Pasta Alfredo

April 29, 2009

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
~Frederico Fellini

Gilt, glamour and early papparazzi.

The original “pasta Alfredo” was not really a recipe, but a simple a toss of butter, parmigiano reggiano and pasta—created by owner Alfredo di Lelio for his Roman restaurant, Alfredo alla Scrofa, sometime around the outset of World War I. True Alfredo calls for doppio burro, double butter, which imparts a golden color. Legend has it that the chef created his fettuccine all’Alfredo when his wife lost her appetite during pregnancy. To restore her hunger, he specially prepared a plate of egg fettuccine with parmigiano reggiano, and butter.

During their heyday in the 30’s, the famed actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visited Alfredo’s while on their honeymoon stay in Rome, and found his speciality delicious in its rich simplicity. So enamored with the gracious Alfredo and this new found dish, not only did they donate gold tossing forks to him, they spread the word across the Atlantic. Other notables, such as Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, and Sophia Loren frequented the restaurant during the 60’s and 70’s (cameras clicking, flashbulbs popping), which bestowed even greater fame on this venue. Although far from a precise theory, many suggest that the cream was a stateside afterthought.

PASTA ALFREDO

2 C heavy cream
4 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
Freshly ground pepper

1 lb fettucini or linguini
Sea salt

Bring water to a boil in a large heavy pot, and add a couple of tablespoons of salt.

In a heavy large saucepan, bring the butter and cream to a gentle boil and simmer for 30 seconds. Add half of the parmigiano reggiano, some pepper, and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat. Drain the cooked pasta and return to pan. Add the cream, the rest of the parmigiano reggiano, the pasta, a liberal grinding of pepper, and then toss well.

Pourboire: try halving the parmigiano reggiano and replace with a similar quantity of gorgonzola, roquefort or other fine blue cheese and roasted roughly chopped walnuts. Also, consider tossing on the finish with already coarsely chopped, cooked and well drained pancetta, guanciale or bacon.

The horror! The horror!
~Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, later adapted to the film Apocalypse Now

Spring has sprung, and those intensely surreptitious, almost clandestine, morel hunts are in full season. The image is reminiscent of the geeky bird watcher played by John McGiver in Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation with Jimmy Stewart (1962). I recommend both the film and the morel hunt.

Here is the kind of retirement pursuit more befitting to the now suddenly ubiquitous Mr. Cheney than was upland bird gaming—furtive, undercover, with dark caches, and yet thankfully no lethal arms or ordnance at his disposal. He simply rounds up these fungal suspects, detains and then stows them in away in a black hiding place. As to his next step, torture…how he could conceivably torture a defenseless mushroom is beyond my bailiwick. No references to such tactics on these highly valued delicacies can be found in the revised U.S. Army Field Manual or the Geneva Convention that he so shamelessy disregarded with humans—with the penned duplicity of the now Hon. Jay Bybee and Prof. John Yoo. Perhaps he simply delegates away the torment in a feeble effort to display clean hands. Queries: What consideration (quid pro quo) is given in a torture contract? Is this a third party “beneficiary” arrangement? What are the specific terms and provisions of a torture agreement? Is it just a proverbial “wink and a hand shake?”

In my narrow culinary sphere, I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that repeatedly inundating fresh morels with water causes core damage and elicits little valuable information. All this technique causes is changeless damage to being.

Morels, the prized honeycombed and ridged fungi worshipped by amateur mycologists and cooks alike, are nothing short of sublime. The most widely recognized species are the yellow morel or common morel (Morchella esculenta), the white morel (M. deliciosa), and the black morel (M. elata).

Also called morchella, they possess a spongy texture and subtle, earthy flavor which is so delicate that you must exercise care not to dominate morels with stout ingredients in the same dish. Do not overly adorn…rather allow the morel to stand in full glory.

Mirepoix is the classic mélange of onions, carrots, and celery often used as a flavor base for a number of dishes, including stocks, soups, and sauces. Although this is not set in stone, the typical ratio is 2:1:1 of onions, celery, and carrots. As befits French tradition, mirepoix derived its name from the duke patron of a renowned chef.

