Barefoot Contessa - Ina Garten
Herbed Basmati Rice
Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
To get the recipes:
For a picnic - harborside - that Ina is planning with Jeffrey, she's making wonderful BLT's. She calls them CALIFORNIA BLT's, so she has the excuse of putting avocado on them. Call them New Jersey BLT's for all I care, avocado added to ANYTHING is awesome!
Ina starts with the dessert that she’ll be serving when they get back from the docks. She describes it as a “classic Italian Nursery Dessert”. She dissolves ½ package of gelatin in 1½ tablespoons of cold water. I have to admit, I get a bit annoyed when a recipe calls for half a package of gelatin. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to eyeball. If you’re nervous about it, just dissolve the entire packet in 3 tablespoons of water and use only half the mixture.
She mixes three-quarters of a cup of cream (wow, she’s really being judicious in her amount of cream!) with 1 cup of plain yogurt, 1 teaspoon of “good vanilla” and the seeds from half a vanilla bean. On top of the stove, she’s heating ANOTHER three-quarters of a cup of cream. AHA! I was right to be suspicious of that first amount. She adds 1/3 cup sugar to the cream and brings it to a simmer, so the sugar will melt. She adds the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stirs to dissolve it. She explains that it thickens as it cools, as she whisks the gelatin mixture into the yogurt mixture. It gets poured into ramekins. Ina says to chill it at least 8 hours or overnight. (Don’t panic if you don’t have that much time. It will certainly be fine after 5 hours. But it is a nice thing to get out of the way.)
The Contessa begins her Left Coast sandwiches. She shows us her standard trick of avoiding the mess of frying bacon. She places “6 really thick slices of smoky bacon” on a rack on a baking sheet. She cooks them in the oven at 400 deg. F. for 15 minutes. She does avoid the greasy stovetop spatter, but there IS the oven to deal with. One day, anyway. (My yearly – who am I kidding? – my EVERY OTHER YEAR oven-cleaning took place recently and I would be loathe to have to repeat it months early because of spattered bacon.)
She slices 4 thick pieces from a beautiful loaf of white bread and toasts THAT in the oven too. (INA seems capable of doing that without having to engage an assistant to make sure it comes out alright, unlike some people.)
Ina takes the bacon out of her now cruddy oven…just kidding…Ina would NEVER allow that. She drains it on paper towels. To save on paper towels, I always use just 1 paper towel on top of a stack of newspapers whenever I drain anything.
She halves and peels an avocado. She likes to buy them a few days in advance to ensure they’re ready to use. (I put anything I need to ripen in a brown paper bag with a green apple and leave it on the counter. The apple releases an ethylene gas, which hastens the ripening.)
She cuts the avos thickly and squeezes lemon juice over the cut sides to prevent browning. She remarks that “the BLT is a mayonnaise delivery system.” I’m with her on that. The bread comes out of the oven at exactly the right moment. It gets flipped over to toast on the other side and is returned to the oven.
She slices tomatoes and “clears the decks” to get ready to assemble her creation. She tells us to use 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise on each slice of bread. I DO love Ina, but does she really need to tell us THAT, especially since most of us, she included, will probably use a lot more than that. She places Bibb lettuce on top of two of the slices and then avocado slices on top of that. She likes the “great flavor” of the avo and says that it’s healthy for you…Well, not really 600 calories of avocado per person...but never mind.
She places 3 pieces of bacon on each sandwich and salts and peppers the whole thing, which is “real important”. The tops go on and the ULTIMATE BLT’s get wrapped up. (Tyler, where are you? You would approve of these.) 2 fancy bottles of water go into the bag as well. And she and her special Jeffrey are off to the docks. They watch the boats go by, as they eat and Jeffrey lobbies for a boat. After it’s been established that he would nap on it all day and that she would be responsible for swabbing the decks, they move on to the fish store, no promises made about a boat purchase..
Asa is behind the counter and helps her. She pretends not to know that bay scallops aren’t in season to give Asa a little lesson to teach. But surely our Contessa knew that. She was just being her gracious self. She goes for the sea scallops. Good thing, ‘cause she would have to wait a few months for the other ones. She tells us that she “would rather be standing in a fish store than rocking on the big seas.” D’accord.
Back in the kitchen, Ina slices a pint of strawberries. She adds 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and ½ tablespoon of sugar. She keeps telling us it may sound strange to try it. She adds 1/8 teaspoon a pepper and repeats how different it may seem. Is that code for this tastes nasty, but I want to do something trendy? I actually don’t think so. I think she genuinely wants to tell folks, who think it may sound weird, to give it a try.
She starts her Basmati Rice with herbs by combining ¾ cup water and 1 cup of rice, a little salt and - this is Ina, remember - 1 tablespoon of butter. THAT water cannot be right! You would scorch your beautiful rice with that little water! Oh good, the recipe says ONE and ¾ cups of water. She brings it up to a simmer, and cooks it, covered, for 15 minutes. She then lets it rest on the back of the stove for 5 minutes. By the way, a bit of butter does add a luxurious richness to rice. You can also ramp up the flavor by cooking it in stock, instead of water. If you’re watching things, skip the butter and try the stock.
Our Barefooted One gets a bowl of hot water ready to unmold the Panna Cotta. She dips a ramekin in the water, counts to 3, runs a knife around the ramekin and unmolds it perfectly. She shows us again with the second one. I would add only one thing. Whenever you’re unmolding any gelatin thing, wet the plate or platter first. That way if you’ve missed the center of the plate, it will slide nicely. Isn’t that a GREAT tip? ...That’s what I’m here for. The balsamic strawberries go on top with a bit of freshly grated lemon zest.
For their main course, Ina begins by salting and peppering the scallops, BEFORE she flours them. Ina makes a wonderful point here. She says that when you add salt and pepper to the flour, the seasoning doesn’t get into the scallops enough. I never thought of that and I agree.
That tip alone shows what a masterful conveyor of the art she is. You know, not to go overboard here, but THIS is what watching these food shows is all about. Every once in awhile, you come across an authentic nugget of wisdom that actually changes the way you cook and the way your food comes out.
In a small way, I would venture to say, it even changes the world. How? Your dish comes out phenomenally. You’re delighted. Your family and friends are delighted. There’s true bliss in your little corner of the world, which, if things work the way I think they do, starts a ripple effect. And how could that be a bad thing?
That’s why I go crazy when someone like Giada, who should know better, uses a cake mix. THAT’S not going to impact the universe the way that knowing to season your scallops BEFORE you flour them will.
Ina, after that great seasoning move, cooks the scallops in butter for 2 minutes. She adds chopped shallots, garlic and parsley (which really makes it Provencal, she tells us) and sautés it for another 2 minutes. She adds 1/3 cup white wine, cooks it for a minute and the dish is done.
To the cooked rice, Ina stirs in some additional herbs – parsley and dill, plus some scallions. She uses the green AND white parts for a little piquancy.
Ina and Jeffrey eat their dinner companionably outside. She toasts to the future boat…the VERY future boat. And we sail into the sunset after another divine visit with the Contessa, who may not know her sailing, but, gosh, does she know the nuances of fine cooking.