A few weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance posted something about how she “doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving”. I replied asking why on earth one would abstain from Thanksgiving- it has all the fun aspects of Christmas (family, food, leisure, more food…) with none of the frantic, harried running around. I don’t think I’ve ever had to set foot in a mall to buy anything for Thanksgiving. And it’s always a four-day weekend… not even Christmas can guarantee that!
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gift-giving tradition of the Christmas holiday, but sometimes it seems to eclipse everything else. As long as I can nave a nice meal and a lot of lazing around afterward, I’m pretty content. This Thanksgiving was exactly that- outstanding culinary contributions from the whole family (I really think it gets better every year), great company, and a little Dance Dance Revolution after our food had settled and everyone had had enough wine not to care if they looked silly.
My mom surprised me with an early birthday cake and gift since she won’t be here on my birthday. She made a scrapbook with tons of old childhood photos, all with clever captions that must have taken her many, many hours to put together. Looking through it, and looking around me, I couldn’t help but be a bit melancholy that this would probably be one of the last holidays we’d all celebrate with the entire family. With siblings getting married and being pulled in different directions, we’ll have to start taking turns with what in-laws to visit and inevitably not everyone will be able to come to each gathering. I know it’s just a fact of growing older but for a close knit family like ours, it will be a difficult transition.
That said, I am ready to embrace life’s changes rather than dwell on what has passed. Marvin and I will be moving into our new home in the next month if all goes according to plan, and we hope to host next year’s Thanksgiving celebration (or maybe even Easter, who knows!). Although change can be stressful at times, I look forward to all the new joys and challenges that will come with combining our households.
One thing I definitely look forward to with having our new house is not having to travel for every get-together if we get to host! This year, I had to work Wednesday and get up early Thanksgiving day to drive, so in lieu of cooking something I made a big fancy salad. I combined wintry flavors of radicchio and pear, with pistachios to give extra color and crunch. Like any composed salad, I think it looks prettiest and is easiest to serve on a platter so that you can distribute the ingredients more equitably and don’t end up with, say, all the nuts at the bottom of the bowl.
I stuffed myself silly on homemade bacon-wrapped “poppers” (see below) for an appetizer, mac and cheese, the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted, and the usual suspects like stuffing, potatoes, turkey and gravy. I know I’m forgetting some items but it’s been two weeks already (when you read my next couple posts you’ll understand why it’s taken me that long to finish this)! To top it all off, my brother made a pecan pie, a pear and almond galette, and pumpkin empanadas. My mom also made a pineapple upside down cake, which was a childhood favorite of mine, for my birthday.
If you feel full just reading that, this salad makes a nice light supper to help balance out any holiday indulgences.
Note: First two photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Winter Salad with Pears & Pistachios
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 large shallot
½ a head of radicchio
2 Seckel pears or 1 ripe Bosc or Anjou pear
⅓ cup unsalted pistachios
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Champagne vinegar or quality white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Notes: I prefer Seckel pears because they slice into perfect bite sized pieces, but feel free to substitute another pear variety. Because many people expect a cheese in their composed salads, I did serve some crumbled blue cheese on the sde, but the salad has a nice character without it.
Slice the shallots, not too thin. Soak them in a bowl of ice water while you prep other ingredients- this will make them nice and crunchy while also removing a bit of their sting. Wash and dry the lettuce. Toast the pistachios over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking occasionally, until fragrant; set aside to cool. Remove the core from the radicchio and slice into thin shreds. Core and slice the pears. If doing this in advance of serving, toss the pears with a little of the vinegar you are using so they don’t turn brown.
In a bowl large enough to hold the lettuce, make the dressing: Add the olive oil, then the mustard, and whisk until incorporated; then add the vinegar (you may want more or less to taste) and whisk again until emulsified. If the quantity of dressing looks too small for the amount of lettuce you have, tweak it by adding proportional amounts of oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste- don’t be shy with the salt, as you are effectively salting the whole salad, not just the dressing. Toss the lettuce in the dressing to coat.
Transfer the dressed lettuce to a platter and scatter over the radicchio, pears, shallots (drained), and pistachios. Serve immediately.
