A Short Farewell Dinner

Jul 16, 2015
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It’s become sort of a ritual of mine: every year, before we leave on Summer vacation I like to have some of our closest friends over and cook a big dinner for all of us. And that’s just what we did last evening since today we’re off on holidays.

I wanted to have an informal get together, just some nice food scattered across the table for everyone to share and converse over. So I went for quite an eclectic array of foods meant to please everyone, a lot of veggies since I do love cooking with those, a bit of goat feta and shrimp. I made my ready-in-5-minutes guacamole and served it with tortilla chips, a goat cheese and zucchini pizza from scratch, a big salad with a lot of stuff in it, a delicious potato cake and butter pan-fried shrimp. For dessert, I went for my favourite berry dessert, a balsamic blackberry pie.

None of the dishes take very long to make and they are not complicated. However, making all of them at once did take a bit of time. For me, cooking is a time I enjoy immensely, so I kind of immerse myself in the kitchen, doors shut, music on, maybe a glass of wine on hand and then, I just cook away. And since our guests usually arrive before everything is ready, they’re welcome in the kitchen for a helping hand or some nice conversation.

I always start with making the dessert, if it’s something that can be served at room temperature or cold; so, I first made the pie. Then, I made the pizza dough and left it to rise for two hours. Afterwards, I prepared the shrimp marinade and popped it fridge and these were last to be cooked. The potato cake is done in about 35 minutes and then I just assembled the big salad and the guacamole last before baking the pizza and pan frying the shrimp.

The guacamole recipe is the same I make every time and I love it, just the right amount of sweet and sour! The potato cake is inspired by a recipe of Gwyneth Paltrow’s dad and the salad is just something you can put together with vegetables you have on hand or prefer, there’s really nothing to it. The pizza is made with a dough that I believe to be the best pizza dough ever, it’s easy to put together and it turns out perfectly. As for the shrimp, there’s nothing like frying them in butter and topping them with freshly chopped parsley, so these really do the trick.

As for the dessert, I was over the moon to find these sweet and succulent blackberries at the market. As soon as I laid my eyes on them, I knew I wanted to make my favourite berry dessert, a pie. I literally wait all year to make this pie because blackberry season is so elusive that it always leaves me craving for more. This pie is the sort of dessert that looks pretentious although it’s pretty easy to put together. It has a pate brisée base, followed by a blackberry and balsamic vinegar filling and the top is a butter and nutty oat crumble. It is truly delicious and if I had to pick just one thing to make off this menu, it would definitely be this pie.

And without further ado, I’m off to the ocean. See you in a little bit! And yes, I had the very last piece of leftover blueberry pie for breakfast this morning before leaving for the airport.

SUPER QUICK GUACAMOLE

1 avocado, ripe, halved, stone removed

3 medium tomatoes, chopped to a pulp

One shallot, finely minced

Juice from half a lime

A small handful of cilantro (or parsley), finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

On a chopping board, scoop out the flesh from the avocado and using the back of a fork, mash them to a pulp. Put in a bowl, along with the tomatoes and shallot, give everything a nice mix, then add the lime juice and season to taste. Place in a serving bowl and if you aren’t going to serve it immediately, place the avocado stone in the middle, cover with cling film and refrigerate until serving.

POTATO CAKE

2 large baking potatoes, peeled

90gr/¼ cup unsalted butter

90ml/¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

Salt and pepper

Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the peeled potatoes and boil for 20-25 minutes, until par-boiled, but not very mushy. Remove, allow to cool on a chopping board, then slice into 5 mm/ 1/4 in. thick rounds. In a skillet set over medium heat, put 1 Tblsp butter and 1 Tblsp olive oil, add one garlic clove. Once sizzling, arrange as many potatoes as you can in one layer. Cook for 3 minutes on each side, then discard the garlic, remove potatoes and place on a plate covered with paper-towels. Repeat until you have finished all of the potatoes. Turn your oven on its highest setting, on broiler mode. Butter a springform pan and arrange a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the pan, press down with the back of a wooden spoon, sprinkle with salt, then repeat with another layer of potatoes and so on, until you finish the potatoes. Pop in the oven, under the broiler for about 5 minutes, until browned and crispy. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then remove from the pan and invert on a plate. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper, as desired.

