Saturday, 6 December 2014

Seafood, fennel and lime salad

Seafood, fennel and lime salad

I have previously said (see my post here) that "Ottolenghi The Cookbook" is my favorite cookbook at the moment. I have already tried several recipes and many others are in the pipeline.
Among the recipes I have already made- all very appreciated actually - this Seafood, fennel and lime salad is so far one of my favorite; I'll prepare it again and again, both for family meals and dinners with friends (future guests, be prepared to taste it sooner or later!).
When I first read this recipe in the book, I loved it immediately as it reminds me one of my favorite Italian seafood appetizers, insalata di mare (seafood salad), a simple dish of usually steamed or poached seafood (any type of fish can be used, but a seafood salad usually has prawns or shrimps and squids, and sometimes shellfish, scallops and/or other firm fish) that can come in several variants; the basic version is made dressing the seafood only with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, but it is possible to add many other ingredients in order to have different combinations of flavors and textures: capers, olives, citrus zests, raw or cooked vegetables (celery is commonly used in Italy, but also zucchini, carrots, cherry tomatoes, steamed potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes work well), herbs (parsley is the most popular) and spices ... the range of possible combinations is almost infinite.  Also it can be served warm or at room temperature.
I've tried many versions of seafood salad in Italy, as it's a kind of dish that I like very much, and I really enjoy the original takes on this popular recipe; in any case, from the simplest to the most creative variant, seafood should be the protagonist, and all other ingredients enhance the flavor of fish. And this is what happens in this interpretation of seafood salad by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi: the quite strong flavor of grilled fish - prawns and squid - is balanced by a mix of fennel, red onion, lime (juice and skin), a mix of herbs (parsley, dill and cilantro) and a final sprinkle of sumac which adds a wonderful tangy lemony flavor. I recommend to add, just before serving, also pomegranate seeds - optional in the recipe - both for their beautiful touch of color and for the nice bittersweet flavor they bring into the dish. The salad can be served immediately after preparation or prepared in advance and served later (good option for dinners with guest!); the second option is my favorite because after few hours all flavors are well combined together.
Considering that the Christmas festive season is approaching, those who like to have and serve seafood on Christmas Eve (like the average Italian family uses to do) should take note of this recipe as it will be a perfect starter.
Seafood, fennel and lime salad

Seafood, fennel and lime salad
from "Ottolenghi- The cookbook"
serves 4 as a starter (2-3 as a main course)
2 small fennel bulbs
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, crushed (omitted)
2 tbsp chopped dill
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 mild chile, seeded and finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil (I use extra-virgin)
8-10 tiger prawns
350 g cleaned baby squid
1 tbsp sumac
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
coarse sea salt
pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)
Trim the bases and tops of the fennel bulbs, then slice crosswise as thinly as you can (a mandoline helps here). In a large bowl mix the fennel and red onion (I like to soak the sliced onion in fresh water for about 1 hour before using in order to have a milder taste) with the lime zest and juice, garlic (if using), dill, parsley, chile, 2 tbsp of the olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt.
Clean the prawns (or ask your fishmonger to do it for you): remove the shells, keeping just the tail segment; cut a shallow slit along the back of each prawn and remove the dark vein (with a toothpick or the tip of a small knife).
Place a heavy cast-iron pan, preferably a ridged grill, over high heat and leave until piping hot. Meanwhile, mix the prawns and squid with the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Grill them in small batches, turning them after 1 minute and continuing until just done. Transfer to a cutting board and slice the squid into thick rings; prawns can be left whole or cut in half.
Add the seafood to the salad bowl and toss together. You can serve the salad immediately or leave it in the fridge for up to 1 day (I prefer to let it rest for a while before serving to permit all flavors to amalgamate). To serve. stir in the sumac and cilantro, then taste and adjust the seasoning. If pomegranate seeds are available, they make a beautiful (and tasty) garnish.

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