Excerpted from “Feast by Firelight”
by Emma Frisch
Before the advent of sturdy homes and urban living, most meals were an outdoor affair in a world of digital-free connection. And while these types of meals are no longer a daily ritual, there is still something magical and eternal about eating under the open sky. It is something our ancestors have done in community throughout time to celebrate the Earth’s abundance. This book will show you how easy it is to create a modern-day feast by firelight.
In 2014, my husband, Bobby, and I opened Firelight Camps, our “glamping” destination in Ithaca, New York. We were so focused on the quality of our guests’ experiences that our own meals often took a back seat. One night after a long day, I squeezed in around the campfire and lay an iron grate over the coals. I pulled lightly seasoned skirt steak from a ziplock bag and placed it on the grill, surrounding it with summer vegetables. I shifted the food with tongs until the meat caramelized and the peppers blistered. I then transferred the steak to a wooden cutting board, sliced it, and spooned pungent salsa verde over the top. Just then, Bobby joined me. We clinked our forks and tucked in to our simple meal.
I looked up from my plate because the crowd had gone silent. “What are you eating?” asked a young man. “It smells amazing.” Maybe he wasn’t looking for handouts but I felt compelled by his question to share our meal with the others gathered around the flames. I sliced our food into bite-size pieces and passed them around, listing the ingredients in my mamma’s salsa verde. This is how Feast by Firelight was born, and what this book is all about: quick outdoor meals meant to be shared with family and friends, old and new.
Fire-Licked Skirt Steak with Mamma’s Salsa Verde (Gf)
prep: 10 minutes cook: 10 to 12 minutes
yield: 4 to 6 servings
In January 1985, when my mother was consulting for several Italian wineries from our home in Denver, she was featured as Bon Appétit magazine’s “great cook” of the month. The food editor was a good friend, and upon sharing with my mother that it was difficult to find accomplished home cooks for this section, Mamma volunteered with enthusiasm; she was already known for her dinner parties. The resulting seven-page spread featured eight original Italian recipes that showcased her roots, noting that, “Almost everything is made ahead of time because she wants to enjoy her own party.” Not to mention she had twin daughters not yet a year old at that point and was also working full time. When I’m camping, I also want to relax at dinner, which is why I love this easy, bright sauce with high-voltage flavor (it’s been passed down for generations in our family). It’s the perfect complement to nearly any entrée or side dish, especially skirt steak. The affordable cut cooks fast on the grill, yielding a crispy crust and juicy interior. Leftover steak can be used for sandwich, taco, and quesadilla fillings. Keep extra salsa on hand for spreading on Charred Bread, or spooning over coal-baked potatoes, eggs, and fish. If you’re using capers packed in salt, rinse them first.
Dry-brine the steaks by rubbing the salt evenly over the surface. (You can also do this 1 to 2 hours before cooking at camp.) Transfer to a ziplock bag and then chill for up to 24 hours.
Remove the salsa verde from the cooler and let stand at ambient temperature for up to 2 hours before serving. Fire the grill to high heat and position the grill grate as close as possible to the coals or pile the coals high under the grate to maximize the steak’s proximity to the fire. Remove the steaks from the cooler and pat dry with a paper towel to eliminate moisture on the surface and ensure a crispy crust. Sprinkle both sides with the pepper.
Place the steaks over the hottest part of the fire. Using long tongs, flip the steak every minute or so for even cooking; the cooking time will vary depending on thickness.
Look for an evenly caramelized and browned outer crust to check doneness. Slight char is okay but don’t let the crust burn! Use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the thickest part of the steak is between 125° and 130°F for medium-rare to medium. You can cook longer for medium-well or well-done, though it will make the steak chewier.
Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes so the juices can redistribute. Slice the steak against the grain into 1⁄2-inch slices.
Serve directly from the cutting board. Stir the top layer of oil into the salsa verde just before serving and let campers add it to their steak directly from the jar. Store leftovers in an airtight container, chilled, for up to 3 days.
Mamma’s Salsa Verde
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
One 2-ounce can anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1⁄3 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
2 pounds skirt steak (see Note)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
20 turns of the pepper mill
Note: Some recipes suggest trimming the steak’s fat to prevent flare-ups when the fat drips onto the coals. Skirt steak isn’t very fatty, but still, leave any fat on for flavor and just be prepared for flare-ups (see “How to Squelch a Grease Fire,” page 26 in the book).
PREP: To prepare the salsa verde: In a food processor, combine the garlic, anchovies, and capers and pulse until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl; add the vinegar, mustard, and parsley; and whiz while slowly drizzling in the 1⁄3 cup olive oil until smooth and bright green. Transfer the mixture to a lidded 8-ounce jar. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top to create a film that will preserve the lovely bright green. Seal the jar tightly and chill for up to 1 week.
