Tuesday, August 23, 2011

summery sweet corn

There's not much like the taste of sweet corn picked right off the stalk - so sweet that you hardly need to cook it. The kernels are bursting with flavor and truly are the epitome of summer.  Summer always brings memories of sitting on the porch by the lake, shucking corn...and that pesky silk always causes problems!  You can eat it fresh, roasted, grilled, or blanched (among other techniques), and it's just as good performing solo as it is combined with other late summer ingredients.  And as much as I love corn all by itself, I was taught how to make a particular corn dish by Lee Hefter of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group that blows my mind - sweet corn agnolotti. Granted Wolfie's version is a bit more cream and cheese laden, and also shaved white truffles over the top (much more decadent!), but this take on the dish is equally delicious! On another note, has anyone ever used an industrial pasta machine? I'm talking wing-span size, electric rollers (that move too quickly!), behemoth of a machine. Terrifying. Slightly terrifying.  

Industrial pasta rolling machine or not, I urge you to try this before corn falls off the face of the universe (for the summer).  Share it with your family, and share it with your friends - you'll love the reactions you get!

*If you don't have time to make the pasta, you can use wonton skins - fresh pasta just has a nice toothiness to it!

Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Sweet Corn Puree
Corn filling, recipe follows
Pasta dough, recipe follows
Wondra flour
1 egg, whisked with 1 t water for egg wash
Sweet Corn Puree, recipe follows
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Truffle oil - if you're ambitious.
Corn kernels, barely sauteed, for garnish

To make the agnolotti, roll out the pasta dough until it is just thin enough to see through it.  You can either use a pasta roller, or if you're like me and fail to remember that you don't own said pasta rolling machine, bring out the trusty rolling pin.  Section your dough into smaller portions for easier rolling.  With the machine, place the rollers at the widest setting.  Run the dough through the machine, fold it in half, and run through again.  Repeat three times.  Continue this process, reducing the setting by one notch each time, without folding the dough over on itself.  If rolling by hand, sprinkle your surface with flour and basically have at it, pressing down firmly.  Rotate the pasta 90 degrees every so often until the dough is paper thing.  For the agnolotti, I cut the rolled dough into long rectangular strips.

Now it's time to form the agnolotti! There are a few ways of doing this:

1) Pipe out 1 t mounds of the filling out on the pasta, about a 1.5 inches apart. Ensure that there is enough pasta dough above the filling so it can be folded over.  Brush around the filling with the egg wash, and fold the pasta over, making sure not to trap any air inside, and finally pressing down around the filling to seal each agnolotti.  Dust with Wondra flour and cut the angolotti using either a 1-in ring mold or a serrated cutter.  Finally, place each agnolotti on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  

2) You can use an old-fashioned ravioli mold - this actually works nicely for this recipe, allowing each agnolotti to retain slightly more filling than the above method.

3) Be as labor intensive as possible, "creating" an individual mold by using a 1/2 T measuring spoon.  Although they had to be made one by one, the results were beautiful! 

However you want to do it is fine.  These agnolotti can be made ahead and even frozen!

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and reheat the sweet corn puree for plating in a separate saucepan.  For this dish, it's important to coordinate all your pans! As soon as your drop in the agnolotti, you should be sauteing the corn kernels - both cook very quickly.  When the water is at a rapid boil, gently drop in the agnolotti - how many depends on if you're serving this as an appetizer or an entree - but it's up to you! They are crazy delicious, so the more the merrier. When the agnolotti pop back up to the surface of the pot, let them cook for only about 20 seconds longer, remove, and lightly drain.

On each plate, spoon and thinly spread out a bit of the corn puree. Divide the agnolotti and corn kernels evenly amongst the plates.  Finally sprinkle with a little sea salt and a crack of fresh black pepper.  To kick this up another notch, finish with a bit of truffle oil. Serve immediately!

This is SUCH a delicious dish and the flavors are so simple.  As much as I love barely cooked corn, this dish and it's ingredients truly help to bring out the sweet flavor of corn.  The filling and corn puree are equally delicious on their own as well.  So run out, get some ears of corn, and make this - I promise you won't be disappointed!

Corn Filling
1/2 cup cream
4 ears of corn, kernels grated on a box grater ~2 cups)
1 t salt
1/4 t fresh ground black pepper
1/8 cup grated Parmesan

Bring the cream to a boil, being sure not to scald it.  Reduce to 1/3 cup, then stir in the corn kernels, salt, and pepper.  Allow this mixture to come to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture reduces enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove the mixture from heat and stir in the cheese. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cool and set. 

Pasta Dough
about 1/2 lb
4 large egg yolks
1.5 t water
1/2 cup plus 1 T all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 T olive oil

One thing about making fresh pasta - it's very temperamental! How much of each component you need really depends on the weather, humidity, the exact type of flour you're using, etc.  You really have to use your sense of touch for this!

