Halloween menus, if there are such things beyond raiding the kids’ plastic jack-o’-lanterns, tend to get all punny and cutesy with the likes of boo-berry cupcakes, wormy pasta dishes and, always, some sort of hard-cooked egg that is supposed to be a bloodshot eye. Har-har, indeed.
This year, do Halloween in a more elegant way. Make a meal starring foods that are as black as they can possibly be to create a noir-hued menu designed to raise eyebrows — deliciously.
What’s interesting about these inky dark ingredients is that any accent color in a dish — the orangy pink of shrimp in a tangle of squid ink pasta, say, or the green tip of an asparagus spear amid the grains of a bowl of forbidden rice — will stand out dramatically against the black.
There’s much to discover in black foods, once you get past the innate fear of mortality that color has long symbolized — or maybe embrace that; it is Halloween, after all. Savor the black olive: decadently deep and winey. Be surprised at the sturdy nuttiness of black rice. Savor the slipperiness of squid ink linguine or the plushness of long-simmered black beans. Then there’s the electric tartness of fresh blackberries and the visual shock of ice cream made from black sesame seeds. And don’t forget black licorice or nori seaweed.
Here are some ideas (and a few recipes) to bring the darkness of the night indoors.
Squid ink pasta: Garnish with chopped tomatoes and sautéed shrimp (see recipe); sauce the pasta in a mustard cream, garnished with a spoonful or two of black caviar; pair black farfalle with poached lobster (a recipe idea from “The Scarpetta Cookbook” by Scott Conant).
Black rice: Make a pilaf, cooking the rice with dried cherries, currants and chopped mango; stir-fry with bits of fried egg, green onions and tiny shrimp; wrap black rice tortillas around chicken in a mole sauce; toss cooked black rice in a sesame oil vinaigrette, topped with slivers of toasted nori and black radish rounds.
Black olives: Stuff hard-cooked eggs with tapenade; make flatbread pizza topped with slivered Nicoise olives, sprigs of fresh rosemary and a grating or two of Parmesan cheese; or serve olives seasoned with orange, garlic and fennel (see recipe).
Blackberries: Mortar the layers of a devil’s food chocolate cake with a blackberry jam, either your own or store-bought; top an espresso-stained custard or chocolate pudding tart with rows of fresh blackberries.
Black lentils: Serve straight up to showcase these glistening beauties, or as a bed for a roast meat entree or vegetable sauté. Or pair with black rice and sautéed mushrooms (recipe idea from Mollie Katzen’s “The Heart of the Plate”).
Black beans: Slow-simmer and serve over rice, the classic Moors and Christians of Cuba; purée and thin with a bit of chicken stock, an elegant soup topped with chopped hard-cooked egg white and some minced lemon rind; cook, coarsely mash and shape into cumin-scented burgers (Katzen’s “The Heart of the Plate”).
Black sesame seeds: Use as a flavor and color base for ice cream (see recipe); make stuffed Chinese-style dessert buns; press sesame seeds atop sugar cookies and bake.