Christmas for us this year will be light and cool with minimum fuss. We will hang out by the pool, going inside for only the simplest food preparation. Much of the food will be ready to serve straight from the fridge.
My favourite special occasion pre-dinner snack is buttery chicken liver pate that can be made a couple of weeks in advance, as the clarified butter on top provides an airtight seal. The marsala doesn't overpower, but provides just enough cheer to make it taste like Christmas. The quantity here makes two large-sized dishes, or you can buy little glass pots with lids and fill with the pate to give as gifts. Another delicious way of serving it is to stuff half a teaspoon into cognac-poached prunes.
For Christmas, we're having chilled pea soup with mint gelato and, for the main course, ocean trout tartare with tomato tea. Both dishes are refreshing and elegant and taste sensational. The soup, gelato and tomato tea can be made a couple of days beforehand, and the ocean trout is prepared half an hour before you are ready to eat.
Chicken liver pate with pistachios
Makes about 5 cups
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus an extra 4 tbsp butter melted
3 large French shallots, thinly sliced
1kg chicken livers, trimmed
salt and freshly ground pepper
¾ cup dry marsala
½ cup chicken stock
1¼ cups salted roasted pistachios, ½ cup chopped to garnish
¼ cup parsley
1 tsp chopped thyme
Melt four tablespoons of the softened butter in a large pan. Add the shallots and cook over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about eight minutes. Add the trimmed chicken livers, season with a little salt and pepper and cook over a moderate heat, turning a few times, until firm, about four minutes. Add the marsala and simmer for two minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer, turning the livers another few times, until they are light pink in the middle, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processer and puree. Cut the remaining butter into cubes and add it to the liver mixture bit by bit, blending until completely incorporated.
Scrape the puree into a large bowl and fold in the whole pistachios, parsley and thyme. Season the pate with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the pate into dishes or glass jars with lids and refrigerate until firm, for about two hours.
Pour the melted butter over the pate to seal it, then garnish with the chopped pistachios. Cover the dishes with lids or plastic wrap until the butter is firm. The pate will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.
Chilled pea soup with mint gelato
2 cups fresh or frozen peas, plus extra for garnish
1 potato, peeled, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup iceberg lettuce, shredded
4 cups chicken or veg stock
¼ cup thickened cream
2 tsp lemon zest, grated
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup mint leaves, chopped
½ cup mascarpone cheese
whole mint leaves - garnish
For the gelato, place the lemon zest and juice, sugar and all but two tablespoons of chopped mint in a pan with 180 millilitres of water. Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for two minutes, then strain through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract the flavour. Cool, then stir syrup into the mascarpone. Transfer the gelato mixture to a shallow plastic container and freeze for a few hours. Once frozen, whiz the gelato, eggwhite and reserved chopped mint in a food processor until combined. Return to the freezer for at least another four hours or overnight.
For the soup, place the peas, potato, onion, lettuce and stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a sieve, then stir in the cream. Season, then chill for a few hours.
When ready to serve, divide the soup among six small bowls, top with a scoop of gelato, a few mint leaves and peas.
Ocean trout with tomato tea
500g sashimi-grade ocean trout fillets, skin removed
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
small herb leaves to garnish
1kg vine-ripened tomatoes
¼ red onion, chopped
¼ cup basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 drops Tabasco sauce
1 tsp sugar
For the tomato tea, remove the tomato stalks and set aside. Blend the tomatoes with remaining ingredients until smooth. Line a sieve with muslin or a clean chux, then set over a bowl. Pour the tomato mixture into the sieve and drain for a couple of hours until you have about a cup or more of liquid. Don't be tempted to stir the liquid or your tea will be cloudy, it must drain through without pressure. Discard solids. Add reserved stalks to the liquid for flavour, then chill.
For the ocean trout, line a tray with plastic wrap. Arrange six ring moulds or ramekins on the tray. Half an hour before you are ready to eat, finely chop the trout, then combine in a bowl with the onion and vodka. Press the mixture firmly into the ring moulds, then chill for up to 30 minutes. If you leave it any longer, the vodka will start to cook the trout.
To serve, transfer the moulds to serving plates using an egg lifter. Remove the moulds, then garnish with the herbs. If using ramekins, turn upside down and they'll come away neatly. Serve with the tomato tea drizzled around the base of the trout.
Debbie Skelton is a Canberra food writer, debsravingrecipes.blogspot.com