Monday, February 23, 2015

Smoked Trout 'Brandade'

It's been cold here as of late (Brrr, temps in the single digits with Chicago-like winds).  Beyond soups and stews, I'm craving hearty, stick-to-your-bones, comfort food.

I'm a BIG fan of smoked fish.  Well, actually, I love just about anything that comes out of a smoker/smokehouse.  Perhaps it's in my DNA.  Is there a gene that regulates affinity for smoked food?  It must be a combination of my New York/Eastern European (Russian/Polish) roots.

Whenever I see a dish that incorporates smoked fish, I'm easily swooned.  In coming across this recipe for smoked trout brandade several months back (September 2014 issue of Bon Appetit), it immediately went into the 'must try-recipes' archive.

Brandade is a classic, French (Provencal), winter comfort dish; an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil blended with cream or milk, potatoes, and garlic until lusciously smooth and creamy.  The base for brandade is salt cod.  Salt preserving is one of the oldest methods of preserving food.  However, before salt cod is palatable, it must be rehydrated and desalinated (soaked a day or two in water, changing the water several times per day).

While not entirely traditional, this recipe calls for smoked trout in place of salt cod.  Fear not, it's equally delicious with smoked trout, after all it's smoked fish.  Bonus: No soaking is required, so you can whip up a batch of smoked trout brandade without much planning or effort.

Smoke trout brandade makes for a delectable hors d'oeuvre.  Serve at your next dinner party or gathering on some crusty, grilled bread along with cured meats, cheeses, and grapes.  Who wouldn't like that?  That being said, I'd be just as happy having this for dinner alongside a green salad.

Unfortunately, my lack of outdoor space prohibits me from experimenting with home smoking (other than a small stovetop smoker).  However, the day will come (oh someday, to dream, I'll have a little patch of green to call my own)...

Until then, I'm happy to support the local food community.  These trout come from Neopol Savory Smokery [Union Market, Washington, D.C.].  Neopol is a family-owned and operated producer of artisanal smoked fish based out of Baltimore, MD.

Chef John Fleer (of Rhubarb in Asheville, NC), from whom this recipe comes, enjoys indoor picnics with his family -- smoked trout brandade and store-bought fixings.  “We just sit on the floor and chat and chew," he says.

Sounds like an ideal way to spend an evening (with a glass of wine, of course).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Parmesan Brodo

As promised, the recipe for Parmesan brodo (broth).  Part II of Homemade Pasta: Cappelletti ("Little Hats"). Now that you have homemade cappelletti (or, perhaps, store-bought stuffed pasta/ravioli when you're short on time), you need a light and delicate broth in which to bath them.

That's where the Parmesan rind comes into play.  Do you typically discard your Parmesan rinds?  Or, are you a Parmesan rind hoarder??

The addition of Parmesan rinds to a stock or broth (or red pasta sauce) elevates it to a new level.

Where does one find Parmesan rinds you might ask?

I've made a few friends in the cheese department at my local grocery store.  I'm a very good customer.  I shop there just about every day and, on some days, multiple times per day (one of the hazards of having a food blog).  And, it never hurts to ask.  The cheesemongers were nice enough to supply me with a few rinds gratis (they had a huge bucket filled with them).

Or, you could simply save up your rinds over time until you have a nice supply on hand.  Parmesan rinds keep for a long time and you can store them in the freezer.

The rinds really kick up a basic vegetable or chicken broth.  Once you've tasted a broth made with a Parmesan rind, you'll never discard one again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Homemade Pasta: Cappelletti or 'Little Hats'

I'm developing a (healthy) obsession with homemade, handmade pasta.  Pasta like an Italian grandmother would make, made with much patience, care, and love.  So, instead of chocolates or sweet treats, this is what I made for my special someone on Valentine's Day -- like the old saying goes, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

This particular pasta shape is called cappelletti, which fittingly means "little hats" in Italian.  I like to think of cappelletti as little pillows of delicious goodness.  Cappelletti are often filled with meat and bathed in chicken or capon (aka rooster) broth, but I went vegetarian today.

