A few times a year our neighborhood restaurant in Harvard Square, Harvest (harvestcambridge.com), holds a Sunday supper in its “The Book & the Cook Series.” These 6 p.m. suppers remind us of being back in Europe, gathering for a less than formal meal at the end of the weekend, often around a big table.
Mind you, the meals are far more elegant than our Euro repasts. They invariably feature a cookbook author who is also a chef. With input from the author, Harvest’s executive chef Tyler Kinnett (right) and pastry chef Joshua Livesay oversee a meal compiled (or sometimes adapted) from the cookbook. Their realizations are invariably spot-on. They demonstrate both the skill of the Harvest staff and their willingness to step into the background and let the visiting chef take the spotlight. Dinners usually include a signed copy of the book and some fascinating wine or beer pairings at a very reasonable price.
This most recent dinner featured Walker Stern (at top) from Battersby (battersbybrooklyn.com) in Brooklyn. The cookbook is called Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen (Grand Central, $35). The so-called ordinary kitchen is not much bigger than our own galley setup. Two or three cooks work in a tiny spot with a six-burner stove, one oven, and a narrow prep counter. They serve 70 covers a night. We never manage more than four.
The secret of that productivity is extreme prep. The cookbook reflects that. Recipes are divided into two parts: “To Prep” and “To Serve.” Frankly, it’s the way we love to cook. More to the point, the food is what we like to cook and like to eat. Stern and co-chef Joseph Ogrodnek were CIA classmates who trained with a number of top chefs, most notably Alain Ducasse. Their taste palate skews Mediterranean, with a stronger French accent than Spanish or Italian. But one of the dishes served at the dinner was a purely Basque bowl–seared tuna served on a stew of red peppers and onions called a piperade. As the Battersby cookbook points out, Basque chefs take great pride in their idiosyncratic recipes for piperade. The Battersby version juices the pepper trimmings and adds them to the stew, which intensifies the sweetness. The flavors catapulted us back to San Sebastian. The picture at left above, in fact, shows fishermen unloading the ground fish catch at the San Sebastian docks.
GRILLED TUNA WITH PIPERADE AND SPANISH HAM
6 red bell peppers
1 medium Spanish onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 thin slice Iberico ham (or prosciutto di Parma)
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Trim off the tops and bottoms of the peppers, reserving them. Peel the peppers, cut them in half, and remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Cut the peppers into julienne strips.
Peel the onion and cut it into julienne strips. Set aside.
Juice the tops and bottoms of the peppers. If you do not have a juicer, put them in a blender, blend with just enough water to engage the blender’s blade, then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. You should have 1/2 cup pepper juice.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot that will hold all the ingredients comfortably. When the oil is just shimmering, add the onions and ham and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over very low heat, stirring often, until the garlic and onions are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add the julienned peppers and season with salt and paprika.
Cover the pot and continue to cook over very low heat. After about 5 minutes, check to see if the onions and peppers have given off a lot of their liquid (if not, continue to cook a few minutes more), then remove the cover, raise the heat to medium, and bring the juices to a simmer. Cook until the juices have almost completely evaporated, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the reserved pepper juice, and cook, uncovered, until the peppers are very soft and the mixture is saucy, about 30 minutes.
The piperade can to used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks, ideally 1 1/2 inches thick
Korean chili powder
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices Iberico ham (or prosciutto di Parma)
Heat a gas grill to high or prepare a charcoal grill for grilling, letting the coals burn until covered with white ash.
Season the tuna with salt and chili powder. Grill the fillets until the bottoms are lightly charred and the fish is just starting to turn opaque on the bottom, 2-3 minutes or a bit longer for well-done. (The Battersby chefs like the fish rare in this dish.) Turn the fillets over and grill until cooked on the other side, 2 or 3 minutes more.
Meanwhile, gently reheat the piperade. (You can do this in a pot set on the grill.) Freshen it with a drizzle of vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Divide the piperade among four plates or wide, shallow bowls. Top each serving with a tuna fillet and finish by topping each fillet with 2 pieces of ham. Serve.