To make the pasta, you can either use a stand mixer with a dough hook, a food processor, or just do it by hand using the ole well-and-swirl technique.  Since I don't have nearly enough counter space to do it the old way (unfortunately!) I resorted to using the food processor.  Frankly, it is a bit easier and it all comes together much more quickly.  With either mixer, combine all the ingredients and pulse until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl.  If it's too dry, add another egg yolk - or even an egg white.  If too wet, add more flour in small amounts.  Remove from the bowl and knead for about 15 minutes until smooth and elastic.  Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 20 minutes.

Sweet Corn Puree
2 T butter
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup cream

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add in the kernels and allow them to cook for just a minute.  Stir in the liquids and bring the mixture to a boil - cook for about 5 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth.  For an extra smooth puree, pass it through a sieve.  Reserve for later.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

peachy keen

What better time of year is there to go to the Farmer's Market than summer? Spring is up there in the ranks, but you really can't beat August with it's ugly heirloom tomatoes, fresh summer squash, or corn picked right from the stalk.  I had my summer's bounty feast just the other day, and was able to utilize a LITTLE bit of everything. As an aside: when riding your racing bike to the farmer's market, do not put a billion pounds worth of food in your backpack because it WILL throw off your balance. Just sayin'.

Among other things, I picked up a few juicy peaches - so perfect you could smell them from yards away! I was going back and forth between yellow and white peaches, and today opted for the yellow. But what to do with these peaches? Just eat 'em? Make white sangria with them? Use them in a savory dish maybe with duck? Nope, today I decided to test my hand yet again with baking and pastries - it was dessert time!  I picked up some blackberries and cycled on back to the abode.  After consulting with my trusty Flavor Bible, I settled on making peach, blackberry, and walnut galettes.  And then I remembered all the Blis maple syrup I had in the fridge - of course, I had to accompany the galettes a walnut-maple syrup ice cream.  Seriously, Blis maple syrup is epic. And not to toot my own horn, but I made a perfect creme anglaise - I had to pat myself on the back for that!

The resulting combination was perfectly summery and delicious. For the galettes, if it comes down to it, you can use pre-made pie crust from the store. 

Summer Fruit Galettes with Blis Maple Syrup Ice Cream
Makes 6

Pate Brisee:
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1/4 c ice water, plus more if necessary

Note: Make sure all of your items are COLD, and be sure to work quickly! In a food processor, combine the flour and salt, pulsing to combine.  Add the butter, pulsing until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.  With the machine running, slowly add the ice water until the dough comes together - ensure that it doesn't get wet or sticky.  This should take no longer than 30 seconds.  Test for consistency by pinching a small amount of the dough between your fingers - if it crumbles, add a bit more water.

Turn out the dough on a clean surface an divide it in half - place each half on a piece of plastic wrap, flatten slightly, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
For the galette filling:
1/2 c walnuts
2 T flour
2 T & 1 t sugar
4 yellow peaches, thinly sliced (make sure they are a bit firm and not overly ripe!)
2 T light brown sugar
1 T & 1 t cornstarch
1 pint blackberries
Heavy cream, for brushing
Turbinado sugar
Apricot jam, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 400F.  In a food processor, pulse together the walnuts, flour, and 2 T of sugar until it's the consistency of coarse sand.  In one bowl, toss the peaches with 1 T cornstarch and the brown sugar.  In another bowl, toss the blackberries with 1 t cornstarch and the remaining teaspoon of sugar.  Allow both to sit for at least 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, roll out the dough into six ~6 inch rounds.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the walnut mixture in the center of each circle, leaving about an inch and a half around the edges.  Drain the fruit when ready to ensure that the pastry dough doesn't get soggy.  Arrange the peaches neatly in each pastry circle, and top with a few blackberries.  Fold up and pinch the edges to form galettes. Brush each galette with cream and sprinkle evenly with the turbinado sugar.  Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Cool slightly on a wire rack.  Before serving, warm the apricot jam up and brush the borders of each galette.  If you make these ahead of time, they can be reheated in the oven for a few minutes. 

Blis-Maple Syrup Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop
makes ~1 quart

For ice cream:

1.5 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1.5 c whole milk
2 T sugar
3/4 c Blis B Grade maple syrup
1/8 t salt
1/4 t vanilla extract
1/2 c & 1 T dark amber maple syrup
1.5 c toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt
Place cream in a bowl with a fine mesh sieve on top - this is in case your creme anglaise doesn't work out too well!  Next, in a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks until light and fluffy. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and sugar, bringing it to a light simmer.  While whisking (quickly!), slowly pour a stream of heated milk into the egg yolks to temper them.  Once they are combined, return the mixture to the saucepan and heat it on the stove over medium-low heat. Stir this mixture constantly, scraping the sides and the bottom so nothing burns.  Slowly bring the mixture to a boil until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, about one minute. (When running your finger through the mixture, it should leave a trail) Immediately remove from heat and pour through the strainer into the reserved cream.  Stir to cool the mixture, and mix in the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla extract. 

