I was in western Finland once at the time of the summer solstice and enjoyed the celebration there of the year's longest day with huge bonfires and some drinking -- and yes, it hardly got dark.
|Photo by Miia Ranta via Wikimedia Commons|
Midway through the week it was time to put the gravlax into the fridge to cure. The recipe is simple -- 2/3 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons coarsely ground white pepper for 2 pounds of salmon fillet, with minced dill and vodka sprinkled over the salmon after it's smeared with the curing mixture. At the Fishery they recommended the Canadian farm salmon for the purpose and suggested fitting two symmetric 1-pound cuts together during the curing (a method it turns out that is often suggested on the Web). The fish gets wrapped in double layers of plastic wrap and turned and massaged every 12 hours for 48 to 72 hours. The fillet gets firmer as the curing process "cooks" the flesh. What emerged was that soft, buttery, deeply flavorful delicacy -- a total success, and so easy. We used the crisp bread recipe from the magazine to serve with it and that was fun. This was a crispy flatbread made of fine corn meal batter and liberal amounts of sesame, sunflower and flaxseed, giving tons of texture and flavor to the crackers. Following the directions, we spread softened butter (Danish butter!) on the crisp bread and ate the gravlax on top of that. Together with the aquavit and beer, it was almost a meal in itself! There was Gruner Veltliner for those who didn't aquavit, also a great pairing.
The main course was grilled loin of lamb. The article called for entrecote of lamb but I'm fairly certain there's nowhere to get that cut in Washington. So we substituted boneless, rolled and tied loin of lamb and used the herb paste -- minced marjoram, sage, rosemary, thyme, crushed garlic and olive oil -- applied 30 to 60 minutes before grilling after sprinkling salt and pepper on the meat. I used the Big Green Egg for better temperature control to keep the direct grilling at the medium high heat called for. The bigger lamb loin took almost double the 25 minutes specified for the entrecote to reach the 125-degree interior temperature. But the lamb was a total hit -- tender, intensely flavorful from the rub, but predominantly tasting of meaty lamb.
The menu accompanied the lamb with a tomato "sauce" of cherry tomatoes roasted with chopped basil, shallots, thyme, garlic and olive oil. Once the tomatoes popped, they were stirred together with chopped roasted red pepper, Holland chile, and more oil, basil and thyme. (What you may ask is a Holland chile? A word of advice -- don't google for it during a World Cup where the Netherlands and Chile are playing in the same group.)
Additional accompaniments were shallots grilled in foil with garlic and dill and a potato salad of boiled whole baby potatoes, diced kohlrabi sauteed in butter, and yes, more dill. Everything but the lamb could be served at room temperature though we reheated the potato salad to reliquefy the butter. It is marvelously relaxing to serve cucina fresca in the summer, where everything can be ready ahead of time.
The tomato sauce and shallot were scrumptious and could accompany virtually any grilled meat. The potato salad won points for novelty. Kudos to New Morning Farm for having the kohlrabi, but also a big compliment for Whole Foods with all their bulk seeds and grains, and for a friendly butcher team that helped me out with the lamb.
Saveur called for an almond cheesecake with macerated strawberries, but Andrea preferred to find a non-almond version online and conjured up a perfect cheesecake with sour cream, mascapone and graham cracker crust, which combined with NMF strawberries macerated in sugar and Grand Marnier rounded out the meal with a relatively light touch. We had a southern Cote du Rhone red with the main course, and concluded with Grand Marnier and other digestifs. Full recipes and some great photos can be found online at Saveur.com.
The solstice is called "midsummer" even though it is the day that officially marks the start of summer because historically those celebrating it thought of only two seasons, summer and winter, and the solstices are the middle of those seasons. Another semantic puzzle is that Swedes dance around a Maypole in June. Whatever, God bless them.