Halibut Ratatouille en Papillote.

Holy crap this pregnancy stuff is exhausting. Yesterday I ran out of breath walking while eating an ice cream cone, and any “glow” one might detect in my face is probably from climbing, like, three stairs. Or possibly it’s the aftermath of an ugly cry, which was probably related to some snack I couldn’t have and probably happened in the middle of a crowded Safeway or 7-11. I have yet to become serene. I have yet to stop perspiring. It’s all very romantic.

But I’m waddling around, because the pursuit of food is constant, and because the doctor said I have to eat protein and the only thing in my fridge right now is fruit (and there is so much fruit). Nick bought me a case of freezies and I am destroying it. With my face. I am getting all the exercise I need, but I can never eat enough. If you can imagine a sweaty Ms. Pac Man annihilating everything edible between Arbutus and Main, you’ve got a pretty accurate mental picture of me right now. No one may photograph this.

Even the cat is judgmental.

To add to my confusion and exhaustion, I am also supposed to rest more. “I can tell just from looking at you that you’re the type to retain water,” my doctor said, so now I have to lay around with my feet up for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a day. It seems that the only time I can find to do this is when Chuck Hughes is on TV, and even though I suspect he’d be reluctant to run away with me now, I do enjoy his pretty face and his lemon meringue pie tattoo. And his cooking show.

I found some time to lay around leering at Chuck this weekend, and it was fortuitous. He was making a lovely, summery dish with black cod; the fishermen down at the wharf at Granville Island have had long fillets of halibut that would suit the dish perfectly, and the makings of ratatouille are now available at my little market. And so, because I need to eat more protein and because I learned the recipe while sitting around getting rested, I adapted Chuck Hughes’ Black Cod Ratatouille en Papillote to suit some lovely local halibut. There’s not much sense in me re-writing the recipe here, as I literally did everything he did just with a different white fish (though I did add lemons, which was very clever), but I’ll show you how it went, and maybe you’ll make it yourself some hot day this week.

It cooks in 20 minutes, and should feed four people. “En papillote” sounds complicated, but it’s really just cooking in a strip of parchment that’s been folded over in the middle to form a seal and then twisted closed at the ends. What results is a perfectly steamed piece of fish, and beautifully cooked veggies, and it’s easy and requires few dishes and you don’t have to have the oven on too long. You could use salmon, or the long fillet of whatever fish that’s in season where you are. Serve with salad and lemonade.

Zucchini parmigiana sandwiches.

Zucchini is back! And early tomatoes, among other things, and my fridge is full of all the edible colours and I am delighted. I’ve started buying large amounts of things to turn into freezer meals for when I no longer have the energy to feed myself or the ability to reach the stove, which should happen right around the end of the harvest season. I am in the process of assembling zucchini parmigiana in foil containers (no dishes!), and had extra bits, and thought they’d be quite excellent in sandwiches.

For the sandwiches, I fried the zucchini instead of roasting it, and used leftover marinara sauce. You can make it fresh, if you like – I quite like this one from Smitten Kitchen with a bit of fresh basil – or you can use whatever you have hanging around in your fridge or pantry. Something simple with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs should do just fine. Any plain sandwich bun will do, and whole wheat would probably be nice.

These smell fabulously summery, and in spite of their crispy fried bits and garlic-toasty top half, they’re pretty light. The tomatoes and basil play well with the breaded zucchini, and there is just the tiniest bit of spice from the Tabasco and red pepper flakes. They would be excellent with cold beer or red wine, and beg to be eaten on a patio in the sunshine. Maybe your Meatless Monday is warm and summery? We had to make do with pretend as it’s been damp and grey around here, but these certainly brightened our moods.

Zucchini parmigiana sandwiches

(Serves six to eight.)

  • 8 buns, such as Kaiser or Calabrese
  • 1 lb. zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (about 24 pieces)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 cup panko
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Provolone
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 16 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice buns in half horizontally and set aside.

Whisk together eggs and Tabasco. Combine panko with lemon zest, and stir to combine. Dredge zucchini slices first in egg, then in bread crumbs. Fry in a large pan over medium-high heat, in grapeseed or olive oil, until golden, 90 seconds to two minutes per side.

Place on a plate lined with paper towel and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

Preheat oven to broil.

In a small bowl, mush together butter, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper (taste and adjust seasonings as desired). Divide equally between the eight buns, spreading on the top half only. Place on a large baking sheet.

Place zucchini slices, two to three per bun, on the other half of each bun. Top with two tablespoons each marinara sauce and provolone, and place on the same baking sheet as the top halves.

Place under broiler and cook until cheese has melted and the buttered half has turned golden, two to three minutes.

Finish each sandwich with fresh tomato slices and basil leaves. Serve hot, with lightly dressed greens on the side. Enjoy!

 

Strawberries.

