FEAST: Late Summer Palate Panache
How to prepare a spread of bright dishes before the pumpkin latte craze invades.
JACKSON HOLE, WY- When it comes to my passion for cooking and baking, I have the dark, unforgiving Icelandic winter to thank. Being trapped in a remote fjord, we had a surplus of horse meat and as many fresh vegetables as we had rays of sunlight. Working as a chef and baker at the Kaupfélagsbarinn restaurant in the lonely settlement of Neskaupstaður, my passion became experimenting with recipes on my days off and serving them to the staff.
But man, did I crave a fresh salad.
When I returned to Jackson at the end of May I immediately cooked a three-course meal for my family and a few guests. I showed off some techniques I’d learned and luckily no one vomited and/or died. The dinner went so well, in fact, that my parents’ friend Cynthia Engelstad, owner of Jackson Hole Hat Company, called me up last week and asked me to cater a private event for her, this time for 12 people.
The mild weather we’ve been experiencing (thank the weather gods), certainly has a way of making me excited for fall. The moment I can see my breath fog in front of me, my body immediately starts craving things like pumpkin, spaghetti squash, cinnamon, sweet potato stews, butter, butter, more butter, etc.
It is still summer, after all, and I wanted to take advantage of ripe, bright veggies like heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini and big-ass cucumbers.
But take heart, dear reader, as the last thing I intended was a veggie-only, post-Pilates spa menu that’s all about light, simple flavors. Instead I found some ripe mini watermelons at Smith’s and decided to do a play on a watermelon salad and spice it up with some Asian-style chili oil and red pepper flakes to shock the palate on the first course. The heat would be cooled down with cucumber noodles that had been soaked in mint, basil, lime, honey and some orange-infused olive oil. It’d all be rounded out by some fresh arugula.
Since we went vegan (honey be damned) for the salad course, I wanted to go to another extreme for the second course: A summer vegetable galette with cheese, caramelized onions, thyme and a crisp, buttery crust. It would showcase the tomatoes and zucchini, while contrasting their upbeat flavors with the wholesome tang of Irish cheddar and a hefty bleu cheese. Before serving it, I melted down some honey and salted butter to drizzle over the galette.
For the entrée, I brought some Iceland skills to the table. I found delicious wild caught Icelandic cod at Jackson Whole Grocer. This dish married the bright flavors of the first course with the decadent feel of the second. For my Íslenskur þorskur, I sautéed yellow onions and then tossed them in a vat of melted butter, allowing them to simmer for an hour. I carved some russet potatoes into mini bananas, boiled them, and added rosemary and parsley. The baked cod was placed atop sprigs of asparagus that were sautéed in bacon grease. I added the taters and topped the fish with a spoonful of the buttered onions.
The night concluded with individual mocha trifles layered with coffee-infused mousse and Bailey’s whipped cream. I don’t know how I managed to pull it all together, but it worked, and 12 guests went home with full bellies and boozy smiles.
Now’s the time to take advantage of the farmers markets before the sun sets on summer, and don’t be afraid of cooking things down and being heavy handed with butter. Autumn is coming at full force and we might as well get our bellies ready for the hearty meals on the horizon. Gerðu svo vel!
Serves 4; prep time 90 minutes
1 ripe mini seedless watermelon
1 big-ass cucumber (or 2 smaller ones)
4 handfuls fresh arugula or spinach
1 large lime, juiced
1 Tbsp. spicy chili oil
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. honey
1 cup olive oil (regular or infused w/ orange peel)
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. chopped fresh basil
salt & pepper
toasted nuts or seeds for garnish
Preparation: Chili Watermelon Steaks
Slice the ends off the watermelon and stand up. Slice off the rind leaving only pink flesh (no whites). Cut the watermelon into 1-inch steaks and carve into even squares. Place four of the steaks into a casserole dish, dress with salt, pepper, chili oil, chili powder and red pepper flakes. Cover and place in fridge for one hour.
With a spiralizer or julienne peeler, strip the cucumber into noodles. Use only the light-green noodles and discard the rind. Soak the noodles in a bowl with olive oil, honey, mint, basil and lime juice for one hour.
Sprinkle salt, pepper and chili flakes on plate. Place watermelon steak in center of plate and top with a handful of arugula. Using a fork, twirl the cucumber noodles on a spoon and place atop the arugula. Dress the salad with the remaining liquid from the noodles. Garnish with nuts or seeds and cracked pepper. PJH