Home Alone at Dinnertime
Sep 29, 2016
Being home alone still seems new to me, but I am approaching my eighth Christmas without Lev. While I did not choose this lifestyle, I have grown accustomed to it. In those early years as a widow, I couldn’t stand the solitude so I swung between filling the house with people and escaping. I am still seeking the right balance of home alone, home with people and away from home.
Home with people is my motivation for cooking, decorating and gardening. The big surprise is that my old interests in cooking and gardening have returned with a vengeance, and I am happy spending time alone in my kitchen and my garden again. I am actually looking forward to being home alone much of the time between now and the end of the year.
You might think I would never want to see fish again after daily encounters with sashimi in Japan, but I came home longing for the simply prepared, excellent fish-and-vegetable dishes I enjoyed all summer on Nantucket. I had some success in recreating the dish in August and had leftover flounder filets and vegetable medley in my freezer, so on Day 2 I prepared this quick meal.
I don’t know if Nantucket chefs’ inspiration for fish served in a soup plate on a bed of vegetables with a thin but flavorful broth is New England succotash or New Orleans courtbouillon. No two restaurants serve the identical combination of vegetables; and while their dishes bear some resemblance to both classic recipes, they are not quite either one. Succotash recipes inspired my first attempt, and I think I have a winner that lends itself to endless adaptations. Think of it as a deconstructed vegetable soup.
Nantucket Vegetable Medley
¼ c. chopped pancetta, ham or chorizo (optional)
½ c. mild pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, onion and jalapeño)
2 c. chicken broth (vegetable broth or water may be substituted)
¼ t. salt
¼ t. pepper
12 oz. each frozen black-eyed peas, lima beans and corn
cherry tomatoes (optional)
additional broth or water as needed
Spray the bottom of a 3-quart saucepan with Pam. Over medium heat, add meat to brown slightly. Add pico de gallo, stirring frequently until onions are translucent. Add black-eyed peas with enough broth to cover. Bring to a boil; then cover and simmer over low heat about 30 minutes or until peas are barely tender. Add additional broth or water as needed. Add lima beans and enough broth to cover; return to boil; then cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add corn and enough broth to cover; return to boil; the cover and simmer for 5 minutes. If desired, add 2–3 cherry tomatoes per person to the top of the mixture for the last few minutes, cooking just long enough to heat the tomatoes, not burst the skins. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. The flavor should be delicate, not to overwhelm white meat or fish; the corn should be tender but crisp; and the beans and peas, tender but not mushy. Makes about 4½ cups.
Serve with broth in the bottom of a rimmed soup plate. Top with a simply prepared white fish filet or steak or boneless chicken breast or pork tenderloin. Spoon a little broth over the top. Garnish with microgreens or parsley if desired.
Medley freezes satisfactorily, but some of the distinct flavors and textures are lost in reheating.
IMPORTANT: Do the math for the vegetables you are cooking. The success of this dish depends on cooking each vegetable until it is just tender, not boiling them all together like vegetable soup. If using frozen vegetables (I don’t recommend canned), go by package instructions to figure out the timing. Matchstick green beans and green peas are other good choices. Celery could be added along with onions. Various field peas (cowpeas) can be mixed according to availability and preference: cream, crowder, purple-hull as well as black-eyed peas. With a stronger flavored fish such as salmon or snapper, you may want to stir a little tomato paste into your broth, then add a cup of chopped fresh tomatoes at the end of cooking, just long enough to heat through.
PHOTOS, from top to bottom: Flounder with Nantucket vegetable medley at home; “local rod-and-reel fish” at Ventuno on Nantucket, where I’ve enjoyed some of my best meals; the Club Car’s version of this popular dish.
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