Recipes. Technique. Ingredients. What’s your passion?

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

If you’re Nigella Lawson, your passion is recipes. If you’re Jacques Pépin, your passion is  La Technique. As for me, my passion is ingredients.

I love running nutrition stats and I love ingredient drill downs. But most of all I love the down and dirty work of sourcing ingredients. Shopping farmer’s markets. Exploring new neighborhoods. Trying new products. Poking around or getting lost or discovering something unique that’s real and wonderful I’ve never tasted before.

Over the last six months I’ve been experimenting with naan pizza. Since every time I make it, the ingredient list is a little different, writing a recipe seems pointless. Who know if this most recent version will continue to work. For the moment however, the ingredient selection appears to be fairly stable.

Rather than making my own pizza dough or buying it frozen, I use an Original Naan. Pictured above is the regular naan, but my preference is whole wheat when it’s available.

Next comes a layer of Traditional Basil Pesto. Not just any old pesto, but my favorite brand of Italian imported pesto with 43% basil by weight as per the label. Less salt, more basil. I’ve never seen pesto listed in any recipe for naan pizza or any other kind of pizza but I like the taste. Guess it’s okay to claim the addition is my own creation.

After the pesto, I add a layer of tomato sauce. I’ve started making my own with peeled plum tomatoes or pelati. Made the sauce last weekend by sweating a base of onion, carrot, and onion in olive oil than adding one 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. I don’t add salt. Not because I have anything against salt but because I love flexibility. Meals should be salted to taste and the tomato sauce will be used in different preparations.

Next is sliced red onion followed by freshly made mozzarella. I use unsalted baby bocconcini which I buy them from my favorite Italian green grocer. I don’t know where he sources them but I’m sure they are made locally. I always buy them the day I’m going to make naan pizza because they are a freshly made product not a processed food with an extended shelf life.

The rest is easy. Heat the pizza stone. Cook the pizza till done in a very hot oven. Eat and enjoy.

Now a final word on salt. The naan is salted as is the basil pesto. Both are processed foods and are salted as per the formulary during the manufacturing process. And it’s enough to please my palette so I don’t add any additional salt.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love salt. Salt to taste is the rule in my kitchen. But salt should never be a substitute for an array of robust flavorful ingredients like the ingredients I’ve chosen for the pizza. Aromatic basil from the pesto. Robust flavorful acidity from pelati. Soft sweetness from red onion. Creamy fatty smoothness from freshly made baby bocconcini. Each ingredient makes its own unique flavor contribution.

My naan pizza is so full of complex flavors and textures, all I need is enough salt to enhance all that diversity. But if your taste is different, please add more salt.

NB: Certain brands are referenced in this post. Please not however the post is not sponsored by anyone. Brands are referenced because I like them and they work better than their competitors in my culinary judgment.

Classic Risotto

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Good risotto requires three essentials – time, patience, and a healthy dose of respect for ingredients.  The last risotto I made was at Thanksgiving.  My brother in law, an aspiring amateur, volunteered me.  He had crafted a non-conventional spread, got caught up in other preparations, and asked me to give him a hand.  All the right stuff was assembled and my job became the time and the patience part.    Once you get the hang of making risotto, you really do not need a recipe because much of the work is coaxing the rice into absorbing just the right amount of broth then stirring in some more cheese and butter.

The process is straightforward.   Melt about half the butter in a pan, stir the rice into the melted butter, let it sizzle softly, start adding broth little by little until at the end the broth is absorbed and the rice is cooked just al dente.  Incorporate the rest of the butter and cheese.  Serve immediately.

When one of the essentials is missing, you get a bad risotto.  Not enough time.  Not enough patience.   Or insufficient respect for the integrity of the ingredients.  My first risotto was not all that good, but with practice you get the feel of it and with each repetition, the risotto gets better.

Classic proportions for four people as listed in my favorite Italian recipe source, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane: Quarta Edizione 1976, are as follows:  400 grams rice, 100 grams butter, 1 ½ liters stock, 80 grams parmigiano.  Optional ingredients:  medium onion, olive oil, white wine, saffron, salt, and pepper.   Translated into common American measure:

2 cups short grain rice, measured dry

               7 tablespoons unsalted butter

               6 cups chicken or beef stock

               1 cup grated parmigiano

Now, you may be asking, what has to be done to a sumptuous, sinfully delicious dish like risotto to make an ugly risotto?  Let me explain.

Way back in 1997, as New York City restaurants were expanding their portion sizes and Americans were expanding their waistlines, four nutrition professionals and an intrepid food writer at The New York Times conducted a calorie counting experiment.  The original article is still available at the Times website “Losing Count of Calories as the Plate Fills Up” and that is where I found it recently.

The purpose of that article was to highlight expanding portion sizes in restaurants.  The signature dish was a risotto, which laboratory analysis determined contained 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat.

