Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The best thing I ever made, the best thing I ever ate

The best thing I ever made, the best thing I ever ate  

There's a pair of shows on Food Network (The Best Thing I Ever Made, The Best Thing I Ever Ate) that I watch when I can, which got me wondering--if I was ever asked to guest on the show (Ha!) what would I present?

Maybe not the pair of dishes I did last week, I suspect. But they wouldn't be bad choices. 

Insalata Caprese (simply put: salad of Capri) is about as ridiculously easy a salad as you can imagine, with at most five ingredients: fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, olive oil, salt. The trick is trying to put together the very best five ingredients you possibly can.

Starting with the fresh mozzarella--store-bought bocconcini from Wisconsin but passably good, firm, in a bit of milky water, drained and spread out on a plate:

Standard-issue tomatoes--ideally Roma--only these are from our neighbor's garden, so they have a beautiful orange-red color:

They say when you taste a vegetable or fruit you taste of the produce's terroir; in above case I taste strong tart flavor, like young citrus. 

Add brilliantly verdant basil, plucked from plants growing in a pot out our front door:

If you could smell them--strong as mint (you only have to walk into the room to know they're there) but without the sharp camphor scent (these are earthy, fresh-mowed lawn herby).

Olive oil we bought from Weyira Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Company, which claim to have several varieties graded according to acidity, bitterness, amount of nonsaturated fats, etc. There were a few infused with herbs and flavorings (basil, wild dill, butter, garlic), but we bought a simple extra virgin oil with a low bitterness, only 3%--and the result is almost sweet, like something you'd dip your crusty artisanal bread into.

The result was this:
Tart tomato, creamy mozzarella, fragrant fresh basil, all topped with the fruitiest olive oil you can imagine, fresh-cracked pepper, kosher salt. It's almost harder to eat than it was to make--and the eating believe me was delicious.  

Basil, olive oil--you could almost make a pesto sauce with that and I did: half a cup of pine nuts (bought relatively cheap at Trader Joe's, in State College), a 1/2 pound wedge of imported Parmesan (expensive, but worth the results), a tablespoon of mashed garlic, and almost all the basil I could pluck (the poor plant is almost bald after I was through with it) tossed in a processor with the Weyira oil drizzled in to form this: 

Green enough for you? Boil some dried pasta (used Bionaturae--imported from Italy and using bronze dies which give the pasta a rougher surface, the better for sauce to cling to) that I dumped in above bowl, poured a ladleful of hot pasta water for an easier mix, and what did I get?

Well it tasted better than it looks. Maybe I should buy a real camera to take pictures.

But seriously--creaminess of emulsified nuts and oil, funkiness of aged Parmesan, sharpness of raw garlic, aroma of basil--the noodles weren't half bad.  

'Less I'm accused of false advertising--one of the best things I've ever eaten and one of the best things ever made do happen to be one and the same item; just so happens I didn't make em. 

Luz's egg rolls are made from chopped cilantro carrots celery and water chestnuts, said cilantro being bright-green fresh, as seen below: 

Add ground pork ground chicken rough-chopped shrimp and plenty of minced garlic, gently sauteed:

Roll carefully in lumpia wrapper 

Fry till crisp (the stuffing is already half-cooked) and serve with sweet chili sauce, and the results are as follows:

Rich pork funky chicken briny sweet shrimp scented with earthy cilantro and sharp garlic, then rolled into a delicately crisped wrap. Dip in spicy-sweet sauce, and eat. 

Her co-workers keep asking for them. My co-teachers asked about them (one just did a few days ago). Entered them in an at-work cooking contest and tied for first place (it was my first and only time to enter). Got a special request from one staff member because he'd heard about em--didn't remember from who.

Brought a Tupperware full of em once to an in-service day, meant for lunch. One teacher walked over, sampled a roll, walked away; ten minutes later another walked over, then another. By noon when we broke for lunch the Tupperware was empty

Should have known better, and hid them in my classroom 

One night I brought a few and offered them to a friend who had eaten them before (the cooking contest). He grinned and said "I dreamed about these last night!" 

"I guess wishes do come true, after all," I said. 

 Pic of my friend's fairy godmother, the egg roll queen.

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