MORELS & FETTUCINE

3/4 to 1 lb fresh morels, cleaned with a brush or cloth, sliced lengthwise
4 shallots, peeled and finely diced
4 T unsalted butter

4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 sprigs parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 C onions, peeled and minced
1/2 C carrots, peeled and minced
1/2 C celery, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream

Fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 lb fresh fettucine (see Basic Pasta Dough)
Sea salt

In a heavy skillet, sauté the mushrooms and shallots in butter for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat, adding the thyme and parsley for the last minute. Add the mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots) and season with salt and pepper. Sauté another 2 minutes and then add both the stock and cream. Gently simmer and let the mixture reduce by about one-third, but do not allow it to thicken to a heavy sauce consistency. Taste for salt and pepper to your liking.

In a heavy stock pot, cook the pasta in boiling water that has a liberal amount of salt added. The water should almost taste like clean seawater, and the pasta should be cooked until just al dente. Drain and toss with the morels and mirepoix mixture in the skillet. Garnish with parsley and a light grating of parmigiano reggiano.

Duck—Monogamous or…?

April 23, 2009

It is to be regretted that domestication has seriously deteriorated the moral character of the duck. In a wild state, he is a faithful husband…..but no sooner is he domesticated than he becomes polygamous, and makes nothing of owning ten or a dozen wives at a time.
~Isabella Beeton

Is domestication at the root of multiple partners? Does this polyamorous feathered wall of shame really include Donald, Daffy and Howard the Duck…even the Ugly Duckling once he reached manhood?

However unfettered their mating proclivities may be, ducks are supreme eating with tender flesh and skin that gleams and crackles. I am admittedly addicted to fatty, crisp duck skin which should be considered neither one of my shortcomings nor character defects.

Domesticated ducks have a long history on the world’s tables. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Era (907-960), cultures in China became the first to raise ducks in captivity for food use.

Although there are varied species of ducks, all commercially produced ducks are descendants of two types––mallard and muscovy. The white feathered, full breasted Pekin (Long Island) duck, known for its dark, succulent meat, is the most commonly reared duck in the United States. Pekin ducks (which in this country are predominately bred in Long Island, NY) are all progeny of three ducks and a drake that arrived from China on a clipper ship in 1873. Some specialty breeds have become more popular in recent years, notably Muscovy and Moulard ducks.

(Why does Long Island keep getting parenthetical treatment?) Well, at least blog “style” rarely demands footnotes or endnotes, id, ibid, op cit, etc.

This dish will permeate your home with blissful citrus, roasted poultry, honey and wine vinegar aromas for days to come. A house favorite.

ROAST DUCK WITH CITRUS, HONEY & CIDER VINEGAR

1 duck (3 to 4 lbs), liver reserved & trimmings (neck, heart,
wing tips) chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried thyme

6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into diagonal slices
1 small onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Grated zests of 2 oranges, 2 limes and 1 grapefruit

1-2 T honey
4 T apple cider vinegar
½ C cognac or brandy
4 T unsalted butter, chilled

Preheat oven to 425 F

Remove the fatty glands from the upper side of the bird’s tail. Season the duck inside and out with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the liver in the duck and truss with string so it will retain shape. Place the duck on one side in a large heavy roasting pan with a rack, and set it in the oven with the breast side facing toward the back. Roast, uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn the duck on the opposite side and roast for 10 minutes more. Turn the duck on its back and roast for 10 minutes more.

Remove the roasting pan and strew the chopped trimmings, garlic, carrot, onion and thyme under and around the duck. Remove the trussing string. Return the pan to the oven and roast the duck for a total of 13-15 minutes per pound (the time varies on the size of the bird—more time per pound for a smaller duck, less time per pound time for a larger duck). Baste several times while roasting.

(The duck is done to medium rare if the juices from the fattest part of the thigh run faintly rosy when the skin is pricked, and when the duck is lifted and drained, the last drops of juice from the vent are pale rose. The duck is well done when the juices run pale yellow.)

