Thursday, 28 July 2011

IronChef Butternut: Soup, Pasta & Pie!

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"And now, for the theme ingredient on which our chefs will offer their succulent variations... BUTTERNUT!!!!!!!!!!"

And thus began my very own "battle" in "kitchen stadium," AKA, cooking dinner on an otherwise uneventful Friday night.

Allow me to backtrack a little... 20 months ago, I had surgery to repair and remove some torn cartilage from my hip, which I damaged while training for taekwondo. I was stuck on the couch for the first week post-surgery, having been told to just sit still and heal. Easier said than done for a girl with the attention span of a gold fish. So, I began my couch-bound first week of recovery, and started channel surfing my way through Foxtel, to land upon a show entitled "Iron Chef." I like cooking, this sounds ok. I watched battle... actually, I can't for the life of me remember, it was some type of fish... anyway, I watched it, I loved it, and from then on, no one was allowed to speak to me from 12 - 1pm while it was on for the rest of the week. Fast forward 20 months, and not only am I still hooked, I also have Sous-Jeff sucked into the show's theatrics and deliciousness too! That's also where his nickname, Sous-Jeff, originated from. He loves nothing more than the watch the orange Croc-clad Mario Batali battle it out beneath the chairman's watchful eyes and amusing comments. And so, after a trip to the Queen Vic market, it was decided that our humble little kitchen would transform into Kitchen Stadium for a night, and I would be given as much time as I wanted to create three dishes (luckily Chairman Sous-Jeff decided that without an actual sous chef, five dishes and a time limit may be a little extreme), and butternut pumpkin would be my secret ingredient. Fortunately, this was revealed while we were still at the market, enabling me to pick up some more special ingredients as we went. And with that, my three dishes were produced, as follows...

ENTREE: Butternut Pumpkin Soup

For the soup, I quickly read a recipe that I had in a Donna Hay cookbook, then mostly made it up as I went...

I cut the butternut in half and scooped out the seeds, put the halves cut side up with a few small onions on an oven tray and drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled a bit of sea salt. Into the oven until they were soft - this was around an hour on about 180°C.

Out of the oven they came, and I scooped most of the flesh out of the pumpkin, leaving enough in there to create a "bowl" - I needed a bit of "wow" factor to score points for plating and creativity, after all!

Into the blender went the roasted butternut and the onions (I just squeezed the flesh out of the skins)...

... and I just blended them until they were well combined and thick and smooth.

Here's where the Donna Hay "Fast, Fresh and Simple" inspiration came in... I added about a cup of pouring cream and about a quarter cup of honey to the mixture, and put it all in a pot over medium/low heat, stirring it continuously as it all combined and warmed up.

And here was the result of my first Iron Chef course!

Aaaaand here's what was left of Sous-Jeff's "bowl" after he decided to start eating it, too! I certainly achieved the shock factor I was after, with my adoring husband hailing me as his favourite chef ever! I was chuffed, and steamed back into the kitchen, head held high, ready to plate up the entree!


Taste: 9 /10
Plating: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

MAIN: Butternut Pumpkin Stuffed Pasta
For my main, I couldn't go past a pasta, stuffed with pumpkin, sage, ricotta and some sort of meat. It's not tooooo heavy, but just filling enough to be an actual main dish. And although I'd never made proper, filled pasta from scratch on my own, I was ready and willing to give it a try!

First up, I diced the butternut into tiny, little, 1cm cubes, and roasted them in the oven drizzled with olive oil, salt and sage.

Next, I heated some oil in a fry pan, added some garlic and some sausage mince. I thought sausage mince would be a good option as it's not too chunky, so it wouldn't take away from the butternut, which was meant to be the star of the dish.

Then, in with the pumpkin...

... out of the pan, and in with the ricotta, mixing it all together.

Pasta dough next - just a super basic (but effective) flour-and-egg dough, made and left to sit in plastic wrap for an hour or so.

I rolled it out in my little pasta machine, into long strips (with a bit of help from Sous-Jeff!)...

And made tablespoon sized balls of mixture to place in intervals along the pasta strip.

I "painted" around the edges with some egg wash, and placed the other strip on top, pressing down firmly. Unfortunately, there was still a bit of air bubble action going on, but hey, live and learn!

They went into a pot of boiling water for around 3 minutes...

... then went onto a hot pan with some butter and sage leaves, to crisp up a little around the edges.

And here's what ended up on the plate!

The pumpking and sage really stood out and complemented each other perfectly, with the ricotta and sausage working in beautifully. The pasta, while it didn't look amazing or was put together perfectly, did taste great and soft. The recipe itself is (for me,) perfect as is, I just need to work on stuffing the pasta a bit better!

Sous-Jeff's absolutely favourite meal that I make is pan fried butter and sage gnocchi, so I thought I'd be on a winner here, and I was. He really loved the extra little bit of crispness that was added, and the soft pasta dough beneath that crisp shell.

Taste: 7/10
Plating: 3.5/5
Originality: 3.5/5

DESSERT: Butternut Pumpkin Pie

You just can't go wrong with pie, really. I've never made it before, never had any inclination to either, to be honest. But as soon as Sous-Jeff revealed my secret ingredient, I straight away thought of pumpkin pie as my dessert. I couldn't really find a recipe I liked, so as usual, I kind of just made it up as I went along.

First, my easy pie pastry - around about a cup and a half of plain flour, plus around 80g of butter (rub together to make little crumbs), then 2 tablespoons of ice cold water. Mix it together, wrap it up in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for at least half an hour.

For the filling, I roasted some more pumpkin (no oil or salt, just plain), and scooped out the flesh and put it in the blender, with about half a cup of cream, a quarter cup of brown sugar, an egg, and I blended it till it looked like this:

I also decided caramelised pecans were in order to really make this desserty, so I put about 50g of pecans and 2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar in a pot, with a splash of water, and cooked them (stirring continuously) on medium heat for 5 minutes or so.

The pie shells were blind baked for about 10 minutes, then the filling went in...

... and they were baked for another 30 minutes or so, until the top of the pie was firm to touch.

We were getting pretty full by this point, so we decided to share one little pie for dessert instead of eating one each, as we a) wouldn't be sick, and b) we'd have another one for the next night.

It was creamy and smooth, with perfectly buttery, browned pastry, and the fantastic sweetness and crunch of the caramelised pecans. I was pretty impressed with myself actually, can't believe I actually made a pie from a vegetable with success! As for Sous-Jeff's verdict? You remember that other pie we were saving for tomorrow? Yeah, that got eaten less than 30 minutes later...

Taste: 7/10
Plating: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

With a total score of 44 of a possible 60, I was pretty happy with my efforts, especially considering they were all dishes I'd never attempted before! Can't wait for my next Iron Chef challenge :)

Over to you lovely people: ever tried your own version of something you've seen on TV?! How'd it go?!

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