Occasionally, the stars align and the act of something as utilitarian as cleaning out the pantry can make you seem like a culinary genius. Since our little girl arrived cooking has taken a whole new life in our household. No more popping out to the store to pick up just one ingredient. Going to the store is now a major event – car seat, diapers, extra clothing. All that effort isn’t worth it for just one thing, so I have begun to master the art of making do with what’s on hand. Sometimes the end result is merely servicable, but sometimes the culinary gods smile down upon me and I make something that surprises me.
Case in point – stale pistachios. I inherited my mother’s hoarding gene, and find it nearly impossible to throw anything out. I certainly wasn’t going to eat them, as stale as they were, so pistachio crust came to mind. Having never crusted anything with pistachios I figured I needed a little breading, half of an english muffin from the freezer (I really can’t throw food away), some dry herbs, and my stale pistachios head into the food processor. After getting it all down to breading size, the mixture seemed kind of gummy. Hmm…how to get rid of the moisture? Ooo…toasted pistachio crust here I come and into the toaster oven until my kitchen smells yummy.
Now, what to crust? Tillapia sounds like a good option, so I pull some fillets from the freezer and set them out to thaw. I wonder what goes with pistachio crusted tillapia, well, let’s check food network. After searching for a variety of pantry staples and getting lost in recipe-land for a bit, an Emeril Lagasse recipe for Swiss Chard Boules Stuffed with Lemon Barley “Risotto” jumps out at me. I’ve got barley, swiss chard that I have to use because it’s almost veggie share pickup day, and my daughter is totally amused as I’m dancing about the kitchen singing show tunes to her, so I’ve got a little more time to cook.
The recipe has a roasted red pepper coulis to accompany the barley risotto. I’m sure that I have roasted red peppers floating around the jars of condiments in my fridge so I search through mustards and chutneys to find them. Peppers in hand I realize I’m missing most of the rest of the ingredients, so I toss several red peppers, a tablespoon, or so, of yogurt, some lemon juice and S&P into the bowl of my mini-food processor and away we go.
Having grown tired of my South Pacific repertoire, I move on to Neil Diamond, much to my daughter’s delight, and contemplate getting the crust to stick to the fish. The traditional flour/egg combo seems a bit much for tillapia, so I opt for yogurt instead. Now that I have raw fish slathered in yogurt and topped with an oddly green mixture of pistachios and english muffin crumbs it’s to decide upon cooking method. Baking seems best, so I toss my Le Creuset grill pan on the range to preheat and the oven is already going for the Boules. Fish on the pan, pan in the oven, I’m feeling like Martha freaking Stewart right about now.
I should go pick an array of local herbs and knit a basket for them from fallen redwood duff, because, afterall, it’s a good thing, but instead I peer into the veggie drawer to see if there is anything else I can clear out. Veggie share is looming right around the corner and the crisper is way to full, so another vegetable for us. Asparagus, olive oil, salt, pepper, toss to coat on a wee little sheet pan and into the oven with the rest of dinner.
Now, the really important question – what to drink with dinner. I opt for white because the fish should be pretty mild, and the coulis is not too strong or too smoky, both of which could warrant a red wine. To the wine fridge! Hmm… Sauvignon Blanc seems to acidic, not good with the peppers, Riesling too flowery and fruity. I finally decide upon a French Chardonnay, Joseph Drouhin Chardonnay Bourgogne, for the mild applely flavors and clean mineral notes. It was phenomenal! The wine had the right balance of richness and acidity, the barley risotto was fantastic despite my skepticism of lemon and bacon and the coulis was awesome with the fish and the risotto. I wonder to myself why I don’t cook like this every night, and remember, my little girl isn’t always so amused by my antics as to sit in her Sesame Street chair and listen to my wretched renditions of show tunes, laughing all the while. My husband and I toasted to a happy baby, Neil Diamond, and great food.