Caesar salad with steak and blue cheese

Caesar reinterpreted

Originally appeared in the November 8, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

I realize there are more than a few conservative, culinary purists who would baulk at the liberal rearrangement of a traditional Caesar salad.  But hey, before you come to bury Caesar, at least give this week’s recipe a chance.  That being said, I am indeed one of the subscribers to this adage:  that the barometer for a chef’s skill should be the professional prowess of how they construct a classic Caesar.

The backbone of all noble Caesars is an emulsion essentially containing anchovies, eggs, oil, and parmesan cheese (and some additional seasonings).  The steak is solely employed to make this salad an entrée, and the additional elements—the egg, the tomato, and the haricot vert—well, they just sounded like they’d get along with the rest of the gastronomic gang.  And what’s that with two types of cheese?  Though I’d never have had the courage to tell one of my estimable chefs this, I have the guts to tell you, don’t sweat it.

And yes, I also realize that we’re ebbing away from salad season; but, like all the classics, we can always conjure an occasion to enjoy them.  And, like all the classics, we can always find an excuse for reinterpretation.

Caesar salad with steak and blue cheese

Serves 3 – 4

For dressing:

  • 8 – 10 anchovies (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 2 large, cage-free eggs, beaten
  • 3 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

For salad:

  • 20 ounces strip steak
  • 1 – 2 heads of romaine lettuce, cleaned, chopped into bite-size pieces, rinsed and drained.
  • 3 – 4 hardboiled eggs, chilled, cut into quarters
  • 4 – 6 ounces haricot vert (French green beans), blanched, shocked, chilled
  • As needed, cherry tomatoes, halved
  • As needed, crumbled blue cheese, for garnish

1.  For dressing:  mash anchovies and garlic together to make a paste.  Beat in eggs and lemon juice until smooth.  Beating constantly with a whisk, slowly add in olive oil to form an emulsion.  Add in Parmesan cheese and season to taste.  Place in refrigerator while you prepare remaining components.

2.  In a sanitized kitchen sink fill with potable water, rinse the chopped romaine and drain thoroughly; reserve in refrigerator.  Blanch green beans in boiling water, shocking afterwards in ice water to halt cooking process; drain and reserve in fridge.  Prepare hard-boiled eggs, peel and chill.  Season steak with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and in a sauté pan over high-heat, sear steaks on both sides.  When desired doneness is reached, place steaks on a plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for ten minutes before slicing.

3.  In a large bowl, toss romaine with desired amount of dressing.  Plate each serving with a mound of dressed romaine, and arrange haricot vert, eggs, steak, and tomatoes on top.  Garnish each salad with crumbled blue cheese.

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Prosciutto-wrapped tilapia

Cured pork + flaky fish = a tempting culinary equation

Originally appeared in the October 18, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

This is one of those recipes that might appear or even sound complicated; but please, dear reader, if this happens to be the case, perish the thought.   Just take a look at the ingredient list: 2 simple items along with a bit of seasoning—that’s it.

On the other hand, if I had to place emphasis, or at least a culinary caveat, with this dish it’d be in the execution.  You want to prep your roll in leisurely yet fastidious fashion, and make sure you tighten this device when rolling it in plastic (you can use your work counter to create traction which helps a great deal).  And take your time on searing the exterior.  You’ll want to be very aware of the heat of the pan; add a bit of vegetable oil to the hot sauté pan as a bit of insurance, because you want this delicious device to be crispy, not stick to the pan.

And when it comes time to slide it in the oven, don’t go overboard—in other words: fish cooks quickly, and it only takes a few minutes exposed to high heat to create a product that’s ready-to-eat.  Good luck, have fun, and see you next week.

 

Prosciutto-wrapped tilapia

Serves 3 – 4

  • 1 pound of tilapia fillets
  • 5 – 6 thin slices of prosciutto
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 375° F.  Slice fish lengthwise and place one piece on top of the other, anticipating a more rounded roll later.  On a clean work surface, unroll a sheet of plastic wrap.  Place four slices of prosciutto in a shingle pattern (staggered slightly to overlap) on plastic wrap, then place fish on top of prosciutto; wrap the prosciutto around the fish.  Use the sheet of plastic to wrap and tighten the stuffed breast.  Repeat steps for the second breast, and allow them to rest for a couple hours (this will firm them up a bit).

2.  In a large, oven-safe sauté pan, heat oil to medium-high.  Unwrap plastic from prosciutto-wrapped fish and place in pan, searing the wrapped fish on all sides until prosciutto is crispy before transferring the sauté pan to a 375° F oven for fifteen minutes (or until fish feels firm when pressed).  After removing from oven, allow fish roll to rest for about ten minutes before slicing and serving.

Sundried tomato lobster risotto

It’s okay to be selfish with shellfish

Originally appeared in the October 4, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love shellfish.  But a little bit goes a long way.  Give me a modest-sized yet high-quality disc of lump crabmeat formed into a crispy, golden cake and it’s aces in my book.  Then there’s the alternative: a hearty portion of a mostly-breaded concoction formed into a rubbery puck.  No thanks, friend.  What I’m trying to tell you is this: you don’t need to break the bank to impart all the hallmarks of high-quality ingredients—particularly lobster.