Once done, transfer the duck to a platter which is propped up at one end at an angle with breast side down and tail in the air; reserve contents in roasting pan. Tent loosely and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. Remember, the bird will continue to cook as it rests.

Put the zests in a fine mesh sieve and lower into boiling water for 2 minutes to blanch. Rinse under cold water, drain and set aside.

Place the roasting pan with the trimmings over high heat. Cook until nicely browned, about 1-2 minutes. Drain and discard the liquid in the pan, add the honey and cook 1-2 minutes more. Deglaze with several tablespoons of vinegar for about a minute, then add cognac and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve place over a clean pan and press down on the trimmings. Add any juices that have drained from the duck as it was resting. Bring to a soft boil over high heat, and add another couple of tablespoons of vinegar, and reduce a minute or less more. Remove from the heat and add the chilled butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking so that the butter melts gently to slightly thicken the sauce. Stir in the reserved zest.

Carve the duck and arrange on a platter or plates. Spoon some sauce over and pour the remaining into a sauceboat. Serve with a fine red Rhône, French burgundy or Oregon pinot noir.

This is a version of the classic chicken soup, soto ayam, with the notable addition of coconut milk and some more heat.

Indonesian cuisine reflects the diverse cultures that inhabit the nearly unfathomable 6,000 islands that compose this archipelago…a gastronomy long influenced by indigenous regional techniques and ingredients commingled with a potpourri of foreign influences which were introduced by the spice trade. Wafting throughout this string of isles are the aromas of India, the Middle East, China and Europe.

SOTO RESAH

1 free range, organic chicken, cut into quarters
3 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised and tied in a bundle
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 – 14 oz can, coconut milk
1 qt water
1 qt chicken stock
Sea salt

2 t black peppercorns
1 1/2 T coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
5 fresh shallots, peeled and quartered
3 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 1/2 T ground turmeric
2 T ginger, peeled and finely minced
Lime juice

3 T peanut oil
16 oz vermicelli rice noodles (glass noodles)
1 T fresh lime juice

2 limes, cut into wedges
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges
4 green onions, chopped
2 chili peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
4 T chopped mint, basil and cilantro leaves
Chili paste, such as sambal

Place chicken in a medium heavy pot or Dutch oven with lemon grass, lime leaves, cocnut milk, stock, water and salt. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite size pieces.

Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small coffee grind or spice mill to create a paste. Pulse on and off until ground. Add shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add some water and/or lime juice if needed for moisture.)

Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.

Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Cook noodles according to package directions.

Divide noodles in large soup bowls. Arrange chicken pieces on top along with chopped green onions and sliced peppers; ladle the chicken broth over the chicken and noodles. Serve hot with lime wedges, hard boiled eggs and sprinkle with mint, basil, cilantro and chili paste.

Veal—An Utter Delicacy

April 23, 2009

Roquefort is one of the most distinctly regal of all cheeses.

It has a cylindrical shape with a sticky, pale ivory, natural rind. Once ripened, roquefort is creamy, thick and white on the inside with characteristic blue veins. The ripening process occurs in natural, damp aired limestone caves found under the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in southern France. The precious milk from specially bred sheep, the processing of the curd, the addition of Penicillium roqueforti and finally the aging in natural caves together coalesce to create this magnificent cheese.

Roquefort has a robust bouquet with a with a creamy yet sharp and tangy, almost metallic, pungent finish. Absolutely divine with bread and a glass of good red or port, it also cooks well…producing tiers of earthy flavors.

