I rarely cook the same thing twice. Really. You can ask my clients. In the year and a half plus that I have been cooking for them, I have only repeated a menu two times and both of those times it was a specific request. I may repeat certain dishes (salads for example), but even that is not that frequent. I really like variety in my diet and get bored with making the same thing. I also have a lot of cookbooks - somewhere around 75 - and I like to find inspiration for different things in all different books. So you can imagine how it makes me laugh when someone says, upon learning I am a vegetarian, "What do you eat?".
But this holiday weekend, I have been repeating and to tell you the truth, it has saved me. One of the things I most enjoy about cooking is menu planning. It feels exciting to me to have the whole week laid out in front of me and a million options of what to cook. How it ususally goes is that I am inspired by a dish and then build a menu around that one dish. Sometimes it is the main course, but often it is a side dish, a dessert, or even an ingredient. If I have that jumping off point, then the process goes relatively quickly. One part of the menu is set and it becomes clear to me what other kinds of dishes I need to complete the menu. Sometimes I will spend way too long looking for that perfect pea recipe, but at least I know I am looking for a pea recipe. The hard menu planning sessions are the ones where I start with no inspiration. That is when I start cracking the spines of my most trusted cookbooks hoping something will spark my interest. I will sometimes just go to the index of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and look up an ingredient I love (lentils for example) and hope that that helps everything fall in to place.
But sometimes, I just have so much cooking to do for so many different meals, I just want to get to the cooking and not waste time on the planning. That was this past week and weekend for me. I had my regular client delivery days (Tuesday and Thursday) and then we had my sister-in-law Susie and her husband Bernard in town for the weekend. We invited my parents and brother and sister-in-law over for dinner last night and we are having our friends John and Lauren over for dinner tonight. As I was putting together the week's menu, I just decided to make it easy - prepare some things I have made recently and not torture myself with re-inventing the wheel. I also decided that we should grill a salmon for Susie and Bernard, who were visiting from Houston, so they could enjoy our local bounty. I made the Orzo and Carrot Salad and the Fontina Galette (see the photo above), both of which I made for a party a couple of weeks ago. I had a crust in the freezer so choosing the Galette was a no-brainer - all I had to do was roll out the crust and make the filling and bake it. Easy peasy. I doubled the Orzo Salad (note to self: do not double that recipe, it makes entirely too much) so there would be enough for tonight to serve with Nicoise Tartines with Peperonata.
I had never made a tartine before. I have made bruschetta which is the same idea but for the record, www.thefreedictionary.com defines it as "a French open-faced sandwich, especially one with a rich or fancy spread". They were a nice surprise - really delicious and easy. I first made the peperonata which consisted of cooking onions and peppers for a long time so that they get rich and syrupy. I grilled some bread (I highly recommend the grilling, it gives the whole dish another dimension of flavor), laid the peperonata on top, the non-veg's got a layer of high quality tuna, and then thinly sliced hard boiled eggs. I think next time I would add a layer of arugula tossed with a little olive oil under the eggs - the peppery bite would be delicious.
A side note: I am a kitchen gear-head. I read about people who don't like lots of tools, especially those that only perform one function. I REALLY like kitchen tools and am fine if they only perform one function, but really only if they perform that function well - better than some other multi-task tool. So, I would never buy an herb cutter because I know that my chef's knife does a better job. But an egg slicer...it's a must have. For those (admittedly) rare occasions when you need to slice eggs, this tool will give you uniform perfect slices. It's small, fits in to a drawer easily, and it actually does have another function - it slices squishy mozzarella balls easily in to clean, thin slices.
Our dessert was the Gianduja Mousse that I also made for that party but this time I resisted temptation to make it more complicted (and truthfully, I didn't have time). I just made the mousse and served it in little French glass yogurt jars with (the horror!) storebought cookies. It was a lovely evening.
Nicoise Tartines with Peperonata
(Adapted from The New Classics by Martha Stewart)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves
4-5 large peppers (either all red, or an assortment of colors), thinly sliced
Pinch of paprika
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
6 slices (1/2 inch thick) sourdough bread, cut from an oval loaf
4 large eggs
1 can tuna packed in oil, drained (veggies, omit this - it is still delicious)
4 tsp capers, drained
Fleur de sel
For the bread: Drizzle both sides of each slice with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. If you can, grill it over medium heat until grill marks appear. Alternatively, you can bake it in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, flipping it half way through.
For the peperonata: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, over medium heat until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the bell peppers and paprika; continue cooking until the peppers are soft and juicy, about 30 minutes. (You may need to add a little water if things are sticking too much). Add the capers and cook for a few more minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.
For the eggs: Place eggs in a saucepan and then cover with cold water. Add about a tablespoon of white vinegar. Bring to a full boil, then cover and turn off the heat. After 10 minutes, drain and run cold water over the eggs. When cook enough to handle, peel and slice thinly.
To assemble: Spread the pepper mixture over slices of bread; top with tuna (is using), dividing evenly. Place slices of egg on top of the tuna and season with fleur de sel if desired and black pepper.