Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Giada - A Strata By Any Other Name Would Taste Just As Good

Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis

Dining In, With Style
Asparagus Lasagna
Fresh Tomato and Goat Cheese Strata with Herb Oil
Amaretti Torta

Giada’s setting a beautiful table for dinner with friends. I missed what one of the dishes was called.”Thaahh-duh”. What in the world is that?

She starts with an elegant lasagna. She salts the water, adds the long lasagna noodles (no no-bake for her) and drains them. Giada starts on a “pesto”. She processes 2 cups of sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor with 1½ cups basil until coarsely chopped. That goes in a bowl. She grates in 1½ cups of Parmesan cheese. That’s it? Hmmmm. I’m all for no oil in pesto, I don’t add it to mine, but how’s about a bit of garlic or a nut or two? I guess this could be a good low calorie addition to pasta.

Giada heats a pan and adds a ½ inch thick piece of chopped pancetta. She tells us she always keeps a few slices in the freezer for flavoring soups or stews. Good idea. She chops an onion and 2 cloves of garlic - buy nice tight heads, she says. The crisped-up pancetta goes into a bowl. The onion and garlic go into the pan with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. She reminds us to season every layer of a dish, plus “the salt will help soften the onion.”

Giada chops asparagus into 1 inch pieces and adds that to the pan with the onion. More salt and pepper. She cooks them just a short time, because they will finish in the oven. She grates mozzarella.

After the break we see her at a tableware store called Art. (At least that's what the bags said. I spent HOURS trying to find it, I couldn’t.) She appears to buy little bowls on a glass tray.

Giada adds the asparagus mixture to the pancetta. She stirs in 15 ounces of ricotta, plus salt and pepper. (The recipe says to use whole milk ricotta. I suppose this is such a pared-down recipe, that it can certainly stand this full fat cheese.)

She sprinkles the “pesto” on the bottom of a baking dish, barely. She lays 3 lasagna noodles over and spreads them with more pesto. She spoons over half the ricotta filling and sprinkles over mozzarella, and grates parmesan on top. 3 more noodles go over, pesto, filling, mozzarella and parm. Noodles. Pesto. And cheese.

Then Giada grates tons of parmesan over the top to cover the noodles. She dots bits of butter over the tops as well. It goes into a 350°F oven for 25 minutes. Wow! There is no hint of gloppiness in this lasagna. No drooling stands of cheese or large globs of tomato sauce coming off the serving spoon. It looks spare and elegant. But good? Yeah…but definitely different.

I WOULD add another onion to sautĂ© with the garlic, though, and Giada doesn’t say whether the sundried tomatoes are packed in oil, but I would use ones that are just for an added bit or richness. I think I could try this her way once - without slathering a bĂ©chamel sauce on top, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be tempted to supplement this recipe.

For dessert, she starts by processing 20 amaretti cookies with ½ cup chocolate chips. Have I been living under a rock? I never thought to mix amaretti with chocolate. Brava Giada! (I just like how that sounds.)

Giada beats 5 egg whites until stiff. WHY in the world is she using that hand mixer again? Annoying. For the base, she beats 2 sticks of unsalted room temperature butter with 1 cup of sugar. She laboring away with her hand mixer and THEN she adds 5 egg yolks…one…at…a…time. This is taking forever. It’s also pointless.

To me it’s like chopping down a tree with a steak knife. Use the best tool or machine for the job…especially if you happen to have it on the counter 3 feet behind you. Oh, gosh, she’s STILL beating. So silly.

She adds 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier liqueur. Hold your horses. I hate how she says liqueur. Dictionaries do say that Lick-Koor is acceptable, but to me when you have such an obviously FRENCH word, it shouldn’t be pronounced as if you lived the Bronx. (I can say that because I know some perfectly fine folks who grew up in the Bronx, including my twin brother.)

AND it really makes no sense for Giada, who spends much of her time getting every Italian syllable out perfectly. The correct way (to me) is more like Lick-Cure. Actually, in French it would be Lick – Cuh – EEUUURRrrrrrrr. The really funny thing is that my French is soooo poor (except for food or beverages), that I have no right to be giving diction lessons to anyone, least of all bi(multi?)lingual Giada...

That’s not the only problem with Grand Marnier, though. I can’t stand it when added to chocolate. Add it to the list of stuff I detest. I love it with fruit or probably any other way...just not with chocolate.

