Sunday, April 26, 2009

Birthday Dinner Part Deux

There are way too many people that have birthdays in April; it is just too hard to keep track of them all. A number of friends and family members of mine have been celebrating recently including my mother, cousin, and best friend Nick. After making a delicious meal for my mother’s birthday last week I decided to do the same for Nick. This was going to be a tricky task given that Nick is such a skilled cook and gourmand but I was up for the challenge. I drafted a menu, did the shopping on Friday morning, and hit the kitchen that afternoon. There were going to be six of us total including a number of good friends that live in the city as well as Nick’s girlfriend and best friend visiting from Los Angeles. I pulled all the stops and cooked a beast of a four course meal, plated a l’assiette individually for each diner. The first course was a shaved Brussels sprout and radicchio salad with Dijon vinaigrette and crumbled spring Parmesan. The Parmesan was purchased at Dipalo’s, a little Italy purveyor of all things Italian, and was the highlight of the salad. Their Parmesans are seasonal and the flavors totally change depending on the time of year. The crunchy raw Brussels sprouts contrasted excellently with the nuttiness of the cheese and peppery bite of the radicchio making for a lovely first course.

When I cook a multi course meal plated individually I like to follow the Mediterranean progression of dishes. Italian and French cuisine de haute consists of a marked hierarchal succession of vegetables, pastas, seafood, meats, fruits, and finally sweets. I adhered to this formulaic arrangement of courses by electing to serve pasta as the second course. During my visit to Dipalo I also bought an oozing hunk of Gorgonzola dolce, an aromatic and creamy blue cheese. I melted the cheese with heavy cream, black pepper, and nutmeg into a thick creamy sauce to accompany potato gnocchi. I drizzled a large spoonful of the sauce over five or six gnocchi since they were so rich and topped them with sautéed pears and a sprig of tarragon for presentation. The pasta was certainly rich though the small portion made it bearable with a great interplay of textures and tastes. The salty Gorgonzola sauce contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the pears making for a balanced dish with tons of flavor.

The third course was an inventive one to say the least; grilled adobo shrimp with carrot puree. I have never tried to make this dish and the idea was hatched as Nick and I perused the produce stands at the Union Square farmer’s market. There were a number of fresh spring vegetables just beginning to be harvested like carrots, fava beans, green garlic, mesclun, and ramps. I love shrimp and I know Nick does too so I went up to Joon my fishmonger and bought some beautiful gold and gray wild shrimp. I seasoned the shrimp after snipping their legs and deveining them with ground adobo and kosher salt before grilling. They came out spicy and charred, marrying perfectly with the silky smooth puree of gorgeous pale orange carrots, olive oil, and a splash of cream. The ingredients of this delectable seafood course were minimal but the flavors were deep and complex.

The fourth and final course of Nick’s epic birthday meal was pork tenderloin with ramps and a fava bean and edamame ragout. I marinated the pork in a blend of vegetable oil, soy sauce, Sichuan pepper, Dijon mustard, and tarragon for about four hours, to enhance its inherent pork flavor and promote caramelization. I seared it for a few minutes per side and finished it in a 400-degree oven until it was cooked through but moist. I served thick slices of the pork alongside a ragout of edameme, fava beans, red onion, and mint. Ramps are a very special spring thing that I absolutely love to cook with. Ramps are wild leeks that taste like a cross between green garlic and scallions. I pickled a handful of ramps with cider vinegar, juniper berries, bay leaves, kosher salt, and tellicherry peppercorns. The small bulbs quickly took on the aromatic brine and turned a lovely whitish pink color. The second batch of ramps were sautéed briefly in olive oil until they were just tender. The two ramps were fabulous, serving as a kind of sauce or condiment to the roasted pork tenderloin. I wanted to really wow Nick and our friends with this meal and from the praise my satiated dinners lavished on me when it was over, I think that I succeed. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

No comments: