Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #4: Easter Brunch

This recipe was a colossal pain to make, but as with most recipes like this, the result was worth the effort.

This is Chilled Seafood Lasagna with Herbed Cheese. I found it in a cookbook I've had for a very long time, yet this is the first recipe from it that I have attempted. The cookbook is The Treasury of Creative Cooking, and it features recipes that have won various invitational cooking competitions around the United States. This recipe, apparently, was a prize winner in the "Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board Supermarket Chef Showcase". Whew. Say THAT five times fast.

I've been meaning to submit something to the The Weekend Cookbook Challenge for a while, and this is the culmination of my effort. When I first found this recipe, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to attempt it, I just needed an excuse because, well, smoked salmon and caviar are not items I normally stock in my kitchen.

First of all, here's the recipe.

Chilled Seafood Lasagna with Herbed Cheese
Makes 24 First Course or 8 Entrée servings

2 C ricotta cheese
1½ C mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh basil, minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
¼ tbsp white pepper
8 lasagna noodles (2 inches wide), cooked and drained
1 lb. smoked salmon
¼ lb. whitefish caviar, gently rinsed

1) Place ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, lemon juice, herbs and pepper in a food processor, and process until well combined.
2) Line terrine mold with plastic wrap, allowing wrap to come over the sides.
3) Layer 1 noodle, ½ C of cheese mix, 2 oz. of lox, 2 rounded tsp of caviar, and repeat, ending with a noodle on top.
4) Refrigerate several hours until firm.
5) Carefully remove from mold, and remove plastic wrap.
6) Slice with warm knife.
7) Garnish with strips of lox rolled to look like roses.

Okay, back to my original comment. This was a pain simply because I don't currently own a terrine mold, so I had to freehand the Leaning Tower Of Pasta, as I came to call it.

My first obstacle, however, was cooking the lasagna noodles without breaking them.None of my large pots were quite large enough to handle the noodles, so I used a roasting pan on top of the stove burner. That actually worked pretty well. I then drained them and put them aside.

Next came the cheese mixture. This was pretty staightforward, I just dumped the cheeses and the herbs into the trusty food processor, and blended. Just a side note here - I've haven't had much experience working with fresh herbs before, and it was just incredible to me how much of a difference in aroma there was between the fresh basil and the dried basil I normally use. Also, I really liked the pungent liqourice-like smell from the tarragon.

Now came the tricky part. The assembly. Everything started out well; I had all the respective parts measured out and prepared. How could everything have gone south so quickly?
I started out by placing a piece of aluminum foil down, and on top of that, a piece of plastic wrap. The trick was to remember not to place anything like spoons or spatulas on the plastic wrap while the assembly was in progress, as they would stick, and thus disturb the increasingly precarious Leaning Tower when I picked them up again. And so it began. The first layer went OK, but it was when I placed the second noodle that I realized what the challenge was going to be.You see, the cheese was holding the lower noodle in place, but all that was touching the upper noodle was smoked salmon and the spoonful of caviar. Not exactly a sturdy arrangement. Of course with a terrine this would be a moot issue, but as the layers increased, I kept having to adjust the stack to keep it from falling over.

Another side note - my local Grocery Palace actually stocks caviar. I was thinking I would have to make a pilgrimage to the St. Lawrence Market to find some, but happily, they stocked both red and black lumpfish caviar. I chose the red stuff. The recipe calls for whitefish caviar, but since that's what they had at the store, that's what I used. Besides, I thought it would go well with the orange of the smoked salmon and the white of the cheese.

When I finally placed the final noodle on the top, I breathed a sigh of relief. But then it struck me. The piece of plastic wrap that the lasagna was sitting on was now not wide enough to wrap around it completely. I panicked for a second, then realized I could just add another piece.I then wrapped the aluminum foil around the package, and gingerly transported it to the fridge on a piece of cardboard cut to fit the lasagna. Then I had a scotch. Wow. Through this whole ordeal, the thought that was running through my mind was, "This had better taste good."

I left it to chill overnight in the fridge. In the morning I took it out, carefully removed the wrapping, heated my chef knife under some hot running water and cut a slice. Very very tasty.In addition, I had some of the smoked salmon and some of the cheese mixture left over, so I made some toast, and had a quite enjoyable breakfast, all things considered.

The next time I make this, and I likely will, I'm not doing it without a terrine mold. That's all there is to it. And despite my bitching and moaning, this was fun to make, and I'm really happy with how it turned out.


Alicat said...

wowzah!! that looks delish. :)

rob said...

Nice work, Ian.

I'm especially impressed by your resourcefulness re. the terrine mold, though your pasta cooking arrangement strikes me as... interesting.

As a lover of smoked salmon, caviar, cheese, and pasta, this dish sounds very tempting.

Scherneel said...

It just seems de-li-cious!!

Alanna said...

Very ambitious -- I SO know that "it'd better be good" feeling! Glad it worked out! Alanna

tami said...

Great post! I found you through WCC - love your blog :)

MM said...

Dude, how did I miss that??? That looks and sounds fabulous! Man, I could do with some comfort food now ...

Ian said...

Whew, I'm finally getting to some of your comments. This was a fun project to undertake, and I appreciate the feedback.

Thanks for organizing the blog event. And it was delish.

Thanks. I'm going to try this again at some point with a terrine mold, because I have a feeling that it will be a WHOLE lot easier.

I highly recommend that you try this, as it really is very tasty.

Thanks. I thought that the WCC was worth stretching my abilites. I'm also happy that it worked out, because there were a couple of times where I almost ended up with a big dogpile of pasta and cheese and smoked salmon (not that there's anything wrong with that), instead of the completed tower.

I appreciate the comment. Thanks!

Always good to hear from you, and this definitely qualifies as comfort food.