Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ad Hoc Dinner: Tomato Sauce Challenge Part One

Yet another adventure with Thomas Keller.
I know I've mentioned it -- but this year James, although he couldn't wait for Christmas, gave me Thomas Keller's new Ad Hoc cookbook. At Ad Hoc Keller serves offers one appetizer, one entree, a cheese course, and one dessert a night. Chef Keller's version of what we home cooks do every day or would if we could.
When I saw the recipe for oven-roasted tomato sauce I had to give it a try (especially since there is a similar Mark Peel recipe to challenge it), in spite of the more than two hours cooking time. I roasted aromatic vegetables (leeks, onions, fennel and garlic) with salt and canola oil for 45 minutes. Then I stirred in brown sugar and red wine vinegar and allowed the mixture to roast for 20 more minutes. When the vegetables were tender and caramelized I stirred in two large drained cans of San Marzano tomatoes -- 1 can chopped, 1 left whole -- and a sachet of bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and garlic -- and allowed the mixture to roast at 350º for an hour and a half more stirring every 30 minutes. When I tasted the sauce I thought it was a bit too sweet but chef Keller writes that the sauce goes well with polenta or meatballs. I decided to try them both.
The meatballs -- if you ignore the mix of meats (pork, sirloin, chuck, and veal -- I used turkey) are pretty straight forward. I sautéed onions and garlic until just tender but not browned. Let that cool and add to the meat mixture along with 1 egg, q/4 cup bread crumbs, chopped parsley, and S&P. The twist comes in the cooking. After forming the nearly baseball sized meatballs around a cube of fresh mozzarella I baked them on a rack for 20 minutes until just cooked through. Mini-hamburger maybe but pretty darned good.
The trouble came with the polenta. This wasn't my first polenta by any means, but Keller's method was new to me. His instructions told me to bring chicken broth to a boil and pour the polenta in a fine stream while stirring -- usual so far. But then, Keller says to cook out all the moisture (about 20 minutes) until the polenta is quite dry before adding an absurd, by any one else's standards, amount of butter and cream -- warning that the polenta could be gooey if not fully dry before adding the fat. Well maybe I need pictures, or further instruction. Our polenta was tasty but the texture . . . all wrong.
Hmm maybe I need some personal instruction -- Chef Keller . . . I'm available.

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