29th Birthday Cake: Babbo Pumpkin-
Rosemary Cake with Olive Oil Gelato
Originally uploaded by ulterior epicure.
Has it really been 29 years since I was forced into this world, kicking, screaming and hungry?
While I spent most of my 29th birthday at the office, I did manage to get home in time to make my birthday cake – a most excellent pumpkin rosemary recipe. More on this later…
For dinner, my dear friends laboured all day to prepare a three-course meal. Sharing a bit of bubbly – a very affordable but enjoyable Jean Montand Blanc de Blancs, a brut California sparkling, we toasted the evening and started with a portobello and zucchini squash tart (see New Year’s eve dinner). I had adapted the recipe from an portobello and eggplant tart that I found in Eric Ripert’s cookbook, A Return to Cooking.
Suzanne executed this dish perfectly. The portobello caps had been lovingly de-skinned, which made cutting through these velvety rounds a sheer delight! The tart base, a round of toast, was *perfectly* browned and crisped and the diced zucchini, sauteed with olive oil, herbs and garlic, were just the right shade of doneness – heated through, but not mushy. This has become a favorite of mine. Next time, I want to try this with creamy chevre spread on the toasted bottoms.
Suzanne also put together a great salad, also inspired by a number of recipes that I had come across and combined. It involved baby mâche with roasted beets, blanched haricots verts, a walnut vinaigrette. The star, however, was a mint and Roquefort truffle.
I had gotten the idea for the mint and Roquefort truffle from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook. It’s simply finely chopped walnuts and fresh mint mixed with Roquefort cheese and formed into balls and then rolled in chopped walnuts to coat. Mint and Roquefort is not a combination I would have thought of – but I guess mint and lamb is a traditional pairing, so why not mint and lamb’s milk?
The main course featured a silky filet of hickory-smoked trout. This was outstanding. Francis fired up the grill and smoked these ruby reds fresh while we had been enjoying our first two courses. Attending the grill with him as the temperature tester, I pulled them off just shy of being done.
I have to hand it to Francis – he is a master at smokery. For a smoked fish-lover like me, these trout filets were the perfect home-made birthday present. It’s amazing how much 15 minutes can do for a piece of meat when layed over smoking wood chips. The gentle heat from the smoke not only kept the fish from drying out, but also imparted the most pronounced aroma without overwhelming the natural flavor of the trout.
The fish was paired with a 2005 Chateau Cantelaudette, Graves de Vayres, a Semillon blend. This wine was light-bodied and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did with the fish – which paired wonderfully. The wine really enhanced the smokiness in the trout.
As a side dish, I decided to make a nice Scottish-Irish-type side dish which I had tucked away in my recipe file since 2004. It was one of Graham Elliot Bowles’s recipes that published when he was named on of Food + Wine’s Best New Chefs 2004. I remember reading about Elliot back then and being extremely excited to eat his food one day. Originally accompanying a roasted quail and summer vegetable ragout, his sweet pea oatmeal seemed like a comforting and simple side for the trout.
Bowles’s sweet pea oatmeal is as humble as the chef himself. This easy recipe (which follows) calls for only four ingredients: steel-cut oatmeal, shelled sweet peas, butter and water, and salt and pepper to taste. Suzanne’s eyes lit up after taking a bite and sighed, “comfort food.” Vibrant green with a rustic toothiness, this was truly a nice Irishman’s fare.
Lastly, but not least, I plated my birthday cakes – Mario Batali’s pumpkin rosemary cakes from The Babbo Cookbook. Ever since I saw the picture and read the recipe in Batali’s cookbook, I have yearned to try it. Okay, to be honest, it’s only because this cake was paired in the cookbook with the olive oil gelato – so I have that page dog-eared.
My 29th birthday proved the right occasion.
The cake is just as spectacular as the gelato – and the two together made my eyes roll to the back of my head. There was a lot of moaning and groaning at the table. The cake contains pumpkin, toasted pine nuts, brandy-soaked golden raisins and chopped rosemary. It tastes like a spice cake – but the rosemary adds just a slight twist that made everyone at the table pause and ask, “what is that?” “A slice of heaven,” I replied.
Indeed, life has truly been a slice of heaven for me. Despite all the ups and downs of this past year, I really have nothing to complain about. Life has been good, and I thank the good Lord for his blessings. Thanks also to Francis and Suzanne for making my 29th such a truly memorable occasion.
Graham Elliot Bowles’s “Sweet Pea Oatmeal”
Taken from the July 2004 issue of Food + Wine (pg. 191).
1 cup shelled fresh or thawed frozen green peas
1/2 cup steel-cut oats (not old-fashioned or quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. If using fresh peas, blanch them in a medium saucepan of boiling water until tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes; drain. In a blender, puree half of the blanched or thawed frozen peas with 2 tablespoons of water until smooth. Season the green pea puree with salt and pepper.
2. Rinse out the saucepan. Add 2 1/2 cups of salted water and bring to a boil. Add the oats and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until al dente, about 25 minutes. Stir in the pea puree, butter and the remaining whole peas and season with salt and pepper.