A man said to an interpreter of dreams: “I dreamed that I was making eggplant casserole from the dung of a camel. What does this mean?”
The dream interpreter answered: “Give me two gold coins first, and then I will tell you the meaning of it.”
The man replied, “If I had two gold coins, I would buy eggplants to make casserole so that I would not have to dream about it.”
– The Ethics of the Aristocrats and Other Satirical Works, a collection of Obeyd-e Zakani’s anecdotes translated by Hasan Javadi
Buenos Aires – A couple of days ago I re-reviewed the restaurant Restó, which has once again engendered some passionate e-mail in its defense (and, interestingly this time, from others, agreeing with my assessment of it going downhill). There were two parts of the meal that were notedly off – the dessert, which, I chalk up to experimentation gone wrong, and the eggplant puree, which was just unacceptable. It was that puree that generated the most conversation we had over the lunch – the difficulty of balancing the flavors of an eggplant with various other ingredients, the texture – just what is it that it takes to make a good eggplant puree? You wouldn’t think it would be that hard, every middle eastern restaurant out there makes baba ganoush… but if you stop and think about it, most of the time, you dip a little pita bread into it, and then go back to the hummus. I’ve had some good ones, but I think, more often than not, I’ve had bad ones. In the back of my mind, it lodged, to be revisited soon – already thinking ahead to various dinners where I might make one. And then, I realized, that a mere couple of days later I had the opportunity – we’d been booked for a private party, and other than a request for no creatures of the sea, the menu had been left entirely in my hands. I’d already planned to have at least part of it be a revisiting of some personal favorites from the last year’s worth of menus… surely there was a spot for a mash of mad apples?
First up, a nice fall soup, ’tis the season and all that. Looking back, it was almost exactly a year since our Gypsy dinner – really the dinner that launched Casa SaltShaker – a sort of test run with a group of friends. I’d really enjoyed the soup that I made for that evening, and decided to whip up a pot of it for both the evening’s menu, and enough to put some in the freezer to have on days when I’m feeling a bit like a gypsy… or just like having a really good vegetable soup. The recipe stands as is on the previous post, I didn’t change a thing, other than tossing the squash seeds into the oven with a little olive oil and salt so that they browned up nicely and using them as a garnish.
This comes from a dish I’ve mentioned a few times before, and one which we served at a sort of themeless dinner last winter. It’s sauteed sweetbreads over a base of caramelized fennel and yams – caramelized in honey. In the past, I’ve focused on black pepper as the sole, or primary spice, but on a revisit to the restaurant where I’d originally tried the dish, I found that the dish wasn’t quite as I remembered it, and there were coriander and fennel seeds in it as well – so I added some of those in, and they definitely add something to the dish. The sweetbreads themselves I left just dusted with flour, salt, and pepper. The real addition this time, which gives an interesting counterpoint to the overall sweetness of the dish, was a fennel sauce – made from a pureed and strained mixture of blanched fennel fronds and stems, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar – pretty much a basic vinaigrette with the addition of the fennel. I spooned that around the dish, and I like the interplay of the vinegar against the honey.
One of the things the organizer of the party and I had talked about was having at least a couple of spicy dishes – “we’re partial to picante” was the phrase used. I started off thinking I might do a reprise on the spicy pork dish I’d done for our Szechuan dinner not that long ago. But thinking about the menu as a whole, I decided a straightforward Chinese dish would be a bit out of place in the scheme of things. Plus, I wanted to have a pasta course somewhere in the evening. I remembered the whole wheat mostaccioli dish that people loved so much at our Esperanto dinner… hmmm… how these things do come together. I diced and marinated the pork in all the same ingredients (only change, substituting chives for scallions, as that was what I had to work with) I’d used for the Szechuan dish, then sauteed it, and finished it off with just a small amount of sour cream to make it more of a sauce, and then tossed that with the whole wheat mostaccioli… Yup, that works.
I know each and every one of you has been anxiously awaiting to hear what I’m doing with the hot sauces I made last week. Me too. I mean, I’ve been dippiing into them here and there just as condiments, which I suppose is what a hot sauce is all about, but remember that “partial to picante” thing? What better opportunity. Steaks marinated for the day in the berbere derived hot sauce, then simply sauteed, with a jus made from the pan drippings, a splash of wine, a little beef stock and butter. And… beef and eggplant, remember, the eggplant puree had been haunting me for several days at this point. First off, I found some beautiful white eggplant – they’re in season right now, which I haven’t quite figured out, because they were in season in October too – I guess they come in twice a year here. I cut them in half, salted and drained them, then roasted them in olive oil until they were done. Then, pureed them with, well, why not, just a little bit of the same hot sauce, plus plenty of good olive oil. And that was really it – very simple, and very tasty. It’s really not that hard to make if you use good ingredients instead of cutting corners…
Do you really need another cheesecake shot? Probably not, but you’re going to be subjected to this one, and another from the upcoming writeup on this weekend’s dinners. It was just a cheesecake kind of weekend, plus between that and our cupcakes, they’ve kind of become our house specialty desserts. If I can ever get my chocolate pasta dessert to work out the way I envision it, we’ll have a nice trio of desserts, and simply never make anything else… okay, not. The cheesecake here is drizzled with a little fig honey, and was received to raves. There was also, for some reason, a discussion of desserts made with eggplant (the puree was a hit), and what a mistake the idea was. I’ve tried one eggplant dessert dish in my life, at a little restaurant called Les Amognes, in Paris, that evoked “gasps of “how odd” going to the warm crepe filled with a cardamom and eggplant compote topped with an intense orange sauce” in my writeup. It’s not something I’ve even thought about experimenting with… unless someone’s party is willing to be the conejillos de indias for the evening?