“Pappar-Delle” With Basil–Sunflower Seed Pesto
My half-sister, Rony, was Australian born and raised. Though our visits together are few and far between, our sisterhood is kindred. One summer, Rony and her husband, Simon, worked for room and board at Silver Queen Farm, 20 minutes north of my home in Ithaca, New York. Suddenly, my life was filled with Australian quips, like “cherry toms,” and an endless supply of summer squash. Our favorite creation was shaving the squash with a vegetable peeler to create flat, gluten-free noodles – similar to pappardelle pasta – a blank canvas for dressing them up. You’ll need a colander to let the noodles drain. This variation was a hit at more than one picnic that summer. Save extra pesto for spooning over a frittata or scrambled eggs, or spreading on a sandwich.
prep: 12 minutes cook: None
yield: 4 servings
2 medium summer squash
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1⁄2 cup Basil–Sunflower Seed Pesto
2 tablespoons olive oil
2⁄3 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan wedge for garnishing (optional)
Shave each summer squash into noodles by holding it firmly at one end and drawing a vegetable peeler up and down while rotating the squash, until you’ve peeled as much as possible. (Sometimes it’s hard to peel the cores; you can save them for snacking, dunking in hummus, or adding to a stir-fry.)
Place the squash noodles in a colander and toss with the salt. Let the squash sit for 15 to 30 minutes to allow excess moisture to drain. Rinse the squash and pat dry with paper towel or a clean tea towel. Transfer the squash noodles to a serving bowl; toss with the pesto, olive oil, and cherry toms; and season with pepper.
Serve immediately. Set out the Parmesan wedge with a Microplane so campers can grate cheese directly onto their dish.
Basil–Sunflower Seed Pesto
Pesto is synonymous with basil and pine nuts, though a closer look at its origin from the word pestare – “to pound or crush” – suggests it can be made with other greens, nuts, and seeds. I first experimented with pesto when I lived in Ecuador, where pine nuts cost a fortune. My favorite variation was with sunflower seeds, which added an earthy, nutty flavor. This recipe preserves the basil’s vibrant green, with added brightness from lemon juice. It is best made at home, giving you leeway to play by swapping basil with parsley, cilantro, kale, arugula, or spinach. Don’t add salt until you’ve tasted the pesto – the cheese might just do the trick! If you’re vegan, replace the cheese with 1⁄4 cup nutritional yeast.
prep: 5 minutes cook: None
yield: 1-1⁄3 cups
4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
3⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1⁄2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt (optional)
In a colander, gently rinse the basil with cold water. Shake the colander over the sink to remove excess water, allowing a few droplets to cling to the leaves. Set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine 1⁄2 cup of the olive oil, the sunflower seeds, lemon juice, and garlic and pulse a few times. Scrape down the sides of the blender or processor bowl, add the basil, pecorino, Parmesan, and remaining 1⁄4 cup olive oil. Pulse until the mixture is smooth and bright green. Taste and season with salt, if needed.
Store in an airtight container, chilled, for up to 4 days, or freeze in an ice-cube tray, transferring the cubes to a ziplock bag once frozen. Defrost before using.
AYLA’S LEMON–OLIVE OIL THUMB-PRINTS
prep: 10 minutes cook: 12 minutes yield: 16 cookies
1 1⁄2 cups almond flour
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1⁄8 teaspoon fine salt
1⁄4 cup tahini
1⁄4 cup honey
1 teaspoon olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 whole almonds or chocolate chips (optional)
Not long after my daughter, Ayla, started eating solids, she gummed a fresh-baked thumbprint cookie from our local grocery store. She loved it, so I set to making a less crumbly, travel-friendly version that we could take on hikes and road trips. This Italian-inspired thumbprint is one of the easiest, sweetest, nuttiest, protein-packed treats you’ll ever come across. For little ones under the age of one year, swap the honey with maple syrup. If you’re baking for a crowd, double or triple the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, lemon zest, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, honey, olive oil, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well until combined. Use your hands to form the dough into a large ball.
Pinch off about 1 tablespoon of the dough at a time and roll into a small ball with the palms of your hands. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls 1 to 2 inches apart. Gently press your pinkie finger (or a toddler’s thumb) into the center of each ball to lightly flatten the cookie until it is about 3⁄4 inch thick. Don’t worry too much about the shape; whether your version is flatter, thicker, or rounder, the cookies will be just as good! If desired, press an almond or chocolate chip into the center of each cookie.
Bake until the bottom edges of the cookies are toasted brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks (though I can promise you they won’t last that long), or freeze for up to 3 months.