Sunday 30 March 2014

Slow Cooked Vegetables (plating practice)

I've been revisiting a video series by Raymond Blanc (a brilliant Michelin starred French chef) called "How To Cook Well". Each half hour episode covers a different cooking technique from roasting, slow cooking, poaching, frying, baking and grilling. One of the dishes in the slow cooking episode really caught my eye. He simply calls it "slow cooked vegetables" but by the end there is an absolute masterpiece on the plate. The browned vegetables are braised simply in a bit of balsamic vinegar and boiling water from a kettle. In his version, he plates the vegetables with squash seeds, cured ham, deep fried crispy sage leaves, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and an extra drizzle of balsamic and olive oil (although when it shows the finished plate at the end there seem to be thin crackers or tuile of some kind which is not explained or shown prior). I fell in love with it so I decided to make my own version.

In Chef Raymond Blanc's version he slow cooked fennel, red onion, chicory and fresh artichoke hearts. I kept the fennel and red onion but chose radicchio and kohlrabi as my additional two. I didn't want to copy his recipe exactly (not that his was imperfect in any way, I just wanted to recreate rather than duplicate). You could use any vegetables you want but keep in mind that woody, chewy vegetables are best for slow cooking. The low and slow cooking method breaks down in the fibres in the vegetables and make them tender but maintain a certain level of crunch. I decided to keep my version vegetarian (so no ham) and I had some halloumi on hand so I used that instead of the Parmigiano Reggiano.

If you're not familiar, halloumi is Cyprian cheese made from cow, goat and sheep milk. It is salty in flavour and firm in texture. When raw it's consistency is similar to a firm mozzarella, but the interesting thing about halloumi is that it doesn't melt like most cheeses. You can grill or fry it and it will maintain its shape while acquiring a golden, crispy exterior. I thought that might make an interesting substitute in this dish. Another ingredient in this recipe that you might not be familiar with is kohlrabi. It is a usually light green, bulbous root with leafy stems coming out the top. They are very firm and their flavour is a cross between stem broccoli and turnip. When cooked, its starch converts to sugar and the flavour sweetens, slightly like that of a beet. Other vegetables that are great for braising/slow cooking is cabbage, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes, squash, etc...

In the video series the precise measurements of ingredients are not provided. In the video, he drizzles about 2 tbsp (I'm guessing) of balsamic vinegar and then he pours in some boiling water from a kettle before placing the pan in the oven. The next time I try this recipe I'm going to fill the pan up with about 1 cm of boiling water. When I cooked this I filled it probably closer to an inch. When you braise something you tend to add more liquid but the idea here is to allow the water to evaporate and create a rich glaze on the vegetables. I'm sure Chef Blanc's balsamic vinegar was better than mine anyway. I had to get some more and I found a really great deal on organic balsamic vinegar. It was such a great deal, I unfortunately discovered later, because it is sub par and not quite as thick as it should be. So if you try this, use good quality balsamic vinegar and only add about 1 cm of water. Keep an eye on your vegetables in case you may need to add just a little more.


Above is a photo of the main vegetables I used. From left: radicchio, kohlrabi, red onion and fennel. The radicchio and the onion I simply cut into quarters. For the fennel, I cut off the tops and quarter the base and reserved the leafy fronds for fresh garnish at the end (they can be used like an herb and have a sweet anise seed flavour). I only used the bulbs (quartered) of the kohlrabi but the stems and leaves I froze to use in a future batch of stock. 

In a pan over medium-high heat I added about 2 tbsp of olive oil 2/3 cup of peeled garlic cloves. At this temperature it won't take the garlic long to brown. Just keep an eye on them because they'll turn bitter if they burn and it doesn't take much. Three minutes should be fine. The garlic should sizzle immediately when it's introduced to the oil, otherwise it is not hot enough yet. 


Once lightly browned, add the cut vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Sautée for a few minutes.

Then add a stalk of fresh sage, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme and 1 sprig of fresh rosemary. Sautée for an additional minute or so.

Then drizzle a couple tbsp of good balsamic vinegar and some boiling water from a kettle. I added too much water so please do not replicate what you see in the photo. I recommend about a cm worth of boiling water in the pan.

Then place the pan at the bottom of a preheated oven to 250 F/120 C. If you place the pan in the middle of the rack the heat that will reflect off the ceiling of the oven could burn the vegetables. The idea is to let the gentle steam from the water keep the vegetables moist as they slowly roast. After 90 minutes or until the the vegetables are coated with a rich balsamic glaze. It should look better than mine:

I had to pour some of the excess liquid away. Womp, womp.

For the halloumi I sliced a few rectangular segments. Then in a pan I heated a couple tbsp of olive oil over medium-high.

They should also sizzle as soon as they hit the oil. They should only take a couple of minutes each side for a golden, crispy exterior. 

After that it was just a matter of arranging the vegetables on the plate with the fried halloumi. I deep fried some sage leaves (which only take a few seconds in hot oil) and garnished with them as well as some toasted walnut pieces, some of the fresh fennel fronds and a couple of edible flowers.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Stay tuned as there will be lots of new and exciting stuff happening in the future. 


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