Wednesday, May 19, 2010

INJURY IN THE KITCHEN (Maggie's night to cook)

Tonight was Maggie's turn to take control of the kitchen and try her hand at a new recipe. Tonight's menu item was 'Orecchiette with cauliflower, anchovies and fried croutons' (Sans the anchovies because we're not really fans of small smelly fish in our pasta.) Without further ado, I'll turn the keyboard over to Maggie who will take you through tonight's culinary adventure.

The recipe: Orecchiette with cauliflower, anchovies and fried croutons 
Original recipe found in: Bon Appetit  (May 2010 Issue) 

What you'll need: 
1 large head of cauliflower 
8 tbs of extra virgin olive oil 
1 lb Orecchiette pasta 
1 1/2 cups croutons 
3 medium zucchini 
3 large garlic cloves 
7 anchovy fillets (chopped) 
1/2 cup parsley 
1/3 cup fresh parmesan cheese 
2 tablespoons Pecorino cheese 

Okay, first: Hi!  How are you??  Glad you can join us!

Typically, when I am going to make a recipe, I like to "study" it, look over the recipe several dozen times, just to make sure what I'm making, how much I need of all the ingredients, etc, etc.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to study my recipe during work lunch, so, I felt this recipe was a little rushed...and I'm a bit injured because of that, but more on that later.

The night before, I roasted a half a head of cauliflower - cut the head down to inch florets, tossed in a drizzle or two of olive oil with freshly ground black pepper and salt.  While I spread the cauliflower bits over a tin foil covered baking sheet, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees, and once preheated, I put the baking sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes.  The recipe called for 25, but once the lovely smell (and yes, I do mean that sarcastically,) of roasted cauliflower filled the air, I felt they were ready to be taken out of the oven.  I let the florets cool and stored them in the refrigerator.

Roasted (and slightly smelly) cauliflower 

I began the recipe by boiling a large pot of water - once that was boiling, I added the orecchiette pasta.  These little noodles were about a half inch diameter; small little guys...regardless it took the full 13 minutes, as directed per labelled instructions to cook.
orecchiette noodles 

Meanwhile, as the orecchiette cooked, I made my own croutons.  I took two slices of the white bread we had in the kitchen and cut them into half inch cubes.  I also preheated a pan with two tablespoons of olive oil and put the bread in.  Every 30 seconds to minute, I flipped the bread over to get a full golden brown color on both sides.  When the utensil I was using was not working the way I wanted to, I started to use my fingers to lightly flip the bread...which, apparently, was a bad idea...and thus, the lovely burn blister I sustained on my innocent finger.  I hope to make a full recovery.
Homemade croutons...pre crouton-ing 

Originally, this recipe called for anchovies, zucchini, parsley, and garlic.  We opted out of the anchovies and zucchini, because, well, we didn't like them.  We ran out of parsley and I forgot the garlic...oops...  Live and learn as an emerging chef, right??

The pasta was done cooking by the time the croutons were done.  I first ladled 1 1/3 cups of pasta water to be put in the dish later, then drained the rest of the pasta.  I quickly moved to remove the croutons from the heat to be put in a small bowl to be used later.  I rejoined heat and pan and another 2 tablespoons of olive oil to saute the cauliflower for five minutes.

Once the cauliflower was nice and toasty, I used the original pot that I cooked the pasta in to bring the cauliflower and orecchiette together.  With these, I added three tablespoons of olive oil, 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese, and two tablespoons of pecorino romano cheese.  I also seasoned it with freshly ground black pepper and freshly ground salt.  I then mixed the whole pot together and topped the whole dish with the croutons.
We now rejoin these ingredients, already in process 

And that was my version of Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Anchovies, and Fried Croutons.  I've never made a pasta without sauce before, but the cheeses blended quite perfectly to form a "sauce" of their own...and it was quite good.  Even though, it didn't turn out quite like I thought, it was still pretty tasty.
The completed dish

Thanks Maggie - We learned a lot tonight. As Maggie alluded to, the dish didn't really turn out like we had hoped. In fact, it was rather bland. In retrospect, we simply took out too many of the key ingredients to make this dish work. When we make another attempt at this recipe, we plan on making a few changes. First, substitute the anchovies for chicken. The dish really needs some form of meat, and chicken would be a nice addition to the orecchiette. Secondly, we would add the garlic and parsley, these are little additions that really would enhance the overall flavor of the dish. 

So, the dish didn't turn out and Maggie burnt her finger. Disaster night right? Well, not exactly. Nights like these are why cooking is really fun. We learned so much more tonight than we would have if the dish was a success. We learned that orecchiette is a very (VERY) bland pasta, it takes on the flavor of whatever it is being cooked with.  You simply cannot omit meat and spices and expect the noodles to be flavorful. They don't work that way. Secondly, pecorino romano cheese is a very soft cheese. You hardly notice its flavor at all in a dish. So, relying on it to be the sauce or to enhance the flavor simply doesn't work. It should still be there as it does give a nice balance to everything, but it needs to act as a assist - rather than the star of the dish. 

Tonight was a great learning experience, and we still ended up with an enjoyable dish. I take over cooking again tomorrow - so be sure to check back around the same time tomorrow night to see how everything worked out. Until then, thank you very much for reading and... 


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