for picking…these thing all conspired to determine the menu. With the pan fried ziti (a planned leftover from the fridge), the easiest and final piece of the puzzle fell into place.
We know that, by being near the top of the food chain, these big fish concentrate mercury in their tissues. This is a profoundly sad part of living in the world we’ve made. We eat tuna rare and rarely, favoring fish lower in the food chain that live shorter lives and have less time to concentrate industrial toxins in their tissues. Children should not be eating tuna at all.
The oceans, which used to seem so big, are now small compared to the amount of toxic elements falling, being poured and running into them. We definitely need to start aggressively exploiting decentralized, non-toxic, renewable energy sources. Anything you can do in this regard will help. Go turn off those lights in the other room.
I opened the heavy bags in which the tuna was flash frozen somewhere out in the middle of the Pacific, and smelled the ocean. This is what you should smell. Anything else is bad news.
I washed and dried the tuna steaks, cut each steak in half across the grain, and set them out on wax paper and paper towels while I prepared the crust ingredients.
Pistachios & Wasabi crust
We shelled the pistachios with admiration for any restaurant that tries this sort of dish. Then I took a piece of that open-mesh plastic bag that onions come in (I always keep a piece of this in the kitchen somewhere), and wrapping up the shelled pistachios rubbed them vigorously against one and other in the bag, which strips a lot of the papery cover off the nut meats while making a big mess. I do this over a large cutting board, but you’d have to clean the counter, too.
I put the pistachios in the third, and only, nut-chopper that has ever worked and quickly rendered them a step toward pistachio dust. Adding a couple of heaping tablespoons of powdered wasabi (Japanese horseradish powder, familiar to sushi enthusiasts), I combined these and poured them onto a plate.
Press the tuna steaks firmly into the nut and wasabi mixture, turn it over and do it again. Lay them out on a plate and refrigerate them loosely covered with wax paper. This will help set the crust mixture and keep the tuna bright and fresh.
Garlic Scapes & Snow Peas
Garlic scapes in this case came from our crook-necked garlic beds in the back yard, but this time of year you can find their cute curly-cued little necks at farmer’s markets and in some better fresh vegetable departments.
I slivered these lengthwise, leaving pieces about an inch to an inch and a quarter long, doing the same to the snow pea pods, cut on the diagonal and set them aside together.
This stuff was so alive at the farmer’s market this morning that it was literally talking to me. I couldn’t leave it there. When I got it home, I washed it in a big mixing bowl of cold water and spun it dry in my salad spinner, then wrapped it up in paper towels and put it into a plastic bag. It would keep for days like this, but why? Dinner!
Did I mention the Red Onion?
Um, no. Well, all this green on the plate (wasabi, spinach, snow peas, garlic scapes…did I mention the pistachios?) and the dreamt of red center of the seared tuna steaks called for a red garnish of some sort. I nearly forgot this when we made the plates and had to go back and take photos a second time.
I peeled, halved and sliced the onion into 1/8th inch rounds and put them into a rice vinegar and sugar mixture into which, in an inspired moment for a meal some weeks ago, I had put a curl of cinnamon bark for a day or so.
Left for about an hour before the meal was ready, this garnish sent the whole plate over the top with just a hint of the (by then, forgotten) cinnamon. It was a revelatory detail.
This was the tricky part: everything seemed to want to be cooked at the same moment – the tuna hot and fast, the snow peas and scapes medium, the spinach slowly…
Snow peas and scapes went into a spacious pan first to sweat with a little olive oil and then out into a bowl to keep warm.
On Green Things: If you want things like spinach and snow peas and green things to remain green, you have just under 9 minutes of heat before the chlorophyll breaks down into an unappetizing kachi grey. Vinegar will do this almost instantly, too, cooking the plant material and rendering it a dull and unhappy grey. I cooked these for about two and a half minutes or so, saving their crunch and their beautiful color.
Tuna searing next in my biggest, heaviest hot cast iron frying pan. You want room around the fish for the heat to escape, searing just the cooked surfaces, not the interior or the sides.
Once the tuna was in the pan, I turned a mountain of spinach out into the pan I’d used for the snow peas and scapes and turned it carefully on low heat, minding the tuna at the same time.
Turning the tuna, I set a cookie rack over some wax paper on the counter to receive the tuna from the pan. Removing the tuna carefully, I set it on the racks to rest, cool a bit and become sliceable. Try to slice this fresh from the pan and you’ll ruin it.
I turned the spinach some more and shut the pan off before the last leaves were wilted, turning them under the cooked portions and letting the residual heat do the rest.
The Ziti leftovers
The pan fried ziti were next (and actually only became a part of the meal because the timing worked out just right). I fired up the heavy cast-iron pan I’d used for the fish and scattered one layer of ziti in it, gave it a shake and let them sit to crust up a bit on one side, while the fish was resting and gave them a toss later as the plates were being readied.
I touched up the edge on one of my Japanese sushi knives and carefully sliced two of the tuna steaks, fanned the slices out over a foundation of spinach topped with garlic scapes and snow peas and added the ziti to the side. Lightly pickled red onions on top, which as noted, I nearly forgot.
We set the table on the side porch and Barb said, “Maybe we should take some pictures…”
So, there you have it. Finally. Three weeks off the road, home at last, and not flat on my back in bed: dinner for two.