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Eating Well: An end-of-summer dinner party

Lifestyle

Eating Well: An end-of-summer dinner party

Here’s a whale of a way to wow people who have entertained you this summer: invite them to an end-of-the-season party featuring this fantastic fish and shellfish minestrone with pesto.

Serve a large salad with the soup and, if you like baking, make the bacon-studded French Provencal flat bread to go with it. Everyone will love it. For dessert, fill a large trifle bowl with melon balls — pink (watermelon) and green (honeydew) look very festive.

Fish and Shellfish Minestrone with Pesto

The recipe is from Paul Johnson’s “Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood,” published by John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Add squid, mussels, shrimp, or octopus to this recipe to make it even grander, if you wish. It’s really at its best with the addition of about six ounces of squid or baby octopus. Serve this with lots of fresh country-style bread and a green salad.

2 cups dry white wine
2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white part only, halved, rinsed and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
5 ounces Italian green beans (Romano), trimmed and cut into 1-inch sections (about 3/4 cup)
2 cups water
1  1/4 pounds haddock or other white-fleshed fish filets, cut into 1-inch cubes
Pesto (recipe follows)

In a large pot, bring the white wine to a full boil. Put the clams in the pot, put the cover on tight, and hold in place to create steam pressure; after 2 or 3 minutes, it will become difficult to hold the cover in place from the pressure of all the steam inside. Give the pan a rough shake but don’t look inside. Continue to shake the pan once every 30 seconds for the next 3 minutes; only then can you remove the cover and look inside. Remove the clams when they are just cooked, and reserve them and the stock.

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the leeks for 2 or 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, red pepper, green beans, the reserved clam stock, and the water; simmer for 10 minutes. (If adding squid or octopus, give them a quick saute in olive oil and add to the pot now.) Add the fish and cook just until almost opaque throughout, 2 or 3 minutes; return the clams to reheat. Divide among 4 bowls and stir a spoonful of pesto into each.

Serves 4 as a main course.

Pesto

Not only is pesto delicious in dishes, it’s also great for marinating fish destined for the grill. Drizzle pesto over cooked fish, or stir it into a pot of steamed clams at the last minute to make a pasta sauce.

Although it is much easier and quicker to make pesto in a blender, the flavor and texture of pesto made with a mortar and pestle is incomparable. If you do use a blender or food processor, crush the garlic and pine nuts in a mortar before adding all the ingredients to the processor.

1 bunch basil, stemmed (about 1 cup packed)
1 to 2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Wash and thoroughly dry the basil leaves. Stack the basil leaves, 10 or 15 at a time, one on top of another, and cut them into julienne, then cut crosswise into fine dice. (The idea is to cut the leaves fine but not work them excessively, preserving the essential oils for the pesto.)

Using a large mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and salt until crushed; add the pine nuts and pound to a paste. Add the basil a tablespoon at a time while pounding with the pestle. Continue pounding to work in the olive oil. Season with lemon juice and add the Parmesan.

Pesto is always best made fresh, but extra pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for several days; pour a thin film of olive oil on top to prevent discoloration and cover well.

Makes 1 cup.

French Provencal Bacon Flat Bread

The recipe is from “The Bacon Cookbook” by James Villas, published by John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Except for the characteristic large openings throughout the bread, writes Villas, the yeasty fougasse baked in southern France is similar in taste and texture to the Italian focaccia. Villas says this bread can be served with virtually any dish. He likes to serve it with a salade nicoise or other elaborate salad. It goes very well with the fish and shellfish minestrone with pesto, too.

1 envelope active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 pound slab bacon (rind removed), diced
1 large egg yolk, beaten

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and let proof 5 to 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt and stir until well blended. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until the dough is slightly spongy, about 12 minutes, adding a little more flour if it becomes too sticky. Form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm area until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

In a skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat until almost crisp and drain on paper towels, reserving the fat.

Grease 2 baking sheets with a little of the bacon fat (or with olive oil) and set aside.

Add the bacon to the risen dough and knead until evenly incorporated. Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces, place each on a prepared baking sheet, and press each down to ovals about 1/2-inch thick. With a sharp knife, make 6 slits about 2 inches long in each oval and, with your fingers, separate the slits so you can see the pan below, stretching the dough out at the same time. Cover the ovals with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

If necessary, separate the slits in the dough again with your fingers, brush each flat bread with egg yolk, and bake in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 2 wide flat breads.