This dish is about staying cool in the middle of a heat wave. About remaining calm in the midst of a crisis. About responding to forces beyond our control with flexibility, adaptability, and resourcefulness rather than rigidity. In short: about striving for grace.
Easier said than done, right?
While life will inevitably slam us with waves from time to time, we can get learn to be more like a buoy -- anchoring ourselves in place, bending in response to the energy, and righting ourselves as it passes. In short: about staying afloat.
In this dish, keeping cool means (quite literally) capturing the coolness of a cucumber. It means using a different types of cucumbers (if possible) for variation in look, feel, and flavor. It means finding ways to use every part of the vegetable for thrift and, of course, pleasure.
When I'm cooking, I rarely use recipes (because I can rarely follow them) unless it’s for inspiration or to learn a new technique. I do try to follow recipes for pastry because that kind of cooking requires a greater level of precision (for example, it’s hard to pull a cake out of the oven, taste it, and adjust the seasoning on the fly).
So I’ve decided to try to make the recipes on my blog more closely reflect my style of cooking. This means not really providing recipes, per se, but rather sharing ideas, inspiration, and loose how-tos that require more touching, tasting, and smelling than measuring.
This kind of cooking invites the cook to tap into her creativity, resourcefulness, and intuition. But try not to get anxious (which is easy for us to do when we give up a certain amount of control). If you drop that potato cake, remember what Julia Child tells us: You can always pick it up, and if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?
Here’s to keeping cool, inside and outside of the kitchen.
(Not really a) Recipe
This dish was in spired by recipes in I love NY by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks out there. I adapted (only slightly) the buttermilk panna cotta and cucumber vinaigrette from recipes in their cookbook.
Savory buttermilk panna cotta
You’ll want to make the panna cotta in advance so that has a enough time to firm up, or “set” (a few hours or overnight). I do follow a recipe here since this gets into pastry territory, where ratios can make or break it.
3 sheets gelatin
2 cups buttermilk
tiny pinch cayenne
“Bloom” gelatin by submerging in ice water until gooey (about 10 minutes). Season buttermilk in a small sauce pan with the zest of one lemon, a pinch of cayenne, a pinch of sugar, and salt to taste. Squeeze out gelatin; add to buttermilk. Warm mixture gently, whisking, until gelatin melts. Remove from heat; strain. Pour into a shallow dish lined with plastic wrap wiped with a teeny bit of vegetable oil. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Slice cucumbers into thin disks. (If you have a CSA or access to a greenmarket, it’s fun to use a variety of cucumbers; if not, regular cucumbers work just as well.) Toss slices in a bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff if you have it on hand), a pinch of salt, and little white pepper.
Seed a cucumber by slicing it in half lengthwise and scooping out the seeds with a spoon. Chop; blend with a handful of dill and ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar. Stream in 1 cup of grapeseed oil; blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer; season with salt and white pepper. Use dressing right away as it oxidizes (and turns brown) quickly.
- Cucumbers, small dice, marinated in white balsamic,seasoned with salt
- Edible flowers (If you’re a gardener, green-market frequenter, or are just fussy like that. Here I used borage since it has a flavor reminiscent of cucumbers.)
To assemble the dish
Cut circles of panna cotta with a pastry or cookie cutter; lift carefully; slide onto the center of the serving plate. Layer cucumber slices on top of the panna cotta round (I used concentric circles here, but you can get creative). Arrange (or sprinkle, for a more free-form approach) diced cucumber and edible flowers (if using) on top. Finish with a drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of flaky sea salt. Serve immediately.
These ingredients -- savory buttermilk panna cotta, cucumber, and borage flowers -- would work well for a number of other presentations, for example an amuse bouche in little glasses. Here are a few others I considered: