Monday, September 21, 2015

Belgian Endive, Tomato and Roasted Eggplant Salad with White Truffle Oil Fennel Aioli

     Italian Mediterranean Style!
     Belgian Endive a delicate tasting crisp gourmet lettuce.  When Belgian Endive is a featured salad ingredient at a fine dining restaurant, a composed presentation is usually part of the plate design.
     Modern composed salad presentations tend to be a petite stack of ingredients on the center of a plate with Upland Cress sprouts sprinkled on top.  This design seems to be the standard these days, but all it takes is a little imagination to break the mold and let creativity flow.
     All one needs is a sense of focal point location, symmetry and flow to make a composed salad that has eye appeal.  Personally, my composed salads make use symmetric design, so the salad looks good when viewed from any vantage point on the table.  A salad that only looks good from one angle, like where the customer sits that placed the order, will rarely look as appealing from the seat across the table.  The idea is to use symmetry to spur the interest of every guest at the table.

     The roasted eggplant slices in today's modern Italian salad are topped with sliced tomato garnished with shaved Parmigiana Cheese.  Roasted Red Bell Peppers and toasted pine nuts add some old fashioned Toscana style flavors.
     The star of today's salad is the White Truffle Oil and Fennel Aioli.  Brands of White Truffle Oil do vary in quality.  Some brands have little or no flavor, while others taste intense and rich.  It pays to select a White Truffle oil that has plenty of flavor.  Good White Truffle infused oil is not cheap.

     Aioli is not difficult to make.  When making a small amount of aioli, using a small mixing bowl is necessary, so the ingredients are contained in one small area.  This makes the emulsion process easier to start.
     The texture and consistency of aioli can be customized by varying the proportion of oil to egg yolk.  One egg yolk that is whisked with just a few ounces of oil will create a pourable thin pale yellow colored aioli.  Some chefs prefer this style of aioli for certain applications.
     The standard recipe for a full bodied traditional aioli is the same as the mayonnaise proportion, which is one cup of oil to one egg yolk.  Since no vinegar or mustard is added, like for making mayonnaise, a traditional aioli will have a translucent pale white color, instead of looking opaque.
     Dijon mustard is often used to aid emulsification when making mayonnaise.  Garlic actually acts as an emulsifier when making aioli.  In fact Catalonian Aioli is made with no egg yolk at all.  Catalonian chefs use a mortar and pestle to muddle garlic with very small additions of olive oil over a very long period of time, to create a full bodied aioli emulsion.  The entire process can take a full day to do.        

     Fennel Seed Preparation:
     The idea is to soften the fennel seeds so they are more palatable when crushed.  The fennel seed flavor will also mellow. 
     Step 1:  Place 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar in a small sauce pot.
     Add 1/2 cup of water.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of whole fennel seeds.
     Set the mixture aside for 1 hour.
     Step 2:  Place the small sauce pot over very low heat.
     Simmer and reduce till most of the liquid evaporates and less than 1/2 teaspoon remains.
     Step 3:  Remove pot from the heat.
     Drain off the excess liquid with a strainer and place the fennel seeds in a mortar.
     Coarsely grind the fennel seeds with a pestle.  Set the mortar and softened ground fennel seed aside.
     White Truffle Oil Fennel Aioli:
     This recipe yields a little less than 1/2 cup.
     A thin pale yellow color aioli is almost never used in classic Italian cuisine, but it is popular with French chefs when used for salad dressing applications.  To achieve a pale yellow color and a thin pourable consistency, less oil is added.    
     Step 1:  Place 1 egg yolk in a small mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Step 2:  Measure 1/3 cup of pomace olive oil.
     Step 3:  Add only a couple drops of pomace olive oil at a time, while constantly whisking, till the egg yolk starts to combine with the oil to start the emulsion.
     Slowly add 1/2 teaspoon at a time, till all of the 1/4 cup of pomace olive oil is incorporated.
     Step 4:  *The amount of White Truffle Oil needed to flavor the aioli depends on how strong the White Truffle Oil flavor is.  Taste the White Truffle oil before adding it to the aioli.  About 1/2 tablespoon of strong tasting White Truffle Oil is enough.  For weak tasting White Truffle Oil 1 or 2 tablespoons might be required.
     Add a very thin stream of White Truffle Oil while whisking, till the desired flavor is achieved.  (The flavor should not be overbearing.)
     Step 5:  *If only a small amount of strong White Truffle Oil was added, it make be necessary to slowly add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of pomace olive oil.  Be sure to constantly whisk.
     Step 6:  Check the color and consistency.  The thin aioli should look pale yellow and it should not be full bodied like mayonnaise.
     Step 7:  Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Add the reserved coarse ground softened fennel seed.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice while whisking.
     Step 8:  *The finished aioli dressing should have pale yellow color and a medium thin consistency that slowly pours from a spoon.  If the aioli is too thick, then add a few drops of warm water while whisking.  
     Chill the aioli till it is needed.  Allow the aioli to warm to room temperature before serving.
     Pan Roasted Eggplant:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 petite salad.
     Step 1:  Cut 4 thin lengthwise slices of small eggplant.  (About 1/8" to 3/16" thick)
     Step 2:  Heat a seasoned sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 3 tablespoons of pomace olive oil.
     Add the 4 eggplant slices.
     Briefly sauté both sides of the eggplant slices.
     Step 3:  Place the pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Roast the eggplant slices till they just start to become tender, but not browned or mushy.
     Remove the pan from the oven.
     Place the eggplant slices on a sheet pan to cool.
     Belgian Endive, Tomato and Roasted Eggplant Salad with White Truffle Oil Fennel Aioli:
     This recipe yields 1 petite salad.
     The design of a composed salad presentation is the choice of the chef.  Feel free to create your own design composition or use the presentation description as a guideline!
     Step 1:  Fold the eggplant slices in half.
     Set a thin slice of plum tomato on each eggplant slice.
     Shave 4 small pieces of Parmigiana Cheese.
     Set 1 piece of cheese on top of each of the tomato slice.
     Step 2:  Use a spatula to transfer the eggplant and tomato portions to a large plate.
     Arrange the eggplant on the plate symmetrically and so they point outward from center.  Leave a small empty space on the center of the plate.
     Step 3:  Place 4 trimmed Belgian Endive leaves between the eggplant portions on the plate, so they point outward from center.
     Step 4:  Place about 1 tablespoon of thin roasted red bell pepper strips on center of the plate where the Belgian Endive leaves meet.
     Sprinkle a few lightly toasted pine nuts on the roasted red bell pepper strips.
     Step 5:  Place 1 Italian Parsley leaf on top of the shaved parmesan on each tomato slice.
     Step 6:  Pour about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the thin White Truffle Oil Fennel Aioli dressing on the plate between each of the eggplant portions.
     Step 7:  Serve with warm sliced Italian bread in a basket.

     This is a nice Italian style Mediterranean salad!  

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