Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Supper

After our recent trip to Argentina, Tesha and I had some pictures to exchange and debts to settle, so I invited her and her boyfriend Clifford over for dinner this past Sunday night. Tesha is one of my favorite diners, as she is both adventurous and trusting that I probably won’t kill her with my experiments.

We started off with a jazzed up version of the Argentine staple, provoleta. Lacking the standard circular metal dish in which the hunk of provolone is normally grilled turned out to be a major problem, as my disk of cheese melted far more quickly than I expected in my grill pan. While I was able to salvage the cheese, I didn’t get the beautiful circle of provolone that I was looking for, nor did the cheese develop a golden brown crust over very much of it, which is sort of the whole point of the dish.

Having said that, it’s melted cheese, and no matter what you do it, it will probably be pretty tasty.

A mostly delicious failure

I added my twist to the provoleta by adding shreds of Benton’s Tennessee prosciutto, fresh basil and some homemade pickled red onion slivers that I made with more sugar that the recipe calls for to counteract the saltiness of the other ingredients. The onions provided a nice texture element to the gooey mess on the plate and the basil a welcome floral note. The prosciutto might have been overkill considering that the cheese was already salt laden, but it definitely worked and added some richness. This was definitely a triumph of taste over appearance. Next time I’ll pick up a proper cooking vessel though.

Next we had a classic matzoh ball soup with some roasted jalapeno added for a little kick. I started off with chicken neck bones, onions, parsnips, celery and carrots from which I made a classic chicken stock. Then I charred two jalapenos using the gas from my stove and peeled the burned skin off before letting the whole peppers soak in the soup for the last hour of simmering to impart a bit of their flavor and heat. The difference is subtle, but I think it’s a nice addition to an already pretty good soup.

Simple, Homey Goodness

For the meat course, I prepared chicken leg/thigh quarters that I marinated in Lawry’s Chicken and Poultry seasoning (which I use as a base seasoning for almost all chicken dishes) and Ssamjang, a Korean condiment made from bean paste, chili paste, sesame, garlic and sugar. It’s basically the Korean version of ketchup, and improves just about any dish that you’d consider either hot sauce or ketchup for.

Spicy, Savory, Sweet and Tender

I browned the chicken in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, then roasted the quarters in the oven at 325 degrees for about an hour. What resulted was some of the most flavorful and tender chicken that I’ve ever prepared. The ssamjang worked wonders for the meat and caramelized into a beautiful crust on the skin. Tesha said it was her favorite chicken dish that she can remember. I'm not sure it was quite that good, but just to check, I’m making it again tonight.

Finally, we arrived at dessert, which was my most ambitious course of the evening.

Let me start by saying that I’m really into basil. I love the flavor, I love the smell and I love how versatile it is. When I was out in San Francisco earlier this year, David and I prepared french toast with strawberries and basil whipped cream. I also sampled one of the best desserts of my life at Ubuntu, a basil semifreddo with strawberries and lime granita.

I was determined to make a dessert with basil, and I decided that I was going to do so via one of my other favorite foods, ice cream.

I borrowed an ice cream machine from a co-worker and got down to business. The first step was trying to figure out how to impart the basil flavor without actually putting basil leaves in the ice cream (I didn’t think they’d work texturally). I decided to take a page from Christina Tosi’s book and let the cream sit with bunches of bruised basil leaves in it for a few hours before making the ice cream. I then followed the standard recipe for vanilla ice cream (milk, cream, sugar and vanilla).

Infuse thyself, basil!

I dipped a spoon into the mix and tasted the results. It was SO good. Again, remember that I like basil so much that I eat the leaves straight, but this stuff was awesome. A little sweet, a little floral and not overpowering, but certainly basil ice cream.

This really couldn't be much easier

As a base for the ice cream, I made some challah french toast. I added a bit of balsamic vinegar to the batter for an additional twist of flavor and it worked very well as part of the dessert, with the ice cream’s sweetness swooping in to balance out the tart vinegar.

Balsamic French Toast, Basil Ice Cream, Raspberry

I was quite excited that the dessert worked as well as it did and I’ve already begun pondering both what else I can use the basil ice cream for (caprese with tomato sorbet and mozzarella balls?) and what other non-traditional ice creams I would like to attempt.

All in all, I think Tesha and Clifford had a nice evening and were pretty pleased with their meals. It was a great Sunday evening.

1 comment:

Barzelay said...

I am always surprised at how much basil flavor infuses into cream. I once made a Thai basil pannacotta and Jeanette didn't like it because she thought the basil flavor was too intense. I thought it was perfect, and I'm sure you'd have loved it.