Friday, November 5, 2010

feeling autumnal...


I have a love hate relationship with autumn.  Love, because: the air smells nice, the breeze is crisp, the leaves look like they're on fire. And I get to wear gloves and scarves. Hate, because it means winter is around the corner.  Fortunately for autumn, it has one component that trumps it all: it's ability to change a cuisine. Yes, I know, that doesn't seem all that exciting but it is.  Gone are the crisp salads, sweet corns, juicy tomatoes, cold wines, and margaritas of summer time. This is the time of year where you can start to make food taste a little "warmer" - from the more cozy, deep flavors of roasted vegetables and damp, earthiness of cool-weather mushrooms, and the slight heat from different cinnamons, nutmeg, allspice, and other spices that really don't seem appropriate to use in the summertime.  Hot toddies, jammy red wines, apple cider. Brilliant! Not to mention, Thanksgiving is one of the greatest holidays ever - especially from a culinary point of view.  It is the bomb.  It's the one cultural tradition this country has hung onto for hundreds of years that hasn't changed much since its inception.  And, this may be odd to think about, it is one of the largest traditional animal sacrifices still around.  Even though it's not "sacrificial" like most would see in movies about the Aztecs or whatever, because let's be honest - this country was built on convenience....probably 1% of people in this country will actually go out to hunt turkey, but still.  It's sacrificial in that it has all the same elements, post hunt, as the traditional kind: one specific animal, the focus (read: turkey) is prepared, then the whole animal is typically displayed and shown to the diners before carving, and it's finally eaten.  I could go more in depth, but I won't because I'm more concerned about COOKING!!

It's been a little brisk the past few days - even raining yesterday (thank god for Hunter boots!).  I was in the perfect mode for a 100% autumnal meal.  It's Friday, it's a relatively decent day out, and the fall farmer's market is at peak! I haven't had my fair share of roasted, caramelized, Maillard-ized goodness of fall yet, so today seemed like the perfect day.  I didn't want anything too rich and heavy, but that had rich flavors and components to create a kind of false facade of food.  To the market!

I picked up some typical vegs, and also picked out a few winter squashes - kabocha, delicata, festival, among others - I had to restrain myself not to buy more, otherwise I would be sleeping in a PILE of squashes.  From here I saw sage and prosciutto in my future, and knew I had to get down to business.  I made a quick stop at my favorite place a few blocks up for some rainbrow trout (I was looking for salmon trout - next time!), black trumpet mushrooms, and other goodies, and made my way home quickly!

Prosciutto-Wrapped Trout with Autumnal Flavors

I really almost pulled a Grant Achatz and added burning oak leaves to this for another sensory stimulator, but decided against it in my own best interest (burning leaves in the house?!).  24 month aged pancetta, wrapped around fresh rainbow trout, stuffed with wilted spinach. Roasted delicata squash, sweet potato, and apple puree. Stewed leeks.  Just cooked black trumpet mushrooms and Brussels Sprout leaves.  Lots of components. Perfect harmony.

My apartment STILL smells delicious!

In a dish like this, you can prepare some components ahead, like the stewed leeks and the puree.  If you're doing it same day, be sure to start with the puree first! 

Squash & Sweet Potato Puree
1 delicata squash, cut into 1/4 or 1/2 in cubes
1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/4 or 1/2 in cubes
1 small apple, cored and cut into 1/4 or 1/2 cubes
1/3 sweet onion, or about 1/3 cup, roughly chopped
3 T chopped sage leaves
Olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1 C chicken stock 
Ground nutmeg
From this...
(don't forget to save the seeds to toast!)
...to this! Roast 'em up.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Toss all the ingredients in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until extremely tender at least 30 minutes.  Shake every 10 minutes or so, and start checking with a fork after thirty minutes. Once the mix is extremely tender, toss into the food processor or blender and whirl away.  Add chicken stock slowly until you reach your desired consistency - a bit thicker than a bisque, but more runny than mashed potatoes.  I even added a little bit of fresh carrot juice.  Once it reaches this consistency, add a dash or two of ground nutmeg, combine, and taste for sale and pepper.  Refrigerate, or keep warm if you will be plating soon.  If you're really ambitious, you can pass it through a chinois or sieve to get out little pieces of squash skin, or just for texture reasons.  I was hungry, so I passed on this step.

While the previous ingredients are roasting, you can start prepping your leeks. 

