Saturday, January 9, 2010

Iron Chef Me

Today's secret ingredient is..... HAM!

Darling Husband presented me with prosciutto, spec, a huge ham steak and a big hunk of capicola.

So, I had to make three dishes. The happy part was Darling Husband offered to be my sous chef for the evening. First, though, I had to decide what to make.

The first thing I noticed about the ham steak was that it had a ham bone in it. I have to confess, for as frightened as I am by bones and as weirded out as I am to cook with them, I am smart enough to know that's where all the flavor is and it's a huge asset. My first thought is to pop that ham bone out and use it to make a broth. I decided to make a creamy white bean puree, cooked with ham bone and decorated with crispy ham of one description or another. Sounds pretty good, but that's just a side dish.

As a main course, to go with my bean puree, I decided to go old school and make ham wellington. This is particularly appealing to me for two reasons. First, because I have multiple tins of pate of various description in my cupboard and sheets of puff pastry in my freezer. Second, because it reminds me of a calzone meal my mom used to make when I was little, with ham, swiss, ricotta and spinach encased in a pizza type dough and baked. I didn't want to recreate this exactly, but I thought this would be a fun dish. Plus, I get to make duxelle. Who doesn't love that? The scary part of beef wellington is getting the pastry done without being doughy or overcooked while still cooking the beef through. I would be using the ham steak, which is already fully cooked. As long as I don't dry it out too much, I should be okay.

Baby Girl loves us to read books, and I've read Green Eggs and Ham too often not to have that pop into my head. She also loves ham, and asks for it all the time. She just likes it diced, not fancy, but I'm making Greens, Eggs and Ham just for her. I decided to poach an egg, and serve it with a white pizza with wilted greens and oven crisped prosciutto and capicola.

The spec is very dry, very pretty, wonderfully flavored. It's thinly sliced and screaming to be wrapped around something. My instinct was to wrap it around asparagus, but that wasn't special enough. I came up with the idea of using the spec like nori in a maki roll.

The sushi rice was surprisingly easy to make. To flavor, you just put a little rice wine vinegar and sugar. I made a solid wall of speck, then pressed on some sushi rice. It's sticky, and the key is to moisten your fingers when you do it. I filled it with a couple steamed asparagus spears, sliced mango and cucumber spears. Darling Husband helped me roll it, because I couldn't get it tight enough. I cut it with a sharp knife, but it was hard not to rip the spec.

The next dish was the Greens, Eggs and Ham. I wilted some baby arugula in oil rendered from cubes of capicola (more about that later) and used them as a nest for a poached egg. I served it with slices of pizza, which I made with naan, a tiny smear of farmer cheese, the shaved prosciutto, thinly sliced capicola and some tasty, earthy brie. I was blown away. It was a simple dish, but the flavors worked magnificently together, though I say it myself. Darling husband piled the greens and hunks of egg on his pizza--and yummmm.

For our third and final dish, the ham wellington. I made the duxelle by sauteing minced onion and cremini mushrooms and kept cooking until it was dry. I had cut the ham into a couple of same sized hunks and so spread the duxelle on top. Between the slices, we layered the foie gras. The individual wellingtons were gift wrapped into puff pastry and popped into the oven. Meanwhile, I had simmered the beans with the ham bone. I also rendered cubed capicola into crispy, wonderful lardons. Instead of actually pureeing the beans, I just mushed them a bit until they fell apart, then added in the capicola lardons.
I thought everything turned out really well. The foie grasmelted into creamy wonderfulness, and the ham was perfectly moist. The pastry absorbed all the different flavors wonderfully. I thought the beans were tasty, too, but not nearly as good as the rest of it and I was hammed out. We still have a lot of ham leftovers. I don't know how I did on my challenge; we'll have to hope Darling Husband posts to give me a critique. Personally, I had fun cooking and I ate well that night. I'll post pictures soon!

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