VEAL LOIN CHOPS WITH LEEKS, TARRAGON & ROQUEFORT

3 T butter
6 C leeks, tops cut retaining white and pale green parts only, then halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/2″ pieces (about 6 cups)
1/2 T organic honey
1 C fresh tarragon leaves, stripped from the stem
2-3 tarragon sprigs, intact
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock , boiled until reduced to 3/4 C

4 – 1 3/4″ thick veal loin chops
Pinches of dried tarragon
4 fresh tarragon sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil

1/2 C brandy
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
4 T unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, room temperature
1/2 C roquefort or other similar blue cheese, such as bleu d’auvergne
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Several fresh sprigs of tarragon

Preheat oven to 400 F

Reduce chicken stock as directed.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and tarragon, drizzle with honey. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until liquid evaporates and leeks begin to soften, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes; do not brown. Stir leeks, reduce heat to medium low and cover. Cook until leeks are very soft and lightly caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Remove full tarragon sprigs and discard. Puree caramelized leeks, remaining tarragon leaves, and stock in processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Season veal with dried tarragon, salt and pepper. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and 1 T olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add fresh tarragon sprigs, then veal and cook over medium high until just pink inside, about 4-5 minutes per side. As with pork, take care not to overcook, as they will be dry. Transfer to plate and tent. Remove tarragon sprigs and discard.

Add brandy to skillet and deglaze until liquid is almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits. Add pureed leek mixture and cream and bring to simmer until reduced. Whisk in 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Add roquefort and any accumulated meat juices and whisk until smooth and thickened to sauce consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

(If necessary, place veal chops on baking dish in oven and roast a few minutes until done, depending on their thickness.)

Plate veal chops, spoon sauce over and garnish with fresh tarragon sprigs.

As with many culinary creations, the origins of crème brûlée are contentious, with the English, Spanish, and French all staking claim. The Spanish have taken credit for this sensuous custard as crema catalana since the 18th century, while the English assert this dish originated in 17th century England, where it was known as burnt cream or Trinity cream. The earliest known written reference to crème brûlée is found in François Massialot’s 1691 cookbook, Nouveau cuisinier royal et bourgeois. Later, the French were attributed with advancing crème brûlée into vogue in the late 19th century. Since then, this elegant and satiny egg dessert with its sweet textural top has graced menus across the western world.

Crème brûlée is literally translated as “burnt cream.”

In recent years, chefs have embellished this dessert with a host of flavors — ginger, lavender, basil, chiles, coffee, mango, coconut, citrus, chocolate, berries and liquers, et al. I prefer Crème brûlée naked, savoring the basic mix of egg and sugars.

CREME BRULEE

4 vanilla beans, flattened and cut in half lengthwise
8 large egg yolks
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 C whole milk
3 C heavy cream

1/2 C dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 275 F

Spoon out the vanilla seeds inside the open pods and place them in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fitted with a whisk. Add the egg yolks and granulated sugar to the bowl and whisk at high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and cream. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to marry.

Pour mixture evenly into ramekins until almost full.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and carefully pour boiling water in pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake oven 35 to 40 minutes, until custards are set and the center jiggles slightly when gently shaken. Immediately remove custards from water bath to halt the cooking process; cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until firm.

Remove from refrigerator and sprinkle brown sugar over the custard. Either heat with a kitchen blowtorch or the broiler until sugar caramelizes evenly and forms a crust. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute or two until caramelized sugar hardens.

Tarte aux Tomates

April 21, 2009

I can resist everything but temptation.
~Oscar Wilde

Admittedly, this posting is seasonally premature. But, we are being treated to a spate of euphoria-provoking warm weather that hearkens back to past tomato days…so the tarte temptation was irresistable. Alas, the allure of savory tarts! Please keep this delectable pie in mind for sultry summertime, when these red, yellow, and green baubles dangle from the vine in varying shape and size. Was that overly salacious?

TARTE AUX TOMATES (TOMATO TART)

1 (9″) frozen pie shell, thawed or fresh savory pie dough rolled and fitted to a pie dish
3 large fresh heirloom tomatoes, seeded, cut into 1/2″ slices and well drained

1/4 C Dijon mustard
1 C Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated

1 T fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more or until light golden. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Turn up the oven and preheat to 400 F

Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and drain in a colander for 10 to 15 minutes. Spread the mustard over the bottom of the shell and sprinkle the cheese over it. Arrange the tomatoes over the cheese in 1 overlapping layer. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are soft, 35 to 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the tarragon, thyme, garlic, olive oil; season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the tart with this mixture when immediately removed from the oven.