Sunday, May 13, 2012
This is a truth I have come to learn about myself: sometimes I freak out. Sometimes I freak out and that freakout is entirely unwarranted. Take, for example, last weekend. Last weekend I hosted lunch, as I am occasionally wont to do. No reason for a freakout, right? Well. To begin with I was out of mine comfort zone- my comfort zone being animal protein, carbohydrate, salad, salad, salad- as I was feeding a pescatarian and a non-fish eater, which meant that the meal would be straight up vegetarian. Now, mind you until about 5 years ago the kitchen in my home was entirely vegetarian kitchen for one reason or another (for the most part, vegetarian roommates) so this shouldn't have thrown me. And it didn't throw me really, it just made me think more about how the sum of the meal's parts was going to coalesce into a whole. What threw me was the guest list. I had invited some good friends, but I had also invited some more acquaintance type people- people who I had met a time or two and a little voice inside my head said, "I think I like you. Let's be friends." This meal was my way of saying that aloud. So I was nervous. I mean, what if nobody got along? What if there were these long awkward silences that I would (awkwardly) have to fill? What if the conversation turned to politics (shudder)? What if I bake a cake and don't taste it before I serve it because after all it is a cake, and then after having served it to all my guests I take a bite and realize it is inedibly salty (cuz that's never happened. Oh wait, it has) and then I will want to do nothing but crawl under the table and die of embarrassment? Adding to my worries was the fact that one of those very lovely acquaintances is a fellow feeder of people and I was feeling just a little bit like I really needed to bring my A game.
Unfortunately my first attempts at bringing my A game failed miserably. The first dessert I made was inedible (I made this. Don't know what went wrong, but something did. Horribly so. At least I tasted before I served). Then, I dumped my pastry crust into the sink and didn't have enough butter, or time, to make another. And all through this I heard a nagging voice in my head saying, you don't have enough food. That voice stayed with me all through Friday afternoon and dinner and into Saturday until the moment we all sat down at the table.
But here are a few things I should have known 1) There is always enough food 2) Many of my dishes came from my beloved Ottolenghi cookbook and one need never fear with Ottolenghi at their side 3) Wine. Wine. And more wine 4) Sometimes it's the simple things. It was a lovely meal with lovely food and lovely people who lingered and talked well into the afternoon. At some point, woozy and happy with wine, I looked at my guests all chatting and eating and I thought to myself, this? This is what you were freaking out about? You are a crazy person. What could be simpler or more self-evident than this? You sit down. You eat. You drink. You talk. Acquaintances become friends. Friends become closer. It's the most natural thing in the world.
All the dishes I served at the meal were good. Especially the Ottolenghi ones. But I have to say that the only one that was entirely finished by the end of the meal came from no cookbook and involved all of 5 ingredients (counting salt and pepper). A few weeks ago I walked into my house and was hit with the musty smell of a ripe melon. The melon sitting in my fruit bowl was at that stage where it was ripe to the point where it was about to get sweetly putrid. It needed to eaten. I looked at the melon and then at the bright red tomatoes, also begging to be eaten, sitting on my counter and this salad was born. It is nothing but melon, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and some fresh basil. Nothing more, nothing less. And it is wonderful. The tomatoes are warm and savory, but the melon is cool and sweet and the fruity acid tinge of the olive oil ties it all together. It is a bowl of summer- all juicy and sticky running down your arms. It will talk you down from a freakout. It will say, hey girl, slow down. What's there to get all excited about? Life' s a summer day; a book at the beach; a circle of friends.
The tomatoes and melons used for this salad need to be in season and they need to be really ripe for this dish to work. (Which might mean that folks in the U.S. won't be able to make this dish for another few months). I used the ubiquitous Israeli green melon which I guess is sort of a cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew. Either type of melon could work.
1 small-medium melon
4-5 ripe vine-grown tomatoes
5-6 basil leaves, chiffonaded
good, fruity olive oil
Chop the melon and tomatoes into bite size chunks. Drizzle with a good amount of olive and sprinkle with salt and grind of pepper. Let sit for a few minutes so that the flavors meld a bit. Mix in the basil. Serve.