Friday, June 20, 2008

Linguine with cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes and mint

This recipe has so many strings attached that I'm de-virginizing my label options [finally] and putting it under "high-maintenance recipes". The naughty tuscan melon from yesterday was so unbelievably good last night in a recipe created by Giuliano Hazan that I dreamt of growing melons. Uhhh, I meant to say, I dreamt of becoming a melon grower.

The link's recipe has an immediate typo. In the ingredient list, it asks for 1 tomato paste? As I am still unable to read minds very well, at that point I figured on making a few changes so that I could call it my own. The two most important tricks to the success of this recipe is that [1] the cantaloupe/muskmelon must be super sweet and flavorful. Taste it. If your melon sucks, no amount of sweetener will help make it better. And [2] forget using calorie-saving substitutes. NO. So there's butter, heavy cream, parmigiano - this is a rich, sensuous pasta dish, yet for some reason it left me feeling quite positive in the knowledge that I contributed toward my 5 a day. And you know, it's not like you're going to eat this stuff everyday anyway.

Recipe (serves 4)

Linguini or egg tagliolini/tagliatelle for 4 persons (1 pound)
2 - 3 tablespoons butter
4 cups of 1/4-inch dice fresh, sweet cantaloupe
1 cup fully ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered (better if you can get datterino tomatoes)
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt (best if fleur de sel) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated parmigiano to garnish
10 large fresh mint leaves, cut into chiffonade
1/2 lemon

1. Begin by cooking the pasta. In the meantime, make the sauce.

2. In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the diced cantaloupe. Lower heat and saute until the fruit begins to caramelize. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for a minute or so, then add the heavy cream and continue to cook until thickened and reduced; about 5 minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain thoroughly and add to the cantaloupe sauce. Stir to combine completely and divide into 4 portions.

4. Give a light squeeze of lemon over the pasta (this helps balance out the richness), sprinkle with grated parmigiano and garnish with mint. Serve immediately.

Labels:

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Brains on a stick


Krang - the evil pink nemesis of TMNT
I'll try to save the bad jokes 'til the end.

Last summer, when my mama-in-law told me that I'd have better luck finding calf brains (cervello di vitello) only in the springtime, the look on my face must have immediately conveyed confusion and disappointment. The spring? But why only in the spring? — “Because,” she explained, “calf brains are more perishable in the hotter months. Stores usually carry them only during the cooler seasons.”

Now how many people do you think (besides yourself) keep calf brains on a mental shopping list? Let's see a show of hands here. One? Two? Yes, okay, well I didn't think there'd be a whole chorus of me's!!!! coming back at me. Summer is around the corner but the weather conditions near the Alps has been more cool than hot; store managers must have taken notice. Beef tongue, cockscombs, pig's feet and now this; the only part(s) missing from the offal picture are chicken testicles (fagioli di pollo) - ahem...beans of chicken. Oh dear. Beneath all those feathers? Really? I had no idea.

Anyway, the whole reason why I wanted me some calf brains was so that I could experiment with a genovese dish called stecchi. Stecchi translates to nothing more than "sticks", and this kebab-type of snack is just a bunch of skewered offal, veal and vegetables coated in bread crumbs and fried to delightful deliciousness. The problem (and dammit, why is there always some sort of snag when I reaaally want to try something different?) is that not only did I need calf brains, but sweetbreads, cockscombs, chicken livers and those aforementioned chicken nuts too! Grrrrr...it irritates me to no end when I can't find everything at the store!


Says *I* to the MotH while pawing through the packages of brains at Auchan supermarket:
These are almost a pound! I'm looking for the lightest one, I don't need a lot of brains!

With brains on-the-brain (ooops, I know I said jokes 'til the end), my idea was for a simpler version of stecchi, substituting chicken breast for cubed veal and using zucchini and artichoke hearts while omitting the mushrooms. Still, wanting a bit of an island flair, the memory of a bowl of Hamura's saimin and teriyaki chicken stix on the side morphed into a vision of cold buckwheat noodles. Breading a couple of the completed skewers in japanese panko, I thought they would serve as a nice textural contrast, the slippery pasta drizzled in sesame oil, black sesame seeds and lemon-shoyu. Man was I right or what!


Take. me. to. your. Leader.
Beaucoup brains and more at très très savvy Ms. Glaze's Sautéed Cerveaux.

Preparing fresh calf brains is - a no-brainer. The important thing is soaking them in several changes of cold water until the H20 runs clear. I cooked them by poaching in simmering liquid (court-bouillon, chicken or veal broth, you choose), then set the drained blob-mass in the refrigerator to chill and firm before cutting into chunks. The breading process is simple: flour, beaten eggs, breadcrumbs. Apart from the type of bread crumbs, the only difference between the italian version and the asian one was the addition of grated parmigiano to the beaten eggs after prepping two for the buckwheat noodle dish. Also, the choice of frying oil for each type: olive for italian, rice for asian (although you could just go with veggie oil).

1. Brains after poaching in liquid. The texture is silken - like a perfectly cooked egg custard.
2. Skewers ready for breading (partially saute the vegetables in garlic and olive oil first).
3. Into the hot oil.

Crispy on the outside, moist and tender within - lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of fleur de sel is all that's necessary to enhance the flavors in these babies. The taste? Poached brains have a barest hint of bitterness that whispers "liver" but cloaked in an egg-n-crumb coat, all I can tell you is that they are not as grossly repulsive as I first thought. A Liedholm grignolino paired well with the genovese-style stecchi. I just wish that I hadn't been such a lamebrain and fried a bunch more. Sssslurp! Oh enough already...