Here are the rules:
The mystery ingredient shall be one ingredient, chosen by the other person. The person cooking, then, will prepare three dishes using the secret ingredient. The dishes are to highlight that ingredient, and will be "judged" on taste, originality, presentation and technique.
To kick off the game, I chose the secret ingredient... SPINACH.
In true Iron Chef tradition, Darling Husband picked up baby spinach and regular spinach, both. His three dishes included seared scallops with spinach oil, spinach fettuccine with pancetta, and a spinach and chevre soufle.
First of all, I love seared scallops. If they're done well, that is, and oh my goodness does Darling Husband do them well. A properly seared scallop is not tough or stringy, but spongy and yielding. The crust is brown and nicely crunchy; the middle is cooked but definitely more rare than the outside. These scallops were sitting in a verdant pool of spinach oil. (Pool? "Pool" sounds like they were overwhelmed, but they weren't. I toyed with words like puddle and smear, but none of them fit. Pool is the closest, but it's a shallow, tasteful pool.) Darling Husband put mature spinach and olive oil in the blender with a pinch of salt, then put through a sieve to separate the solids. The oil itself was a beautiful pale moss color, flecked with solid bits of emerald. I could just eat the oil itself, sopped up with some nice french bred. In fact, I think I will do that tomorrow, as we have left over oil and it was scrumptious. When Darling Husband left the room, I actually licked the plate. In a ladylike way, of course.
The next dish presented was the fettuccine. Darling Husband said his inspiration for the pasta dish was the traditional spinach salad with hot bacon dressing. I can remember my mom making this for her friends at dinner parties. She has these shallow, dark wooden salad bowls and I remember them lined up, ready with the spinach and waiting while she encouraged guests to sit. As my father poured wine, she would render chopped pieces of bacon and so be able to serve the first course still sizzling. It seemed terribly posh when I was 10 and, come to think of it, still is.
Darling Husband bought fresh (as in not dried) spinach fettuccine, which was for the sake of time and sanity. In a real Iron Chef situation, he assures me he would have made his own. I don't fault him for it. I often buy pre-shredded cheddar.
His pasta sauce was, essentially, rendered pancetta with red onions, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, a splash of white wine and a little butter to mount it. He crumbled fresh farmer cheese on top and garnished with deep fried baby spinach leaves. Have you ever deep fried spinach? Of course not, but you should. It becomes beautifully brittle and crunchy but not actually hard, the green color popping out and looking very inviting. It's nutty and doesn't taste much like spinach at all. Deep frying herbs is in vogue now, and I seem to feel it was a thing that was done back in the 60's but I can't find any reference to it so I might be making that up. Goodness knows, though, people will deep fry anything--so why not leafy greens!
The pasta, as a dish, was wonderful and tasty. I'm looking forward to the leftovers.
And now, the soufle. I have to award him chutzpa points for making a soufle. We've made them before, but rarely and always by recipe. I don't understand soufles yet. I know there's a sort of creamy, yolky base which is folded into, essentially, meringue and then baked. But it includes an alchemy I just don't get. I'd like to, though, because mmmmmmmh soufle....
The big debate with a soufle is whether to do individual portions or one large one. Darling Husband opted for one large one (done in a casserole dish given to me by my grandmother, who is 92. Every time I use it to serve at a dinner party or to bring along to a pot luck, I get asked "where did you get that?" followed by "my mother/grandmother had one just like it!" They used to be sold by traveling salesmen). The soufle was beautifully brown on top and nicely puffy. It fell in the middle, of course, because all soufles will once the steam escapes and also because I accidentally opened the oven while it was cooking. Oops. Inside was wonderfully yielding egg yumminess with whole spinach leaves suspended. How do I describe the taste? I have no idea, except to say this:
It's cold today. The temperature is about 18 degrees with a wind chill below zero and wind gusting to 40 mph. It has been snowing all day. It is, in fact, blizzarding. Our house, while nearing it's 100 year birthday, is usually toasty but today we both felt chilled. When Darling Husband served the soufle, I had one blanket wrapped around my shoulders and another across my lap. (We have a rather nice, radiator style space heater. It's in Baby Girl's room.) I was shivery and dreading the meal ending, because I offered to Darling Husband that I would shovel the driveway and sidewalk after dinner since he cooked and would later take out the garbage. When he served the soufle, and I bit into it, I felt warm and comforted. The creaminess enveloped me like another blanket and I stopped caring about the weather. It was goooood.
Dinner was an unmitigated success. I congratulate Darling Huband on excellent interpretation of the secret ingredient, outside the obvious choices, and look forward to my turn. :o)
In case you're wondering, though I hadn't complained or rescinded my offer, Darling Husband proposed we swap shoveling for cleaning up the kitchen. I barely let him get the sentence out before I was agreeing to it with a little dance. He said he couldn't face the kitchen but would be willing to shovel, which was remarkable because I had the exact opposite urge. It was divine. Days like this make me wish we had a snow blower, but each year we get through it fine and never get around to seriously discussing such a big purchase. Oh well. Today was a lovely dance of give and take, actually. He got up Baby Girl while I took an extra half hour to lie in bed, I entertained Baby Girl during the Steeler's game, he gave her bananas and snacks while I showered, I put her to bed while he cooked, etc. In between we all hung out, happy to be without too many obligations on a Sunday after such a busy time of year. And to cap off such a day with a subtly tangy chevre soufle? Well, it was divine. Thank you, Darling Husband.