Not much can leave me speechless.
SALTED BUTTER CARAMEL-CHOCOLATE MOUSSE.
Words. Cannot. Describe.
Since every drool-worthy dessert needs a simple meal as its prop, I’m nominating this old-timer, Pasta Citron avec Jambon and Olives from Le Procope in Paris. Claiming to be the oldest cafe in Paris (George Washington probably slept there also.), their no-frills recipe has withstood the test of time. Just by tossing together a green salad and adding a hunk or two of country bread, you’ve got a springtime meal to thrill your family or dazzle your guests. Promise.
Despite some unpacked duffels and adjusting to my 940 square feet condo in a bout of settling frenzy, I’m home in Aspen (Pitkin County). Small spaces translate to everything owning its place. Otherwise, it’s chaos. Since I’m currently wearing my re-organization crown and in honor of my “speechless” mousse, this week’s post is visual.
Before driving home, I made one last trip to California’s Marin and Sonoma counties. In February, if you recall, I spent 4-days in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on a ecology field/boat trip to learn more about water issues. I was a Coloradoan and a bit resentful that California was taking so much of our water. The other 23 participants were Californians and defended their Colorado River water rights. (They were correct, of course.) In truth, we were all on the same team and just wanting to do better.
While there, I met three other women and, like often, in parting we promised to keep in touch. Usually once the blush of a trip fades, those experiences just become wonderful memories. For whatever reasons, this promise bore fruit. In March I spent a long welcome-to-southern California weekend in Venice with Susan Seeck, a LA clinical therapist. Before leaving California, Susan and I visited Rita Bernardi, a retired educator from North Marin, and Bobbie Curley, who grows grapes in Sonoma.
If my winter needed a finale, this adventure worked. While organizing the trip, Susan and I suggested to our hostesses that one evening the two of us would cook a meal. Offer accepted. That’s when Susan remembered Le Procope’s pasta with lemon, ham and black olives, a delicious pasta dish she’d made long ago. It wasn’t difficult to create a meal to compliment it and “tote” the ingredients/wine to Novato where Rita and her husband, David, live.
Readers, it’s an easy menu. You know I never take the road less travelled in the kitchen. I always trot down the tried, true and simple route. That’s why I’m sharing all this yumminess with you today.
The most difficult part of making the mousse is having to wait eight hours while it chills. In the spirit of full disclosure, I only managed four. It was scrumptious.
MOUSEE AU CHOCOLAT AU CARMEL AU BEURRE SALÉ
(Salted Butter Caramel-Chocolate Mousse) from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter, cubed
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs, room temperature, separated
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
1. Spread the sugar over the bottom of a wide saucepan. Heat the sugar over medium heat. As it begins to liquefy at the edges, use a heatproof spatula to very gently drag the liquefied sugar toward the center. Watch carefully, as once the edges start to darken, the sugar is in danger of burning. Continue to cook, stirring very gently, until all the sugar is melted and begins to caramelize.
2. When the caramel is a deep amber color and starts to smoke, wait a brief moment for it to smell just slightly burnt. Remove the caramel from the heat and quickly whisk in the butter, stirring until melted. Gradually whisk in the cream, stirring until all the little bits of caramel are completely melted. If everything was well stirred there shouldn’t be any hard caramel bits left over. However, if some remain, strain the mixture to remove them.
3. Once smooth, add the chocolate, stirring gently until melted and smooth. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and let it to cool to room temperature. Once it’s cooled, whisk in the egg yolks.
4. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture, also sprinkling in the flaky salt. Fold in the remaining whipped egg whites until no white streaks remain. Divide the mousse into serving glasses or transfer to a decorative serving bowl. Chill for at least 8 hours. Serve chilled straight up(my preference) or, with fresh berries, espresso beans embellishment or a dash of whipped cream.
LE PROCOPE’S PASTA WITH LEMON, HAM & OLIVES adapted by Patricia Wells, Bistro Cooking cookbook
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 5 to 7 minutes
Yield: 4 to 8 servings
2 lemons, scraped of their yellow rind and juiced ( 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (3 ounces) oil-cured black olives, pitted
1/2 pound unsmoked ham or prosciutto, cut in thin strips (We used prosciutto, a good choice.)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (P. Wells, “It is well worth finding some fresh thyme. If you can`t, infuse some dried leaf thyme by letting it steep in cold water for a good 15 minutes, then strain and pat dry.”)
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound long pasta, preferably fine like spaghettini or capellini (angel hair)
1. Whisk lemon juice with a little bit of salt in small bowl until dissolved. Whisk in oil, then set aside.
2. If necessary, pit olives with a cherry pitter or place the side of a cleaver or wide-blade knife over the olives, give them a very hard whack with your fist, pressing down on the knife blade, roll it back and forth over olives, then pick out pits.
3. In a large shallow bowl, combine the olives with ham, thyme and lemon rind. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to blend. Set aside.
3. Just before serving time, heat 4 quarts of water to boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta all at once. Cover pot until it returns to boil. Remove cover and stir with wooden spoon until the strands no longer are bunched together. Cook until al dente (crisp tender).
4. Drain and immediately transfer to a warm serving bowl. Pour on the dressing and toss gently. Serve immediately, garnishing with freshly ground black pepper ONLY being careful to divide the ham and olives proportionately.
TIP: I suggest serving this pasta dish with no embellishments at all. It needs nothing.
Cook-the-Book Fridays is a virtual international group who are making their way through David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen cookbook. To see what others have dished up this week or to join our group (it’s fun), go here.