11/17/2009

Panko Breaded Asparagus with Pecorino Romano and Thyme

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I picked up some nice asparagus at the fruit market and was wondering what to do with it when I realized I had panko breadcrumbs left over from the family vacation that I hadn't used yet. My mom usually uses them for breading shrimp, but I thought panko breaded asparagus would be something new and worth trying. Panko breadcrumbs are much "fluffier" and have more crunch than traditional breadcrumbs since they are made from crustless bread. This was my first attempt at panko-ing anything, and I thought it turned out quite well. The asparagus was fully cooked inside (maybe a little too soft, I might turn up the heat next time so the breading cooks faster), very tender and the rich earthy flavor came through nicely with the crunch of the panko. Also I enjoyed the sensation of eating something panko-ed with thyme and a strong cheese, as opposed to traditional Asian-style accompaniments.

Panko Breaded Asparagus with Pecorino Romano and Thyme

1/2 bunch asparagus (8 to 10 spears)
1 c Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 c flour with sprinkle of salt
1 egg
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprig of fresh thyme
1/4 c Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. Cut off ends of asparagus spears and wash. Prepare 3 shallow bowls or plates: one with beaten egg, one with tempura flour, and one with the breadcrumbs.
  2. Meanwhile fill a large saucepan with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil over medium-low heat. The oil is ready for frying when a piece of breadcrumb sizzles and turns golden brown after a minute or two.
  3. Dredge the asparagus first in the flour, then egg, and lastly in the breadcrumbs. Drop in the oil and fry on one side until golden brown, then same for the other side. This shouldn't take more than a few minutes on each side. Then place them on a plate with paper towel to collect excess oil.
  4. After doing this for all the spears, arrange them on a plate and season with pepper, more salt if necessary, red pepper flakes, grated cheese, and fresh thyme.

Next up: An ice cream for autumn!

11/05/2009

Warm Confetti Potato Salad

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As I noted in a previous post on brussels sprouts, Russ Parsons has dug up some interesting facts about the vegetables we eat every day. This time, about potatoes, he writes: "Tubers reproduce asexually. As every elementary school science student has learned, if you cut a potato into pieces and sow them in the ground, each piece will grow a plant exactly like the one you started with (they are true clones)." How creepy! Although potatoes do tend to have an alien look about them sometimes, with their amorphous figures and eyes that stare. Kind of reminds me of the cover of this old Stephen King book of short stories my parents had with the drawing of a hand with eyes all over it.

Besides these downsides, they are delicious cooked in every which way, and come in so many great colors and shapes. I bought a baby potato medley and thought I would try my own take on a simple recipe by Parsons. You don't have to use the fancy colored potatoes (although they certainly look beautiful), but make sure to use waxy potatoes for this recipe, not starchy potatoes. According to Wikipedia, "For culinary purposes, varieties are often described in terms of their waxiness. Floury, or mealy (baking) potatoes have more starch (20-22%) than waxy (boiling) potatoes (16-18%)." Russets are known as baking potatoes, and their plentiful starch cells absorb water when cooking and separate, leading to fluffy potatoes. Also that's why you see russets specified often in recipes for gnocchi, since you want that lightness of the dough. Waxy varieties (I assume all the potatoes in my medley were waxier than russets) have less starch and tend to hold their shape better during cooking.

Warm Confetti Potato Salad

1/2 lb confetti potatoes (I used a mix of baby Yukon Gold, Purple Peruvian, and Red La Soda potatoes)
1 Tbsp butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cut potatoes (skin on) into small cubes, about 1-2 cm a side. Steam until easily poked with a fork, while still retaining their overall shape (about 15-20 minutes). Meanwhile in a bowl, combine butter, mustard, and cumin.
  2. When potatoes are done, add them to the bowl directly from the steamer basket and mix everything until potatoes are well-coated. Salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle rosemary on top and serve.
A two-step recipe, an amazing first for this blog, especially with the lengthy souffle recipes of late. Simple, yet delicious--the butter and starchy water from the steamed potatoes forms a sort of thickened base that reminded me of a sticky potato salad. Hence the name, but I definitely prefer this side warm rather than cold. I tried both, but I thought the warmth went better with the spice of the cumin and mustard, which I felt became rather muted straight out of the fridge. A very "cozy" tasting dish, highly recommended as a simple winter side.

Next up: Something panko-breaded!

11/02/2009

Butternut Squash Souffle

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In my last post, I learned a valuable lesson regarding why my previous souffle had fallen. The main gist: I didn't allow the souffle to cook long enough, which prevented the egg white proteins from fully denaturing and reforming a cage-like structure, and thus causing the top of the souffle to fall without sufficient structure below to hold its weight. With this in mind, I decided to make a Thanksgiving themed souffle using butternut squash (although pumpkin could easily be substituted) and spices.

Butternut Squash Souffle

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and roasted (for instructions go here)
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c whole milk
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/4 c sugar, plus extra for dusting the ramekins
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Splash of vanilla extract
Butter to grease the ramekins
  1. Puree butternut squash with blender and set aside to let cool.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat cream, milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla to a simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Add a cup of the hot cream mixture very slowly into yolks while continuing to whisk. Then add yolks and cream back to saucepan and keep stirring over low heat. Mixture should thicken in a few minutes, then turn off heat and incorporate into squash puree.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, making sure the rack is near the bottom. Place a baking sheet in the oven. Butter your ramekins and dust the insides and rims with sugar.
  5. Then take egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk until glossy. It should form stiff peaks when you remove your whisk from the bowl, and should be able to hold the weight of an egg. Use a spatula to combine the egg whites scoop by scoop into the squash mixture, making sure they form a fully homogeneous mixture, but do not overmix.
  6. Carefully scoop your mixture into the ramekins up to the rims. Bake on lower rack for about 25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. They should rise, but with firm tops and jiggly centers. Makes about 4 souffles (or one large one if you wish).

To tell you the truth, I still messed up in the end! I undercooked the souffle (but this time less so), as you can see from the photo above. The tops are not golden brown, so if you replicate this dish, leave them in for longer. These souffles did deflate slightly, but only after several minutes, instead of right after removing them from heat as with the black tea souffle, and not to the same extent. So I have yet to master the souffle as some people have, but I suppose I'm on the right track. The flavor itself was delicious, very reminiscent of pumpkin pie, but with such an airy and feather-light texture. I could easily see this as either a side dish (you could cook it in a large casserole dish) or a dessert alternative to traditional pumpkin pie.

Next up: A super simple side!