Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Salad du Printemps: Rhubarb Confit with Navel Oranges, Candied Fennel, and Mascarpone Sorbet

Move over, Tomato Confit. Scootch outta the way, Cream of Walnut Soup. There's a new food love in town, and its name is Mascarpone Sorbet. Stephen Durfee, I know you're not responsible for the sorbet (it's Alain Ducasse, right?), but I wish you had been. I still love ya, man.

This dish was scrumptious and has me thinking of a way to make it more often. I even made the twisty pirouette cookie that goes on top, and it didn't look like the dog doo that was my last attempt at anything like this.

This post marks the one-third milestone: this is the 33rd dish I've done out of the 100 dishes in the French Laundry Cookbook. I've mapped out what I'm doing from now through the end of summer, including various stocks/powders/oils/sauces, so that I can use what's fresh from the farmer's market as often as possible. It's a bit of a challenge sometimes, doing all my food shopping as directly from the source as possible, but once my work schedule slows down a bit in late June, it'll get a tad easier.

Let's get started on the Salad du Printemps. I don't have a complete mise en place, since I stretched out most of the prep over a few days, so we'll just go step by step, if that's okay with you. You kind of have no choice, but I thought I'd be nice and ask. That's how I roll.

First, I made the rhubarb:

I cut off the leafy part, then cut off the stringy bits, then chopped it into quarter-inch slices. I saved the ends and stringy bits to start the syrup for the rhubarb's cooking process. I brought some sugar and water to a boil then added those trimmings to the saucepan and simmered it for a minute or two. I strained it and returned the syrup to the stovetop:

Then, I added the cup or so of rhubarb pieces to the syrup and poached them for about 7 minutes:

I let it cool to room temperature, then stored it in the fridge until I was ready to plate the dessert.

Next up? The candied fennel:

I cut off the fronds to save them for the fennel oil, which you'll see later in this post. I cut the fennel bulb into pieces, squeezed the lemon into a pot of water, added a pinch of salt, then added the fennel and brought it to a boil. I reduced it to a simmer and let it simmer for just under 10 minutes. I strained the fennel, then put 2 cups of water and a cup of sugar in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, made sure the sugar was dissolved, the added the fennel, cooking it for an hour over very low heat. This is yet another smell I would like to turn into soap. Can someone get on that, please? Thanks. Anyhoo, here's the candied fennel while it's cooking:

Next in line was the mascarpone sorbet. I love mascarpone. Whenever I have some leftover from another dish, I like to get some salty pretzels and dip them in mascarpone before eating them. I also could eat it straight out of the tub, but then I'd be a lard-ass and that's not a goal of mine. To make the sorbet, you mix a pound of mascarpone with two-and-a-quarter cups of simple syrup in a bowl. Then, you whack it in the blender to make sure it's mixed thoroughly:

I put it in my ice cream maker for 25 minutes, then added the juice of a lemon and kept the machine going for another 10 minutes. When it was finished, I put it in a container and stuck it in the freezer:

Wow -- this dish has almost as many steps (maybe more) as that stupid candied apple dessert, but I'm not annoyed by it like I was that one, are you? Of course you're not! You love this stuff!

Last two items: Pirouette cookies and fennel oil. Let's start with the fennel oil. Here's the mise en place:

I blanched the fennel fronds and parsley for 15 seconds each, then put half of them in the blender along with some oil to start the purée process. I added more of the greens and oil as it went along until it was one big blender full of purée. I chilled the purée overnight and the next afternoon, I spread it on a cheesecloth over a bowl to let the infused oil seep through:

You'll see the final product in the plating shot. It's beautiful and smells really great. Last thing to make? Pirouette cookies. In looking at the photo in the French Laundry Cookbook and remembering how crap I was at making those tuilles for the candied apple dessert, I saved this loathing, hateful step for last. And you know what? It wasn't that bad. Here's the mise:

I'm sure you're wondering why there's a ruler, scissors, file folder and pencil in the mise. Did you miss that? Go back and look again. The rest of the class will wait... yeah, so the office supplies. Dudes, I had to make a STENCIL for these cookies, which if anyone knows about my art skillz, you know this had disaster written all over it. But I persevered and made a darn good stencil, if I do say so myself. I mixed the batter and laid out the cookies on the Silpat:

I transferred the Silpat to a baking sheet, and baked them at 300 degrees for five minutes. I then opened the oven, pulled out the rack, and wound those hot, still-baking little suckers one by one, WITH MY BARE HANDS, around a wooden spoon handle, then slid them off. They're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but knowing that I mostly suck at stuff like this, they're not too bad:

Stephen Durfee, is that YOU I hear laughing? Oh, it's not? Sorry, my bad. It must be the fabulous Shuna Fish Lydon, from whom I obviously need some pastry lessons.

Two final things before plating: this recipe called for using that pesky #12 melon baller I never got for the last dessert, so instead of cute lil strawberry parisienne balls, I just cut some fresh strawberries into eighths. And, there are also supposed to be navel orange sections in this dish. Um, yeah. I totally and completely forgot about that until I was plating the dish, and the lone orange I bought to make this dish had turned a little soft and smushy on one side, so I had to throw it out.

