Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ina Goes Fruity

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Something’s not the same about the Contessa. I noticed it the second her show began. What is it? Oh! Her bangs are different. Did she even have bangs before? I just looked at tons of her shows that I have recorded and, yes, she always had bangs, but these are not the same. There seems to be more of a center part, and...NOW I KNOW WHAT IT IS. She has a lot more coppery highlights in her hair. They look good. It freshens up her whole look.

Ina tells us that she likes to take ordinary ingredients and make something special out of them, like apple chutney. I use chutney by the bucketfuls, so I’ll be happy to have a good new recipe.

What do I use it for? I serve it alongside just about any rice or pilaf dish. I marinate and cook chicken in it. You can have it on a turkey sandwich (so good!) or make a quick spread by mixing chutney with some mayo. Or add chutney to any barbecue sauce for a slightly different spin. (I also love to add fresh mango too. Yum!) And it’s pretty great with brie. You can either serve it alongside the cheese or cut the top rind off and spread it on top. Warm it just for a few seconds in the microwave.

Ina chops up lots of peeled and cored Granny Smith apples and adds them to a big pot with 1 cup of onions and 2 tablespoons minced ginger, which makes the chutney spicy. She adds a cup of fresh OJ.

All the ingredients that Ina is using are everyday ones that are easy to find, but she’s using many little appliances in the kitchen that folks may not have - she chopped the ginger with a mini food chopper, she squeezed the orange juice with a small electric juicer.

Into the apples, she stirs in 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of brown sugar. Isn’t that a lot? She spices it up with 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds (hers were yellow), ¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes and 1½ teaspoons of salt. I’d start with ½ teaspoon…or even none. 

Ina brings the mixture to the boil and simmers it uncovered for 50 minutes, stirring it occasionally. At the end, off the heat, she adds raisins. Ina says it will last for 2 weeks in the fridge. (Just be sure not to double-dip with your tasting spoon.)

Ina shows us two ways to use it. Oh goodie, I wonder what interesting things she’s going to do. She takes really good quality aged cheddar and places it on a plate with crackers, apricots and the chutney. Next she says to serve a rotisserie chicken with the chutney. She says it “wakes up the flavor of the chicken”. Those were kind of my ideas too, but did mine sound as boring and basic as hers?!! Sorry if they did!

Next Ina goes to Citarella to buy some fruit. It’s a shame she couldn’t have highlighted a local farm stand. Oh, she’s buying green grapes. I don’t think they grow those in the Hamptons. Then she starts talking about random dishes which use random fruits. This is weird. She lists loads of fruits and names all the dishes she ISN’T making.

Ina moves on to a wild rice salad, which she admits is from the 70’s. I guess everything that’s old becomes new, or something like that. (I might modernize it by mixing the wild rice with some of the wonderful rices we have available now, like my fav – forbidden rice...or red rice. Heck, you could even mix wild rice with quinoa, which I don’t hate quite as much as I used to, and barley.) This reminds me of that fabulous grain salad from Food52.

Ina cooks wild rice in lots of boiling salted water for 50 minutes and drains it. Then she puts it back in the empty pot, covers it and lets it sit off the heat for 10 minutes to finish steaming. That’s like her method for potatoes, where she has them sit in a colander covered with a dish towel to finish cooking. I use a pot instead of a dishtowel.

Ina starts adding ingredients to the cooked wild rice – 2 oranges, segmented, 2 tablespoons GOOD olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh OJ, 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar and ½ cup seedless green grapes, halved. “We’re almost there”, Ina assures us, in case the list of ingredients is getting too onerous. She also adds ½ cup pecans, toasted for 5 or 10 minutes, ¼ cup dried cranberries and 2 tablespoons chopped white and green scallions. Don’t chop them too tiny, she says, you want to see them. This IS looking good. Ina adds salt and pepper. (She likes wild rice with plenty of pepper.)

Ina says they used to make this in the store a lot and it’s great for buffets because it’s best served at room temperature. “Make it in advance and it just gets better and better.”

I made mine with wild and brown rice.
Next, Ina’s friend, Laura Donnelly, a pastry chef, is with her. She’s making a frozen French nougatine. What does that have to do with fruit? Oh, she’s serving it with a raspberry sauce. Isn’t that cheating on the theme just a little bit?

While Laura beats egg whites, Ina macerates fresh raspberries in framboise for 20 minutes.

Laura whips 1½ cups of cream with one cup of sugar (!!!) and vanilla. She turns up the mixer SUPER HIGH and covers the whole thing with a dishtowel “so you’re not wearing it,” Ina says. Ina tells Laura that if you overwhip cream, you just stir in an extra little splash of cream and it will come back. Laura says she never knew that. I find that hard to believe.

Ina folds the egg whites into the cream. Ina doesn’t say this, but she doesn’t beat in a quarter of the egg whites initially to lighten the mixture, because she’s folding them into whipped cream, so you want to use a light hand throughout the mixing.

They’re adding pistachio brittle to the nougantine. I like that! Laura roasts 4 ounces of shelled pistachios (shelling pistachios is the hardest thing) at 300°F for 10 minutes. She pours them onto an oiled sheet pan. Then Laura makes a caramel with 3 tablespoons of water and 4 ounces of sugar. She cooks it to a light amber and pours it quickly over the pistachios. She gives it a quick shake to cover as many pistachios as possible.

What does all this have to with fruit? Although it is interesting… 

Laura chops the pralines and says you can make them with macadamia nuts and also use other fruits like mango or passion fruit in the dessert. She folds the chopped pralines, brittle - whatever you want to call it - into the egg white mixture. Ina spoons it into a loaf pan covered with plastic wrap. Yum.  

Laura says to freeze it overnight or for 8 hours. Ina doesn't want to wait that long to taste it. Luckily, Laura knew who she was dealing with and she brought another one.

For the sauce, Laura adds 6 cups of fresh raspberries into the processor with ½ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon lemon zest. That’s so little, why bother? She pureés it and then strains it. Ina asks if she can finally try it. They unmold the nougantine. Ina centers it on the platter and cuts a few slices for a nice effect. They spoon the macerated raspberries down one side of the frozen loaf and the raspberries sauce down the other. Ina says it’s been a very fruitful day.

This nougatine recipe reminds me of an ancient recipe in “From Julia Child’s Kitchen”. It was for a Bombe Glacée, in which Julia made the same basic mixture as Laura's of whipped cream and egg whites, but her egg whites were made into an Italian meringue (made with sugar syrup, instead of the usual plain sugar). The recipe was for a vanilla AND a chocolate version and you lined a metal mixing bowl first with the vanilla and froze that. Then you added the chocolate mixture into the middle and froze it all and then unmolded it. It was so pretty when you cut it. This pistachio nougantine would make a wonderful bombe, maybe with coffee ice cream as the second flavor.

This fruit-filled episode had some good moments, but I’m wondering if this was all a bit too simple. I know we want straightforward “How easy is THAT?” recipes, but is cooking apples down with spices and mixing rice with a bunch of stuff a little too easy? The nougantine (although not the first thing I think of in the fruit category) is definitely something worth trying. The addition of the pistachios is a great idea and the fact that it doesn’t freeze rock-hard solid makes it easy to serve.

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