Friday, May 1, 2009

Catching Up With The Contessa

I had quite a few Barefoot Contessa episodes to catch up on. Here are a couple of dishes from different episodes that she’s done recently, plus a recipe inspired by Ina.

Turn Up The Volume
Deeply Chocolate Gelato

Ina hates being away when Jeffrey is home, but some trips are unavoidable. She leaves him a pretty snazzy dinner – lobster pot pie* and salad, followed by an amazing looking triple chocolate gelato. WOW! He IS spoiled. I really hope he eats salad and steamed fish when he’s away from home.

2¼ cups of milk go into a pot with ½ cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of cream. She cooks it until the sugar melts.

Ina tells us that gelato means ice cream in Italian, but it’s usually more intensely flavored than our regular ice cream and she says it has pieces of whatever is flavoring it throughout. I thought the thing that distinguished gelato is that it has less air than typical American ice creams and, thus, is more dense. She’s says she’s also going to add pieces of Chocolate Baci to the gelato.

Ina adds one cup of “good” cocoa powder and 2 oz. of chopped bittersweet chocolate. Here, I WOULD chop it. If I'm melting it with butter, I don't bother. BTW, don’t use chocolate chips. Their stabilizers will prevent a smooth and creamy result. (I don’t really get that, but if the Contessa says to stay away from chips, then I will.) She pours the mixture into a Pyrex pitcher and cools it for a bit.

She separates 4 eggs, while telling us how she loves to look at the “gelato displays” with Jeffrey when they go to Italy. Jeffrey is such a cuddle-bunny, ANYTHING with him would be fun. With Ina too, of course.

Ina adds ¼ cup of sugar to the yolks and beats it until light and fluffy. She beats in the cooled chocolate mixture slowly and then pours it back into the saucepan and cooks it on low heat. (I ALWAYS rinse out my saucepan first, she doesn’t.)

Ina is worried about leaving Jeffrey the whole container of ice cream, which she thinks he’ll eat at the freezer door. That’s what the very back of the basement freezer is for. She cooks the chocolate custard until it’s nice and thick. Funnily, she doesn’t go into a lot of detail and this step is a bit tricky.

Whenever you’re making a custard, it should cooked low and slow, stirring all the time. Then there are 3 ways to know when a custard is done:
The foam on the top is gone.
The mixture coats athe back of a spoon.
Forget the first two (well, you should still know them) and just use a candy thermometer. The mixture should come to 180°F.

BUT remember things keep cooking even after the heat is turned off. 180°F means 180°F exactly, not more. So take it off the heat either the second it gets there or a few seconds before and pour it through a sieve it instantly, which Ina also does.

It’s hard sometimes to know when the custard is exactly done, so that’s why using a thermometer (which I learned from Craig Claiborne eons ago) is the way to go. I’m happy to see that she actually mentioned the thermometer in the recipe. She just didn’t say it on the show.

After sieving it, Ina adds some flavorings. She says chocolate can sometimes taste flat and she wants to brighten the flavor. (Oy, is she going to add salt?) She adds 2 tablespoons of coffee liqueur and 2 teaspoons of “good” vanilla extract and a PINCH OF SALT. (That was no PINCH and surprise, surprise, I’ll leave that out.) She puts a piece of plastic wrap right over the top to prevent a skin forming and then she chills it until it’s really cold.

She unwraps and chops 8 Baci and sets them aside. She pours the chilled mixture into the ice cream machine and switches it on. When the gelato is pretty thick, she adds the Baci and when it’s mixed well, she pours it into a quart container and puts it in the freezer. OMG, does that look unbelievably good. Ina thinks Jeffrey may want her to go away more often after he sees the dinner she’s left him. Let’s see if he actually eats anything before he samples the ice cream.

Jeffrey does as he’s told and eats the lobster pie first and only has one portion of ice cream. He hides it so she thinks he’s eaten the whole thing. Ina comes home and exclaims as she looks in the freezer. She figures it out pretty fast and admits the joke’s on her. C’mon, who doesn’t love a couple that plays food jokes on each other?!! How sweet is that.

Comfort Classics Closeup
Roasted Potato and Leek Soup
Herb Garlic Bread

Ina is taking classic recipes in this episode and updating them. She does her own spin on vichyssoise. Ina starts by chopping 2 pounds of peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, then she moves on to clean the leeks. She needs 4 cups. She slices them down lengthwise (not quite to the bottom) and then rinses them well under water to get rid of the sand.

