Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to make a cream sauce with no flour and lots of flavor

Yes, it's sometimes going to be a long time between posts. And I mean a loooong time. Sorry 'bout that. Also? This is totally not one of those healthy-eating posts, in the sense that even reading about this quantity of butterfat might just raise your cholesterol about 10 points. But there is some pretty good nutrition here, too, and it's not like I'm suggesting we eat this way every day.

When I was a graduate student in Chicago, I worked at a cafe in Rogers Park called Ennui Café. One of my coworkers was a culinary student who told me her approach to cream sauces: instead of starting with a roux, start with equal parts heavy cream and white wine, and reduce it down about 50%. Finding myself with some extra cream on-hand after making ice cream (more on that later), I decided to give it a try. Another person I met recently had a good rule of thumb for vegetarian meal-building: "a grain, a green and a protein," so I added canned navy beans and frozen, chopped spinach. Knowing that (a) vitamin C increases iron absorption from leafy greens and (b) tomatoes are yummy, I added some canned crushed tomatoes.

I'm still doing my best to use local ingredients, but since I spent most of last summer scuba diving instead of prowling farmers' markets and putting up veggies for the winter, there are a lot of supermarket goods in this one.

By the way, I've decided that there is no point in eating any brown rice pasta other than Tinkyada, ever again. Fin.

Brown Rice Fusilli and Navy Beans with Spinach-Tomato-"Atwell's Gold" Cream Sauce
makes 2-3 servings

2 c. light or heavy cream
2 c. white wine (I used Newport Vineyards Pinot Grigio)

Combine in a medium saucepan over medium heat and simmer to reduce. This will take bloody forever. Try being braver than I was, and turn up the heat a little more to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, put a pot of water on to boil for pasta, and ...

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic (or less, if you're not quite as insane for garlic as I am)
1 c. canned navy beans or cannelini, drained and rinsed
generous pinch of salt
1/2 c. canned crushed tomatoes, lifted out of the sauce with a fork to get as high a tomato:sauce ratio as possible
2 c. frozen spinach

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, then crush and add the garlic. Stir for a few minutes until garlic is fragrant and a little bubbly. Stir in beans and salt and cook for about five minutes to allow the starchy beans to soak up the flavors. Mix in tomatoes to deglaze pan and stir until warm. Add spinach and sauté, stirring occasionally, until warm and well distributed, then set aside.

When the pasta water is boiling, check to see whether the cream mixture is at least down to 2 1/2 cups volume. If not, turn the water to low or off and wait. Once it is, ...

2 c. (dry) brown rice fusilli or other short pasta (penne, etc.)

Add to rapidly boiling water along with a generous amount of salt, at least a couple teaspoons. Stir for the first couple minutes, then occasionally until desired tenderness. Drain, rinse and return to pot and toss with spinach mixture, and set aside.

When sauce is reduced to 2 c., reduce heat to low and start adding cheese:

1/2 c. freshly grated Atwell's Gold, asiago or pecorino romano cheese, plus additional for serving

Over low heat, add cheese a small pinch at a time, stirring after each addition until completely incorporated. When all cheese has been added, pour cheese sauce over pasta and spinach and combine over low heat, stirring gently until warmed through.

Serve in a warmed pasta bowl, topped with additional cheese and freshly ground pepper. Mwah!

** If you're dining alone, you can eat possibly deliciously for two nights! The whole thing might reheat well, but I didn't try it. What I did do was the following: Boil only 1 c. pasta and shred only 1/4 c. cheese (+ a little). When the spinach is all thawed and distributed, put half the mixture in a lidded container and refrigerate. When the cream mixture is down to 2 c., put 1 c. in a separate lidded container and refrigerate that, then proceed as above.

When it's time for leftovers, start the pasta first and shred the cheese while waiting for the water to come to a boil. As soon as the pasta's in the water and boiling happily, start warming the cream concoction over low heat. It will look like it's separating and bad things are happening, but I promise it's fine; I just did it. The pasta should be done just before the sauce is warm enough to add the cheese; drain, rinse, and return the pasta to the pot along with the cold spinach mixture. Heat the two together over low heat. Next, start adding the cheese to the sauce, slowly as above. As soon as all the cheese is in, pour this over the pasta mixture and heat thoroughly.

And about dessert ...

I'm feeling downright smug, because I succeeded in making tartufi, or scoops of ice cream encased in a coating of chocolate so that they look like big truffles. I used David Lebovitz's recipe for Chocolate Ice Cream, Philadelphia Style, and his recipe/instructions for tartufi (except that I substituted brown rice syrup for corn syrup because corn syrup makes me cringe), and it was downright easy. Using my brief training as a helper at the now-defunct Ursula's, I drizzled them with white chocolate (which I thinned with whole milk, which I'm not sure was a good move but it made it drizzlable). And then served them over a small pool of raspberry sauce à la Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Plus, I made moose-munch-only-it's-not-moose-munch-because-that's-a-copyrighted-name from Patrick Evans-Hylton's Popcorn book, again substituting brown rice syrup for corn syrup and also mixing unsweetened chocolate about 50/50 with the milk chocolate for a richer flavor. I got a Whirley-Pop recently, and have been giving it a real workout because I loooooove popcorn. I was feeling very intimidated by toffee-involved recipes, and this was messy but overall pretty easy. And it made a lot.