fennel/chili-paved tuna grill, zaatar; cress; grilled lauki, mint

Early yesterday afternoon I went out to the Saturday 23rd Street Chelsea greenmarket, but only to pick up some parsley and mint. Most of the time I would go there I would get seafood, but we’d decided to play it loose with dinner arrangements. We were going to be in the Whitney Museum at least until early in the evening, so the plan was not to make a plan, since I could put a simple pasta together whenever we got home and felt hungry, or we might even decide to eat out.  Once I’d arrived down the block however, I had to check out the seafood stall, only doing it for the heck of it I thought. But then, after first checking with Barry by texting, I came home with two perfectly sized, exceptionally beautiful thick fresh tuna steaks. In fact he was pretty enthusiastic, judging from the caps he used to reply (we both love tuna), and totally okay with a slight change in plans (it’s very simple to prepare).

We’re both glad I had been flexible enough to disregard the original plan for being flexible, because we were able to enjoy just about the best tuna ever last night.

The less simple part of the meal involved the vegetable I’d chosen to cook. I had never before prepared (or, probably, even eaten) ‘bottle squash’ or lauki gourd, but I had bought one from Ashley Scott at her and her partner Nimai Gupta’s Gopal Farm stand in the Union Square Greenmarket the day before, and I was anxious to try it. Maybe it was because of a very recent interesting challenge with bitter melon, another vegetable often identified with India, that caused me to fret more than I really had to about how to cook it, but I ended up just treating it more or less like zucchini (I learned only halfway through my online research that, curiously, this same vegetable is very familiar in much of Italian regional cooking, where it is usually referred to as ‘Cucuzza‘).

  • two thick 7-ounce tuna steaks from American Seafood Company in our neighborhood Saturday Chelsea Down to Earth Farmer’s Market, rinsed, dried, tops and bottoms seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, brushed or ‘paved’ with almost 2 tablespoons of a mix of a generous amount of a really, really great dried Semi di Finocchietto Ibleo (wild Sicilian fennel seed harvested in the Iblei Mountains), from Eataly Flatiron and a little dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, both first crushed together in a porcelain mortar and pestle, the steaks pan-grilled above a medium-high flame for little more than a minute or so on each side inside a medium enameled cast iron grill pan and finished on the plates with a good squeeze of the juice of an organic Mexican lemon from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, a scattering of chopped fresh zaatar [origanum syriacum] leaves from TransGenerational Farm and  a drizzle of Chelsea Whole Foods Market Portuguese house olive oil
  • some little (semi-wild) red cress from Dave Harris’s Max Creek Hatchery dressed with an excellent olive oil, Renieris Estate ‘Divina’ (Koroneiki varietal), Hania, Crete, from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, local Long Island sea salt from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, freshly ground black pepper, and a good Italian (Piedmont) white wine vinegar (Aceto Cesare Bianco, from Buon Italia)
  • a young one pound ‘bottle squash’ or lakui gourd (there are many other names) from Gopal Farm, its outer skin peeled off, cut into sections lengthwise, and each of those sliced roughly 1/4″ thin, again lengthwise, placed inside a large bowl, covered generously in sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper, mixed well by hand before drizzled with olive oil and mixed again, grilled on a large 2-burner cast iron grill pan, turing once, until softened and showing grill marks, arranged on large platter, each layer scattered with torn peppermint leaves from Alex’s Tomato Farm in the Saturday 23rd Street farmers market
  • the wine was a Portuguese (Vinho Verde) white, Vinho Verde Loureiro, Aphros 2018, from Astor Wines
  • the music was the album, ‘Felix & Fanny Mendelssohn – Works for Cello and Piano’, performed by
    cellist Johannes Moser, pianist Alasdair Beatson, beautiful music, and a beautiful concept