Sunday, June 05, 2005

Best! Lunch! Ever!

It started with Maltese Minestra. This is a soup like minestrone, but for me the beans and vegetables blend and flow around each other in a sort of dance. I use big, in your face broad beans, borlotti beans, brown green lentils... real textured emphatic beans. The vegetables are rich and inviting round slices of zucchini and carrot, little pieces of red, green and yellow capsicum, some chunks of brown onion. The stock is made from celery leaf and brussels sprouts broth with plenty of tomato puree. Amazingly, I did the whole thing without adding any basil leaves which are out of season (usually I am quite liberal) so the flavour was less herby and the vegetables were allowed to make a bold statement.

The next dish was Risotto Rocket. This was made by my co-host. He toasts the dried arborio rice in olive oil in the frying pan before adding a rich vegetable stock. He seduces the rice with wine and massages it to a perfect creamy finish with artichoke hearts and peas. (I love peas and I eat them out of the risotto.)

Dessert was a bit special. I heard the family enjoys a cheesecake, so I put my vegan cooking skills to work. Everything came up a bit firmer than I expected, but it was my first ever attempt so I did quite well.
The base was a solid almond cookie - I used organic almonds, demerara sugar, and a little organic unbleached flour to create the perfect biscuit base. This was topped with Lindt 70% cocoa dark chocolate. On top of this I poured a layer of hot marzipan, fresh from the saucepan (hand made, and I even peeled the almonds myself). The chocolate cheesecake layer was made from soymilk, but it was so full of chocolate you'd never know what it was. I melted almost 300g of Lindt 70% cocoa into about 750mL of organic soy milk, added 500g of demerara sugar, and poured in almost a cup of corn flour to thicken it up. The topping was left over marzipan cut into little cubes and crumbed over the top.

I made espresso to finish and the wine flowed freely all afternoon.

Cooking is a form of art, and like any art it needs to be respected and practiced with care and attention. The most important thing for me to observe is proper planning. For example, I prepared most of the meal last night so that this morning I could get up and go to the market to get a fresh loaf of Italian bread and some grissini. And because I prepared the biscuit base well in advance, it didn't matter that my first try failed.

I also believe in preparing from scratch. Making my own marzipan was quite a buzz. I've also been wanting for a long time to make my own chocolate but try finding cocoa butter in Canberra! "What's that?" ask the deli ladies and deli men. You can get non-food grade cocoa butter to use as a skin cream, but that's about it.

There's nothing like a mortar and pestle covered in nut paste and melting chocolate over a fresh batch of cookies hot from the oven. It's not just the delight on the recipient's face: there's the aroma of the kitchen, the joy of tying a ribbon around the jar: cooking, properly done, is an entire sensory experience. And given that sensory experience is what I do, it makes sense to indulge the other senses once in a while.


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