Friday, August 30, 2013

By Hand

Fatti Con Le Mani, it proudly proclaims, in big swirly gold writing across the top tube of my husband's bike. Thanks to Gina's Italian class, I can say with confidence: it means Made with the Hands. By Dario Pegoretti.

I was thinking about that today when I was cooking, grating the hard Parmigiano Reggiano cheese by hand on a stand-up grater.  Although I have used a microplane grater, I prefer the large holes of a stand-up grater.  You can taste the crunchy salty crystals in the cheese.  That's the best part.  The microplane makes cheese fluff - fine for melting, but not for melting on the tongue.

And I was remembering whipping cream to gentle peaks.  With a whisk and a very tired arm. (No, they're not getting mixed together, the cheese and the whipped cream...altho there is a wonderful melon, stone fruit and buratta salad....strange bedfellows, fabulous salad mates.  Recipe below).

I have a friend (well, maybe...) who thinks I'm crazy not to use the Cuisinart to grate cheese.  But when I grate it by hand I can see the grains fall away, judge the hardness, sneak a taste and feel the salty crystals crunch and burst with flavor.  I can decide that I want bigger or smaller pieces.  Or curls instead of shreds.

And the softer cheeses?  The Cuisinart totally mashes them.  Cheddar becomes Velveeta-like.  Yuck.  Plus I hate the noise the Cuisinart makes when grating Parmigiano.  It sounds like something's going very wrong inside the machine, like it's about to take off, or start throwing parts around the kitchen.

So I grate by hand.

I discovered whipping cream by hand when we were making Affogato (Ice cream.  Espresso.  In a tall glass.  With maybe a few chocolate covered coffee beans, and a dollop of softly whipped cream.  Heaven.)  We were in East Hampton and we couldn't find the beaters to the hand mixer, so Peter and I traded off with a balloon whisk -  tasting, resting, adding a splash of vanilla and a little sugar, and when no one else was looking a tiny sploosh of bourbon.  We quit whipping before it was as firm as the beaters would have made it, and the soft cream draped over the ice cream like a hug.  It was fabulous.

I cook because I love it.  It calms me, keeps me in the moment.  For me, it's the journey, not the destination.   The fact that delicious things come out is just a bonus - I'd cook anyway.  And it's better than a Junior Chemistry set - less chance of me blowing up the garage (altho there was that one time I forgot to watch the popcorn...Near melt-down.  Keep me away from the chemistry set).

So if you come to my kitchen you will find me grating cheese, and chopping parsley and basil - by hand.  And juicing lemons and mincing mint.  It is my meditation.  It keeps me in the moment.  Because as my legendary grandfather used to say, "You can't cook thru field glasses."

Melon, Stone Fruit and Burrata Salad - from the San Jose Mercury News

Serves 6
Note: Balinese long pepper is available in specialty shops and online. Try The Shed in Healdsburg. If you cannot find it, substitute a few grinds of coarse black pepper.  Or come by and I will share.  I have a lifetime supply...

1 red bell pepper, sliced into rings, seeds and pith removed
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 ripe honeydew melon, peeled and seeded
1/4 ripe cantaloupe, peeled and seeded
1/8 ripe watermelon, peeled and seeded
1 nectarine, halved, pit removed
1 fresh apricot, halved, pit removed
1/2 pound fresh burrata cheese
1 bunch watercress
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon Balinese long pepper
1. Quick-pickle the red bell pepper by placing the rings in cold rice vinegar overnight.
2. Cut the melons and stone fruit into assorted shapes and sizes for visual and textural appeal. Drain the bell pepper.
3. Arrange melons, stone fruit and bell pepper in alternating layers on individual plates. In the center of each, place a generous spoonful of burrata. Finish salad with some sprigs of watercress.
4. Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil over each salad. Finish with a pinch of curry powder, coarse sea salt and freshly ground long pepper.

Jill's notes:  This sounded totally weird to me, but it was such a hit!  Every single person who has tasted it has raved.  And asked for the recipe.  I don't know who this Chris Borges person is, but I'm hiring her (or him) for my next big party.  Yum.  

-- from Chris Borges, Taste Catering

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