Stewed Leeks
3 medium leeks
1 T butter
1 C chicken stock
Sea salt and pepper



So easy, and SO delicious! Cut the dark green tops off of the leeks, and slice the remaining portion into about 1/4 inch slices. Place these slices in a bowl of cold water, and separate each leek - this helps clean the leeks as well.   Drain the leeks, place in a saucepan with chicken stock, butter, a bit of sea salt and pepper (start with 1 t - it depends how salty your stock is).  Let this cook over medium heat until the leeks are soft, turn to medium-high and let the liquid reduce, being careful not to burn the leeks - you can caramelize them a bit though!  Once the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce, remove from heat and reserve for later.  Taste how delicious they are!

For the trout:

Prosciutto-Wrapped, Spinach stuffed Trout, for 2
4 cups washed, baby spinach
Rice bran oil
Salt & pepper
2 whole trout, to prep yourself, or two butterflied trouts
8 wide slices of good prosciutto (oh lord, I sound like INA!!) - the amount really varies on the width.  Get enough to cover the entire length of all the fish you have

For additional fun:
1 c black trumpet mushrooms
1/2 cup baby brussel sprout leaves
1-2 T butter
Salt and Pepper



In a saute pan, heat rice bran oil over medium-high heat.  Cook the spinach, adding a bit of water occasionally, until wilted and soft.  Season with salt and pepper, and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350F. For the trout, you can either get it whole, gutted and scaled, and butterfly it yourself, or just get it pre-butterflied.  I was confused and decided to make it more difficult on myself, and got the whole trout.  If you do the same, remove the head and tail, and cut down the belly.  Open it up like a book, and slowly lift the backbone and surrounded bones out, running your fingers closely down the bone to remove and flesh.  This should be relatively easy with a fresh trout! Remove as many pinbones as possible.  Add the cooled spinach to the center of the butterflies trout.

 

Fold the fish back together.  Arrange slices of prosciutto, overlapping each other about 1/2 inch to cover the entire outside of the fish.  Roll it up tightly like a newspaper, making sure the prosciutto pieces are sealed together. You shouldn't need twine, or skewers, or anything for this.

the fall day was so happy for this that it threw a little sunshine in the mix
In a large saute pan, heat up some rice bran oil or canola oil over medium-high heat.  I fried a couple of sage leaves in the oil before putting the fish in to get a little bit of sage essence into this component of the dish.  These were removed and drained on a paper towel.  Place the fish in the hot oil, and let the prosciutto crisp up nicely. Once this side has crisped up, gently flip the fish to crisp up the other side.  Once the fish is sufficiently browned and crispy, transfer it to a sheet pan and roast in the oven for another 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. 

While the fish is cooking, and if you're feeling sprite in the kitchen, you can add a couple more components to this dish (what?! I know - the final result is amazing).  In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium, medium-low heat.  Don't brown the butter. Once it's melted, toss in the mushrooms. Let these cook until they release their water and become soft and tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms to a small plate, and quickly saute up the brussel sprout leaves.  Let them char a tiny bit and just cook through.  Remove to a plate and reserve.
I scavenged every teensy brussel sprout this one farmer had
 For the brussel sprouts, just cut the bottom of, and peel the leaves.  Use a paring knife to cut the core out and get some more leaves.  I've concluded that involve a paring knife is a pain in the behind.


Once the fish is barely cooked through, you are ready to plate! Make sure all of your other components are warmed up and ready to go.  Cutting the fish in half is good presentation, because it allows the diner to see the cross section of the fish.  Make a clean cut though, or else you'll squish the fish!


For plating, I just created a mound of the squash puree as a base, with a little sidebar of the stewed leeks.  The brussel sprout leaves were just scattered about. Did I mention my kitchen still smells delicious? The flavors that came from all of these components created an AMAZING aroma.  Not to mention, all of these flavors together were awesome.  The light fish was moist and delicate - a great contrast to the crisp skin and prosciutto, which also added a great savory touch.   The flavor of the puree - a little sweet from the ingredients involved, plus roasting, with a little warmth form the nutmeg.  This really combined nicely, flavor-wise and texture-wise with the fish.  

The perfect bite contained a little bit of everything: a bit of the wrapped fish, a swipe of the puree, a dab of the stewed leeks, one trumpet, and a brussel sprout leaf or two.  Pair this with a  Central Coast Cali Pinot or a young French Burgundy - the dish can hold it's own.

This is seriously autumn in a dish - and it's a legit pescatarian Thanksgiving option! Wow. I am glad that it made enough for leftovers...heck, even the leftovers look nice!