You only need a little lobster here.  (In fact, I’d rather have you focus on technique with the cooking of the risotto grains, but we’ll get to that in a second.)  We’re just looking to impart a little flavor and permeate this creamy dish with the distinctive aroma of lobster.  The sundried tomato adds a bit of tartness to counterbalance the sweetness from the lobster.

Now, back to technique.  If, while stirring your risotto, it seems as though your arm might fall off, you’re doing things precisely right.  This takes a little labor, but as I’ve said before:  it’s worth it.  And although it’s perfectly fine to be selfish with shellfish, don’t forget to share.

Sundried tomato lobster risotto

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, fine chop
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sundried tomato
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio or carnaroli rice
  • ½ teaspoon or to taste cayenne
  • 1/3 cup dry white vermouth
  • 6 ¼ cups shellfish, fish, or light chicken stock, simmering
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, quartered and seeded
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 cups cooked, coarsely chunked lobster
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil or dill

1.  Heat the oil and half the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook for several minutes until tender; add sundried tomatoes and cook until tender.  Add the rice and cayenne and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, until rice is translucent and coated with hot fat.

2.  Pour in vermouth (it will bubble and steam rapidly).  Stir continually until liquid is absorbed.  Add in a large ladleful (about 1 cup) of simmering stock, and continue to stir constantly until liquid has absorbed.

3.  Continue adding the stock, about half a ladleful at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next installment.  Never allow rice to cook completely dry.  This should take 20-25 minutes.  The risotto should have a creamy consistency and the rice should be tender, but firm to the bite.

4.  Stir in tomatoes and cream, and cook for a couple minutes.

5.  Add the cooked lobster with the remaining butter; add in chervil or dill.  Cook long enough to just gently heat the lobster.  Serve immediately.

Roasted corn and brie ravioli with sage and browned butter

A ravioli to rave about

Originally appeared in the April 12, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

To be quite honest, I considered taking a shortcut here, with the pasta.  In an effort to save you, dear reader, a step or two in this recipe’s execution, I tried tracking down fresh sheets of pasta that you could utilize for ravioli.  But then I realized: the time it takes to get your hands on a package of fresh pasta sheets, is time better spent in the comfort of your kitchen, happily knocking out batch after batch of homemade ravioli.  So, for the sake of time, let’s get to it, shall we?

Homemade ravioli is, to employ an overused word, easy.  All that’s required are four ingredients, a rolling pin (if you have a pasta machine, use that, but it’s not necessary), a clean counter, and some pastry cutters.  The technique to use is the “well method,” in which a small indention is made in a mound of flour; the egg mixture then gradually incorporates the flour.  Once you’ve accomplished a batch of this homemade pasta, you’ll be eager to experiment with your own fillings.  The combination of corn and brie was something I’ve tinkering with, but don’t be afraid to simply substitute with your own amalgamation of ingredients.  Just make it fun, filling, and fulfilling.

Roasted corn and brie ravioli with sage and browned butter

Makes approximately 12 – 14 ravioli

  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 ½ ounces bread flour (plus more for kneading and rolling)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 ears of sweet corn, peeled form husk and kernels sliced from cob
  • 6 ounces brie, cut into small cubes
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • As needed, toasted breadcrumbs and grated parmesan

1.  Using the “well method,” pour flour onto clean counter surface, and create a small indention; place eggs, oil, and salt in this indention.  Using a fork, swirl the liquid against the flour, slowly incorporating the flour to create a soft dough.  When it’s dry enough to be workable, knead the pasta dough for about five minutes until the texture is smooth.  Form dough into a rectangular shape, wrap tightly in plastic, and place in refrigerator to rest.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, toss corn kernels with a bit of olive oil (just enough to coat) and a pinch of kosher salt.  Place aluminum foil on a sheetpan, spray with nonstick cooking spray, and pour kernels out evenly.  Place in oven and roast until kernels have gained golden color (about 15 minutes).  Remove corn from oven and place in bowl to cool; when cooled completely, add in cubed brie and basil.  Set aside.

3.  Remove pasta from plastic and cut in half, rewrapping the other half and setting aside.  Dust clean work surface with a small amount of flour, and lightly dust a rolling pin.  Maintaining the rectangular shape of the pasta, roll dough out into a long, thin sheet, rotating and flipping sides as you go.  Once the pasta is very thin, add a small spoonful of filling to bottom half of the dough, allowing enough room at the top to fold the pasta over the filling (sort of like a pasta sleeping bag).  Use a bit of eggwash (just a broken egg) to trace around the filling (this will act like glue).  Fold top portion of dough down over the bottom, allowing for a small amount of space around the circumference of the filling.

4.  Use your fingers to squeeze out any excess air, and use round pastry cutters to cut out the ravioli.  Set completed ravioli aside.  Once one batch is ready (about 6 at a time), gently drop into salted boiling water and cook for about 3 – 4 minutes.  Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Allow butter to gain some browned color.  Use a slotted spoon to remove drained ravioli from water, and place pasta into sauté pan with browned butter.  Add in sage and toss to coat ravioli.  To garnish, sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs and parmesan.