Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Two bites is all it takes (An introduction to the canapé)

Believe it or not, what really started me on the path to fine dining was catering High Tea. I know that most people suddenly visualize a group of stuffy affluents with their pinkies sticking out while sipping from fancy china. In some cases you'd be right, in some, completely wrong, but what I took from these parties was the idea of creating a menu designed around a number of small delicacies, much like a tasting menu. More to the point, I discovered the world of the canapé. A canapé is finger food, which is usually decorative, just one or two bites, yet delivers large amounts of flavor. Create a tray of just three canapés, which are each very different in flavor, aroma and color. One might be incredibly rich, one heavily seasoned, the other simple yet blissfully refreshing. You just provided your guests with a menagerie of flavors and sensations that can't be matched by a single entree.

Some of these items translate perfectly into the cocktail party or wine tasting atmosphere. Imagine pairing three wines with three completely different canapés and then guiding your guest through the tasting as they realize how each canapé helps or hurts the wine and vice versa.

Today we’ll focus on just one canapé that is extremely versatile and happens to be a favorite among my friends and clients. Serve it as an appetizer or as hors d'oeuvre. I’ve also included a great Italian white that will pair perfectly and won’t break the bank.

Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese canapé

This canapé is a meld of intense flavors that work perfect in unison. The focacia will add a bit of salt and olive from the oil. The goat cheese mousse will lend the sharp flavors of the chive and sweet vegetal notes of tarragon, while soothing the palate. The tomatoes are intensified by the roasting and work to cut through the creaminess of the goat cheese. Finally there’s balsamic reduction, which adds sweet woody and spicy flavors. You can expect to hear the hum of ‘oh’ and ‘yum’ around the table.

1 loaf focaccia (cut in half, leaving a top and bottom, then into ¾ inch by 2 inch slices)

2/3 cup balsamic vinegar (look for real balsamico)

16 – 18 grape tomatoes (you can use heirloom tomatoes to spice up the recipe)

4 ounces goat cheese (fresh)

4 Tbls. heavy cream

1 Tbls. chives (fresh and minced)

1 tsp. tarragon (fresh and minced)

salt and pepper (as needed)

Extra Virgin olive oil (as needed)

minced tarragon as garnish

Set your oven at 200 degrees.

Slice the tomatoes cross-wise and discard the ends. You should have about 4 slices per tomato. Place in a bowl and added enough olive oil to coat the tomatoes. Then season them with salt and pepper. Lay the tomato slices out on a parchment lined sheet pan and place in the oven. Roast them for about 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Place goat cheese and heavy cream into a food processor. Process this mixture until creamy and then add the tarragon and chives. Pulse these until they just come together. Move the mixture to a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place this mixture into a piping bag. (An easy tip at home is to use a zip lock bag. If you have piping tips, you can slice a small edge off the bottom corner of the zip lock bag and insert the piping tip into the edge. Hence, creating a piping bag.) Refrigerate this mixture until 20 minutes before assembling the canapé.

When your tomatoes are done, pull them from the oven and set them aside. Place the balsamic vinegar into a small pot over low flame. The idea is to reduce the vinegar by half into a syrupy liquid. Set the reduced balsamic vinegar on the side to cool.

Next, drizzle olive oil over the focaccia bread and toast until slightly crisp.

To assemble, pipe the goat cheese mixture onto the focaccia. (I find that a star tip makes for a great presentation. Then add 3 – 4 slices of roasted tomato, fanned out, over the goat cheese. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the tomatoes (a little goes a long way). Garnish with a sprinkle of minced tarragon.

The Wine...

2007 Sartarelli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Tralivio

This wine is like a fresh gust of wind on the Adriatic coast, or so I imagine, as aromas of olive, hazelnut, wet rocks and a bit of butter rise from the glass. The palate shows zippy acidity with pear, melon and a bit of green grass. The mid-palate is sweet, which mixes well with this bottle’s lively acidity, giving it a medium weight. Sour apple and almond skins are on the finish. In my opinion, this drinks like a white that could cost twice the price.

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