Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Our Degustazione

My first challenge when I arrived at my sisters was to deplete what was currently stocked in her kitchen. Like a good Italian Mother, I re-imagined previously purchased items into a weeks worth of traditional Italian dishes. Without realizing it, I was making room for Thanksgiving and all of its accouterments. What followed our perfect Thanksgiving was another week of depletion, now in the form of innovative leftovers. A layered casserole, Turkey A La King, Matzah Ball Soup, Ribolita with Roasted Turkey, a sandwich of Cranberry Relish, Red Apple & Brie etc. Only after this (and a Brooklyn intermission) could I begin the next stage of cooking post Italy, the "Nouveau". This growing need to experiment combined with a visit from a close friend and chef from SF, Jessa, meant it was time to “wow” my sister. Welcome to our "Desgustazione".

This post will follow in the order of our 6 course meal. I will not outline the details of each recipe, only specific learnings both as a Chef, Sous-chef and Diner (of which I was all and more). As my boy Chaney would say, "We went in"...

Sausage encrusted Butterfly Shrimp atop Braised Cabbage

A dense patty of Large Shrimp married to a layer of Sausage, grilled Sausage side down. A classic combination, re-interpreted. Served on a bed of Braised cabbage with a garnish of caramelized Shallot.

Chilean Sea Bass and my Fennel Salad (deconstructed) atop

A brightly stacked and light assemblage of (in this order) Chilean Sea Bass, Orange wedges, shaved Fennel with Red Radish garnished with pungent black Olives.

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Polenta

A tribute to Bill Buford’s “Heat”. Our chance to honor a meal that clearly changed this dudes life and evoked beautifully ripe descriptions like “the food equivalent of a male movie star: dark, rich and thick” or sauce instructions like “Hammer it”, “Boil it to hell”, “Torch it”. We followed his detailed and comedic instructions enjoying the intensity of the process and knowing it would inform all of our future braising. Fun!

Grilled Caesar Salad wedge
A Jessa special which transforms a classic American dish into a just wilted “contorni”. With this approach the flavors of Anchovy, Cheese, Egg and Worchester convene and caramelize the central ingredient, the Lettuce.

Lamb Mignon Medallions served with a Potato and Mushroom Gratin

A boldly original and articulate cut of meat which I have never seen on a menu. Jessa trimmed a rack of lamb down to its most prized center tenderloin which we served in the style of a Filet Mignon. Pink in the center and perfectly charred on its perimeter.

Stinky French cheese ;) offset by a puddle of Honey and a dusting of Walnut

A gluttonous and traditional end to our small plate feast.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Passata di Zucca / Creamy Winter Squash Soup

Below is the recipe from my blast. Now animated.

This recipe will likely take a total of 3-4 hours, so give yourself time and maybe turn off your cell phone ;). If loved ones are in proximity, their noses will guide them to you. The process is paired beautifully with some Jazz (if in NY support 89.3 WBGO). A list of needed utensils and ingredients is below. I decided to write this as if we were chilling. Its not formal and asks that you trust your instincts. Let's dance...

Dice the hard flesh of a selection of Winter Squashes : Pumpkin, Acorn, Butternut etc (remember there are many varieties so have fun). First remove the hard skin, seeds and gooey interior. Give yourself a good hour when no one is looking. It will take time and strength but I promise folks are gonna kiss you for putting in the work.

Saute the squash with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (always) on a medium heat. The idea here is to release all the good stuff. Pay attention and continue to stir. Use your nose to guide you. You should begin to smell the perfume of your central ingredient. This is what will inform your soup, so be patient and let them cook for a while. My guess is 20 minutes, but follow your instincts. Add stock to the pot, 2.5 times the amount of Zucca (likely a gallon). In the past I have used a homeade chicken stock which gives the dish an extra buttery richness. If you see this as a pain in the ass, buy a chicken stock that you trust (I like the ones sold in cartons). If Vegetarian or simply a preference, use Vegetable Stock. Reserve some stock if possible to later balance out your desired consistency. Bring it all to a boil and walk away.

Once the smell fills up your house (35 minutes), take it off the heat. In batches blend your hearty mixture using a traditional or hand blender. Here's where it gets time consuming again. Strain each batch in a cheese cloth, removing any left over flesh from the Squash. You should be left with a silky thin soup base. Once finished return to the pot. You should have less left than you thought possible. This means you have extracted the good sh*t. Good job ;)

Simmer the soup while guests arrive. Salt and (white pepper) to taste. Go easy. 10 minutes before serving add a desired amount of heavy cream. Don't get too happy, the goal is to simply smooth out the flavors not invoke heart attacks.

The fun part. Choose between these two garnishes! The first, a drizzleof Walnut Oil, shaved Sharp White Cheddar and a dust of fresh Nutmeg. The other option a drizzle of a really good Olive Oil (crudo) with a dust of Cinnamon & Sugar! Both are perfection.

Central ingredients :

A selection of Winter Squashes
Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Olive Oil Heavy Cream
White Pepper
Garnish(es) :

Sharp White Cheddar
Fresh Nutmeg
Walnut Oil
Cinnamon & Sugar
A robust Olive Oil (crudo)
Utensils :

Large Stock pot
Sturdy knife
Cheese cloth

If you got this far, send me an email with pics and comments. Would love to post em as a follow up entry!

Pre Thnx

The day before welcoming folks to the big feast, we began to cook the periphery foods. Here I am making a traditional Chicken Liver Pate. As there is a vegetarian (whom I love) among us, I made a Mushroom alternative; an exercise worth noting. The idea was to utilize the same process and ingredients in real time. Feel free to replace the chicken livers for Mushrooms if it suits your palette.

Wash fresh chicken livers with cold water. Pat dry and sauté on a high heat alongside thinly sliced Onions, fresh Sage and Rosemary. The goal is to caramelize the livers and brown the onions. Here you have an option to crack in one egg. The French wouldn’t. This gives it a rustic Tuscan quality.

Keep the heat high and add in Marsala (not the cooking supermarket branded ish, it needs to be D.O.P Marsala, Sicily. Reduce on high heat until the alcohol has evaporated. It should perfume of sweetened earth.

Blend the mixture until desired consistency. In a separate bowk, fold in freshly whipped heavy cream. Think about the wrist action of making a frosting or a chocolate mousse. So fold until the whiteness has disappeared and it resembles “milk chocolate”. Finito!

The shortened week in review

I had a short week of food highlights, pre-thanksgiving, to ease into my new culinary comfort zone. I am at one with my sisters hospitality; embracing her and her husbands routines one dish at a time. The goal is to use mainly what’s here; to re-imagine dishes and not waste ingredients. An important opportunity for me to record my recipes. The shortened week in review follows...

The first meal :

Rosa’s Eggplant Parmesan (Roma). Chicken Milanese with garlic perfumed Pomodoro fresca (Milano). Carciofo bollito (my bro n’ law).

Biscotti and its batter’s versatility, its batter used throughout the week as a pie crust, garnish and on its own.

Above, atop a Sweetened Eggplant Mascarpone dessert and a Tiramisu.

Traditional Bolognese from Bologna. Its natural oils pungently providing the dishes sauce, its tomato content a consolidated paste ready to be transformed by the addition of heat.

A secondi of Grilled Sausage atop Pepperonata (Mixed Peppers, Capers, Olives and Olive Oil)

Monday, November 19, 2007

From BK to S.Salem

From BK north to S. Salem, NY.

A chance for family, recipes and focused efforts towards my goals. The perfect backdrop for my learnings.