I cut the tops off the leeks so they come to a point, as if I were sharpening a pencil. Then I cut them lengthwise in half before rinsing them to get the sand out.

Ina cuts off all the green parts and dices them into big pieces. Uh-oh Marty, guess what she’s going to do now?!! She’s going to ROAST the potatoes and the leeks. Ina tosses them with olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet and roasts them at 400°F for 40 to 45 minutes until tender. Then she adds 3 cups of arugula. THAT’S different. I’m not sure I’m going to like that. What if it ruins the soup? The reviews (all 3 of them) were very good.

Ina takes out the roasted vegetables. The arugula looks wilted and sad. She adds ½ cup white wine to the hot baking sheet and scrapes off the brown bits. She adds it all to the food processor. STOP RIGHT THERE! You can’t add potatoes to a food processor. They come out gummy. Oh my, I’m really nervous.

Ina processes the vegetables in 2 batches with chicken stock – 5 cups total. Gosh, it looks glumpy and kind of brown. Why not use the blender and get it smooth? Oh, she’s not done, thank goodness. She adds more chicken stock and ¾ cup cream (that improves the color) and 8 ounces of crème fraiche. Wowee zowee, that's almost Nine Hundred calories right there!

Ina thinks it needs more salt. Yeah, why not get your blood pressure up at the same time as you clog your arteries?

Ina moves on to make some crispy shallots to go on top of the soup. She adds 1½ cups(!!!) of olive oil to a sauté pan WITH 3 tablespoons of butter. She heats the pan on medium low and then slices 6 shallots into THIN rings.

The truth is that often the more oil you use, the less oil that’s absorbed. The food takes a shorter time to be cooked if it’s surrounded by hot fat. If the shallots are lollygagging around in a shallow pan with just a few tablespoons of oil, they can absorb much more oil than in a quick in and out of a deep fryer.

BUT it still gives one pause to use that much oil. At 220°F, she adds the shallots for 30 to 40 MINUTES!!! This recipe is full of eye-popping moments. She says to keep the temperature below 260°F. I thought she said to get to 220°F.

Ina removes the shallots from the oil with a slotted spoon and puts them on paper towels to drain. GREEN TIP WHEN FRYING: Put one paper towel over a stack of newspapers to drain the food. It saves scads of paper towels.

Ina is left with a measly amount of shallots. I might go to town and use TWELVE shallots
and then I might have some left for other things.

For the Herb Garlic Bread, Ina chops 6 cloves of garlic (I would remove the green center stem) in the food processor with ¼ cup parsley and a little fresh basil, salt and pepper. She chops, not purées. She adds that mixture to ½ cup oil and cooks it for one minute only.

Ina slices a loaf of French bread lengthwise down the middle and spoons on the yummy oil and bakes it at 350°F for ten minutes. (No foil.)

To the soup, Ina adds 2 tablespoons white wine and ¼ cup grated parm. She serves it up in bowls, garnished with the shallots and cheese. It IS fantastic looking. How could I doubt her? And I don’t think it would be a problem to leave out the cream or crème fraiche. And, of course, it would go in my blender, not the food processor.

With the gelato, as I said, Ina also made a Lobster Pie. (Sue me, if you want the word pot in there.) Do we care that this recipe is from 1999 and from her first cookbook – The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook? I don’t. Ina left out the bottom crust in this episode, which is fine with me.

Anyway, Ina inspired me to make a savory pie. I changed just about everything about her recipe, except I did use her rather large amount of flour and the same amount of some of the vegetables and it worked out well. But I did cut the butter by three-quarters to no ill-effect.

Chicken (Not Pot) Pie
(makes 5 individual pies)

2 tbls. butter
1 huge onion, chopped not too small
3 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into small pieces
1 large Yukon Gold potato, cut into large dice
1¼ lbs. uncooked chicken breasts, cut into ¾” pieces (see note)
½ cup flour
1 can stock made up to 2½ cups of liquid with milk
1½ cups frozen peas
1½ cups frozen pearl onions
a handful of parsley, chopped
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking pan with foil. Set out 5 two cup ovenproof bowls.