In France when Grace and I were there, it was strawberry season. At the market in Lyon, I could barely choose from three or four different kinds, and eventually settled on a container of tiny fraise du bois, which smell like those sparkly red strawberry marshmallows from the penny candy bin and taste like the concentrated musk of spring, like dew and flower petals and the nectar sucked off clover tips, and like deep, dirty red – if a colour can have a taste, those thumbnail-sized ruddy berries were vermillion.

Before we left, Grace plotted out the best places for us to eat, and I nodded happily along as she prattled off the names of places we would go to in the France that belongs to David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, and Clotilde Dusoulier. We followed them all over Paris and Lyon to markets and bistros and crêperies, devouring as much as we could.

In many of those places, there were strawberries, and wherever there were strawberries a meal felt French, like a postcard picture of how France has always been in some memory you may or may not have but know just the same. I wish my story could begin with some treacly revelation about how “I found myself in Paris,” but myself and I have been familiar far longer than is noteworthy; you might not be impressed, but I’ve been this way all along. It’s truer and far more romantic to say that “I found strawberries in Paris.”

The best place for strawberries was a restaurant called Spring. It’s an expensive little restaurant, and Grace made a reservation online before we left and then never heard back from them, and she worried that we would not have a table for lunch. She attempted to confirm the reservation, in French, which proved inconclusive. We decided to meet there at the scheduled hour after wandering separately in the morning as we had disparate destinations (mine involved the purchase of seeds to one day grow fraise du bois of my own), and though my inability to read a map pulled me the opposite direction a long way down Rue de Rivoli, we were both able to make it in time.

At Spring we had a perfect meal – cool tuna belly with chilled asparagus, sorrel, and tonnato sauce; cold white wine; crisp fried anchovies; masterfully seared filet of acorn-fed, bushy-banged black pork with grilled wild fennel; five cheeses, tiny bites but more than enough to know everything important about – or at least to imagine in detail – five different terroirs; chocolate sorbet with cocoa nibs and white pepper; pistachio cream stuffed between two homemade chocolate wafers. And strawberries, orangey red and topped with a dome of sweetened crème fraîche and dusted with ground pistachios and sugar. They could have served it in a bucket and I still wouldn’t have had enough, and I’ve been dreaming of those berries ever since.

When we returned to Vancouver, almost nothing was in season yet. I’d have to wait a month, at least, for the first berries of summer. More than six weeks have passed since we’ve been back, and finally this past weekend I got my fix. Tracy and I made a date and drove to Westham Island, to Bissett Farms, and picked as many strawberries we could in one afternoon.

It’s been chilly for an unseasonably long time on the coast, so the berries are more tart than I was expecting. This year you may want to sweeten your crème fraîche more than you might otherwise. To recreate my dish, select as many small strawberries as you can fit into four handfuls. Wash and hull the berries, and put them into four ramekins or parfait cups. Stack them jauntily. This is important.

Sweeten one cup of crème fraîche with one to two tablespoons of honey and a drop of orange flower water, if you’ve got it. Grind freshly roasted pistachios, about 1/3 cup, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar in a food processor. Spoon crème fraîche over strawberries, then sprinkle each serving with as much pistachio sugar as you feel like. Imagine Paris.

 

 

Corn and asparagus salad

As of about 1:30 p.m. last Friday, it is now summer on the west coast and I am wearing a sundress and remembering my thighs now that they are not prevented by denim or Lycra from rubbing together.

Finally, things I’ve been waiting a year for are in season again, and the sun is warm into the evening so we can garden after work or enjoy a fizzy drink or two and a tomato salad on a patio somewhere and be social. I bought this season’s first zucchini on Sunday. I picked strawberries in the sunshine on Saturday. On Friday I ate corn in a park beside a marina.

My Dad trimmed his garlic plants this weekend and sent me home with a wealth of stinky, curly green stalks with which to make pesto and salads until the garlic oil ekes from our pores and our coworkers beg us to eat anything else. And corn has begun to appear in the markets, just as the last of the frozen stuff has hardened into an iceberg that smells like freezer and deserves to be thrown out.

So for this Meatless Monday, dinner came together in a fifteen-minute frenzy of blanching, chopping, and tossing, and it was cool and bright-tasting, with lemon and tomatoes, and basil, and piquillo peppers from a jar in the fridge and those pungent, fabulous garlic scapes.

There would have been a handful of Parmesan cheese thrown in at the end but I was in such a rush to eat that I forgot. No matter. It’s just fine sprinkled on after, and it’s just fine without if you want to keep things vegan. It would also be wonderful with grilled scallops or spot prawns, or maybe halibut, but you can do that some other night.

Corn and asparagus salad

(Serves four as a main dish, six as a side.)

  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 large cobs corn (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 diced piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes or scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Blanch asparagus in a large pot of boiling water. Cool in an ice water bath until cold.

Scrape corn from cobs into a large bowl. Add tomatoes, peppers, shallot, garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Add asparagus.

Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, basil, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper together. Taste, adjusting balance as needed. Pour over salad. Toss to coat.

Serve immediately.