Sunday, June 5, 2011
Ham and Apple Soup with Pastini
I diced the ham, shallot, a knuckle of ginger and a couple cloves of garlic fine and sweated them in the soup pot with a little butter and olive oil. While they were working I grated the apple. I was surprised how the volume of the apple reduced when grated. This was a pretty big apple and it only produced about half a cup of grated apple, which was also quite wet. I used a relatively fine grater, perhaps that's why. I added it to the pot and let it cook with the aromatics. When everything had dried out a bit and become familiar, but before getting any color, I added about a glass of white wine and let the alcohol boil off.
I didn't want to make a heavy soup, just something with nice flavor, so instead of stock I used plain water and the heel of an exhausted wedge of parmigiano. Parmigiano rind is a good way to add richness without muddying the flavor of a light soup, as the complex chemistry of this particular cheese includes salts, some milk fats, the aromatic products of aging and some MSG. You can actually make a decent meatless stock by chopping up several parmigiano heels and simmering them. I've been curious to try a clarified consommé of parmigiano made like this, maybe gussied up with some chives, chervil or tarragon. Another project for after I go deaf and have a bunch of time on my hands.
They used to make a frozen foamed essence of Parmigiano at El Bulli that was described in print as "a wisp of air that tasted like the cheese." I saw a demonstration of it on some cooking show. Apparently they made a broth of an entire wheel of Parmigiano, whipping air into it and collecting the foam, then froze the foam inside a serving vessel. That might be the number one example of what bugs me about molecular gastronomy, nashing* an entire wheel of beautiful cheese to make a frozen novelty wisp of nothing, and the best thing you can say about it is that it tastes like cheese. Pretty sure the cheese itself already tasted like cheese there Pepe.
When the stock had formed around the ingredients, I removed the parmigiano heel before it started to break down, added the pastini and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. I used those couple of minutes to run to the alley and grab some mint for a garnish. When I got there I realized that old man sage plant had not just survived the winter outdoors in his mud bucket but had come back full throttle, ready to throw down and get his swerve on with big downy leaves already in evidence. I've always liked the combination of fresh sage, apple and pork when mediated by butter, and along with the butter used at the start I thought the parmigiano heel would serve the same purpose, so I chopped a couple leaves of old man sage along with the mint. Way to go old man, let's get you laid. Don't let anybody tell you you're too old to party.
I stirred a handful of the herbs into the soup and gave it a final taste. It had a nice aroma and feel in my mouth but was initially a little polite on my tongue. I regretted not using any hot pepper in the original sofrito, but I remedied this by compounding a mayonnaise using Siracha, some vinegar and a little honey, and drizzled it in a swirl on top of the soup in its bowl. It looked nice and added the desired peppery insult. The soup now expressed itself over time, initially with the scent of the herbs and ginger, then the taste and texture of savory elements and pastini, richness from the slightly sweet broth, a nice lingering salinity, and finally a little throat burn from the siracha in the dressing. It was a pretty good soup.
*Nash is a Louisville term I learned from Clark Johnson. It means to waste something unnecessarily, as when a party guest leaves a half beer on a shelf someplace and then gets himself a fresh one. Nashing a beer is a beating offense, or used to be. I could propose a range of punishments for nashing a wheel of parmigiano reggiano, with beating on one end of the scale and howling nightmares of the Inquisition on the other.
Posted by Steve Albini at 3:03 AM