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Friday, February 17, 2012

Asparagus and Geometry

Does the size and shape of a food influence the way it tastes?  Most emphatically yes.

Think of the taste of a shredded carrot salad versus munching on a whole carrot...or enjoying a piece of thinly sliced steak versus chowing down on a big hunk cut from a 1 1/2 inch thick slab.  Different textures, different taste experience.
This is the case with my favorite recipe this week, Raw Asparagus, Red Onion and Pecorino Salad from today's featured cookbook, Anne Burrell's  Cook Like a Rock Star.  More on that recipe later.

Now for the cookbook:   Burrell has lots of ideas, but the book's directions are sometimes flawed and some of the food combinations don't always "work". I prepared four recipes from this cookbook:  one was amazing, the second very good, the third and fourth had some serious problems.

Looking for something interesting to make with brussels sprouts to go along with a simple pan seared scallop meal, I thought Burrell's  Frizzled Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Walnuts sounded promising.  Having roasted whole brussels sprouts a few times this season, I thought this new recipe would be fun - first of all you had to pull apart each sprout into individual leaves, a preparation I've seen before but never done.

I used four cups of sprouts, doubling the recipe, and it took more than half an hour just to prepare the sprouts.  This better be worth it, I thought, as I cored each sprout, then pressed each one down to "open" the leaves a little, and laboriously separated out each leaf. 

The recipe tells you to saute red pepper and garlic, add pancetta and chopped walnuts and cook 5 minutes until the pancetta browns.  What actually happened is that the walnuts browned way more quickly than the pancetta.  Then you were supposed to add the leaves, salt them, cover the pan until the leaves wilted, and then uncover and brown the leaves for 8 - 10 minutes more.  By this time, the walnuts were really dark brown and unfortunately gave an unpleasantly bitter taste to the dish.

Verdict - you could cook this dish differently to get a better result, but for me, the combination of the flavors of brussels sprouts, nuts and bacon did not enhance each other, and would not be worth repeating.  Ditch that recipe:  rating - poor.

For that same meal, I  had a head of cauliflower I wanted to use up, so I  made Burell's Spice-Roasted Cauliflower.  This easy recipe was a lot more successful - spicy, exotic, delicious.  The original recipe also calls for a pound of Jerusalem artichokes, but not having any, I made the recipe without them, although I used the full amount of spices anyway  - I love spicy food!  If you don't, consider halving the amount of spices.

Spice Roasted Cauliflower, adapted from Anne Burrell's Cook Like a Rock Star

one head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon cumin, freshly ground if possible
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon finely snipped chives, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line a half sheet pan with heavy duty foil.  Mix together all the ingredients except the chives.

Roast the veggies for 20 minutes, stir, roast 20 more minutes, stir again, and then roast 5 or 10 minutes more until the florets are browned and tender.  Serve sprinkled with the chives.  Yum!  I could eat these as a snack.  Grade:  very good.

While the above vegetable dishes were in the works, I had a few extra minutes, so for dessert I decided to try the Tarallucci with Salty Caramel.  Anything with salty caramel appeals to me, so I had to try this recipe:  butter cookies served with caramel dipping sauce on the side - what's not to love?

A lot, apparently.  The cookie dough came together easily, but the directions called for putting the dough in a pastry bag and piping out wreath shaped cookies.  This was a total no go:  the batter was way too stiff to be able to piped out.  Realizing this was essentially a spritz cookie dough, I put it into a cookie press and pressed it out into rounds.  So far, so good.

On to the caramel.  I've made caramel lots of times before, and it's not difficult. This recipe was different in that it called for the juice of a lemon - in my mind, a weird addition, adding a discordant note to the taste of the caramel.  We ate the cookies - good, but not any better than any other butter cookie recipe - and threw away the caramel.  We used some jarred caramel instead!  I know, sacrilege.  Grade?  C,  the cookie was good, but nothing special, and the caramel recipe was an F.

Last night I paged through the entire cookbook, and when I spied some asparagus in the produce drawer of my fridge this morning, I remembered this asparagus salad recipe and gave it a whirl. Recipe number 3:  winner!  This was to me a totally new take on this vegetable - served raw but sliced very thinly, the flavor was of freshness and vitality and very different from whole asparagus, either cooked or raw (the geometry angle).

And, unlike the ill fated brussels sprout recipe, it took all of 5 minutes to make, including slicing the veg and grating the cheese on a microplane.  Give it a go - it's a taste of spring.

Raw Asparagus, Red Onion and Pecorino Salad adapted from Cook Like a Rock Star

1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed (can't beat Costco for fresh cheap asparagus right now)
1 small red onion, diced small
(variation:  1/2 of yellow onion, and 1/2 red pepper, diced small)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil to taste, 1/4 to 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 cup microplaned Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Slice the asparagus thinly into rounds.  Add to a medium bowl, and combine with the red onion (or onion and
pepper), the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Just before serving, stir in the cheese, saving a little to sprinkle decoratively on top.

So there it is, the winner of the lot.  I give it an A for awesome.  Hope you enjoy making this.

I  enjoyed looking through this lavishly illustrated book, and Burrell's entertaining voice came across very clearly on the pages.  But when I do try some of the other recipes from this cookbook (and I will) , I won't be surprised if other recipes need some tweaking.

It's fun to try out new cookbooks without the expense of buying them.  Use the library and spice up your cooking tonight!

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Cheapskate and Library User

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will make that asparagus salad for my vege daughters this weekend - I have a half block of parm that needs to be used up. Thanks!