The Cook's Book of Intense Flavors: 101 Surprising Flavor Combinations and Extraordinary Recipes That Excite Your Palate and Pleasure Your Senses by Robert and Molly Krause includes recipes like Deconstructed Lobster Bisque; Braised Duck with a Lift; and Sardinian Toasted Pasta with Chestnut Sauce.
Yield: 4 servings
This combination has a bit of intrigue. The ingredients are familiar, yet they have a whiff of the exotic. The sweet date joins the delicate nuttiness of chestnut and gets a jolt of sweet smokiness with paprika.
The application recipe prepares an unusual dish accented by a toasted pasta and smoked olive oil. Also look to the combination for stuffed dates as an appetizer or as a stuffing with game birds. These flavors complement pork, lamb, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and carrots.
Because of their high sugar content, dates can be used easily in desserts but also as sweet accents to salads, curries, and couscous. Look for soft dates with a seemingly liquid flesh contained by a thin, dried shell. For a natural sweetener (or to use dried out dates) make date "sugar." Cook the fruit in the oven until they are rock hard (20 minutes at 350 degrees F [180 degrees C, or gas mark 4]) and then grind in a food processor.
Roasting gives a texture similar to baked potatoes, with a sweet, soft, delicate flavor. Other techniques that work effectively: Boiling, steaming, grilling, and frying. Canned are fine for purees, but rely on fresh in the shell for other applications. Removing the shells can be a bit of a chore; be sure to cut an X on the flat side before cooking or you risk an explosion! December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts-hence the Christmas song reference.
Paprika can range from slightly sweet to quite spicy. Look for sweet smoked paprika (or Pimenton de la Vera, Dulce). This Spanish paprika has a particularly sweet, cool, smoky flavor. It is a great way to add smoky flavor without heat, which could overwhelm the sweet subtleties of the chestnut. Regular paprika will not have the same vibrant flavor but can be used in this combination.
Yield: 4 servings
This recipe greatly benefits from use of a specialty pasta called Fregola Sarda, a Sardinian toasted durum wheat pasta with a unique, deepened flavor. Also try to get your hands on another specialty ingredient—smoked extra-virgin olive oil. For substitutes, use Israeli couscous and a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
In a small, nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the paprika until it begins to brown around the edges and starts to smoke. Remove from heat.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the paprika, onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the carrot juice, wine, water, thyme, bay leaves, and dates and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes until most of the liquid absorbs and the pasta is al dente.
Set aside the larger pieces of chestnut and fold the smaller pieces into the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and sprinkle with the large pieces of chestnut and chive. Drizzle with smoked olive oil immediately before serving.
This can be a stand-alone vegetarian dish great with a salad and baguette. Or serve it with a lamb or pork chop.
This page created December 2010
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