Monday, February 16, 2015
Kill the Fatted Calf
Fat spitting angrily, bubbling and seething, hissing and spattering violently. No matter the fat, like a woman scorned, it begins cool, calm, and collected. Quite placid. Some fats (butter) smell oh-so sweetly, fresh as the morning dew. Cool to the touch, that fat invites tasting, allows being handled, rubbed into flour for crusts, crumbles, and biscuits. At room temperature, that fat is oh-so smooth, spreading across a slice of fresh brioche, whipping into frosting or cake batter, whisking into a sauce, adding body and shape. Luscious, velvety, a beautiful pale yellow the color of tulips or roses. Sexy fat.
Some fats (olive oil, vegetable oil), may have a sharper smell, a bit wild, of the outdoors, some none at all, like an unknown, a mystery. Slick and slithery, shining and glittering, that fat shimmers down as a waterfall, flavoring what is bland or balancing what is too robust, binding groups of ingredients together into the perfect vinaigrette, mayonnaise, pesto, cubes of tomato for bruschette, a swirl into a bowl of soup. A drizzle, a stream, a smattering, a hint. Slick and slithery, no better beauty product, rubbed into the skin for softness and glow. Or a massage. Sensual fat.
Other fats, pure, white shortening of the big, blue can, gooey and viscous, unctuous (a bit like Uriah Heap), glossy, like brilliantine, is so innocent, even-tempered and bland. Remember when you and your brother smeared it into your hair, shaping it into spit curls and a bouffant style. Or horns. Fat melted and stirred into batter or whipped, replacing butter when necessary. But only when necessary. Lard? Also. Fat Cat.
Yet heat it up and beware! What was so placid and peaceful, so smooth and seductive, just put it over a flame and watch the transformation. It froths and foams (toss in the chopped onions the meat the veg the beaten eggs doughnut dough pancake batter cold liquid) and it sizzles and seethes violently! It spits and bristles, biting into skin, burning whatever it jumps onto. Fat flares up angrily like a shrew, tempestuous. Oh what a little heat will do.
To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
Stuff it till Christmas and make a fat hog.
Home again, home again, jiggety jog.
Low fat? Full fat? Always the dilemma. We love full fat fromage blanc, fromage frais, cheese and ice cream but as we get older the full fat of what we love to eat ends up… full fat on us. Slipping into my favorite jeans is like trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube. And so we eat low fat. Milk, cheese (we often wonder if it really is cheese), ice cream, sour cream, quark. They are each a little bit flimsy in the consistency department – add a bit more gelatin to the mix when making panna cotta with low-fat milk, and tiramisu or mousse with low-fat fromage blanc? Smile and think of the calories we are not consuming. And I readjust my halo.
Low-fat cheese, milk, ice cream, fromage blanc makes us feel so very saintly. And, in our own peculiar reasoning, allows us to (gives us the excuse to) drink a glass or two of wine with dinner, sneak in an extra slice of bread, toss a handful of smoky lardons into the pan when preparing sautéed something or other. It allows us to (gives us the excuse to) order both a first course and dessert when dining out.
Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
I have a finicky son, who does not like fat. Jack Sprat. He refuses to eat veal or lamb for the fat, and he will only eat cuts of beef or pieces of chicken that contain not one iota of anything that he perceives to be fat. Gooey, sticky, stringy fat.
He is incredibly wary when served, surveying the food on his plate like a detective whose very career is at stake if even the tiniest detail is overlooked, a clue missed no matter how insignificant, then, knife and fork in hand, picking apart each dish with the patience, concentration and skill of a surgeon.
My culinarily persnickety son has a certain sobriety in his eating habits that, genetically, I have yet to trace. Gastronomically austere. He eats almost no vegetables, refuses soups and sauces with chunks of anything in them, he snubs cakes in which he perceives minuscule flecks of green or orange, and he dissects meat and casseroles to remove every last hint of fat or anything remotely foreign with a minutia that would make a forensic scientist proud.
It is no wonder that he is rather like a stick figure. A long, tall drink of water, my mom calls him. Not an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. There is nothing corpulent, beefy or fleshy about him. No fat.
