Marsala

So I thought that I might do a little food blogging here.

I’ve become something of a foodie in the past couple of years — to the point that I’ve even begun a small herb garden out back. But of course, I’ve always had a black thumb; I’ve tried keeping all manner of plants, but somehow I always end up under-watering the ferns and over-watering the cacti, and everything always ends up dead. So when I say “herb garden”, you should know that it’s really just a couple of pots with a few scraggly plants. But I digress….

I thought I’d do some food blogging, not garden blogging. I recently began reading Evil Jungle Prince, a wonderful asian food blog with a great design, beautiful pictures, and recipes that take three days of preparation. In other words, it’s a real food blog.

This isn’t.

At least, not yet. I don’t consider myself a great cook, just someone who’s enthusiastic about cooking and who would like, at some point, to become a great cook. So I’m going to blog about my progress. Mistakes and all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty decent cook. But I still make a lot of mistakes in the kitchen, and there are more than a few techniques that continue to elude me (hollandaise & croissants to name two). So don’t expect three-day fermentation recipes here. For that, go see the Evil Jungle Prince (Is that a great blog name or what!).

On to the actual food blogging.

A couple of nights ago I tried making Veal Marsala. It’s a dish that I often order when I’m out, and I always think that it’s an excellent test of an Italian restaurant. Any decent Italian restaurant should be able to make a good marsala sauce and a good marinara. But I’d never actually tried making it at home.

I’d made a bunch of wine reduction sauces, many with mushrooms, and many have been very, very good. But I’d never actually done the true marsala. So I bought some pre-pounded veal (so much easier), a bottle of decent dry marsala wine, and some good pappardelle nest pasta.

I began by putting the water on to boil and flouring the veal. I added 1 tbspn EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil — the topic of another post, I think. What’s your favorite brand of olive oil?) and 1 tbspn butter to my sauté pan on med-high heat.

When the fat got hot I added the veal. While the veal was browning, I began soaking 1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms in hot water and sliced 10-12 cremini mushrooms.

At this point the veal had browned wonderfully on one side and I flipped each piece.

I then crushed and minced one clove of garlic and added it to the dried porcini’s. Next I chopped 1 tbspn fresh rosemary and set it aside.

At this point I realized that I’d made my first mistake. I checked on the veal and discovered that I’d over-floured them, and the flour crust was browning well, but wasn’t sticking to the veal. Fortunately, I didn’t despair. One side had turned out lovely, if the other side was a failure, I could live.

I finished browning the veal, and set the pieces aside. Then I removed the excess flour that was now only coating the pan and not the veal. Should I have left the browned flour in? I was afraid it would be too burnt, and would thicken the sauce too much. I added a drop or two more olive oil and all the creminis.

When the mushrooms had sauteed, and I had scraped all the little yummy brown bits up off the bottom of the pan (the mushrooms produce enough liquid on their own to deglaze the pan), I added the porcinis (with the water) and cooked that until most of the water had evaporated.

As the porcini liquid is being reduced, I see that my water is boiling. Actually, it’s been boiling for a while, but the pappardelle only take seven minutes, and I didn’t want the pasta to sit too long while I finished the sauce, so I’m only now getting to the pasta.

I add a pinch of salt and a dash of oil to the water, and in goes the dried pasta.

Now I add about a cup of marsala wine and the rosemary to the pan.

I let the sauce reduce and coarsely chop 2 tbspns flat-leaf parsley. I refill my wine glass, and notice that the marsala has reduced faster than I thought it would. I reduce the heat on the pan, and add about 4 tbspns softened unsalted butter. I salt the sauce to taste, return the veal to the pan to let it warm through, and my pasta is just about done.

I’m a little concerned because there’s not as much sauce as I would really like. (Jamie ends up thinking that it was just right — but she loves me and always says nice things.)

But I plate it up, and it turns out to be… wonderful! Rich & a little sweet, I’d have been very pleased if I’d ordered it out. A success! A lot of butter, and yes that’s kind of cheating. Adding 4 tbspns of butter should make anything good. But I’m full and happy.

Quara Torrontes
We had it with a very nice Argentinean white: Quara Torrontes. — “A beguiling wine with exotic aromas reminiscent of fresh crushed grapes and roses with a hint of spice. Bursting with fresh peach and pineapple flavors on a creamy background that is perfectly balanced by bright and lively natural acidity.”