ZUCCHINI AND GOAT FETA PIZZA

For the dough (this makes two pizzas):

250g strong white bread flour

250g plain white flour

5g/1tsp powdered dried yeast

10g/1½ tsp salt

325 ml/1½ cups warm water

1 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt and water to form a sticky dough with your hands. Mix in the oil, then turn out on to a clean work surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. Shape into a round, and leave to rise in a clean bowl, covered with a plastic bag, until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

For the topping:

2 zucchini, cut into ribbons with a mandolin or a vegetable peeler

1 Tbslp extra virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, chopped

6 garlic cloves

110gr/4 oz. goat feta, crumbled

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 250C/500F. Line your baking tray with baking paper. In a skillet set over medium heat, place the olive oil and once hot, sautée shallot and garlic until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. On a very clean and lightly floured surface, place half of your dough and roll into a rectangle with the aid of a rolling pin. Transfer to baking tray and pre-bake for 4 minutes. Remove from the oven, arrange the feta evenly on top, scatter the shallot and garlic mixture, then weave your zucchini ribbons on top. Sprinkle a little olive oil on top, then bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

MIXED SUMMER SALAD

2 large handfuls of arugula

2 medium red tomatoes

2 medium yellow tomatoes

1 large handful of peas, blanched (boil in salted boiling water for 1 minute)

2 zucchini, cut into ribbons with a mandolin or a vegetable peeler

1 large onion, cut into rings

30gr/2 Tbslp pine nuts, toasted until fragrant

110gr/4 oz. goat feta, cubed or crumbled

Vinaigrette made with juice from 1 lemon, 3 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Toss everything together in a large bowl or on a platter, drizzle with the vinaigrette, mix and serve.

BUTTER SHRIMP

500gr/1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined

4 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

5-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tblsp flour

1 tsp pepper

6 Tbslp salted butter

1 tsp pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

In a large ziploc bag, put everything except for the butter and the parsley. Toss everything around and put in the fridge for 1 hour up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, heat the butter in a large skillet and with the aid of a slotted spoon, remove shrimp from the marinade and add to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan, place in a serving bowl, along with the juices from the pan. Add the chopped parsley and serve.

BALSAMIC BLACKBERRY PIE

For the dough:

1½ cups all-purpose flour

113gr/1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

4 Tbslp ice cold water

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and butter (alternately, use hand mixer). Mix for about 2-3 minutes, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cold water in a slow and steady stream, until dough comes together. Remove pie dough from food processor and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

600gr/ 20 oz fresh blackberries

150g/3/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbslp potato starch or cornstarch

2 Tbslp balsamic vinegar

Zest of 1 lemon

Mix blackberries, sugars, starch, balsamic and lemon zest in a bowl. Turn the mixture with a spoon several times to ensure the blackberries are coated.

For the crumble:

100gr/1 cup rolled oats

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup brown sugar

125gr/1 cup chopped pecan nuts or walnuts

1 tsp sea salt

113 gr/1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

Stir together oats, flour, brown sugar, nuts and sea salt in large bowl. Add butter and rub into the mix with your fingertips until clumps form.

To assemble: 

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Roll out dough on a floured surface and transfer to 2ocm/9in pie plate. Trim edges and fold under. Spoon the blackberry filling into the dough. Sprinkle the crumble on top, fully covering the blackberries. Bake pie for 45–50 minutes, until filling is bubbling and topping is brown and crisp. Check pie after 30 minutes of baking and cover with tin foil if browning too quickly. Allow to cool and serve.

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