Friday Night Dinner
Pea and Basil Soup
Prosciutto Lamb Burgers
Chocolate Espresso Cups
Giada’s doing a Friday night menu after a hard week. She wants it to be easy, but interesting.
She starts with unusual Lamb Burgers. She heats her pan with olive oil and pours ½ cup store-bought breadcrumbs into a bowl. "I always start with the seasoning first...that way I don't overwork the actual meat." Excellent point. She adds parsley for its freshness and then adds sundried tomatoes. (I LOVE that in meatloaf, so why not in burgers?) Oh, she tells us that this can be a meatloaf or meatball mixture.
She adds milk to keep the mixture moist. Then 1 egg goes in with salt and pepper. She adds freshly grated Pecorino Romano and mixes all those ingredients well. She mixes in 1 lb. of ground lamb by hand - not too much mixing though - and divides it into 4 burgers. She wraps each one in a wide slice of prosciutto and sautés them 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Wow! They look good.
Giada slices a tomato into 4 thick slices (she doesn't use the ends). A slice of tomato goes on each burger, then each is topped with a couple of basil leaves. She gives each a quick drizzle of olive oil "just to season the tomatoes and the basil." Then she pours just a drop of balsamic vinegar on each one. Great finish to a beautiful dish. Giada serves herself one and tastes it with a knife and fork. No carb-laden bun and fatty fixin's for her. She loves the prosciutto crust. It tooks wonderful.
She moves on to a quick pea soup. She heats butter and oil in a pot. (Remember, butter for flavor, oil so it won't burn.) She adds one casually chopped onion, because it will be pureéd. One garlic clove goes in too. She adds 4 1/2 cups of frozen peas.
I would have softened the onion a lot more. When you have so few ingredients, I think it's important to treat each one royally. So, I would cook the onions until they're completely soft. It's called sweating them and it will give an incomparable flavor to the base of this dish. Also, I would add the garlic a little later.
She adds salt and pepper and freshly chopped basil. Now, she's going to pureé it in the blender...NOW?! I'm not liking this at all. She adds chicken stock IN THE BLENDER "just to loosen up the peas and make it easier to puree them."
How about cooking the whole thing IN the chicken stock first to flavor each element well? Instead, she's ripping apart those delicate peas in the brutal blades of the blender, before they've had the opportunity to flavor the stock and the stock has given over its essence to the peas! You only have five or six main components here. If you gave any cook a list of these ingredients, I don't think she or he would disagree on the proper method. SOFTEN the onions, add the peas, cook IN the stock. THEN purée.
Oh, sorry, the show's still on, and she's still doing terrible things to this soup. She pours it back in the pot and adds more chicken stock AND TWO CUPS OF CREAM. No way do you need THAT much cream! In fact, that's just cheating. 1/2 cup would be fine or even just a tablespoonful in each bowl. Note, too, that when she adds the rest of the stock, she's not even simmering it, she's just heating it through.
The reason this enrages me (well, ok, maybe just raises my hackles a bit) is that you're using these ingredients anyway. Why not get as much of out of them as possible? You're adding maybe less than 10 minutes to the time in the pot, which will take this simple recipe from GOOD to GRAND. *
Oh, one more thing, you really should put the whole thing through a food mill to get rid of the pea skins for a really silky smooth finish.
Oh, my, there's still more thing to be done to this soup. She floats a piece of mozzarella on top along with a sliver of a roasted red pepper. I guess that's pretty, but why doesn't the idea of cheese in pea soup thrill me?
And I'd still rather save the cream for the final garnish. Oh, I know, how about a savory whipped cream? Whip some cream with a tiny bit of lemon zest and chopped basil. Now, I like that. Giada tastes HER soup and loves it. (Mine would be so much better.)
Finally, we leave the soup controversy and move to the fennel puree...Yup, that's what I'm always say on a Friday night: Forget the pizza, forget the hoagies, I want me some Fennel Purée.
She cuts the ends and tops off the fennel and peels away the outer tough layer. She cuts it thinly and it goes into a pot. It gets simmered, not sautéd, so "you can walk away." (Of course, sautéing it first would add a lot more flavor, but whatever...) She adds thinly sliced potatoes with salt and pepper and 2 cloves of garlic.
Now THAT is a good idea. It's great to add garlic cloves to potatoes, when you're making mashed potatoes. Then you just squish the insides of the garlic into the potatoes as they're mashed.
She's cooking the fennel and potato in milk and stock. I like the idea of simmering them in milk and then using that liquid to purée the mixture. Wait, Giada is using FOUR cups of stock and 2 cups of milk. I wonder what she's going to do with all that good liquid at the end.
She cooks the veggies until soft. OMG, she's putting them in a food processor. THAT'S A BIG NO-NO FOR POTATOES. They come out like glue. I know there's only one potato in there, but still, Giada, have you forgotten your Cordon Bleu basics? (Not that we used food processors at the Cordon Bleu...not that there WERE EVEN food processors back then in the third quarter of the 20th century.) I digress...
Get out your food mill, Giada, and use it for this (too). But, no, she strains the veggies out of the liquid and puts them into the food processor and purées them, never saying Boo! about her food pro. gaffe. And she's NOT using the liquid. C'mon, are you actually throwing away 4 cups of stock and 2 cups of milk? That stuff is expensive. I'm really not feeling it, Giada.
She adds salt (without tasting first) and 3 tablespoons of marscapone, plus some fresh mint. And still no cooking liquid gets added. She does bubkis with it. The fennel purée does looks decent, although a bit runny. She even says it thickens up a bit if you let it sit. I think that it should have been presented as a soup.
Giada finishes up with "a dessert drink". She makes espresso the old-fashioned way. She heats up 5 cups of milk and adds dark chocolate to it to melt. She says, don't boil, just simmer (really, you shouldn't even do that) until the chocolate melts. She adds 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla. (Don't EVER add vanilla, while it's ON the heat!!!) What is happening, Giada? She adds 1/2 cup espresso to the chocolate and ladles it into a mug. (Oh good, just what I want so I can stay up all night to get my weekend off to a really good start.)
This is kind of a strange ending to a strangely put together show. Obviously, these recipes weren't meant to be served at the same time. I would have preferred a different strategy, though. Maybe mix and match recipes for 2 different Friday nights, instead of random quickly-made things that still have to be served with something else to call it dinner.
What this episode really turned out to be about was remembering that great cooking isn't always about using the most elite ingredients. It's about getting the most out of them. Sometimes the simplest things, perfectly cooked, can be the most satisfying.
* Having said all that, the recipe does say to "soften" the onions, but only for 5 minutes. There should be no resistance left in them, which will take longer than 5 minutes.