A few months ago I got an email from a gentleman at Oh! Nuts asking if I’d like to sample some product, and maybe I could write a recipe about it. I was thinking of all kinds of treats to make- ice creams, tarts, etc. But when the package came, I was too busy to do anything with it so I made like a drag queen and tucked the nuts away. Then recently I checked out A16: Food + Wine from the library (yes I know, I’m behind the curve on this book that was much-hyped around Christmas 2008) and saw a recipe for halibut with a pistachio, parsley, and preserved lemon pesto (try saying that three times fast!). It sounded like a perfect summer dish and a great excuse to use some of those pistachios.
Incidentally, can I just dork out for a moment and say how exciting it was to get my first shipment of free swag?? I’ve been offered a couple other things here and there but nothing I would actually use. Free nuts was a major score, as A) I love nuts of all kinds, and B) nuts are freaking expensive! The company sent me pistachios, hazelnuts, and steamed, peeled chestnuts, which I think I’ll save for an autumnal dish. [Can I also say to all the bloggers who are always griping on Twitter about how many PR emails/offers they get, it's a little hard to have pity. Gee, you poor thing, your blog is well-known enough for you to get PR pitches and free stuff all the time. Boo hoo!]
I was really happy about how this recipe turned out, and although I made it with fish, I could easily imagine this pesto-like sauce as an accompaniment to roast chicken or on pasta for a vegan dish. As a side dish, I just drizzled some artichokes with olive oil and lemon and tossed a few olives in for good measure. I picked up a nice bottle of Auratus Alvarinho selected by Jeffrey at Holiday Market that was moderately priced and a great compliment to the food; A16 suggests a Sicilian Carricante if you can find that. As far as a “review” of the nuts, they were perfectly fine, fresh, etc. Of course I always advocate buying local first, but if you can’t find something you need, the Oh!Nuts website is a good alternative.
A note on fish: To find out whether a certain fish is on the endangered/ unsustainable list, check here. Re: substituting fish, Mark Bittman’s book Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking is an excellent resource; for each type of fish, he lists several other species which can be interchanged in recipes.
1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
2 cups parsley leaves, loosely packed
1 Tbs capers (salt-packed if possible)
½ a preserved lemon, peel only
½ tsp dried chili flakes
½ cup olive oil
sea salt if needed
fresh lemon wedges and additional olive oil for serving
Note: This pesto is best served the day it is made.
Soak the capers and preserved lemon peel in cold water to remove some of the salt. Roughly chop the parsley. Put it in the bowl of a food processor (if you have a smaller-sized bowl, this works best) along with the pistachios, chili flakes and capers (drained and rinsed). Pulse while adding the olive oil in a thin stream, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the pistachios are well-chopped. Alternately, you can make the pesto in a mortar and pestle; you’ll want to chop the parsley more finely for this version. For fish or chicken, I prefer a looser pesto where the nuts are left slightly chunky, but for pasta you could process it a bit more if desired. Finely dice the preserved lemon peel and stir into the pesto; taste for salt (mine did not need any; the capers and preserved lemons were salty enough to season the mixture).
To serve with pasta, simply toss the pesto with 1 lb pasta that has been cooked in well-salted water. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil if desired, and serve with fresh lemon wedges.
Note: The A16 recipe calls for halibut, but at $19 a pound it was a bit out of reach for me so I substituted cod. The cod was thinner but I folded under the thinnest ends to ensure a more even cooking, and adjusted my cooking time downward.
Season the halibut fillets with sea salt at least one hour and up to four hours prior to cooking. Remove from refrigerator ½ hour before cooking to allow to come to room temperature (less time will be needed for thinner fish). Preheat oven to 400°. Drain off any liquid that has accumulated and place the fish in a glass baking dish. Divide the pesto evenly among the fillets, pressing down so it adheres. Place a small amount of water in the bottom of the dish, enough to come about a third of the way up the fish.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through; this will depend on type and thickness of fish, so keep a close eye on it. (Fish is done when it is just firm to the touch; it will continue to cook for another couple minutes after removed from the oven, so it’s best to err on the side of ever-so-slightly underdone.) Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Taste the braising liquid and drizzle some of this on top if desired. Serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges.