One way of staying out of the kitchen at meal times during the hot summer weather is to serve cold roast meats and cold baked fish. But don’t you have to be in the kitchen at some time to do the oven work?
You most certainly do, but you can choose the time of day: it doesn’t have to be when temperatures are at their highest.
A Spanish friend relies on cold meats and fish for summer lunches and dinners, but she roasts the meats and bakes the fish in the early hours of the morning — when temperatures are more bearable.
When it’s eating time she has a roast or a baked fish in the fridge which she serves as main courses with a selection of suitable side dishes and salads. She serves cold soups as starters, as well as dips and spreads.
But it’s easy to get a bit bored even with a range of nice roasts and baked fish. My friend rings up the changes by serving a couple of sauces — which can also be made in advance.
This is obviously a sensible solution to cooking during the hottest times of the day. Even those who have only a basic knowledge of cooking can manage roast meats because so many of them look after themselves once they are in the oven — although you must get the timing right.
When my friend first started cooking summer dishes during the night, her biggest problem was setting up a repertoire of suitable cold sauces. But over the years she built up a nice selection and she kept adding to it, so she now a varied collection.
Even if you’re not cooking through the night, it’s a good idea to have a selection of cold sauces in your culinary bag of tricks, because some of them are multi-functional and can double as salad dressings, dips or spreads. That means they can be used as starters or as part of a traditional French-style hors d’oeuvres.
Here are a few cold sauces from different countries that fit the bill because some of them easy nibbles for summer meals when served with freshly baked crusty bread. Ideally, they should be made in small amounts, enough for that day’s meals. Although they can be kept in the fridge for a few days without going off, they quite quickly lose their clean sharp taste.
1 ORANGE MINT. This is a splendid one with hot or cold roast lamb. Put 125 mls of red wine vinegar into a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Pour the vinegar over 125 grs of finely chopped fresh mint leaves (hierbabuena). Add 4 tbsps granulated sugar, 125 mls of fresh orange juice and 1 tbsp grated zest of orange. Leave until the next day and stir well before using.
2 AU JUS. An ideal sauce for those days (or nights) when you have roasted a piece of beef. Pound a large garlic clove in a mortar with a little salt until reduced to a paste.
Stir in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and coarsely ground black pepper to taste. Slowly drizzle in 100 mls virgen extra olive oil, stirring non-stop with the pestle. Add three tablespoons of juices from the roast beef pan and stir vigorously with the pestle until well blended.
This makes a superb sauce for cold roast beef, and is also an excellent dressing for a plain salad made with baby gem lettuces (cogollos) or the inner white leaves of a cos lettuce.
3 RAVIGOTE. A good sauce to know because it can be made with a mix of whatever fresh herbs and salad greens you have at hand. A big bunch from the following is ideal: parsley, chervil, chives, thyme, watercress, savory, marjoram, lamb’s lettuce (canónigos) and rocket (rúcula).
You will also need a heaped teaspoon of good quality capers (small ones), three anchovy fillets, the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, virgen extra olive oil, and red wine vinegar to taste.
Chop the herbs roughly and pound in a mortar with the chopped anchovies, the capers and a little black pepper. Add the egg yolk and pound until the mixture is smooth. Slowly add three tablespoons of virgen extra olive oil, as if making mayonnaise.
4 SKORTHALIA. This famous Greek sauce appeals to those who like lots of garlic. Others can always use less garlic. You will need: 4 peeled and sliced plump garlic cloves, 4 medium slices crustless day-old bread soaked in water for 10 minutes, 2 tbsps red wine vinegar plus salt to taste, 4-6 tbsps virgen extra olive oil, 50 grs walnuts boiled for five minutes to remove the skins and then finely crushed.
Squeeze excess water from bread, leaving it a little moist. Mallorcan pan moreno gives the best texture. Blitz the bread, garlic and vinegar in a blender and add the olive oil, little by little, as if making mayonnaise. Then add the well-pounded walnuts. Skorthalia is meant to be a thick sauce but if it is absolutely solid, stir in a little water.
Skorthalia is served in a bowl and makes an ideal dip for pita bread or raw vegetables. It also works nicely with grilled or fried fish or boiled chicken. Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for two or three days.
5 NORWEGIAN. This sauce is versatile and can be used with a wide variety of dishes, making it ideal for buffets. Mash the yolks of two hard-boiled eggs with a fork and add them to 250 mls home-made mayonnaise. Stir in 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp finely chopped parsley, and 1 tsp each of dried dill and French tarragon.
6 PARISIENNE. Tins of white asparagus are a good stand-by for summer meals because they make simple starters. This sauce is easily and quickly made. Cream two small Gervais cheeses (available at El Corte Inglés) until smooth and add salt to taste and a little paprika (pimentón dulce). Slowly stir in two or three tablespoons of virgen extra olive oil, as if making mayonnaise, and add lemon juice to taste. Finish off the sauce by stirring in one tablespoon of finely chopped chervil, also available at El Corte Inglés.
7 NIÇOISE. Peel four large ripe tomatoes, cut in half, scrape out and discard the seeds. Pound the tomato flesh in a mortar until reduced to a pulp and stir in a small amount of virgen extra olive oil and some finely chopped parsley. Transfer to a bowl. Pound three anchovy fillets and a garlic clove until reduced to a paste and add the yolks of two hard-boiled eggs. Mash until very smooth and slowly drizzle in three tablespoons of virgen extra olive oil, stirring non-stop with the pestle.
Stir in red wine vinegar and freshly milled black pepper to taste, pour in the tomato pulp and blend well with the pestle. Just before serving, add a heaped tablespoon of pitted and chopped black olives, the hallmark of dishes with the Niçoise label. The anchovies and the olives should make the sauce salty enough, but if not add extra to taste.
8 VERDURETTE. Chop 100 grs of very young spinach leaves then pound them in a mortar with several sprigs of parsley. Moisten a thin slice of crustless Majorcan pan moreno with a little milk. Squeeze out excess liquid and add the bread to the mortar with the yolk of a hard-boiled egg. Add a teaspoon of a French whole seed mustard, salt and pepper to taste and pound vigorously.
Put six tablespoons of virgen extra olive oil into a small jug and drizzle it into the mixture in thin threads, pounding and stirring in the same direction. Finally, stir in a tablespoon of good red wine vinegar or lemon juice. It should have the consistency of mayonnaise. This sauce is a good all-rounder that goes will with cold pork and chicken (boiled or roasted) as well as all kinds of veggies. Try it for Russian salad or a potato salad.
Tumbet and ratatouille style recipe
A friend who is particularly fond of aubergines and wants to try other summer dishes in the tumbet and ratatouille style, asked me for a suitable recipe.
I suggested a Catalán speciality called samfaina, a word that appears in many different forms, even in Catalán publications. Sometimes it’s spelt sanfaina or chanfaina and I’ve even seen it with a very Catalán touch: xanfaina. But the version most top cooks and food writers use is samfaina.
No matter how you spell it, samfaina is very similar to the French ratatouille: the ingredients are identical and so is the cooking method. But there is a big difference.
Although samfaina can be made on its own and served as an accompaniment to fish or meat, in every recipe I have ever seen it is cooked with a main dish ingredient.
This method of cooking produces an extremely tasty dish because, the main ingredients, chicken or bacalao, absorb the taste of the vegetables — and the veggies are enriched by the flavours in the chicken or bacalao.
At this time of high summer temperatures, samfaina has another advantage: although it can be served hot it is at its best when served at room temperature. And it can be cooked during the night and brought to the table when needed.
Recipe for Samfaina
For four people you will need three pieces of boneless chicken thighs (muslos) with skin attached sold at Mercadona, half a kilo of peeled fresh tomatoes, 2 medium sized onions peeled and thinly sliced, 3 medium sized aubergines roughly sliced up, 3 red pepper broken into pieces about the same size as the aubergines, 3 plump cloves of garlic finely chopped, 200 mls virgen extra olive oil, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, salt and pepper to taste.
Discard the skin on the chicken thighs, cut the flesh into nuggets and sauté them in a deepish greixonera in half the olive oil over a moderate heat for five minutes or until well sealed. Remove them from the greixonera and set aside.
Add the sliced onions to the greixonera and stir fry for five minutes, then stir in the broken red peppers and cook for another five minutes. Add the rest of the olive oil and when it has warmed stir in the aubergine chunks, giving them several turns to soak up some of the oil.
After five minutes, add the tomatoes and the chicken pieces with their juices and mix them into the other ingredients. Put in the bay leaf, the sprigs of thyme and stir in the finely chopped garlic and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. At the end add pepper and salt taste.
The vegetables melt and amalgamate and the samfaina should have a rich concentrated appearance and taste. Let the dish cool down in the greixonera (it will continue to cook because the greixonera retains a great deal of heat) and serve it at room temperature with a good crusty bread of your choice.
If you use Mallorcan aubergines for this dish and other recipes, there is no need to salt them to get rid of bitter juices, as they are very sweet.
The greixonera is Mallorca’s traditional clay cooking pot that is ideal for doing dishes on top of the cooker (over gas) and in the oven. If you are at all serious about Mediterranean cooking you should have a collection of different sizes and depths.