Monday, February 21, 2011

Stay Cool

Life has taken a hectic turn over the past few weeks, so apologies that my usual updates haven't been as frequent. As well as day to day work responsibilities keeping me busy, hosting interstate guests and pre wedding preparations, I also attended my first molecular gastronomy class - titled "Foams & Emulsions" Very exciting stuff! A wonderful mix of mathematics, chemistry and cooking that pushed my food nerd buttons in all the right ways. I walked out of my first class with my mind churning over new ideas and with a better technical understanding of why certain ingredients behave the way do, the effects of temperature, the chemical make up of ingredients and the distillation of flavour. All the things that happen when you create any dish.

We made a beautiful aromatic herb foam that we served on Kingfish sashimi, as well as a tangy citrus foam, a Mojito foam (yep, it tasted just like the cocktail). On the sweet side, there was an amazing raspberry espuma (a kind of mousse) and a decadent dark chocolate ganache espuma that tasted so rich, but was also light and ethereal. The application for these techniques are so varied and I am looking forward to having a bit of a play in the kitchen to see what I can come up with. I love the idea of flavour without bulk - particularly when creating degustation menus made up of numerous courses. I plan to continue my molecular gastronomy classes throughout the year and will share the results of some of my experimenting as I go.

Speaking of molecular gastronomy, I am counting down the days until I get to be in the same room as my culinary crush, and all round gastronomic icon Heston Blumenthal on 15 March.  Can't wait to hear him talk about his food and his adventures in molecular gastronomy. I just worship the guy - to me , he is what cooking is all about.

Enough news, now to today's recipe -

A chilled soup is a lovely start to a meal, particularly in hot weather. I am a big fan of chilled soups, although you do not see them very often on menus these days. (A bit retro maybe? Don't mind if I do!) As well as being a delicious start to a meal, small servings of chilled soup make a great finger food option. Serve the soup in chilled shot glasses or Chinese tea cups. One of my favourite chilled soups is a variation on the classic French Vichyssoise - a creamy soup of leek and potato. My version adds some fresh zucchini to the mix and I serve it with fresh chives and homemade croutons. Directions for making croutons are at the bottom of the post.

Regular readers will recall that I catered a degustation birthday party a few weeks ago. We started the menu with my chilled zucchini and leek soup. You could use all kinds of vegetables in place of the zucchini - fresh in season asparagus would be great, or perhaps some spinach. The recipe is very forgiving, so play around and see what works for you. Here is my version as served a few weeks ago...

Chilled Zucchini and Leek Soup

You will need:

3 medium zucchini, 2 large peeled potatoes, 2 leeks (white/pale green part only), 4 cloves chopped garlic, splash of olive oil, 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon fresh chives, 1 cup small sized croutons**, 1 cup pouring cream (or milk if you want something with a lighter taste), 2 tablespoons salted butter, pinch cayenne pepper, pinch freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Method:Heat the olive oil in a soup pan. Add the leeks and garlic and cook on a medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until the leeks are translucent and soft. Do not brown them – you want them to be pale as possible.

Chop the peeled potato and zucchini (leave the skin on) into chunks roughly 5cm in diameter. Add these to the leek mixture and stir through. Allow to cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and the stock (the vegetables should be covered by the liquid – top up with water if necessary)

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 25-30mins, or until the vegetables are very soft. Remove from the heat and take out the bay leaves (very important! if you leave the leaves in you will end up with a soup that has an unpleasant bitter taste)

Once you have removed the bay leaves, puree the mixture until very smooth. I use a hand blender for this, but a food processor would be fine. While the mixture is still warm, add the cream, nutmeg, cayenne and butter. Keep blending until well combined. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. If the mixture is too thick, add some extra milk. The soup should have a pleasant, velvety consistency.

Allow the soup to chill completely - overnight is best - before pouring the soup into small bowls or cups and serving with a sprinkling of freshly cut chives and croutons. I find chilling the soup in a pouring jug makes for easier serving later. Chinese tea cups are ideal for serving this soup and are very inexpensive.

This recipe will serve 10-12 people if using Chinese tea cups. Serves 6-8 if using small bowls.

** To make croutons: Cut plain white bread into small cubes, until you have about 2 cups of cubes. Combine in a bowl with a generous splash of olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of paprika. Mix thoroughly but gently with your hands. Place the bread in a single layer on a baking tray and bake in a moderate oven until lightly golden. This will take 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.


No comments:

Post a Comment