Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pound it vigorously

Last night I had over for dinner Hung and Adam, two old friends whom I don't see very often anymore. I wanted to make something warm and inviting, typical of my cooking but not too pretentious, tasty but not overpowering, reminiscent of old times. I also decided to forgo potatoes because Hung was just getting back from a couple weeks in Bolivia, where, as a vegetarian, he was constrained to eating potatoes, spring squash, and quinoa, unable to partake in the daily feasts of guinea pig that he was forced to cook as part of his tour.

In the process of figuring out what to make, I was on facebook flipping through an old album of pictures of food that I've made--which is something that I do every three days or so anyway--and I noticed that Hung had commented on this year-old picture of fettucine with morels and English peas: "looks delicious!" And, hey, it kind of does, doesn't it? It's one of the better food pictures I've taken, even if I forgot to add the garnish of blanched pea shoots. So for this dinner I decided to make an updated version for May 2011, this one with some nameko mushrooms (I haven't been able to find morels at Berkeley Bowl yet this season and I'm praying I didn't miss them) and fava beans in place of the peas. That's how my brain works.

Here's what I did, with some help from Jeff and Hung:

1. Cooked some shallots, fennel, and mushroom stems over low heat for a few hours in olive oil until they were caramelized, then pureed them with a little more oil.
2. Blanched the fava beans in hot salted water and peeled them.
3. Seared the mushrooms in peanut oil, then added a little olive oil and cooked over low heat until it was all absorbed.
4. Toasted some whole buckwheat groats over medium heat.
5. Made pasta dough with just flour, water, and oil, rolled it out to thickness 5 in a pasta maker, and cut it into fettucine.
6. Cooked the fettucine for a few minutes while heating up the fennel puree in a large pan.
7. Added the fettucine to the fennel puree and tossed to coat while adding pasta water until the consistency of the sauce was right.
8. Added 3/4 of the mushrooms and fava beans to the pasta and tossed everything around to get it evenly distributed.
9. Put some pasta on each plate, then garnished with reserved fava beans on one diagonal, mushrooms on the other diagonal, and then black pepper, buckwheat, and chervil leaves right on the middle.

You may think that step 9 was a little OCD for a casual dinner with friends, but I'm happy to report that not only did Hung and Adam not notice that I was taking pictures of my plates in the kitchen before bringing them out, but also, Adam was inspired to take another picture of his plate before digging in. I think that's the first time that has happened, and it made me really excited because it's like... oh my gosh I am not crazy taking pictures of my food all the time other people actually do think these things I make are objectively beautiful sometimes. I was pretty proud. Granted, most the beauty may have come from some of the lovely square Vietnamese plates that Hung bestowed upon me, which are five or ten steps above the usual level of dishware that I normally use. But I think step 9 helped too.

In addition to the pasta I made a little soup of spring vegetables and some vanilla bean cookies. The soup turned out pretty well because I used Ad Hoc's little trick of fortifying the stock with caramelized onions and carrots, which make pretty much anything taste good. The cookies were a bit of a disappointment, not because they weren't tasty but because I used $5 worth of vanilla beans to make them, and they didn't have the sort of screaming vanilla intensity that you'd expect from two whole beans. I mean, I like vanilla--gelato where you can feel the grit of the beans on your tongue, morning coffee with milk and vanilla--but baked into these cookies, well, it just got lost in the butter.

All in all, though, everything worked out pretty well, and I'm pretty happy that I can throw stuff like this together in a few hours now! Barefoot Contessa PARTIES!


  1. That last picture is super artsy! I especially like that beautiful green plate.

    You always eat such healthy, fresh-sounding food. Either everything in Cali is better for you, or I'm just not making the right decisions about eating ;p

  2. yeah, it's a CA thing... out-of-season vegetables are against the law. your food on your blog looks great though! there's nothingg wrong with a mango daquiri or two once in a while.