Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Out Of The Bleu, Ina Serves Souffles

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten
LA Story

Apple Turnovers
Blue Cheese Souffle
Fingerling Potatoes with Aioli
Pomegranate Cosmos

To get the recipes:

Ina's LA screenwriter friend Bill Finkelstein* and his architect wife Barbara are coming over for dinner. (Couldn't she just once have Harry the plumber and his wife Edith, a state government worker, over for a meal?) She's not giving her left-coast guests what she thinks they eat in LA most of the time - water and frozen yogurt. Oh no, she's going the other way and really packing a punch with rich gorgeous food. And she jokes that most people say they don't want dessert, but she doesn't remember anyone ever turning it down.

She starts by making apple turnovers - interesting choice. I don't think I have ever served or been served turnovers at a dinner party. But I've never known our Contessa to fail in her menu planning, I'm going to go with her on this one.

She peels and chops 3 granny smith apples, 1 teaspoon grated orange zest, fresh orange juice (from 1/2 an orange), 3 tablespoons sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then she adds some dried cherries. She tastes it. It’s good...

Ina takes out frozen puff pastry that she's thawed. She flours the counter and rolls it out to 12" by 12", telling us to keep the dough really cold and that this "sure beats making pie crust." The Barefooted One cuts the dough into squares and spoons the filling in the middle. She paints an egg wash around the edges and folds over the turnover into a nice triangle. Then she forks the edges (I just HAD to say that.) 2 little slits get made in each one and Ina sprinkles sugar over each turnover. They go into the fridge to be baked before serving.

Meanwhile we see friend Michael arranging flowers in his shop. Ina comes in and tells him she needs chic flowers. She wants to do a "deconstructed French bouquet." (Does that mean throwing them around on the floor?) She gets enough flowers to decorate Versailles. I like how she gets basically one color.

Now she's on to the heart of the meal - THE COCKTAIL.

She making a yummy one - a pomegranate cosmopolitan. She premixes a batch in a pitcher. She mixes 2 cups vodka (I would definitely go with a flavored one), 2 cups Cointreau, 1 cup of pomegranate juice and 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice. (Don't tell anyone but I use Rose's Lime Juice in place of fresh. I like the added sweetness.) The Pom Cosmos will get a final shaking over ice before serving.

For an hors d'oeuvre, she's serving fingerling potatoes with aioli. That's fine as long as you're sure EVERYONE is eating the aioli, so that everyone will be equally garlic-scented.

Ina boils the potatoes for 10 minutes, drains them and then does her little truc

of covering them with a cloth and leaving them to steam for 10 minutes to finish cooking. She tears up bread and soaks it in champagne vinegar to make the base of the aioli. She chops 8 garlic cloves in the food processor and then adds 2 yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and saffron (interesting), as well as salt and pepper. Ina squeezes out the bread and adds that to the mixture. Then she adds one and a half cups olive oil. She's NOT using extra virgin olive oil, because she doesn't want its strong taste to come through. She tastes it. It's wonderful.

I would do just one little thing different here. I would dissolve the saffron in 1 tablespoon of really hot water, and then when it's cool, add it. Or at least let it sit in the vinegar or lemon juice for a minute.

She cleans up a bit while explaining, "I can really make a mess." Well, as Rosanne Barr says, "Excuse the mess, but we live here." Ina pours the aioli into a bowl and surrounds it with the halved fingerlings. She sprinkles over salt, pepper and chives.

The only reservation I have about this dish is that you really have to be spot-on with cooking the potatoes. If they're too underdone, you have an unpleasant crunch that shouldn't be there, and if they're overcooked, they can be mealy. I might serve this with other veggies instead - carrots, fennel, blanched cauliflower. (I only use baby carrots when I'm feeling overworked in the kitchen. They really have no flavor.)

Now, finally, we get to the main course - 2, count 'em two, bleu cheese soufflés. She is bold, our Contessa, in supposing that her dinner guests like bleu cheese. It's not an assumption that I would be brave enough to make, but Ina stands firm in her conviction that bleu cheese has universal appeal. Dang all that, SHE just really likes bleu cheese.

For 2 soufflés (after all, there are FOUR people...I'm surprised she didn't throw 2 or 3 more in the oven) she melts 6 tablespoons of butter and adds 6 tablespoons of flour and cooks it. She heats 2 cups of milk and pours it in, not particularly gradually, and whisks the whole thing.
I have to admit I would have been REALLY impressed if she had infused her milk with the heel of an onion, a few peppercorns and a bay leaf (like we did in cooking school, back in the 3rd quarter of the 20th century. Ah well.)

She adds salt, pepper and fresh nutmeg. Please, for the rest of your entire life, add ONLY freshly ground nutmeg. A nutmeg berry lasts FOREVER and its aroma is INCOMPARABLE. Then off the heat, she beats in 8 egg yolks, more or less one at a time.

Ina tells us that this makes a "light" dinner as she adds the bleu cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. She pours the base into 2 different mixing bowls. She has 10 egg whites at room temperature (very important) She adds 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and beats them on HIGH.

The correct amount of cream of tartar, according to Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible is 1/2 teaspoon for 4 egg whites or 1 teaspoon for 8. Ina is using 10 whites, so technically the proper amount of cream of tartar is 1 1/4 teaspoons. The cream of tartar virtually guarantees that you can't overbeat the whites and that's an assurance that I want when I'm dealing with that many egg whites. Obviously, we're talking about COOKED egg whites here. If you're using them uncooked, then don't add cream of tartar. You don't want the sour taste. Ina also adds salt. I wish I knew why. They dry out the egg whites and add to the beating time. Don't do it.

Salt or not, her egg whites are glorious. She places half in each bowl and folds them in.

She cuts down the middle and folds them over, turning the bowl as she goes. She pours the mixture into 2 greased and cheese-d soufflé dishes. They get put into a 400 degree F. oven that immediately gets turned down to 375 degrees. She bakes them for 30 to 35 minutes, setting a timer, so she doesn't forget about them.

Ina claims that she never quite has a handle on the table setting. PULEEZ!!! Our Contessa is all-knowing about flower arrangements and tabletop design. That bouquet could have been done for a State Dinner, it's so beautiful.

The California folks have arrived. They're really tucking into the potatoes. (Where's Jeffrey?)

The tarts go In the oven. If this were LA, they'd be sitting at the table too. JUST KIDDING. The timer rings. "The moment of truth. Now isn't that a WOW?" Her guests are thrilled. The soufflés are presented to much acclaim.

I couldn't have written it better myself. Dessert is served. Bill wants to move in. Maybe there's a story to be written here about the Contessa and her love of bleu cheese or maybe there's just one heck of a recipe.

*I'm thinking that that ain't just any screenwriter, that's LA Law's William Finkelstein.


Anonymous said...

The florist name is Miguel, isn't? I don't know anymore, so many people in her show..

Cookie said...

I thought the florist name was Miguel!

Sue Gordon said...

Now that you folks mention it, I do recall her calling him Miguel in the past, but I could have sworn she said Michael this time...but let's call him Miguel anyway.