Sunday, May 15, 2011

With apologies to Ben Franklin

Two nights ago, a very good friend came for dinner.  She is often a guest at my table and I am always delighted to have her.  Both of us were in need of some serious wine and food therapy.  We never planned dinner, never articulated anything specific, but there was a silent understanding that the food needed to be beautiful, delicious and above all, comforting.  Wine needed to be plentiful and well-paired.  The resulting alchemy was a success and I recall great sighs of contentment 'round the table and then, afterward, on the patio for dessert, cordials and coffee.

A new gal pal who makes fabulous brownies and loves to cook had passed along a recipe she developed.  I wanted to road-test it, explore alternatives to her original suggestions, and then post it here.  As I read through her recipe, I thought that the ingredients would produce an outstanding flavor profile and decided to make it for my friend.  Everyone agreed it was on the money.  You simply cannot go wrong with crispy bits of smoky bacon, sauteed garlic, wilted spinach, fire-roasted tomatoes and copious amounts of Parmesan cheese over pasta. 

Lingering at the table after dinner, my dinner guest-friend commented that she thought that bacon was God's gift to us.  I couldn't agree more, as I've already debated in a previous post.  Wine consumption and sharper wits frequently seem to be a confounded event for me, but nonetheless, I ventured into twisted historical quotation territory, being prompted by my friend's bacon sentiments.  I parried, "Yes, bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."  So thank you, Ben Franklin, for your obvious love of beer, and thanks to the pig who so graciously contributed the bacon, and last but not least, to the wine that assisted in my attempt to mangle a famous quotation.  I'm so sorry, Mr. Franklin, but I'll take bacon over beer any day.

I also want to tell you about the dessert, a much-improved version of the bougatsa I served last Sunday with my very tame little spring toga party.  Bougatsa has always presented challenges for me.  I am not a pastry chef and so I lack the skills to make a blow-you-away pastry dessert.  The puff pastry in the bougatsa recipe is too thick, so it seems that there's always too much pastry and it's never balanced well with the proportion of apple cinnamon custard.  It's also far too easy to overcook.  This time, I followed my instinct and put small spoonfuls of apple custard into miniature phyllo shells, heated them well, then plated them on a beautiful golden-flecked plate.  While they were still warm, I heavily dusted the pastries with 10x sugar, then with cinnamon and then sprinkled all with sliced, toasted almonds.

The miniature bougatsa were absolutely gorgeous on the plate.  We completely inhaled them between sips of Amaretto di Saronno and rich, dark Creole coffee.  The balance between pastry and filling, shattering crunchiness and silky warm custard--resplendent with almonds, cinnamon and powdered sugar--to me was a perfect 10.  After the pastries were gone, the not really empty plate still held piles of powdered sugar, cinnamon and almonds (also delicious).  My friend sighed contentedly.  She said, "What we ate tonight was essentially comfort food.  But it was more than that.  It was comfort food done very elegantly."  Yes indeed.  It was the kind of comfort food you would want to eat on the way to the ballet while riding in a vintage limosine.

My Fabulous Gal Pal's Pasta
    We enjoyed this pasta dish with a mixed greens salad topped with chopped hearts of palm, hot house tomatoes and diced red onion.  The salad was simply dressed with lemon juice and a mild, fruity olive oil.  I like to combine dried herbs for extra punch after I dress the salad--I typically use dill, marjoram and mint.

6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Tbs. EVOO
1/2 lb. (or more) shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 14.5 oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (or use four medium hot house tomatoes, chopped and 1/4 cup white wine)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb. penne pasta, or your choice, cooked according to package directions and kept warm
Parmesan cheese, for serving

1.  Fry bacon bit until crisp; drain on paper towels and reserve. 
2.  Discard about half the bacon fat.
3.  Add the EVOO to the pan and heat over moderately high heat.
4.  Saute shrimp until they begin to curl and become opague.
5.  Add garlic and stir briefly.
6.  Add spinach leaves, stirring well to coat with ingredients in pan.
7.  Add tomatoes (and wine, if using) and simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes to meld flavors.
8.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
9.  Put warm, cooked pasta on individual plates or in a large serving bowl.
10. Pour shrimp and sauce over pasta.
11. Top with crisp bacon.
12. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.  Serves 4.

Miniature Bougatsa Pastries

1 cup cinnamon apple custard
1   1.9 oz. pkg. miniature phyllo shells (like Athens brand)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Ground cinnamon for dusting
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds for garnish

1.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Place miniature phyllo shells in cups of mini-muffin pans.
3.  Fill each phyllo cup with custard.
4.  Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until heated through.
5.  Arrange warm pastries on a serving platter.
6.  Dust generously with confectioners sugar and then with cinnamon.
7.  Sprinkle with toasted almonds.  Makes 15 pastries.

But I haven't forgotten the wine...
We drank two dry roses this time.  Becker Vineyards Provencal 2008 (Texas), made from the grenache grape.  Frankly, I was disappointed in this wine.  We sipped it on the patio (as we nibbled on Pepperidge Farm Goldfish) and did not have it with dinner, so it was a serviceable rose, but not remarkable.  In other words, I would not buy this wine again.  A beautiful color in the glass and a lot of bright, tart spring fruit on the nose, it was a disappointment in the mouth with only faint strawberry essence.  It seemed flat and one-dimensional and the finish was a bit abrupt.  I prefer wines that linger and invite you to take another sip.  This one failed me.

However, we drank the Crios Rose of Malbec 2010 (Argentina), with dinner and it continues to be a lovely wine, even though it appears to be "the color of weak Kool-Aid" in the glass, as my friend observed.  Wine made from the malbec grape is one of my favorite wines and I have enjoyed two different malbec roses earlier this year that I tend to purchase over and over again, not only for their outstanding characteristics, but for their price.  In addition to the Crios, I also highly recommend the Pigmentum Malbec 2009 (France) reviewed previously here.

I hope your continue to enjoy all of your cooking adventures...and may your tastebuds pirouette!

1 comment:

  1. Your posts are inspiring! I haven't been following closely enough lately, but I still love reading when I get a chance!