Thursday, February 26, 2009

Angel Hair Pasta and Vegetable Ribbons

If there is one thing I've learned in cooking very esoteric French recipes the last two days is that the French have a weird thing about celery.
Last night I made a delicious vegetable and pasta dish from Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan's Cafe Boulud Cookbook that had some of the most random mind boggling preparation instructions I have ever seen. The first of which instructed me to peel four stalks of celery. Celery needs peeling? How does one even go about doing that? I refuse to believe that I'm the only person who has never heard of such a thing. Figuring the French must have very different celery and not seeing a celery peel in sight I moved on to the next step.
“Using a vegetable peeler, cut long ribbons from the celery by running peeler down the length of the vegetables. Don't worry if they're not all the same size—just try to keep the ribbons long and thin.” The thing that worried me was that when I held the celery over the bowl of water it was supposed to be shredding into the celery stalks kept breaking. All I was ribboning was my fingers. I made it through three of the stalks making very sad uneven stalks when the fella came home.
“Don't look I'm doing something very embarrassing,” I yelled running to the door with a vegetable peeler and slightly bruised fingers. One of the many reasons I keep him around is that he barely flinches at these almost daily declarations of near insanity that meet him at the door. He just gave me a kiss and probably let his imagine wander through the possibilities before he wandered into the kitchen a few minutes later.
He stopped in the doorway and raised and eye brow. I could tell he was trying to convince himself to just do dishes and not get pulled into my craziness. “Okay I gotta ask. What are you doing?”
“Making ribbons. I dunno it's French. This recipe is overwhelming me already. I don't know if I can do this.” I threw the remaining celery stalk on the cutting board and tried to avoid a mini cooking tantrum of frustration, the kind that tends to pepper my meal preparation when I'm making something new. This ribbon making thing seemed really unnecessary and was starting to get to me. I decided to take it out on the celery, I pinned it down to the cutting board and frantically took the peeler to it. To my great surprise beautiful even ribbons of celery started piling up. I guess amongst all the other steps Boulud didn't have time to add this helpful bit of ribbon making instructions.
Next I was to bruise lemongrass and bind it to cilantro. This was starting to get a tad kinky for pasta preparation but I followed all the seemingly random instructions none the less. I still don't know why the scallions needed to be cut on the bias or the shallots patted dry several times but I'm not a famous French chef so just barely kept myself from ripping out my hair as I did every little picky thing he asked. There was a fair amount of huffing and puffing and sighing during the ritual however.
The recipe instructions are semi out of order for a kitchen without a sous chef and for all the importance he places on exactly how to chop vegetables, once the food is in the pot he doesn't have a lot of advice about what is going on. Somehow I got the broth made, the pasta boiled, sesame seeds toasted, and shallots fried while everything was still hot even though Boulud's instructions were backwards as all hell. For example he didn't mentioned the sesame seeds needed to be toasted until the end of the recipe when I was supposed to be garnishing and all the dishes were already dirty.
Lucky for you I translated the recipe into something that makes a little more sense. There are a lot of ingredients that need a fair bit of attention and a lot of steps to get right or you end up with cold broth and pasta stuck together waiting for the shallots to finish browning. The important part is getting all the vegetables taken care of before beginning to cook anything, that takes away a lot of the frustration. And I hope I separated the steps out so that it makes easier to understand what needs to happen when. It seems a bit much but Boulud must have a reason for all of it because this is one of the best things I've taken the time to cook. It was filling, had complex textures, and was really flavorful.
This time I even think I got the wine right. Seven Daughters is a blend of seven white varietals from California. For a kitschy wine that's marketed towards being “the perfect girl's night out wine” according to their overly flashy wine site it had a rather intricate flavor.
It started out with a buttery chardonnay flavor with hints of honey and Riesling on the front of the tongue. Towards the back of the mouth the Sauvignon Blanc became out more and there was a bit of a pleasant green summer vegetable flavor that really brought out the leek in the pasta. All in all a decent white blend in the $10 to $15 price range though it wasn't my favorite, after one glass it all the competing varietals became cloyingly sweet. After all that aggravating recipe translation you better bet I earned that second glass and a goofy movie curled up with my fella and our pup.

Angel Hair Pasta and Vegetable Ribbons

4 stalks celery, trimmed
1 medium leek, white part only, quartered lengthwise and washed

1 one inch length of lemongrass, bruised
3 sprigs cilantro
small length of cooking twine

4 cups water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
7 ounces of mushrooms, trimmed and quartered (original recipe calls for enoki, I used white button mushrooms)
(original recipe also called for 16 shiitake mushrooms which I could not find in time to cook this meal)
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut on the bias in 1 inch lengths
1 tablespoon finely slivered ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ pound angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

2 medium shallots sliced very thinly with mandolin or sharp knife
2 tablespoons flavorless oil

1 lime
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves for garnish

Find a skillet, pot to boil pasta in, a small bowl, a large mixing bowl, and a soup pot. (The timing of the recipe gets thrown if you don't have everything out and ready to use as you need it.)
Using a vegetable peeler, cut long ribbons from the celery. (I found this was easiest by putting celery round side down on cutting board and peeling ribbons from the top edge. When I held the celery I ended up mostly peeling myself.) Put the celery ribbons and quartered leek pieces in large bowl and pour enough water in to just cover vegetables. Set aside for now as you cut up the rest of the vegetables.
Tie lemongrass and cilantro together using kitchen twine. Place in soup pot and pour in the 4 cups of water, soy sauce, mushrooms, scallions, and ginger. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Drain water from celery and leeks and place it in the pot you are going to boil pasta in. Add celery and leeks to broth along with sesame oil and red pepper flakes then simmer another 5 minutes. Start water boiling for pasta.
In skillet, put sesame seeds on medium heat to toast them. Agitate them regularly so that they don't burn. When toasted set aside.
While waiting for sesame seeds to toast and pasta water to boil, slice the shallot and place pieces in small bowl of cold water. When sesame seeds are finished wipe out the skillet. Put oil in skillet to heat up in order to cook shallots. About this time the pasta water should be ready so put pasta in to cook until just al dente. When oil is hot remove shallots from water and pat off with paper towels. Carefully toast shallots in oil until brown and caramelized. Remove from oil, pat off and set aside.
When pasta is al dente, drain it and divide it into 4 shallow bowls (or 2 bowls and save the other 2 portions for next day's lunch.) Squeeze lime into broth and stir briefly before ladling broth and vegetables over over the pasta. Top with fried shallots, cilantro and toasted sesame seeds.
Original recipe by Daniel Boulud

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