Friday, July 4, 2008

Sous Vide Eggs

Buon giorno amici!

This week turned out to be a very long week. As you know, last week was Valentine’s Day – or in Italiano “San Valentino” day. We were packed that night and then the rest of the nights after. What does “packed” actually mean? Well, it’s anywhere from 26 to 29 people (the maximum the restaurant holds). While that doesn’t really sound like a lot of people, one thing you should know is that many small higher-end restaurants in Italy generally have one seating. The meal can last up to two and half hours, from start to finish. Most customers that come to Reale order Niko’s tasting menu. From amuse-bouche to dolce there are nine plates. The other interesting thing about dining in Italy is that many do it late. We sometimes have customers showing up at 9:30 or 10:00. Generally most between 8:00 and 9:00, though. So jugging that many plates over that long a time can be a bit hairy at times. Once it starts, though, it can be fun. Niko is always there helping, which is great for me to watch.

This week, I made many more risottos during service. He still looks over my shoulder (which is fine by me!) but mostly lets me at it. Other than that, I just help garnish the plates here and there, and clean up. My mornings are spent either doing prep work, or cleaning pots. While cleaning up gives me time to “zone-out” and think about home, it can be frustrating. I haven’t gotten to make any stocks or make pastas. So yesterday I got up the nerve to say something to Cristiana. Cristiana is Niko’s sister. She has been with him since the beginning. She pretty much runs the business aspect of the restaurant, is the acting maître’d, and sommelier. She speaks English very well, and I think likes the idea that there is another woman to just commiserate with, when her brother and the boys get out of line.

Getting back to yesterday, we were chatting in the morning about school, my final and graduating in April. I was telling her that I hoped to be able to replicate the Latte Risotto for my teachers in NY, and at that moment Niko arrived. She was repeating it to him in Italian, and then he said that next week he wanted to spend some time with me doing pasta. I figured I might as well seize the moment … I said that I was really happy to hear that because I was hoping to be doing some other things before I leave. I said, while I really don’t mind that much, I do spent most of my time in front of the sink between 9:30 and 11:30, and don’t see a lot of what the boys are doing. They told me that next week another student from ALMA was arriving to do his stage and (in my words) I will no longer be low-man-on-the-totem-pole. This is such great news! I only have about three and half weeks left – so I really want to learn a few more things before I go!!

So, let’s see… I was thinking about what pictures I could send you this week. You’ve already seen the risottos and the desserts. Last night I got to plate an “Uova” antipasti. Uova is simply egg, in Italian. Niko has three versions of it on the menu. The one I plated last night was Uova e Patate (left). The thing that makes this dish so incredibly unique is how the eggs are cooked. They're prepared using a process called a “sous vide.” ( By cooking the egg this way, for an hour and half, the yolk and white have exactly the same consistency. The flavor is amazingly creamy and smooth. So here are the plates: one is served simply with a few oven-dried tomatoes (we do our own version), whipped parmesan cheese and a wafer thin bread crisp (right). The one I plated is sitting on a thin layer of potato puree (the potatoes are cooked down with a bit of cream, pureed and passed through a fine chinois) and finished with tiny crispy bread cubes and a touch of olive oil. The last also sits on the potato puree, but only the yolk is served on a small bed of sautéed chicory, topped with a fine layer of pecorino cheese and lightly fried onion strands (below). Yummy, yummy and yummy!

So my count down continues … Larry is arriving (if the travel agent can make it work!) in 24 days, and I’ll be on a plane home in 29. It was hard being away this week, but Larry managed to make it fun from afar. I got roses on Valentine’s Day and in the mail the next day I got a present and a video clip message on a zip drive. I had a moment of drama in the kitchen on Friday when I thought I lost my wedding band. I went in to a weird tailspin (so unlike me!) and called him crying hysterically at 5:00 am his time, after digging through the garbage. When I got back to my room that night all of a sudden I remembered I had taken it off the day before to mix something with my hands, and there it was in my pants in the laundry bag. I was too paranoid to have any jewelry here in the hotel room so basically all I have is my plain band, earrings and watch. (Which of course makes it even crazier that I couldn’t keep track of the band! - I told you it was a long week!)

Anyway … all’s well that ends well … he talked me off the ledge, as he always does … and reminded me that this will all be worth it when I get home.

So until next week … arrividerchi!!

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