Friday, July 6, 2007

Start as you mean to go on ....

So ... let's start with our Fourth of July dessert ... the Budino di Semolino, and the spinach spread.

The basic idea is to take semolina flour, and make it nice, creamy and rich, turning it into a flan like dessert. You really are going to be using the very flour you make pasta with. A basic list of ingredients would include

semolina flour
baking powder

This is a three stage flan, first you cook semolino into a cream, you cool it (overnight if possible) secondly you mix it up into a batter, and finally you make some caramel, coat a pan and pour the batter into it & bake. Optional ingredients (I never do without) are lemon rind, and some vanilla essence.

OK, stage 1, cooking the semolina flour ...

The proportions are 1/2 litre of milk (approx 1 pint or two cups) to five tablespoons of sugar and 7 tablespoons of semolina into a pan. Add a pinch of salt, and lemon rind to taste. If you buy nice unwaxed tasty lemons, half a lemon's worth will be OK, or you could do a whole one. This needs to be slowly brought to a simmer, cooked for 10 minutes or until it starts to get creamy, while constantly stirring. You really need to keep stirring this. Spoon or whisk (I use a small whisk). Then, let it cool overnight, if possible. You can't mix it into the batter otherwise.

Once cooled, for stage 2 you want to

mix 100 grams of butter with two tablespoons of sugar. I've tried to mix it softened in a stand mixer, or melted. In the end, it really needs to be melted, you won't get the perfect result any other way. Then add three whole eggs, a "pinch" of baking powder, a teaspoon of vanilla if you like, and once these are incorporated, the semolina mix, and incorporate all together until fairly uniform. It might be a bit grainy because of the flour type - that's fine. If you have a mixing stand, use it.

A note on the "pinch" - this is an aleatory quantity, italian-cooking style, which I've tried out in various ways, and I have reached the conclusion that you want to go for less here, not more. When I do this in a bundt pan, I double up the quantities, and if pinch is interpreted as teaspoon (doubled up), it really is too much. The batter will rise souffle-like, but won't turn out well, and then sort of collapse, since the mix is really too heavy for it. So I'm going to go for 1/4 teaspoon for the quantities above. Then again, collapse or not, this stuff smells and tastes great, and ends up getting swiped out of existence any way it turns out.

Now, the final preparation - 3tbs of powdered sugar and "some" vin santo, melted in a pan and caramelized. Use to coat a bundt, pour batter into it afterwards, and bake at 400 F for at least an hour, to an hour and fifteen, until the top is nicely coloured. Take out of the oven, and turn it out onto a plate if you can, as soon as possible. It it doesn't come out too well, just turn it back into the pan. Or leave it in the pan, and spoon/scrape it out after it has cooled. If you let it cool in the pan the caramel might firm up and it won't come out easily. This makes for great scraping of bits after you've finished the dessert.

Note on vin santo ... my father makes this dessert in Tuscany, where you can buy 1.5 litre bottles of cheap vin santo for 5 bucks. Here in San Francisco, they sell vin santo like it's Sauternes - no Chateau d'Yquem, to be sure, but still 15/20 bucks for a half bottle. So, pick anything sweet and boozy that you have lying around, don't go out looking for this if it is not something you would be drinking otherwise. I've done Grand Marnier, for instance. Then again, cheap Brandy works well, too. Even bourbon ... you know the form.

On the 4th, we dished this up with a fruit compote - "roasting" rhubard, strawberries and blueberries at low heat for a couple of hours with a little bit of powdered sugar mixed in. I wanted a tart and creamy fruit compote to go over the very rich and sweet semolina flan. I did not roast on a large pan to concentrate flavors and evaporate liquid, I mixed it all up and kept it packed. The result is not as syrupy as it could otherwise be, but works fine for this purpose. Leftover fruit works wonders on ice cream - so make as much as you have around. I'm sure peaches, bananas, apricots would all be good added in, but keep a tart element somewhere in there. Rhubarb is wonderful, I get some at the Ferry Building on saturdays ... but when it is not available you could add some lemon juice before sticking it in the oven.

Next piece ... the spinach dip. Very easy, think spinach and jalapeno dip you sometimes find in stores. I bought spinach and assorted greens at one of my favorite stands at the market, some torpedo red onions, and a hot pepper. I saute'd one torpedo onion (could be a couple of shallots, pretty small stuff) and garlic to taste, in olive oil and salt, with half the pepper - could be as much as you can take, or as little - then added the thoroughly rinsed greens. Cooked it down until it was well reduced, with some remaining liquid; then added the juice of half a lemon, and cooked a little more. Dumped a cup of cream cheese in the food processor, added saute'd greens, and ran the blade. Good stuff. What you typically buy is higher on cheese than my version was, and the greens are chopped separately, then the stuff is mixed or stirred together, as opposed to blended. That gives you an effect of green-on-white. If you process cheese and greens together, the mixture will look greener. It will also taste more of the greens, not of cheese with some green in it. I definitely prefer it blended together, but either will work of course.

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