Variations on a theme of normal things lends you great opportunities for discovering new ways to make meals that you know you like. In brainstorming for this week’s Monday Night Gamers, we came up with an easy way to make a somewhat-fancy version of soup, salad, and sandwich.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that we wanted to make a version of our easy vegetable barley soup, this time substituting some ditalini pasta for the barley. We didn’t have any white potatoes in the house, so I used some small reds. I simply quartered them and tossed them in the pot. We also added a large leek, which I sliced in rings (and rinsed twice in a water bath). Next time, I’ll slice them a little thinner. We were hoping for them to break down more than they did. Other than that, we stuck to the recipe.
One thing we found with the pasta was that it soaks up way more liquid than the barley. We ended up adding a full quart of water to return the soup to the consistency we wanted. I think when we have leftovers, we’ll need to add a little more as well. Good lesson learned.
Insalata caprese is a favorite of ours, but one of the guys is allergic to raw tomatoes. We substituted roasted red peppers for the tomato and oregano for the basil. We got a long, narrow pound of mozzarella at the store so that we could put long, narrow slices on the plate instead of the medallions that one normally does. We drizzled it with good extra virgin olive oil and a bit of Pedro Ximenez balsamic vinegar. The PX has a dark berry fruit component to it that we thought would match up well with the peppers. It did.
The sandwich was what got us going on this meal in the first place. We knew we wanted to experiment with puff pastry as the ‘sandwich bread.’ We dreamed up this one while having a dip in the hot tub and enjoying a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Rosé, a ridiculously inexpensive and tasty sparkler from South Africa. The idea was simple: a ham and cheese sandwich.
In this case, the ham was prosciutto di parma, the cheese was a blend of parmigiano reggiano and romano, the bread was the aforementioned puff pastry, and the condiment was Colman’s English mustard. Colman’s is pretty hot as mustards go, so I put as thin a layer on as I could. Everyone agreed that a little more mustard would have been fine.
We used Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry sheets, rolling them out as per the box’s instruction. Gretchyn rolled out the first one and slid the tray over to me. While she rolled out the next one, I layered the mustard on the bottom, the thinly-sliced prosciutto on top, and then the cheese. She then put the second sheet on top, and after making a second one, put them in the fridge for 15 minutes. When they came out, we trimmed the edges to make them neat. They were on Silpat, so we couldn’t just slice and dice with a sharp knife. Gretchyn came up with the idea of using a ravioli crimper to score the edge and a pizza cutter to finish the job. I’m happy to report no slices in the Silpat. We poked a few holes in the top to vent, and baked them in the convection oven at 440 for about 22 minutes. They came out of the oven, we sliced them into three long pieces and then cut each of those pieces in half, and plated it up.
I had planned on pouring one Tuscan and one Pugliese wine, but Keith, one of the guys, brought a bottle of 2010 Liberty School Cab with him. I had already opened the Tuscan—2007 Terrabianca Campaccio, a rocking rich 70/30 Sangiovese/Cab blend—so I put the other aside to open the Liberty School. It was a nice, mellow contrast to the powerful Super Tuscan. It’s listed as a straight Cab, but I’m pretty sure there was a fair amount of Petite Sirah in it. The dark plum and black pepper I normally associate with the grape showed itself quite nicely. Turns out that it’s also a bargain. Keith told me paid $13 for it at the supermarket. I wouldn’t do all my wine shopping there, but you never know where you’re going to find the next great value wine.
The reason that I had initially picked the Pugliese wine was that it’s a blend of Malvasia Nero, Negroamro, and Primitivo. Primitivo is the forerunner of Zinfandel, and nothing goes along with Zinfandel better than Thomas Keller’s Dark Chocolate Bouchons. Gretchyn normally makes them from scratch, but the last time we were at Williams-Sonoma, they had the pre-mixed jars on sale for $5. We bought them out. At least for the next six months (the shelf life), as long as we have two sticks of butter and two eggs, we have an easy-to-make dessert.