Saturday, March 12, 2011

eggplant parmigiana, deconstructed

Top Chef often has deconstructed dishes that are plated for elimination challenges. I've never really tried to deconstruct anything before. The basic premise is taking a classic and reimagining it. It should taste pretty close to the original, but it shouldn't look the same. Tom Colicchio explains in a blog post at BravoTV better than me.

Which brings me to my creation of eggplant parmigiana. It's fairly simple to make, but it does take a bit of time to, bowl as it were. My initial thought was to make eggplant parm in the style of French onion soup. Problem being we don't have one of those fancy broilers that restaurants use to melt the cheese over the crouton on top. Enter the butane torch!

This dish has four main components, each one fairly simple to pull off. Be warned: this will make a mess, and leave you with a dish full of pots & pans. It's worth it though.

First, the eggplant. Skin & cube one eggplant. Cook in sauce pot with 2 cups of a sweeter white wine and enough vegetable stock to cover most of the eggplant. Smash 3 cloves (or so) of garlic, and add Italian herbs to taste. Cook covered until eggplant is soft. If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree. If not, puree in batches in a standard blender. Make sure that the blender is no more than half full, and you have some way to vent the steam. I've read that removing the center insert and covering with a dishtowel is a good way to keep your kitchen clean and prevent a steam-build up.

Next, the sauce. Sweat 1/2 of a diced onion in olive oil. Skin & dice one Chinese eggplant (long & skinny, looks like a zucchini). Add to pot with a large can of pureed tomatoes. Cook sauce for about 20 minutes. Use immersion blender again to smooth out the sauce.

When making eggplant parmigiana normally, you bread the eggplant and brown it in the frying pan. I'm not sure if this does a whole lot, but in keeping with the spirit of deconstruction, toast approximately 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. It's more of a garnish than anything. Set aside.

To plate the concoction, fill bowl halfway with eggplant puree. Stripe the sauce across the top. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the sauce. Finally, top with shredded parmesan cheese. Use the butane torch to melt & brown the cheese on top.

Voila! Eggplant parmigiana, deconstructed. For those of you that care, yes, this is a vegetarian dish. I don't imagine that trying to make it vegan would be possible. I doubt there's a synthetic plant-based version of parmesan cheese that is believable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

creativity en la cocina

Learning what flavors play well together when cooking is an ongoing process. Cooking is a less precise art than baking, and that's precisely why I like it. It gets my creativity wandering. I taste new things and want to put my own spin on them. Which brings us to tonight's edition of culinary theatre.

On tonight's menu sweet potato gnocchi with lobster, apple, & goat cheese sauce. For the gnocchi, get an Italian mother, great aunt, or grandmother to teach you. I truly don't have a recipe. I'm sure there's exact "quantities" for the ingredients, but that's not how I learned. I'm still never sure if they're going to turn out right, but somehow they do.

For the sauce's ingredients:
1/2 stick of butter
2 shallots, sliced thin
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small apple, diced (choose a sweet variety)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3.5 ounce package of goat cheese
1 tsp. basil (substitute fresh if you're lucky enough to have it)
dash of cinnamon
3 lobster tails, cooked & chopped coarsely

Start by melting the butter over medium-high heat. When it's melted, add the basil & cinnamon. Once combined, add shallots, garlic, & apples.

Saute until softened and some of the liquid starts to release from the apples. Lower heat to medium to avoid burning the butter. Add cream to pan. Stir to combine.

When cream is warm, break goat cheese into chunks and stir into sauce. Once smooth, add lobster meat. Lower heat to simmer. Serve over gnocchi.

Yes, it is as good as it sounds.