I remember the first time I had Marcella Hazan’s swordfish with samoriglio sauce, one of the greatest (and easiest) of the incomparable recipes in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which is probably the cookbook I’ve used most in my life.
It was at my mother’s apartment on East 71st Street, and Mark and my sister and Rob were there too, and none of us had kids of our own yet, and we didn’t know about mercury in fish yet, and my mom served the swordfish over Julia Child’s soubise, which is rice cooked in lovely sautéed onion. While she broiled the swordfish and finished the rice, she had me whisk the sauce ingredients together—olive oil, dried oregano, lemon juice, salt and pepper. When the fish was done, we poked it with a fork to make little holes for the samoriglio to sink into, then poured the no-cook sauce over it, and that was that. The dish was sublimely delicious and supremely easy, and it made such a big impression on me that I immediately adopted it into my own regular recipe rotation.
When my then editorial assistant Dana Natkevecius asked me what she should make for her then new boyfriend Will Rousmaniere, I gave her the recipe. And that, apparently, is how she became Dana Rousmaniere. (I suppose I could be giving slightly too much credit to the powerful hook ‘em fish, though I think Dana might actually back me up here…)
Over the years, I’ve made adjustments. I pretty much gave up swordfish and started using halibut or sea bass or any other fresh, white-fleshed, lower-mercury fish. And I started tossing halved green olives and capers into the sauce. When fresh oregano is available, I use that instead of the dried. I long ago stopped measuring my quantities, and have found that it’s impossible to go wrong.
When our friends Rob and Lisa came to stay last week, I picked up a fat, glistening slab of halibut fillet (about 7 ounces per person), which Mark grilled, skin-side down (brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper), while I whisked up the samoriglio: To about a quarter cup of peppery extra-virgin olive oil I added the juice of one lemon and the segments of another, a big handful of chopped French green olives and a small one of chopped oregano, salt and pepper. I pulled the capers out of the fridge but forgot to put them into the sauce. When the fish came off the grill, I poured the lovely cool samoriglio all over it, and we devoured it with a corn and tomato salad and a tossed green salad, with lots and lots of cold rosé.
That’s what I call stress-free summer cooking for company.
This salad makes me want summer to last forever.
For four people, steam/boil four ears of corn and sheer it off the cobs; add about half a pint of sweet cherry tomatoes, halved; some shredded basil; and chives, scallions or a little red onion if you like. Douse it with a glut of good olive oil or walnut oil, and a touch of wine vinegar (or even rice vinegar), along with a sprinkling of salt and a few grindings of black pepper.
Eat it as a side dish or use it as a bed for seared scallops, grilled fish, or chops from a roasted rack of lamb, as I did here:
I’m boring when it comes to salmon, because when I buy it I get the good stuff—wild Alaskan—which is so vibrant and flavorful on its own that I don’t want or need to do much more than sprinkle it with salt and pepper, brush it with olive oil, and roast it in a hot (425-degree) oven until it’s barely cooked through. (I like my salmon more well done than many people, it seems. Restaurants are always offering it medium-rare.) For a thick fillet, roast 8-12 minutes, depending on your preference. For me, 11 tends to be the sweet spot.
I’ve been buying asparagus practically in bulk, since the season’s so short and it’s one of my favorite things, but I guess I couldn’t quite keep up with it and ended up discovering two bunches in the fridge. One was past its prime in that the tips were a little slimy, but the other one was mostly fine.
Rather than steam or roast it, which is what we’ve been OD’ing on lately, I decided to purée it—but not too smooth. First I cut off the tips, throwing the slimy ones away and setting the good ones aside. Then I simmered the stems (tough parts removed) two minutes beyond where I usually cook them, or about 6 minutes. (These were relatively thin asparagus—adapt accordingly.) I wanted them tender but still bright green.
I removed them from the pot with a slotted spoon and put them in cold water for a minute to stop the cooking and keep them bright, then right into the food processor with a dollop of crème fraîche, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some freshly grated nutmeg. Meanwhile, I threw the good asparagus tips into the pot and cooked them for two minutes.
To serve the dish, I divided the purée onto the plates, scattered it with the asparagus tips, topped the purée with the salmon fillets and voilà—a seasonal, healthy, and beautiful meal in under 20 minutes.
In winter I roast leg of lamb on the bone, smeared with a mixture—almost a paste—of finely chopped garlic and rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I love the way the foresty smells fill the house, and how the long lit oven keeps the kitchen warm.
In summer, though, I prefer a butterflied leg—deboned and flat; not rolled and tied—which cooks quickly either in a hot oven or on the grill.
A butterflied leg of lamb is a topographical wonder—uneven in thickness, which suits me fine. Most of the meat will remain medium rare, while some will turn out well done. There’s a clear advantage to this in that I’ve had friends beg me to keep it rare, while others cringed at almost any pink at all.
The next day, lamb is lovely cold. For years we roasted it on New Year’s Eve, then indulged in thick sandwiches slathered with a sauce of horseradish, Dijon, and whipped cream or crème fraîche for New Year’s Day lunch. These days, I prefer my leftover lamb over salad, often with a Middle Eastern bent. The one pictured here is a mixture of greens, cucumber, tomatoes, calamata olives, torn mint leaves, and crumbled feta tossed with lemon and olive oil. I made a similar meal last spring, actually carving the lamb hot from the oven right over a cool, crunchy salad. It was wondrous. (The recipe is here.) So I guess this doesn’t have to be a second-day dish after all… Do as you will. Maybe do it this weekend.
I concoct some version of this elegant 10-minute dinner all the time, and if you like scallops, you should try it. For Valentine’s Day—and throughout the winter for special meals when I don’t have a lot of time—I make it with frisée lettuce, orange and grapefruit segments, and ribbons of fresh basil. Last summer, I tried it with nectarines.
Tonight I had gorgeous, ruby-colored local strawberries, so I added those to soft baby lettuces along with torn fresh basil, toasted hazelnuts, and segments from a lemon. If Mark could stand red onion I would have added some very thin slices, but he can’t, so I didn’t.
My dressing was a quick vinaigrette of fresh lemon juice, a splash of grapefruit juice, hazelnut oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of agave syrup to offset the sourness.
To cook the scallops, I dusted them with smoked salt and black pepper and seared them in a hot pan in a combination of butter and olive oil for about two minutes on the first side and one minute on the second, basting them with a pastry brush after I turned them, because I recently saw Tom Colicchio or someone do it and it looked like a good idea.
Regular salt would have been fine, but I have this fabulous mixture of Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt and Tellicherry Black Pepper, from Salt & Pepper (together at last!), made by my friend Amy and available here. The smokiness of the salt added a wonderful layer of flavor with no additional work.
A hint about scallops: Try to get “dry” ones, which means they haven’t been soaked in water and preservatives to extend their shelf life. Dry scallops sear much better, taste much better, and are generally, well, better. A half pound was perfect for a light dinner for two, though hungrier people might have appreciated six ounces a piece.
We drank Provençal rosé with this meal, but on Valentine’s Day we opened a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon—my favorite champagne. Scallops and champagne are one of the great combinations, and now that I’ve discovered the split, it’s become a more reasonable indulgence.
One last tip: Make the salad before you start to cook the scallops, not while they’re searing. You don’t want to get distracted and overcook them.