Noma: Vegetable Garden

This was a first attempt to cook a recipe from Noma as closely as possible to how it’s written in the book. I made a sort-of Noma recipe before and loved the focus on the vegetables. They are cooked perfectly and presented simply. This particular recipe caught my attention from the first time I flipped through the book. It’s little more than a selection of vegetables and a base of mashed potatoes (and soil). Nothing too weird or difficult, except the final dish looks like a small vegetable garden complete with soil and all. I would love to serve this dish with small rabbit chops along side the vegetables…bunnies in the garden.

Redzepi uses a selection of root and green vegetables for his dish including celery root, leeks, sunchokes, baby zucchini and parsley root. I did not stick to that listing verbatim, but picked what seemed nice and fresh at the store. My list consisted of:

  • Beets – Roasted with salt and butter in foil, then peeled and cut into small segments
  • Thin carrots (with tops) – Cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes, tops reserved for garnish
  • Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes) – Cooked sous vide with butter at 85 C for about 1.5 hours. They retained a nice firm texture while fully cooked.
  • Leeks – Used the smaller inner portion and blanched in salted water
  • Asparagus – blanched in salted water
  • Cauliflower – Florets cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes

The soil component of the dish is made from ground hazelnuts, flour, beer, malt flour and butter. It is seasoned with salt and sugar. The soil is made in two “installments” over a period of two days. Ingredients are mixed in, dried in the oven for hours and crumbled. The next day another set of ingredients goes through the same treatment before the two get combined. The idea is that the end result should look like dark rich soil and have a nice crunchy texture to complement the soft vegetables and the mashed potatoes. My soil did have that nice texture and very deep and rich taste, but unlike the recipe picture in the book it is much lighter in color. It looks more like sand than soil I guess. That malt flour might be the reason why the color was off. I could not find it anywhere and resorted to using a mixture of flour and malt powder.

The last component is a straightforward potato puree flavored with horseradish and enriched with butter and cream. The quantity in the book for the potato puree is a bit too small so I just tripled it. To plate, the mashed potatoes go in first as a base. After heating the vegetables in a butter-water emulsion, they get “planted” in the potatoes and the soil covers the whole thing up. For a garnish, I used carrot-top leaves, garlic shoots and parsley leaves. This was a delicious, satisfying and beautiful plate of food.

VDP: Penne with Cauliflower and Pesto-Ricotta Sauce

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Having a bounty of basil in the backyard gives me more of an excuse to eat pesto. I love the stuff on almost anything. Here as a pasta sauce for cauliflower. I was hoping to make some fresh pasta for this dish, but on a Tuesday in a busy week, I had no time. First, I par-boiled the cauliflower. Then it went in a pan with olive oil, onions and garlic while I boiled the pasta, Penne in this case.

For the sauce I mixed pesto with homemade ricotta, minced garlic and parmesan cheese. When the pasta was done and the cauliflower fully cooked, sweet and starting to brown I tossed everything in a large bowl and mixed in some lemon zest for good measure. The addition of the lemon zest was a spur of the moment thing, but it really made a big difference and transformed a good dish to an excellent one. I served it with chilli flakes, more grated parmesan and olive oil toasted breadcrumbs.

If it sounds a bit odd that I add toasted breadcrumbs to the pasta, let me write a couple of lines of background. It is not something I made up or thought of myself. First time I read about it was in one of Jamie Oliver’s books. It’s correct name is Pangriata or Pangritata and it’s origin goes back to poorer Italian cooks who used it as a substitute to the more expensive grated cheese topping. It really is a wonderful way to add crunch and extra flavor to pastas and risottos especially. Anything can be mixed in it too, like maybe some herbs or chilli flakes.