Under the most benign conditions, risotto is certainly not what you would call a light dish.  Just check out the nutrition numbers below for a classic portion.  Good risotto needs the right amount of butter and cheese to make it decadently delicious.

So I said to myself, what would you have to do to classic proportions to get 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat?  Classic proportions by weight are consistent no matter which source you choose, so establishing a ratio is relatively easy.  Ratios work by weight, so bear with me and we will walk through the weights together.

The ratio of rice to butter for the classic version is 4 to 1.  In other words, four parts rice to one part butter plus the handful of cheese.  In metric units, that is 400 grams rice to 100 grams butter.  Or in common measure about 2 cups rice to 7 tablespoons butter.

It actually took me a while to retrofit the ratio to yield 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat.  When I finally succeed, there was a lot more fat and a lot less rice.  The calories from fat go from 44% for the classic risotto to 77% for this risotto.  Starting with the same 400 grams / 2 cups rice, the butter needs to be increased to 600 grams.  That is 43 tablespoons or 1 ⅓ pounds.  Plus that handful of cheese.  And who knows what kind of fat the restaurant used?  Fresh unsalted butter?  Margarine?  Fats of unknown origin?

So how did it taste?  To my great disappointment, not one of the nutrition professionals or even the intrepid food writer commented on how this risotto tasted so we will never know.  What we do know, however, is that whatever this risotto was, it was not classic.  I love butter.  And I love cheese.  But too much of a good thing can get ugly and that is why I decided to call this risotto ugly.   So back it goes filed under nutrition in the archives of the New York Times.  I plan to stay with a small portion of my decadently delicious and very good classic risotto.

 

One Portion Classic Risotto,  about 1 ½ cups (364g):  Calories 530, Fat 26g, Saturated Fat 16g, Sodium 370mg, Carbohydrate 59g, Fiber 2g, Protein 13g.
One Portion Ugly Risotto, about 2 ½  cups (640g):  Calories 1280, Fat 110g, Saturated Fat 70g, Sodium 350mg, Carbohydrate 55g, Fiber 2g, Protein 12g.

Camembert Cheese and Apples

We all love cheese.  But it is the French who have mastered the art of serving cheese and setting it within the structure of a meal.  Try serving cheese accompanied with fruit after the meal instead of a dessert.  Most people do not complain and for those who do, just serve a “real” dessert too.  If you have never tried, you may find cheese is more satisfying at the end of a meal than something sweet and syrupy.  Cheese is fun to experiment with.  Most people quickly determine which types they like and which types they can do without.  Each cheese has its own unique character and its own finite shelf life.  A hard cheese like parmiggiano or aged cheddar will keep months as long as it is stored correctly.  A fresh cheese like goat should be eaten relatively quickly.  A camembert will keep a while.  The delicate aromas and textures of cheese are enhanced when served at room temperature, so remove cheese from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.  Pictured below is the local Hudson Valley Camember cheese (5.6 ounces/156g) I picked up at my Greenmarket. Hudson Valley Camembert & ThinCrisps

one camembert cheese       6-8 ounces (150g-250g)

cost $7.00 – $10.00

calories depends on size

serves 6 to 10

140 calories per serving

 Green Apples Fall

Pictured here on the left are the green Pepin apples I also picked up at the Greenmarket.   Thin crispbreads, water thins, or a good baguette are a must.  Crispbreads or water thins are my preference because they provide a surface for tasting and savoring cheese but are less calorie dense than bread.  A plain wooden board makes the best serving plate.  The best garnish is an attractive cheese knife.

RECIPE

camembert cheese, count 1 ounce (25g-30g) per person

box of crispbreads

crisp fall apples, count 1/2 apple per person

METRICS

Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, but is also high in butterfat and for sodium for some people.  See nutrition information for fat content.  So here is the question — can we eat our cheese and be healthy too?  Guess the answer to this one has got to be it depends …

A serving of cheese on my plate is about an ounce or 25 to 30 grams.  Small is beautiful!

Comparing my cheese plate to the calories in an equivalent dessert say a piece of cheesecake, the camembert does well.  A classic restaurant style cheesecake will run about 550 calories, considerable more than my camembert plate.  More extravagant cheesecakes go up exponentially up from there to 1000 calories or more.  As for salt, comparing my camembert to an equivalent weight of American process cheese, the camembert has less sodium.

Liz Thorpe has written a wonderful book chronicling how local cheese makers across our country have reinvented European traditions for American consumption.  Check out The Cheese Chronicles:  A Journey through the Making and Selling of Cheese in American, from Field to Farm to Table, 2009.

 

Per Serving of cheese,crispbread, and apple (103 g):  Calories 140, Fat 7g, Saturated Fat 4g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 20mg, Sodium 290mg, Carbohydrate 14g, Fiber 1g, Protein 6g.