Chill the mixture per your ice cream machines instructions.  Or if you're me and fail to realize that you in fact do NOT have an ice cream machine...cross your fingers.  Actually, just place the mixture in a chilled stainless steel bowl, and set it inside ANOTHER stainless steel bowl filled with ice and rock salt.  You'll just have to come back every half hour or so and give it a quick stir-around.  The resulting ice cream won't be as creamy as one with a machine, but ain't no thang. The upside to this - you can taste the ice cream quite often while it's freezing! Make the walnut-maple syrup concoction while waiting.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the maple syrup until it comes to a full boil.  Stir in the walnuts, returning to a full boil.  Remove the mixture from heat and set aside to cool completely. At the last minute, fold in the walnut mixture into the ice cream.

FINALLY! Serve your warm galettes with a scoop of this ice cream.  Try to resist NOT eating the entire remaining amount of ice cream! The galettes turned out wonderfully - the peaches and blackberries were just sweet enough, while the crust had a great crunchy, toasty flavor to it.  The maple ice cream itself was a thing in itself - using the best maple syrup you can find really is a game changer with this.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

delicious dessert!

I'll admit it.  I have a new food crush. It's not like I try to creep around and find it's whereabouts, but I'm always a little bit extra excited when I see it on the menu.  Luck? Serendipity? Coincidence? No one knows.  What is it, you ask? Cardamom.  Yes, I said it.  Nothing new, I know - cultures have been using this lovely little guy for aeons, but I've been able to experience it with a bit of an ambush makeover.  More often than not, cardamom is the aggressive, punk rock spice.  It's always trolling around with it's other muscle-y friends such as cumin, mustard seed, curry, or anise. Sometimes, cardamom will take the edge off and get together with cinnamon, allspice, and ginger for some delicious wintertime desserts.  That being said, cardamom rarely - at least in our culture - had the chance to shine on it's own.  Never was it overshadowed, but instead was combined to play the whole power in numbers game.

I suppose this is for good reason - cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world behind saffron and vanilla.  The harvesting process is very labor intensive, but as with anything in that category, well worth the wait.  Recently, I experienced the haunting aroma of gahwa wafting through the hallways at work.  Why did I not know about this? In Arabic cultures, it is traditional to serve cardamom-scented coffee to honorable guests and royalty.  This was something new to me, and definitely something I will be looking into to recreate at home!  Being part of the ginger family, it's clear to see why it has such an intense flavor and aroma.  But take heed, when purchasing cardamom, buy the entire pod! The little seeds inside are toasted, then ground fresh for recipes.  (I have made pickled chanterelles using the whole pod though - notes on that later) So many of of the volatile oils that make this spice so special will be lost (very quickly) if purchasing it pre-ground.  But, if you must, try to buy the smallest package possible.

Needless to say, I'm excited.  Mostly, I'm excited about the dishes I've been able to try that allow cardamom to shine without being overpowered by other flavors.  Rice pudding with a dash of cardamom, cardamom kulfi, light biscuits with a hint of cardamom.  Each of these had the perfect amount of cardamom - just enough to allow the flavor and warming properties to come through, but with a gentle enough had that the dishes were still delicate.  That being said, I wanted to create a similar dish at home.

Cardamom-Scented Panna Cotta with Pistachios & Orange
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (I use Knox)
1 T water
1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 c fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1/2 to 1 t cardamom, or more if you wish
4 T toasted pistachios, chopped
4 T honey
1 large navel orange

To start, grate the zest of the orange to measure about 2 teaspoons.  Reserve the orange for later.  Next, mix the gelatin with the water in a small bowl and let it stand until softened, about 5 minutes. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, simmer the milk with the sugar over low heat, stirring often.  Cook until all of the sugar has dissolved - about 1 minute.  Remove this from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin, ensuring that it has all dissolved.

In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, yogurt, cardamom, and orange zest until combined.  This is the point where you have to do a little but of taste testing if you're concerned about the cardamom! You can add in the 1/2 t first, and continue until you think the combination is perfect.  Just remember that you will be adding more liquid to the mixture next!   When you've finally got your combination down, whisk in the warm milk until smooth.  Pour this mixture into six 4-oz ramekins, small cups, or even espresso cups and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Prior to serving, take the reserve orange and remove the remaining peel and pith, as though you're about to supreme the orange.   Next, slice it crosswise into about 1/4 inch rounds.  Set these on a paper towel to drain until ready to serve.  I took apart the smaller segments on each of the rounds, but it's not necessary!

To assemble, arrange an orange slice or a few segments over top of each panna cotta.  Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and drizzle a bit of honey over top and serve!

Everyone loves this dessert, seriously.  It's super light - unlike a "real" panna cotta - and the cardamom just takes the flavors to the next level.  Since the dessert is chilled, it's a nice juxtaposition to have a warming spice added to the mix.  The pistachios add a nice crunch, while the orange brightens it up just a bit.  Altogether, it's a flavor combination that you can't beat! This dish has just validated my crush for cardamom...and I see more dates in the future!