I know I’m in the minority. Go ahead and ruin your chocolate with orange li-cuh-ewww-rrr. I’ll be adding brandy to mine - a Courvoisier cognac. No, I’m not being a snob (this time). I use a tablespoon or so every couple of months, so it’s really not that much of a splurge.

You probably forgot, but she’s in the middle of her dessert torta recipe. She beats flour into the egg mixture. She folds in the crushed amaretti cookies and then the egg whites. She folds them in in several batches.

Whoa…hold on for a sec…I’m a little surprised at her technique here. I KNOW she learned to deal with egg whites a different way. I cannot think of an example where one would stray from the proper folding technique. The RECIPE is fine, it’s just the way she’s DOING it, that’s wrong.

First, you lighten the mixture by stirring in about a quarter of the whites. (The recipe on the FN website says one-third. Do a quarter.) Then you add the rest in one go (NOT several), and carefully and gently fold them in - with a cut and fold motion - turning the bowl as you go. A big spatula or metal spoon is good for this, never a wooden spoon, which can deflate the whites.

What did Giada do? She folded carefully enough, but she didn’t lighten the mixture and she did it in too many additions. She was fussing with them too much…kind of like how this explanation going. It took way too long.

She lines a 9 inch cake pan with parchment (waxed paper is acceptable) She “slides” the batter in and bakes the cake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes.

She moves on to the appetizer. You can see from the list of recipes that she’s making a "strata", but I didn’t have that handy when I was watching her.

She mixes 8 ounces of softened goat cheese with heavy cream. I thought she said ½ cup, the recipe says ¼, but, no matter, I don’t like that idea anyway of adding cream. What else could you add? I’ll have to think about it.

To make a flavored oil, Giada processes ¾ of a cup of basil with the same amount of mint (I might prefer all basil) and a bit of salt and drizzles in 1 cup of olive oil. She slices tomatoes (in the summer, use heirloom toms) 1/2 inch to ¾ inch thick. She puts the tomato slices on a plate and tops each slice with a dollop of the goat cheese. She seasons it and spoons the herb oil over. She tops it with toasted and chopped walnuts.

I think that’s a lovely dish, but what that has to do with a strata I have no idea. Isn’t a strata a baked egg and stale bread dish, often served for breakfast? I know there are all kinds of variations about what kind of bread to use, but in general it has plenty of eggs and is baked. This strata has none of those elements.

Giada takes out the cake and cools it. She spreads over a ½ cup of orange marmalade. Oy! Guess what I hate more than chocolate and orange together? Yup! Orange marmalade.

I can see how on paper the idea of marmalade sounded good. It echoes the Grand Marnier. It’s nice with chocolate (if you like that), and it’s a nice accent to the amaretti. Luckily for me, there are plenty of alternatives: raspberry jam, cherry jam or apricot preserves. To finish the cake, she crumbles some amaretti on top.

Dinner is served in a beautiful dining room. The “strata” is eaten. Then a solitary piece of asparagus lasagna – with NOTHING else - is served on each plate. It looks a little stingy, but I guess that’s how those California folks keep so trim. Dessert and coffee are served and all are happy. I would be too, except for the misnamed starter, the dry main course and the yucky dessert – all of which, happily, are easily fixed. But I still want to know where that store was; and how about thinning that goat cheese with sour cream and a smidge of lemon juice?


Emiline said...

Those California folks are skinny!

Nothing she made sounds terribly exciting to me. I'm confused about the strata. She needs to call it what it is.

I prefer basil over mint. Off subject, but, do you like cilantro?

You need to have your own show on The Food Network. Please? I'd watch it everyday.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I hate the choc-orange combo too, Sue!!!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

What Em said. Start your own cooking show.

I'm intriqued by a basil-mint combo actually. I'd try it at least once.

Why is Giada so obsessed with amaretti cookies?

Emiline said...

Also, Giada was on the Today Show, talking about girl baby names. Did you watch it? I get it wasn't that exciting.

Sue said...

Hi Em,
They ARE skinny and I still don't know why she called it strata.

I LOVE cilantro, but I was definitely in my 20's before I learned to.

I'll let the FN know...

I forgot one more thing I agree with you on. I also prefer vanilla to chocolate. I think it's a better test of a cook. EVERYTHING with chocolate tastes good. Vanilla is more complex.

Hi Rach,
I'll send the FN your name too, as one of my boosters.

You're openminded to try it once. I know I'd hate it.

She likes amaretti, because she can trill the r.

Yup. You inspired me to post all my latest Giada gossip.