We were privileged enough to host dinner for our friend's last Saturday before she returned to school for the spring semester. She is a vegetarian which in it's self is a big challenge for my bacon and sausage makes everything better attitude. But toss in the fact that she does not eat cheese and I was stuuuummmmped! So after losing at least three hours of sleep and then dreaming about bean sprouts and rhubarb stalks I finally had an epiphany. I woke up and scribbled down my ideas and only revised them ten or twelve times through out the day. F'ing veggie heads. Ok, I like a challenge. Like Iron Chef or Chopped style.
Yummy bites to start
1 butternut squash
1 head of cauliflower
1 white onion
2 bunches of spinach
white corn syrup (substitute agave nectar if you have it)
Preheat your oven to 350-375. Cut your cauliflower florettes off the head and toss in some olive oil. Put them in a baking dish and throw it in the oven. Peel the squash and cut the longer narrow end into 1 to 1 1/2 inch rounds. Scoop the seeds out of the bottom and cut into cubes. Put the squash in a glazed stone ware or glass baking dish. Drizzel some vegetable oil, corn syrup and a little molasses on the squash. Dust it with a little paprika, toss this together and put it in the oven. Poke some holes in the beets with a fork and drizzle some olive oil over them. Put these in the oven as well. Open a bottle of wine an pour yourself a glass. Roast all of these until they are soft all the way through when poked with a tooth pick. About 20 mins for the cauliflower, 30-40 for the squash, and an hour for the beets. Check them regularly.
Rinse the spinach strain or give it a ride in the salad spinner. Add some olive oil to a hot sautee pan and then add the spinach. Add salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Sautee until soft and wilted. Put the spinach in a tea towel and twist to squeeze out the water. Or you can press it through a strainer.
Making the gastrique:
Gastrique is a fancy pants French word for a sweet and sour sauce. The nice thing is they are really simple and make a nice addition to your meal and up your "cool" status with your friends. Most ask for wine but pomegranate juice is tannic and deep enough to stand on its own.
Add 3 cups of pomegranate juice and 2/3 cup of vinegar to a sauce pan over high heat. You can use white, red, or what ever you have on hand. Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool for a bit. Peel the skin off and cut into 1/2 in pieces. Add this to the liquid along with a good pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Bring this to a boil and then turn down a scooch. You want this to continue to bubble vigorously but not boil over. Keep and eye on this as it reduces by 2/3. Once it gets to a syrup like consistency remove from the heat and strain. Here is a link to a really good video that shows how easy this can be.
Sformato is an Italian side dish that proves that custard is not just for dessert. They super versatile and flexible. You will need little foil pastry tins, custard dishes, or a smaller disposable cup cake pan. Spray the inside or your cooking vessels with cooking spray. Scramble 4 eggs in a mixing bowl and add a pint of cream. Rough chop the spinach and add to the custard mixture along with a small handful of bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste. Fold this together and then pour it into your cups. The amount of restraint exercised to not add some parmesean cheese to this was monumental. Put your cups in a glass baking dish and add boiling water until it comes about half way up the sides of the cups. Carefully put this in oven. Cook these until they do not jiggle and tooth pick comes out clean. Flip the cups over and the lil buddies should pop right out
Mince half of a white onion and one shallot. Sautee this in olive oil with some minced garlic, salt, and white pepper until translucent. Add a pint of cream and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and reduce until 1/2 the original volume is gone. Add some chopped roasted garlic and hit it with your stick blender or pour it in a regular blender. Work it until it is smooth.
Brush some oil on a hot grill pan. Add the squash rounds and grill until marked turning a 1/4 turn half way through. Pour the cauliflower cream on the base of the plate and spread evenly by tilting the plate. Pop your sformato on one side and your squash on the other. Drizzle a little gastrique over the top and enjoy.
Oh, the starter was some grilled endive leaves with a little black olive and dried berry tapenade. I used nuts and dried berries as a filler since anchovies were out. I will post that one later.