Yet although he spurns fat on his food, fatty foods are his mainstay. French fries and breaded and fried anything, as long as there is no fat fat, piles of buttery chocolate chip cookies, pizza and burgers, slice after slice of cured, spicy sausages, pepperoni, chorizo, merguez, no matter the glaring presence of chunks of white fat stuck in the red, no matter the greasy fat that oozes from those meats when fried. “You should balance those fatty foods, your fatty diet with something healthy," I admonish. “Fruits and vegetables.”
“But mom,” he reasons, “I’m not fat! You think all of this food is going to make me fat?”
It Ain’t Over Until the Fat….
We are not a one-fat family. Butter ooh la la butter the French way, butter from Normandy cows, butter for cakes, pats of butter for creamy mashed potatoes, purée, tossed into grains for couscous, smeared across slices of toasted brioche and melted onto crêpes. Butter, the French fat, matières grasses. Gros - gras, like fat baby legs and grandmère’s arms.
Or butter à l’américaine, sticks of butter, sticks of fat, melted onto pancakes, oatmeal, Poptarts, cornbread and for making mac & cheese oh yeah! Butter whipped into sugar for cakes and cookies galore. Eggs fried in butter.
Olive oil, grasso mamma mia! Oil from the olives that grow across the boot, pressed and fragrant, strong and peppery or mild and sweet, green to gold. Oil, fat, for tossing into pasta, drizzling over chopped tomato bruschette; we used olive oil, of course, before moving to Italy but rather became addicted to it as a fat for cooking and eating both while living in olive oil country. Warm white cannelloni beans, a bit of salt and pepper and chopped fresh rosemary heady with olive oil. Carpaccio, topped with shaved Parmesan and thin slices of violet artichokes and rocket, rucola, all bathed in olive oil. Big fat gnocchi. Eaten simply, drizzled with olive oil. Spaghetti olio aglio peperoncino, slithery, slurped up, my husband’s favorite dish.
But, ah, butter for risotto!
Vegetable oil for baking. Moist and tender fat. Duck fat or chicken fat, schmaltz. Oy vey. Schmaltz and gribenes! Mmmmm rendered chicken or goose fat and the crispy chicken skin… like Bubbe used to make! A big pot of homemade chicken soup, Jewish penicillin, cooled, the fat skimmed and saved. Chicken fat and chicken skin fried up with onions and what a treat, fat from the Old Country! Better than bacon, at least for us Jews! Then schmaltz, the chicken fat, is used for traditional chopped liver or kugel, for making chicken or egg salad, dad’s way, or just spreading on bread, Challah or rye. The fat of my youth.
Fatty Fatty two by four…
Around my house, I’m known as the Risotto Queen. I learned the art of making risotto from our elderly Italian neighbor, matriarch of a large family, when we lived outside of Milan many years ago. I have been making it ever since and quite often, all year round. Once the basic recipe and the method for achieving a creamy, tender risotto is mastered, the variations are endless, from the traditional to the unusual, and following the seasons. When you are in the mood for something flavorful, rich and just a tad decadent, you must make this risotto with Gorgonzola, gooey, creamy and fatty, a bit salty, rather fruity, somewhat mellow and perfect when blended into a mild risotto. If you want a sweet touch, add sautéed pear! Forget the diet and enjoy.
JAMIE'S RISOTTO WITH GORGONZOLA & PEARS
Serves 4 for a nice meal
350 g Italian rice for risotto, preferably Carnaroli or Arborio
1 small onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbs (30 g) butter or half butter-half olive oil
100 ml dry white wine
About 5 cups (1 ½ liters) vegetable broth or bouillon
250 g Gorgonzola cheese, cubed
1 – 2 Tbs (15 – 30 g) butter & 3 Tbs finely grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1 – 2 Tbs (15 – 30 g) butter & 1 - 2 ripe pears, optional, peeled and cored, halved and in thin slices or small cubes
Sauté the onion or shallot in the butter until tender. Add the rice and stir until coated in the fat and cook until the grains become translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed and the alcohol evaporated. Begin adding the broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring until each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next. Continue cooking this way for around 18-20 minutes until all the stock has been added and the rice is cooked and creamy, with a slight bite.
Add the Gorgonzola off the heat and stir until it is melted and blended in and the risotto is very creamy. Add the butter and Parmesan; return the pan to the heat for about 2 minutes and stir well until heated through.
In a separate skillet, heat butter and cook the pear slices or cubes for just a couple of minutes until hot through and tender. Top the Risotto with the pears and serve.