Melt butter in large saucepan. Stir in onion and carrots. Season with salt and sweat for five minutes. Stir in potato. Season more with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.

Add chicken and stir over medium heat for 4 minutes or until no longer pink. Stir in flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Stir in the 2½ cups of liquid gradually. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes until nicely thickened.

Stir in peas and pearl onions. (No thawing necessary.)

Stir in parsley.

Roll the puff pastry out just a bit. Using the ovenproof bowl as a guide, cut pastry rounds about ½ inch bigger than diameter of bowls. You may have to roll some scraps together. (Keep the scraps in long rolled out pieces as you piece them together, rather than balling them up…A tip from my buddy Tom via Rose Levy Beranbaum.)**

Brush egg around edges of each ovenproof bowl. Fill each ovenproof bowl with 1½ cups of filling. You may have some filling leftover to make an extra miniature pie. Place a pastry round on top of each bowl and press down around the edges.

Brush top with egg glaze and make slits in top crust.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes before serving.

NOTE: Use 4 cut-up cooked chicken breasts, if you like. Stir them in with the parsley.

*I have a confession to make. I hate the term pot pie almost as much as I hate the word supper. I call it a chicken pie. I admit that Lobster Pie does sound a bit weird, like someone substituted lobster for apples. But a pot pie, especially with an emphasis on the word POT, sounds like something you’d have for supper.

Tom, I know she wasn’t talking about puff pastry, but it still makes sense.


meleyna said...

I thought that soup looked fantastic, but took slight issue watching her with those leeks. I tend to rinse them thoroughly in my salad spinner insert, and then spin them dry. I especially would have done this if I was roasting, rather than sauteeing, as she was doing. It kinda defeats the purpose of roasting if you're throwing a big soggy mess into the oven.

Emily said...

OH man. Holy smokes does that chicken pie look good. I like that you lightened it. Is there anyway you can lighten a pastry dough? I've thought about it, but I guess you can't.

The chocolate gelato sounds fantastic! I don't know about the salt, though. Unless you were making some sort of salted caramel gelato.

Heavenly Housewife said...

I am a huge barefoot contessa fan. They have the show in England too. I have lots of her recipes bookmarked for cooking. So far I have made her chicken veronique (but a more healthy version) and her coconut cupcakes. She is fantastic. I adore her cooking and totally think Jeffery is a lucky lucky man. Beautiful job on the pie!!!

Sue said...

Hi Meleyna,
Wow, you're so good about cleaning and drying the leeks thoroughly! I know what you mean about the wet tangled mess, but they looked okay, didn't they? In fact, if anything, I thought they looked a bit scorched.

Thanks, Em!
Yeah, you can lighten a pastry dough if you want it to taste awful. She only used a top crust...that's a beginning. Another way would be to make a single pastry cut-out - in the shape of a lobster perhaps for her pie, or a chicken for mine OR maybe just a single big star. Place it on top of the filled bowl and bake. You still have a suggestion of a pastry top, but you're using tons less pastry.

Yup, let's skip the salt in the gelato.

Hi HH!
Thanks for the nice words. Ina IS the greatest. Lightening up her recipes is almost obligatory if you want to live to serve them another day.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I can vouch for the gelato recipe. I made it for Easter. Baci are my favorite candy ever, so it was a surefire winner. I didn't use a candy thermometer though. I had to trust my spoon. I also used that pinch of salt. *ducks and runs away*

What a beautiful pot pie (even with the peas :-D)

Sue said...

Hi Rach,
Oh I'm so glad to hear that about the gelato. I need to enlist someone to make that for me for Mother's Day. Guess what I'll be leaving out of the recipe?

It's funny, I almost forgot to add the peas. It needs them to look like the Swanson chicken pies of my childhood. (Oh, you'll HATE my quick tip for guacamole that I posted today. Sorry! Don't even read it.)

Tom said...

Hi Sue,

Too funny -- it's so true that you do have to lighten up a lot of Ina's recipes or just grind up the lipitor and add it as yet another "good" ingredient! I tried the Rose Levy Beranbaum "raft" method (piecing together scraps by laying them side by side and gently pressing them together) with all-butter puff pastry(it's too good to waste) and it works, it's just not as pristine looking as a fresh sheet. But the rustic look is good for these pies.

Thanks for the mention in the blog post!