I stuffed the cappelletti with a combination of Taleggio (a semi-soft, washed rind, smear-ripened, cow's milk, Italian cheese), Ricotta, and Parmesan-Reggiano, garlic, shallot, lemon zest, and fresh thyme, and served them in a Parmesan brodo (recipe and post for the Parmesan brodo to follow shortly).

The cappelletti have just the right texture and chew.  And when you bite into them, you get a delightful burst of cheese.  It's the perfect way to start a meal (primi or first course).  Cappelletti freeze well and can go straight from the freezer into a pot of salted boiling water.

Once you try your hand at making homemade pasta, you may get hooked too.

For the pasta, you'll need plenty of eggs, flour (used 00 flour), water, salt, and olive oil...

You can use a food processor or KitchenAid mixer to mix the dough, but if you want to go old-school, like an Italian grandmother would do, all you need to do is put some elbow grease into it.  

Cappelletti = "little hats" in Italian.

To form the Cappelletti:

Roll out the dough very thin (second to the last setting on my KitchenAid pasta attachment).  Cut out 2" rounds, mist gently with water (using a spray bottle), and pipe the filling (about one teaspoon of filling per round).

Next, it's time to shape them:

1. Fold the round in half, to form a half moon, pressing out as much air as possible
2. Position the half moon so that the curved part is facing you and the straight part is facing away from you.  Bring the edges together and pinch to seal (refer to photos below for guidance).

And voila, homemade cappelletti...

Cappelletti is traditionally served in a broth.  I served mine in a Parmesan brodo (brodo is the Italian word for broth).  Recipe and post for the Parmesan brodo to follow in the coming days.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chicken Curry with Lemongrass and Lime Leaves

I'm always on the hunt for new flavors.  This dish definitely hits the mark. Its flavors are bold and exciting.  A combination of flavor that I've not previously experienced.

The base for the sauce is a kroeung, the Cambodian term for a spice/herb blend.  This version includes lemongrass, lime leaves and zest, dried red chiles, shallot, garlic, turmeric, galangal, and ginger, which is not only tasty, but also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse of ingredients.

You can make the kroeung in a food processor or blender, but I don't mind the mortar and pestle method.  It's both an upper arm workout and therapy session rolled into one.

Had a bad day...pound, pound, pound.

Hate your day job...pound, pound, pound.

Someone pissed you off...pound, pound, pound.

Cheaper than therapy!

This chicken comes from my friends at Truck Patch Farms (New Windsor, Maryland).  You could purchase the chicken parts separately, though it will cost more.  You can easily break down your own bird in just a few steps.  It's easier than you might think.

Here's a great step-by-step tutorial on breaking down a whole chicken.

You should have 10 pieces total: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings (tips discarded), and 4 pieces from the breast (each breast sliced in half cross-wise).

Save the carcass for making stock.

Coconut milk, mixed with the kroeung, lemongrass, and shrimp paste, is the base for this sauce.

The dish is finished with a splash of fish sauce and served hot over rice.

Most ingredients should be fairly easy to track down, with the exception of, perhaps, galangal, lime leaves, and shrimp paste, though all should be readily available at most Asian grocery stores.  I highly encourage you to seek out those last few items if at all possible.  They provide just the right balance of flavors to this dish.

The good thing is, once you've procured the aforementioned items, they will keep for a while.  The galangal and lime leaves freeze well, and the shrimp paste, which is fermented, will last a really, really long time (not sure if there is any expiration date on shrimp paste?).

A few words on shrimp paste....

Don't be alarmed by its pungent nature.  Shrimp paste is fermented/salted shrimp.  On it's own, shrimp paste would probably overwhelm your palate.  However, when mixed with other ingredients, it adds that quintessential umami quality; that little extra added flavor that just makes the dish what it is.