It's a place where in mid-summer the sun never sets. The brilliant, gold-colored ball dips down on the horizon minutes before midnight and rises seconds later. You can play golf at midnight, read a newspaper, or sit on a hillside marveling at the spectacle unfolding before you.
I'm speaking of the Shetland Islands, north of the Scottish mainland, where I grew up. The scenery is rugged and breathtaking. Seals bask on the rocks, birds nest in cliffs and archaeological sites date back to the Bronze Age.
Communities are prosperous and unemployment is less than 2 percent (oil was discovered off the coast in the 1970s and now rich deposits of natural gas have also been found).
My family, the Greenwalds, have maintained a presence in the islands for almost a century. I'm drawn back each summer, not only because I still have family living there, but also because Shetland is a food lover's dream.
Fish, fresh from pristine waters, are perfectly cooked, arriving on the table just hours after being caught. Locally grown vegetables taste clean and fresh, needing nothing more than a knob of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
And cranachan, a tantalizingly rich dessert, is made up of cream from cows grazing in nearby fields. The cream is folded into berries and toasted oatmeal, then spiked with whisky.
Restaurants pride themselves on serving the best of such local foods, all of it carefully prepared. In the village of Scalloway, at the Scalloway Hotel, you can feast on superb dishes prepared by chef Colin MacLean. We dine there as often as possible during my one-week stay.
And people also drive for miles to eat at Frankies Fish and Chips in the village of Brae. The menu offers tempura-style fish and homemade apple tart in a puddle of thick cream. Little wonder I always gain a few pounds during my Shetland visits.
Here are recipes inspired by my culinary travels in the Shetland Islands.
Shetland Seafood Soup With Dill
2 haddock fillets (about 1/2 lb.), cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 lb. salmon fillet, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch chunks
1 carrot, peeled and grated coarsely
1/2 cup milk
1 cup light cream
2 Tbsps. snipped fresh dill
salt and white pepper to taste
Place the haddock and salmon in a pan. Pour about 11/2 cups water over the fish. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until fish is just cooked (flakes are opaque when separated with knife).
With a slotted spoon, remove fish to a bowl and mash coarsely with a fork. Set aside.
Add the onion, potatoes, carrot, bay leaf and milk to the liquid in pan. Season with a little pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf.
Add the mashed fish. Stir in the cream and dill. Heat through, but do not boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into bowls and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
Cheddar Cheese Scones
Seated at Oslas cafe on Lerwick's main street, watching locals stroll by, one of these warm scones and a latte was my daily eye-opener. Back home, I add chopped chives.
2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons for dusting
4 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsps. butter
4 Tbsps. shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbsps. chopped chives (optional)
about 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 425°. Dust a large baking sheet with flour. Set aside.
In a bowl, stir together 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Rub in the butter with your fingertips or cut in with a sharp knife until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the cheese.
Make a well in center. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. The secret of a light scone is to have the dough just soft enough to handle.
Turn onto a lightly floured board. Pat into a round about 3/4-inch thick. Cut out scones using a 21/2-inch cookie cutter or use the top of a water glass.
Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until risen and golden brown.
Serve warm with butter and/or honey.
Makes 8 scones.
If herring fillets are not available, substitute mackerel. Buy small fillets as the vinegar solution will dissolve the tiny featherbones easier than the bones in larger fillets. Serve with little potatoes boiled with a couple of mint sprigs.
6 herring or mackerel fillets
salt and pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
10 to 12 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 350°.
Lay fillets, skin side down on a board. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place a slice of onion on top of each and roll up like a jelly roll.
Place in a baking dish just large enough to hold the rolled fillets tightly. Scatter the remaining onion over, tucking some of the slices into the sides of the dish. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together vinegar, water, peppercorns and bay leaves. Pour over the fillets. Liquid should almost cover them. If needed, add a little more vinegar and water in equal amounts. Cover tightly with foil
Bake for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Halibut Confit on Braised Fennel
Confit is the generic term for foods immersed in a substance, such as oil, to preserve flavor and preservation. Note that after cooking, the oil may be strained and re-used.
2 lbs. halibut steaks or fillet, skin removed
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large lemons, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped and packed
1 Tbsp. basil, coarsely chopped and packed
2 Tbsps. capers
2 to 21/2 cups olive oil
ovenproof glass baking dish just large enough to hold the halibut
Preheat the oven to 250°.
Rinse halibut under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Season both sides with salt and pepper. Arrange half the lemon slices and half the parsley over bottom of dish. Arrange the halibut on top in one layer. Cover with the remaining parsley, basil and capers, then the remaining lemon slices. Pour enough olive oil over to completely cover fish and herbs.
Bake for 60-70 minutes. Test for doneness after 50 minutes. Flakes should separate easily and should be opaque when done. If not done, return to oven a few minutes longer. Do not overcook or fish will be dry.
Let stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. Then remove halibut from oil with a slotted spoon. Serve with braised fennel.
Serves 4 to 6.
2 fennel bulbs
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. dry white wine
2 Tbsps. water
2 tsps. rice vinegar
Trim the base of each bulb. Discard the stems and some of the fronds from the fennel. Remove any tough or blemished outer layers. Do not remove the core. Slice into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Arrange the fennel in one layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper to season. Add the wine, water and rice vinegar. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to maintain simmer. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Turn fennel; cook 10 minutes longer or until tender and liquid is absorbed.
Serves 4 to 6.
There are many recipes for this super-rich but irresistible dessert. According to my friend Catherine Brown, Scottish food historian, it used to be that each person would fix their own, spooning and mixing the ingredients according to taste.
3/4 cup oats, not instant
2 rounded Tbsps. brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
2-3 Tbsps. whisky
2-3 cups raspberries
honey to drizzle
Preheat broiler. Line a small cookie sheet with foil.
Place the oats and brown sugar in a bowl and stir to mix well. Spread on the prepared cookie sheet. Broil 4 inches from heat, 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden and beginning to caramelize.
Watch carefully; best to check every 15 seconds or so.
Set aside to cool completely.
Fold the whisky into the whipped cream, then fold in the raspberries. Spoon into small dessert dishes or wine glasses, layered with the cooled oats. Drizzle lightly with honey. Serve at once.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email her at: [email protected] .