Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Meals with Marcella [two]: Law Review Catering Service

Chick Pea Soup
Shredded Carrot Salad Variation with [Mixed Greens]
[Rigatoni with] Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Ciambella--Grandmother's Pastry Ring

Imagine Padma, from Top Chef, saying: "Chefs, you must each prepare breakfast and lunch for fifty esteemed diners. You must organize your own transportation for yourself and your food and there will only be three crockpots available at the event space. And one more thing (there's always a twist!). You must accommodate for nine vegetarians and a select group of people who have allergies to bell peppers, grapefruit, all nuts except peanuts, sesame seeds, blood sausage, and alcohol."

Welcome to the my school's law review's misnomer of a tradition: "Snack." Every quarter, each member has to provide a full breakfast and lunch for, ideally, fifty people. Because everyone doesn't really eat the breakfast, you can usually get away with providing enough fruits, yogurt, and bagels/donuts/muffins for maybe two dozen people. But for lunch, if you run out, you are immediately shamed and looked at with disappointment for...two minutes? In any case, running out of food is my ultimate fear when I cook, and a very close second is serving subpar food. Luckily for me, I had Marcella Hazan at my side. She made sure that I kept things simple, manageable in large quantities, and, of course, delicious.

Snack? More like catering service. Not like I mind either way. Bring it. "Your time starts now."

The first thing I did was get a ton of dried chickpeas soaking in some water. I could have splurged with a bunch of canned chickpeas, but the dried ones were so much cheaper, especially in this quantity.

Next, I figured the most time-consuming portion of this meal would be the beef stock. I was a little intimidated at first because I had never taken the time to make my own beef stock, but I was excited to see the results.

Armed with onions, potatoes, celery, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, veal bones, oxtail, and veal chunks, I got the stock on its way.

I ended up having to make two batches because my stock pot wasn't big enough to accommodate all the stock I would need to make the chickpea soup.

After straining the stock through a paper towel and a mesh strainer two times, I let the stock rest in the fridge to release the fat. I'll spare you all the picture of the fat.

While the chickpeas were soaking and the stock was boiling, simmering, and cooling, I got started on the tomato sauce and ciambella. I was most excited to make this tomato sauce because of its fame as the insanely delicious four-ingredient tomato sauce. This recipe is reproduced pretty widely online.

The tomato sauce started with ten boxes of rigatoni and fourteen cans of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes. Four of the cans were for the soup, though. I decided to go with the canned San Marzano tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes because the market didn't have enough fully-ripened tomatoes. Next time, when tomatoes are well in season, I'll make it fresh.

With two saucepans that could each only fit two batches' worth at a time, I had to run through this recipe five times.

Two cans of tomatoes, ten tablespoons of unsalted butter, four onion halves, and salt in each saucepan.

Heat it up.

Simmer down, now.

And enjoy. So simple, so silky, and so, so good. This versatile sauce could probably go on anything from pasta to quinoa and chicken to beef. But a nice spoonful by itself doesn't hurt either.

In between batches of tomato sauce, I loaded up the oven with ciambella. More on what ciambella is below. This recipe was also surprisingly simple, with great results.

Get some warmed butter, sugar, flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl.

Naturally, mix it all up.

If your dough looks a little on the flaky side, add ever so slight bits of whole milk until you get the right consistency.

Form the dough into a ring, make some slits, and brush on some egg yolk combined with water.

Off to the oven. Because of my lame oven capacity, I went through this recipe five times.

By this time, the chickpeas were all done soaking up, so I ran them in some boiling water.

Strain and rinse. Time-consuming, but not attention-demanding. Money saved.

Since the chickpeas were all done, I went ahead and started the soup. I made ten batches total. Eight batches using beef stock (four batches at a time), and two batches using store-bought vegetable stock. The recipe starts off with a ton of delicious olive oil and garlic cloves.

Sometimes I think I could just live off of the sound and smell of garlic crackling and browning in olive oil.

After adding some of those San Marzano tomatoes and sprigs of rosemary, let it simmer until the oil floats free from the tomatoes.

Stir in the chickpeas and cook for another five minutes, and then cook for another fifteen minutes with the beef broth. Done and done. Right before serving, taste and correct with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The last piece to this large puzzle was the carrot salad.

Which required plenty of peeling.

Plenty of trimming.

And plenty of shredding. Wait until serving to season with salt, lemon juice, and olive oil.

With tons upon tons of food in hand, I made my way to the law school building with the help of a great friend and her great car. You can only see two of the three crockpots here because there wasn't enough space or outlets for the smaller crockpot with the vegetarian, bell pepper-free version of the chickpea soup. From left to right, beef broth chickpea soup, parmagiano-reggiano for the pasta, the pasta with tomato sauce, more back up pasta, mixed greens, the carrot salad, and bread. There were plenty of tubs of reinforcements for the tomato sauce and the chickpea soup in the fridge.

First up, the Chick Pea Soup. Hearty with chickpeas and packed with flavors of tomatoes and rosemary, this soup is perfect for a gloomy, Seattle afternoon. The flavors of the beef stock add extra depth and girth to the soup, while the bright notes of sweet tomato and olive oil-infused rosemary wrap themselves around each chickpea. If you feel like making this recipe even easier, use some pre-made beef stock and canned chickpeas to get a similar effect in even less time. The vegetarian counterpart was just as filling, so don't hesitate to get a few health points with the veggie stock alternative.

The Shredded Carrot Salad Variation with [Mixed Greens] is originally supposed to either go by itself or with some arugula. Because arugula can get expensive, I got a couple containers of mixed greens to give people the option of eating this salad orange, or sprinkled with greens. By itself, the salad had great crunch, a good punch of acidity, and a more subtle presence of rich olive oil. The salt helped to bring everything together. Mixed with greens, the carrots acted as a solid base to the mix, making additional balsamic or olive oil pretty much unnecessary.

For me, the clear winner, if I had to choose, was the [Rigatoni with] Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter. The silky, smooth, yet chunky tomato sauce was beautifully infused with butter and the remnants of onion, and clung to the rigatoni like a long-awaited hug. The rigatoni was as close to al dente as I could've hoped for after cooking the pasta to near al dente status at home and warming up and mixing the rigatoni with the sauce at the lunch location. The sauce was sweet, but not too sweet, a little creamy, and insanely addictive. Add a hearty spoonful of parmagiano-reggiano and you've got yourself a crazy delicious pasta. I made this sauce three more times that week. No shame.

Finally, the Ciambella--Grandmother's Pastry Ring. Ciambella is a home-baked pastry that survives through family tradition. As Marcella Hazan notes, each family has its own recipe, each as authentic as the next. This one is her grandmother's recipe, if that wasn't obvious from the recipe's title, and I have to say, it's pretty darn authentic. This is of course coming from someone who's never had ciambella before. Who cares. It was delicious.

She also explains that people enjoy this with a latte, and the old farmers' way to enjoy this is with some sweet wine. Naturally, I chose sweet wine (don't worry, there was coffee and whole milk available for those allergic to alcohol). A nice, full-bodied port.

The density of the pastry was incredibly satisfying and the invisible bits of lemon zest really packed a punch. That combined with the sweetness and light acidity of the wine got me going back for more slices. And more alcohol. At 1:00pm.

I'd like to think that the menu was a success. The whole menu was vegetarian and avoided all the allergies, except for the beef stock and port wine, and the classic combination of soup, salad, pasta, and dessert made for a satisfying lunch. I'd also like to think that I wouldn't end up in the bottom two.

But at the end of the day, I collected my tupperware and leftovers, packed up my knives, and left.

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