Dessert, Pasta, Pork Products, Salad, Soup, Vegetables

Dinner party.

Before moving to Baltimore, we lived in Washington DC, where we both still work. As strange as this sounds, it takes more effort to see the people who live within a couple of miles than our old friends in DC. So on Saturday night, we had a little dinner party with just friends from Baltimore. Here’s the recap.

First – after a bite of fennel sausage with tomato jam – was a light salad of white button mushrooms, Pink Lady apples, and celery.

Next, cauliflower soup with roasted cauliflower and crouton.

Third, spaghetti with sea urchin roe and whitefish caviar (actually, I prepared risotto with sea urchin roe for the party. I made the spaghetti Sunday night to use up the rest of the roe).

Fourth, roast pork belly, with fennel and braised bunashimeiji and oyster mushrooms.

We finished with matcha panna cotta and 73% bittersweet chocolate.

Stay tuned for the recipes if you’d like to try any of these dishes.

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eggs, Pasta, Seafood

Surf.

The sea urchin, like its relatives the sand dollar and the starfish, has what biologists call “five-fold symmetry,” or pentamerism. Although you’d never know from its spiky round exterior, the sea urchin shares this characteristic with many other living things. Don a pair of thick gloves, cut one open around the middle, and you’ll see – like the petals of a flower, or a star anise, or the seeds of an apple around the core, five gonads, called corals or roe, radiating from the center.

Sea urchin, opened with roe*

The roe, known as uni ウニ in Japan, has a rich, creamy texture and a savory, slightly sweet taste reminiscent of the ocean, butter, and toasted hazelnut. It ranges from ochre to bright orange, depending on the variety of sea urchin, the time of year, and its location home at the time of harvest. How do you know which sea urchins contain the roe? Well, even though sea urchins are either male or female, the roe of both is edible.

I have texture issues with certain foods, and uni is one – I love the flavor but have had problems from time to time with its pillowy, marshmallowy consistency and slick membrane. So I had a thought – why not process uni through a tamis, or drum sieve, to achieve a perfectly smooth purée, and incorporate it into pasta or risotto?

The pasta dish came together pretty intuitively. You wouldn’t want to obscure the flavor of the uni, but you would want to pick up the nutty taste with a little acidity. In sushi, the vinegar in the rice would serve this function. Here, I used lemon juice. To accentuate the creaminess, I added – well, cream.

A little caviar – paddlefish is nicest, but whitefish will do in a pinch and I used it here – finished off the dish, along with smoked salt and chive.

Spaghetti, uni

4 oz spaghetti or linguine (dry, good quality)
two dozen uni
3 tbsp heavy cream
juice of 1/2 lemon or a little more, to taste
sea salt
smoked salt (I like Halen Môn from Wales)
Pondicherry pepper, or freshly ground black pepper
minced chive
2 tsp caviar

Purée the uni by pressing through a tamis with a rubber scraper. Store the resulting purée in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bring a pot of sea salted water to boil; add the past and drain once just al dente. Reserve a few tbsp pasta water. Perform next steps immediately upon draining.

Add the cream to pan. Bring to simmer and turn off heat. Add uni and a large pinch of salt and whisk just to combine.

Add pasta and toss to coat. Squeeze lemon over all and toss; taste for seasoning. Add additional lemon juice and/or smoked salt. Finish with pepper and chive.

* Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gonadi_Paracentrotus_lividus_riccio_di_mare_adventurediving.it.jpg

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Italian, Leftover Recycling

Arancini.

Who doesn’t love risotto fresh out of the pot? It’s creamy and filling without being too rich or heavy, and makes a great first course.

Leftover risotto is another story. Unlike plain steamed rice, risotto can’t be reheated without losing most of the qualities that make it great. The rice grains lose their al dente bite, becoming mushy and gluey; herb and cheese flavors become dull, absorbed into the starch. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to go to waste. You can make arancini.

Small fried balls of rice encasing some filling – a ragù, mozzarella cheese, peas, or butter – resemble little oranges, or arancini in Italian. These are most commonly found in southern Italy – Rome down to Siciliy – and are not necessarily made with leftover risotto. Arancini are the best use for leftover risotto, though – the rice is firm enough to surround a moist filling. Plus, I’m a big fan of recycling.

Try these two recipes, one filled with mozzarella and the other with a little cube of herbed butter, which melts when the arancini are fried. What? You don’t have any risotto on hand? Use this recipe, omitting the marrow, sage, and brown butter and substituting minced chives and a squeeze of lemon juice.

In each recipe, I have provided two breading alternatives. The simpler alternative involves simply rolling the formed risotto ball in a seasoned breadcrumb mixture. This method yields a lighter arancino, and the rice on the exterior becomes a bit crisp. If you prefer a more traditional breading, dredge the risotto ball in flour and then egg before coating in the seasoned breadcrumbs.

Arancine con formaggio

2 cups cooked risotto, according to the above recipe, or any other leftover risotto
2 ounces mozzarella, cut into 16 pieces
Optional: 2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp water, and 1 c flour
1 c fine breadcrumbs (you may substitute crushed panko)
1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 c vegetable and olive oil (total. A combination of 3:1 is nice)

Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmigiano in a pan or bowl.

Cup the palm of one hand and place about 2 tbsp risotto in your cupped palm. Form a well in the risotto and place one piece of mozzarella in the center. Enclose the cheese with the risotto and form an even ball.

Heat a deep pot containing the oil to 350F/175C. Have a wire skimmer ready.

If using the flour and egg, dip the arancini one at a time in the flour, shake off excess, into the beaten egg (again shaking off excess), and finally in the breadcrumbs. If not using the flour and egg, simply coat well in the breadcrumbs, shaking off excess.

Fry in batches, turning over as necessary (the oil may not completely submerge the arancini), until golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pot or the arancini will be oily.

Drain on a rack and hold in a 200F/95C oven until ready to serve. Do not drain on towels – this tends to steam fried foods and makes them soggy. Serve with a simple red sauce.

Arancine con burro

2 cups cooked risotto, according to the above recipe, or any other leftover risotto
2 ounces salted butter
1 tbsp minced chives
1 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
Optional: 2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp water, and 1 c flour
1 c fine breadcrumbs (you may substitute crushed panko)
1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 c vegetable and olive oil (total. A combination of 3:1 is nice)

Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmigiano in a pan or bowl. Combine the butter and herbs, and form into a small cube or brick. Roll in plastic wrap and chill or freeze until solid. Divide into sixteen equal portions and keep the butter cold until ready to use.

Cup the palm of one hand and place about 2 tbsp risotto in your cupped palm. Form a well in the risotto and place one piece of herbed butter in the center. Enclose the butter with the risotto and form an even ball. Take care that the butter is completely enclosed or it will leak during frying.

Heat a deep pot containing the oil to 350F/175C. Have a wire skimmer ready.

If using the flour and egg, dip the arancini one at a time in the flour, shake off excess, into the beaten egg (again shaking off excess), and finally in the breadcrumbs. If not using the flour and egg, simply coat well in the breadcrumbs, shaking off excess. Fry in batches, turning over as necessary (the oil may not completely submerge the arancini), until golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pot or the arancini will be oily.

Drain on a rack and hold in a 200F/95C oven until ready to serve. Do not drain on towels – this tends to steam fried foods and makes them soggy.

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