Cooking for Company
Sea Urchin Custard with Velouté of Tiger Prawn
This is an adaptation of an Alain Ducasse and Didier Eléna recipe that's one of our favourite ways with sea urchin roe, from Jeffrey Steingarten's It Must've Been Something I Ate. If you're not a fan of sea urchin, this may well be the recipe to change your mind.
This fabulous number, which Rick Tramonto calls his "Totally Insane Black and White Truffle Soup" in his cookbook Tru, is heart-stoppingly extravagant with the prized fungi, and all the better for it. The accompanying savoury shortbread is based on a faithful standby from Sue Lawrence's Book of Baking, in party dress of course - I stirred a heaping dollop of Tetsuya's Black Truffle Salsa into the dough before shaping and baking.
A Japanese-Western pasta dish W and I adore, lavishly flavoured with salted and spiced cod roe. Spaghetti is typically used, although we've never had two versions that tasted alike - it's one of those dishes that embraces liberal interpretation. Aside from insisting on homemade egg noodles, W also prefers it thus: Snippets of streaky bacon slowly crisped in a good lump of butter then set aside, a pile of thinly sliced onions cooked in the same highly flavoured fat till soft and caramelised, a quick deglazing with a tiny splash of mirin before the addition of chubby fingers of buna shimeji mushrooms - cooked just, to retain their meaty texture. Only after the freshly boiled pasta is drained and tossed in the pan, are the bacon, mentaiko paste (the fleshy pink roe, scraped from its sacs, is mashed with more butter), and finely sliced negi added. W's version, as I like to think of it, is sublime in a homespun soul food kind of fashion. But there are as many ways with mentaiko pasta as there are cooks; as if you haven't already, see Chubby Hubby's exquisitely elegant (not to mention wonderfully delicious) signature dish here.
Meat marinated and braised in a big, muscular Barolo till meltingly fall apart, loosely following the principles of the exemplary method as outlined in Paul Bertolli's Cooking By Hand. The resulting sugo, the pot liquor if you will, is lent greater body thanks to the pork trotter that goes into the braising vessel right from the beginning. The usual aromatic suspects (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, rosemary et al) aside, vincotto and dried porcini add further depth and savour. As for the polenta, I like Judy Rodgers' technique as set forth in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, an unusual one which I've gushed about before - I've yet to encounter another that results in as perfectly fluffy a texture.
An unabashedly over-the-top composed dessert for the decidedly sweet-toothed (funnily enough, all the menfolk present at dinner) from the Boulevard cookbook by Nancy Oakes and Pamela Mazzola. The chocolate panna cotta is set atop an ultra-rich brownie bottom, and tastes like a grown-up's fudgesicle, while the Valrhona Manjari chocolate and macadamia nut toffee crunch, as sophisticated as a candy bar gets. A delicate chocolate lace tuile affords crisp, brittle contrast. I had some salted caramel sauce handy in the fridge so I used that instead of the hot fudge sauce called for. Vanilla bean ice cream, freshly churned earlier in the day, provides a cool respite from all that bittersweet intensity.