To plate, I cut the candied fennel into diamonds and put an equal portion of those, rhubarb and strawberries on the plate. Then, I drizzled them with a little bit of both the rhurbarb syrup and the fennel syrup. I put a small scoop of the mascarpone sorbet on top, then topped that with a pirouette cookie. Last but not least, I drizzled a few drops of the fennel oil around the whole thing, and it smelled amazing, and the green color really popped on the plate:

We girls loved it. The kids were split. Some liked the sorbet, some didn't (more for me!). They all loved the strawberries. They even liked the rhubarb. My ten-year old neighbor "G" said straight from the get-go that he didn't like fennel, but that he'd try it (heavy sigh). He took a bite of the candied fennel and said, "Wait. THIS is a VEGETABLE?!!?" Yeah, with nine million pounds of sugar, but sure, it's a vegetable. I ate the rhubarb, against my will, but ate it nonetheless. It was okay in this dish, but I'm still not a fan. There's something about the texture of it that sort of makes me gag. Plus, it just looks like pink celery and ew.

The kids left after just a few bites which left the adults to finish the food. I am not the least bit ashamed to report that the plates were pretty much licked clean. We let the mascarpone sorbet melt and then mixed around all the juices and fruit, and found a way for those plates to tilt just so, so we could angle those tilted plates in the general direction of our.... alright fine. I'll just be blunt: we drank from the plates. Every last freakin' drop. We completely abandoned any manners we'd ever been taught and it was AWESOME. And then after that we put on our slinky pajamas and had a pillow fight in slow motion to an Aerosmith song... NOT. You sickos.

This dish gets added to the "make again" list, for sure. Tonight, I'll watch a movie and have some mascarpone sorbet with a side of pretzels. If you don't want to make this whole dish, doing the sorbet and topping it with fresh strawberries would be just as awesome, I swear. Just make sure you invite me over when you make it so, you know, I can make sure your sorbet is good. Because, you know, I have to do what I can to protect the reputation of the French Laundry and its cookbook, so that might require my eating 3-4 bowls of it just to test it, but I'm all about quality, so I'm just lookin' out for you, you crazy kids.

Up Next: Chaource with Red Plums

Brands Used:
All-Clad cookware
Rhubarb, fennnel, lemon from H-Mart
Strawberries from Twin Springs Farm
Vermont Butter & Cheese mascarpone
Eggs from Smith Meadows
King Arthur flour
Krups ice cream maker

Music to Cook By: Yacht Rock playlist on my iPod. I'm only slightly obsessed with the Yacht Rock series on YouTube, so I put together a playlist on my iPod of some of the greatest "yacht rock" from the 70s and early 80s: Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald... you get the drift. The series is hilarious, and now I can't get these songs out of my head. Damn you, Loggins. Damn you.


Aaron said...

First time commenter here...
I don't have much to say except that I'm having a ton of fun coming along for the ride that is your blog and project. I love your sense of humor and think you are doing an amazing job.

Anita said...

you do know that Shuna is ALL ABOUT the rhubarb confit, yes? :D

We made baby rhubarb dice in her class:

spooneroonie said...

DG--everything looks wonderful, just like it always does. I love the shots of the inside of your freezer...they remind me of Ina's for some reason. And there should not be shame in drinking from a plate that has such wonderful food.

If you're ever in the Cincinnati area, let me know. You're always welcome to visit.

John said...

Awesome post, as usual. Keller should fly you out to French Laundry for a meal on the house when you complete all 100 recipes.

Linda said...

As one of the plate-tipping juice-slurping fiends, I can still recall the taste a week later. I love rhubarb and fennel and don't get to eat enough of either. If and when I'm able to go to the FL restaurant, do you think they'll look at me strangely when I order all desserts? I hope that obsessively organized list for the summer has plenty of sweet stuff.

ann said...

UH-mazing. I've never "met" another person that shares my obsession for eating pretzels with sweet stuff. Must be that ole PA. Dutch connection again!
My gramma (from Lancaster Co.) used to give me peach ice cream and a bowl of hard pretzels to use instead of a spoon. I can't imagine how good they'd be with marscapone ice cream!

And speaking of frozen cheese. One of my fave desserts that I learned from the naked chef is to flavor mascarpone with vanilla beans and a little sugar and then top with balsamic soaked strawberrries. My old roommate and I used to mix the leftovers together and then freeze them to eat later as a kind of semi-freddo.
So damn good!


Alice Q. said...

Jaysus this stuff is funny - I love it! You totally gave me an idea for making those stencils too with a flexible cutting board - brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Yacht Rock. Now THAT is some funny shit.

Diner Girl said...

Aaron -- thanks for you comment! Glad you're here!

Anita -- I did not know that re: Shuna. I wish I could like rhubarb because when it's raw, it's so pretty. But it squicks me out.

Spoonie -- One of these days I'll get to OH or you'll get to DC and we'll eat and eat and eat! And thanks for the Ina-freezer compliment. My fridge and freezer are usually pretty empty since I food-shop every few days for what I need then.

John -- wouldn't that be AWESOME?! I have plans to celebrate my 40th birthday there, so I'll get there one way or another.

Linda -- no, they'll only look at you (and me) strangely as we drink all the juices out of the bowls/plates.

Ann -- it must be a "Dutch" thing because my grandparents were the ones who got me hooked as a kid on pretzels with chocolate ice cream when we played cards on Saturday nights when they babysat.

Alice -- glad I could be of service to ye. ;)

Anon -- I KNOW. I still laugh everytime someone gets whacked in the nads. Because I am nine, apparently.

shuna fish lydon said...

Look at how sweet you are for that link! Thank you.

When we meet I will give you a (one spoon) quenelle lesson if you want...

On the tuiles-- the more color they get, the easier they are to shape. Even though the hotter they get the more expletives that fly out of your mouth. I always say it's my fingers who can't speak, channeling.