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Monday, November 17, 2008

Goin' All Medieval on Your Tummy

Book group met on Saturday last to discuss The Goose Girl, young adult fiction by Shannon Hale. It's set in a medieval-Europe-type place, and tells the story of an intrepid princess and her (mis-)adventures, which inlcuded serving for a time as a goosekeeper. I thought soup sounded appropriately peasant-y, served with a simple and simply-dressed green salad and crusty bread. We started with the leftover cheese from my brother's birthday party (11 kinds!), and we finished with Panna Cotta with Almond Cream and Pomegranate, so no one was in danger of experiencing butterfat deficiency.

Some of the cheeses.

Fettuccine and White Bean Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Sept/Oct 1999

1/4 C olive oil
4 oz prosciutto, diced fine
1 med onion, diced fine
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 celery stalk, diced fine
1 med potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
2 t salt (unless you are able to find low-sodium everything, I would start with a teaspoon here and add more if needed later)
2 15.5-oz cans white beans, with liquid
1 1/2 T minced fresh sage leaves
5 oz fettuccine, broken into 2" pieces
ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven over medium heat. Add prosciutto and onion; sauté until onion is translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes with their liquid, celery, potato, salt, beans with their liquid, sage, and 6 C water; bring to a boil and cook until potato is tender, about 5 minutes. Add fettuccine and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, 7-8 minutes. Off heat, adjust seasonings and serve.

Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Nov/Dec 2001

4 T unsalted butter
2 med shallots, minced (about 1/4 C)
1 carrot, peeled and diced fine
2 celery rib, diced fine
6 C water, or part homemade chicken stock (I used just water this time and it was great)
3 lb butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed and reserved, and each half cut into quarters
1/2 C heavy cream
1 t dark brown sugar

1. Heat butter in large dutch oven over medium-low heat until foaming; add shallots, carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until shallot and celery are softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add squash seeds and pulp and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and breaking down, about 4 minutes. Add water or mixed water and stock, and 1 1/2 t salt and bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and put squash over simmering liquid in steamer basket. Cover and steam until squash is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Off heat, use tongs to transfer squash to shallow dish; reserve cooking liquid. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and strings from squash and transfer flesh to medium bowl; discard skin.

2. Pour reserved steaming liquid through mesh strainer into second bowl; discard solids. Rinse dutch oven if it's yukky.

3. Use your preferred method to purée squash and liquid--either in a blender, with a stick blender in the pot, or by running squash through a food mill. Heat over medium heat until at least simmering; remove from heat and stir in cream and brown sugar. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Panna Cotta with Almond Cream and Pomegranate
published in the Oregonian FOODday, December 13, 2005
from Cathy Whims of Nostrana
(it's still on the menu, currently with blackberry sauce)

Panna cotta:
2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 t unflavored gelatin
1 C sugar
2 C whole-milk plain yogurt (she likes Nancy's; I used Brown Cow)

Almond cream:
1/4 lb almonds (orig recipe calls for whole unblanched; I used diced roasted and loved the flavor)
5 T sugar
2 C heavy cream
tiny pinch of salt
1-2 drops almond extract

1/2 C pomegranate seeds for garnish

To make panna cotta: Pour the cream into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the cream. Let stand for 15 minutes. Add the sugar to the cream mixture and heat over medium eat until just hot to the touch. Stir well to be sure the gelatin and sugar are dissolved (it will look a little yellow) and then take off heat. Whisk yogurt in a mixing bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk in hot cream mixture. Pour into 8-12 4-oz ramekins (sprayed with nonstick cooking spray if you're going to want to unmold them). Cover and refrigerate overnight.

To make almond cream: Process almonds and sugar in food processor for two minutes. Meanwhile, gently simmer cream with salt for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add ground almond mixture. Let cool (takes a couple of hours), then pass through a sieve lined with a single layer of cheesecloth or a fine-meshed chinoise. If cream is too thick to pass through the cheesecloth, thin with a tablespoon of plain cream. Add almond extract.

To serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin, turn upside down on a dessert plate and shake downward sharply once or twice to release panna cotta. Spoon a ribbon of almond cream around each panna cotta and garnish with pomegranate seeds.

I decided not to unmold them to save time, and I don't know if they would have stood up on the plate if I had. Certainly by the following day (two days after mixing them up), they were pretty runny, but still edible. I suspect it was because of the live cultures in the yogurt.

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