Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cool Christmas


Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 12 December 2012 and in
Christmas for us this year will be light and cool with minimum fuss. Family and friends will call by and we will hang out by the pool, going inside to do only the simplest of food preparation. Apart from the food that I will have pre-prepared, the majority will be ready to serve chilled straight from the fridge.

My favourite special occasion pre dinner nibbly is buttery chicken liver pate that can be made a couple of weeks in advance. It can be kept in the fridge till needed, as the clarified butter poured on the top provides an airtight seal. The Marsala flavour doesn’t overpower, but provides just enough cheer to make it taste like Christmas. The quantity below makes two large sized dishes, or as I like to do, buy some little glass pots with lids and fill with the pate to give to friends as gifts. They make great pressies with a pack of gourmet crackers. Another delicious way of serving this pate is to stuff half a teaspoon into cognac-poached prunes.

Our Christmas day meal this year will be a chilled pea soup starter with a scoop of mint gelato, and mains will be ocean trout tartare with tomato tea. These two dishes are refreshing and elegant and taste sensational. The soup, gelato and tomato tea can be made a couple of days before and the ocean trout prepared  half an hour before you are ready to eat.

Chicken liver pate with pistachios

225g unsalted butter, softened, plus an extra 4 tablespoons melted
3 large French shallots, thinly sliced
Photo by Steve Shanahan
1kg chicken livers, trimmed
salt and freshly ground pepper
¾ cup dry marsala
½ cup chicken stock
1 ¼ cups salted roasted pistachios, ½ cup chopped
¼ cup parsley
1 tsp chopped thyme

Quantity makes about 5 cups.

In a large pan, melt four tablespoons of the softened butter. Add the shallots and cook over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about eight minutes. Add the trimmed chicken livers, season with a little salt and pepper and cook over a moderate heat, turning a few times, until firm, about four minutes. Add the Marsala and simmer for two minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer, turning the livers another few times, until they are light pink in the middle, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about another five minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processer and puree. Cut the remaining butter into cubes and add it to the liver mixture bit by bit, blending while the machine is still running until completely incorporated.

Scrape the puree into a large bowl and fold in the whole pistachios, parsley and thyme. Generously season the pate with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the pate into dishes or glass jars with lids and refrigerate until firm, for about two hours.
Pour the melted butter over the pate to seal it, then garnish with the chopped pistachios. Cover the dishes with lids or plastic wrap until the butter is firm. The pate will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

 Chilled pea soup with mint gelato

Photo by Steve Shanahan
2 cups fresh or frozen peas, plus extra for garnish
1 potato, peeled, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup thickened cream

Mint gelato
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup chopped mint leaves, plus whole leaves for garnish
½ cup mascarpone cheese
1 eggwhite

Serves 6
For the gelato, place the lemon zest and juice, sugar and all but two tablespoons of chopped mint in a pan with 180ml of water. Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for two minutes, then strain through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract the flavour. Cool, then stir the syrup into the mascarpone.

Transfer the gelato mixture to a shallow plastic container, then place in the freezer for a few hours, or until frozen.

Whiz the gelato mixture, eggwhite and reserved two tablespoons of mint in a food processor until combined. Return to the freezer for at least another four hours or overnight.

Place peas, potato, onion, lettuce and stock in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and using a food processor blend until smooth. Strain through a sieve, then stir in the cream. Season, then chill for a few hours.

When ready to serve, divide the soup among six small bowls and top with a scoop of gelato, a few mint leaves and whole peas.

Ocean trout tartare with tomato tea

500g sashimi grade ocean trout fillets, skin removed
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
Photo by Steve Shanahan
60ml vodka
small herb leaves to garnish

Tomato tea
1kg vine ripened tomatoes
¼ red onion, chopped
¼ cup basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 drops Tabasco
1 tsp sugar

For the tomato tea, remove the stalks and set aside. Blend tomatoes with remaining ingredients until smooth. Line a sieve with muslin or a clean chux, then set over a bowl. Pour the tomato mixture into the sieve and drain for a couple of hours until you have about a cup or more of liquid.  Don’t be tempted to stir the liquid or your tea will be cloudy, it must drain through without pressure. Discard solids. Add reserved stalks to the liquid, this is for flavour, then chill.

For the ocean trout, line a tray with plastic wrap. Arrange six ring moulds or ramekins on the tray.

Half an hour before you are ready to eat, finely chop the trout, then combine in a bowl with the onion and vodka. Press the mixture firmly into the ring moulds, then chill for up to thirty minutes. If you leave it any longer the vodka will start to cook the trout.

To serve, transfer the ring moulds to serving plates using an egg lifter. Remove the moulds, then garnish with herbs. If using ramekins, turn upside down and they will come away neatly.  Serve with the tomato tea drizzled around the base of the trout.