“Pioneer 10 will continue to coast silently as a ghost ship through deep space into interstellar space, heading generally for the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of Taurus (The Bull). Aldebaran is about 68 light years away and it will take Pioneer over 2 million years to reach it.”
– NASA, The Pioneer Missions
Buenos Aires – A mere five years ago, happily ensconced in New York City and never envisioning a visit, let along a move, to this part of the world, I hosted a dinner in honor of the space probe, Pioneer 10. At that point, June 13, 2004, it was 21 years to the day since the craft had departed our solar system, heading for deep reaches of space. At the time, my general theme for the menu was a sort of “way out there” sort of combinations. Not crazy, but off the beaten track, at least as far as my cooking went at the time. The menu for that evening was:
Mumm DVX 1997
Rye Bruschetta, Fresh Morel Sauce
Dirler Riesling “Spiegel” Grand Cru 1992
Wild Bass Sashimi, Crab & Root Vegetable Stuffing
Apostiles Palo Cortado Muy Viejo 30-Year Old Sherry
Slow-Braised Pork, Salmon Roe Beurre Noisette, Swiss Chard
Chateau de la Charriere Santenay “Clos de la Confrerie” 1988
Borgogno Barolo Chinato
Back in those days of the “Second Sunday Supper Circle” the dinners were attended by a small group of friends and involved various wines that I’d collected, and pretty much random food that I planned. It was a playtime in the kitchen for me – no one ever knew the menus in advance, and I didn’t take special requests – hey, one of my closest friends came for years and never told me he was allergic to shrimp, because he didn’t want to miss out on whatever might pop up for the evening.
My first thought was a reasonably straightforward re-creation of the evening’s menu, though with different wines and whatever adjustments were needed for ingredient availability. However, in the end, much of it simply had to change because of those reasons and, well, my cooking has evolved since that time – I hope.
So, let’s take the courses one by one – no green tomatoes available here. No tomatillos either at this point, they were in the markets up until a couple of weeks ago, but then simply disappeared. And, just plain underripe tomatoes aren’t quite the same thing. I decided on a warm gazpacho, with the tomatoes, some almonds, and garlic all roasted together and then pureed, and then diced peppers, cucumbers, and onion added, along with herbs and spices at the end. I moved it to the second course (logistics-wise, soup works best for our dinners as the second plate).
The rye bruschetta stayed more or less on my radar until the last moment. I decided to reinterpret it more in the style of cooking that I’m doing now – plus, fresh morels are essentially non-existent here (there’s one supplier I know of, and they’re only available in spring, in limited quantities). I found dried morels, and decided to reconstitute them and make them into a simple sauce on the side – sauteed in butter, then deglazed with armagnac, and finished with a dollop of elderberry jam. The dried morels are also outrageously expensive (at a price of 1,920 pesos a kilo, or roughly $265 a pound). One 25 gram package was all that I was going to use. The bruschetta I decided to reinvent as empanadas – filled with sauteed portobello mushrooms, shallots, and a touch of hot peppers and molasses – much like the topping I’d made for my mushroom coca. The crust became the interesting thing – every baking source I looked at assured me that rye couldn’t be made into a real pastry crust, because you couldn’t get a texture that you could roll out properly and have it hold together. And then, I found these “Karelian Rye Crusted Pastries” from Finland. I made the dough, let it rest in the refrigerator, rolled it out into rounds, and made empanadas, brushed with egg wash, and baked. I like the flavor, however the thin edges of the empanadas got very crispy – the original pastries didn’t really have edges – just sealed into an ovoid packet – so a form redesign is in order. The flavor was great!
I’d made the sashimi and crab rolls for the previous dinner, the one non-vegan course, that I wrote about in yesterday’s post. I wasn’t thrilled with them, and decided to do something completely different. I made a crab and root vegetable flan. For the most part, they were fine, though a few of them didn’t quite set all the way, leaving a bit of liquid when they were unmolded – I suppose in some ways that made them almost more flan-like, though I would have preferred them set through. I served them with a red onion and chili sauce, and as the first course of the evening.
The main course underwent the biggest change. First, there were several requests for a substitution for the pork, enough that it just made more sense to change the dish completely. I was going to simply braise some salmon and serve it the same way – but then, I couldn’t find salmon roe, so that went out the window – but I did find hake roe. It didn’t sound like it would combine as well with the salmon to me, it needed a lighter fish of some sort, I went with albacore tuna, oven baked with a little olive oil, then topped with a simple sauce made from lightly browned butter, the roe, yellow onions, and white wine, and then strained at the last minute and kept warm. I served the fish with a scoop of polenta aside.
Finally, I turned the pudding into a pudding cake of sorts. I used the cocoa crust I’ve been experimenting with and talked about in numerous posts recently. For the filling, fresh rhubarb being unavailable, I used stewed, sweetened rhubarb that I can find from Patagonia (900 grams), mixed it with a bittersweet chocolate ganache (600 grams), mixed in four egg yolks and a teaspoon of powdered mace, and then whipped the six egg whites (two extra from making the crust) until stiff and folded them into the chocolate and rhubarb mixture. I baked this “cake” at about 350°F for roughly 50 minutes, until it was still wobbly in the center but relatively firmed up – I wanted a pudding-like texture, but not so soft that it would just collapse when cut into. A simple “yum” is all I can say about it…