It is my pleasure to introduce a remarkable Bay Area based woman named Jessica Theroux to the Linx blog. I had the opportunity to visit with Jessica in the Spring of this year and we shared a wonderful afternoon getting to know one another. I was so impressed hearing her passion for cooking, but even more so at how soulful her story is. Jessica spent a year traveling throughout Italy, cooking and talking with Italian grandmothers as part of her research for her celebrated book – Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily. Not to mention that celebrity chef, restaurateur, and author, Alice Waters, did the introduction to her cookbook!
I not only adored Jessica’s enchanting cookbook but loved how she truly embraces the “old world” and doesn’t forget how important tradition is, particularly in today’s fast-paced modern era. Her philosophy and passion tie so nicely into what Linx represents. So, on that note, with the holidays in full swing, I thought I would reach out to her to see… just see …if she might be able to suggest a recipe for our faithful readers. To my surprise, she presented me with a romantic, yet healthful and balanced, holiday menu for two, written especially for our readers! Enjoy!
By: Jessica Theroux
Each year, as the craze of the holidays begin, my mind returns to the tranquility of the small Sicilian islands that I visited while researching for my book, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers. Life happened at a slower, gentler pace on those islands, the result of which was a rich experience for the senses. Days were spent in the warm ocean breeze, which carried with it the aromas of wild fennel and native mints, and the distant sounds of local men deftly catching fish for dinner. Breathtaking Sicilian coastline
With the pressure and demands of modern life lifted (there were barely any cars, let alone cell phone reception), endless hours were passed talking with and helping local grandmothers slowly prepare their delicious traditional dishes. Sicily
This simple, elegant menu for two evokes the ease and sensuality of those islands, while also bringing health and balance to the holidays through its focus on high-quality protein, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. A delightful dose of subtle hedonism runs throughout the dishes– in their use of heady fresh herbs and toasted spices, punchy citrus and creamy avocado, and in the silky texture of melted bittersweet chocolate tucked within plump dates.
This is the perfect seasonal meal to prepare for a love interest or dear friend—someone for whom you would like to offer an indulgent way to wind down and relax during, or after, the holidays.
Seared Tuna with a Coriander-Fennel Rub
Mache Salad with Clementine, Avocado, and Mint
Warm Dates with Hazelnuts and Bittersweet Chocolate, Fresh Mint Tisane
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Execution Time: 15 minutes
Seared Tuna with a Coriander-Fennel Rub
This seared tuna is inspired by the Sicilian all-male tradition of hand-spearing migrating bluefin tuna; the most extreme expression of this being the annual “mattanza”, or culling, that happens along the west coast of the main island during the summer months. When the tuna is brought to land, local housewives spend weeks both grilling and oil-curing the bounty of their men’s catch. Here, crushed fennel and coriander seeds combine with citrus zest to create a bold crust upon searing; the tuna is also delicious grilled.
2 tuna steaks (yellowfin or bluefin) 6-8oz each and ¾ inch thick
*You can also substitute with another firm fish, such as halibut
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 clementines or tangerines, zested, with the flesh reserved
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Lightly toast the coriander and fennel seeds in a small skillet set over medium-low heat, 3-4 minutes. Remove the seeds from the heat immediately and crush them in a pestle and mortar, or clean spice or coffee grinder. Mix the ground spices together with the clementine zest and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Rinse the tuna under cold water and pat it dry. Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper on both sides, and rub thoroughly with the spiced oil.
Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil in a ridged or flat skillet set over medium-high heat. When the surface of the oil starts to shimmer, add the tuna steaks to the pan and turn the heat down the slightest bit.
Sear the tuna for 2-3 minutes on the first side, until lightly browned. Flip the steaks, and sear the other side for 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna. You can check its doneness by cutting into it. The above method and timing will cook the tuna so that it is still a little rare in the middle when you take it off the stove; it will continue to cook once removed from the heat and will be just pink at the time of serving. If you prefer a more rare-seared tuna, simply sear it for less time on each side; or, for a more well cooked fish, sear it for a little longer on each side.
Mache Salad with Clementines, Avocado and Mint
This salad offers a healthy and refreshing accompaniment to the seared fish, to be served alongside it. Be sure to combine the tuna with little bites of avocado and clementine—the combination is divine!
4 cups Mache, baby arugula, or other salad greens, washed and dried
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 avocado, cut into medium sized cubes
3 clementines or tangerines (from above)
1 scallion, washed and finely sliced
1 teaspoon sherry or champagne vinegar
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
To prepare the clementines, use a pairing knife to trim away the skin left over after zesting; to do this, cut from the top of the citrus down the sides to the bottom, as close under the white pith as you can manage. Slice the clementines crosswise to make pinwheels, or supreme them into wedges.
Place the salad greens in a large bowl and toss them with the scallion, chopped herbs, and a sprinkling of salt. Drizzle the vinegar over the greens, and toss lightly to distribute. Repeat with the olive oil. Lastly, add the avocado and clementines.
Plate the tuna on top of the salad, or with the salad to the side, as you prefer.
Dates with Hazelnuts and Bittersweet Chocolate, Fresh Mint Tisane
These warm, chocolate-stuffed dates are just about the easiest dessert on the planet! They take only five minutes to prepare, but provide a long lasting impression.
4-6 medjool dates
1-1.5 oz 90-99% cocoa chocolate, such as Lindt (the higher the cocoa content the better)
1 tablespoon roughly chopped hazelnuts, raw or toasted
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed
Preheat your oven to 250°F.
Make a slit lengthwise down one side of each date, remove the pit, stuff with a piece of dark chocolate and a sprinkling of hazelnuts, and press the date back together to close. Place in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the dates are warm.
Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place the fresh mint leaves in a teapot (I like to make tisanes in a glass teapot, for the beauty of it), pour water (just off the boil) over the mint, and let steep 5-10 minutes.
Serve the dates on small plates, and enjoy with the refreshing mint tisane. Warm dates with Tisane
If you loved what you read here and want more of Jessica’s rustic Italian cooking, you can buy her book on Amazon for convenience sake here. Ustica
Jessica’s film found here