Hazy skies, low temperatures, chilly mornings and long nights announce the arrival of the beautiful winter season in the Capital. Winter is also the time when you eat very often, but ever thought why? Body temperature drops due to the cold weather and you spend more energy to keep it warm, hence your appetite increases. It is important to keep a tab on what you eat and how much, else it can create digestion problems, because digestion generally slows down in winters. I fondly remember how my grandmother would fuss over having dry fruits (which we would quietly dispose off under the bed), and would boil milk with khus khus, almonds, black pepper and sugar.
When the cold winter wind blow and the ground freezes hard as a rock, nothing warms the body faster than hearty comfort food. Soups and stews are favourites, as are braised dishes—roasted meats and vegetables.
On my recent trip to Amsterdam, I visited a restro bar, and was quite overawed by its unique design, but even more by what followed. I was accompanied by a cute European friend who, surprisingly, turned out a vegetarian. On seeing the menu—not particularly vegetarian-friendly, when we tried to excuse ourselves, the waiter put us at rest with his professional enthusiasm, putting a positive spin on everything, including the prices, as he boasted he’d make us happy with the quality of food.
We began with a Wagyu (rare Japanese beef) carpaccio—a summery choice to offset the winter gloom. Translucent, tissue-thin smears of pink, massaged beef, dressed with a little chilli oil, that instantly melted upon hitting the tongue, was accompanied by panzanella, a bread salad—fresh, ripe tomatoes, garden cucumbers, and basil on crusty bread croutons— with Japanese dressing. I took a note of this wonderful salad—I had to bring it back with me for you, my readers, keeping in mind the tormenting summer ahead.
Our other starter—mussel and saffron soup with chorizo crumbs—was a bouquet of concentrated flavours, that matched the suggested Viognier (white wine) every step of the way. This was followed by a chicken steak with balsamic dressing, accompanied by warm cheese souffle with garlic crumbs. I was so impressed by the souffle—soft and delicately spiced foam that just dissolved in the mouth—that I’ve decided to dedicate today’s recipe to this delicately-flavoured dish.
We eventually ordered creme brûlée with brandy sauce, one of best I’ve ever had.
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Panzanella Bread Salad & cheese souffle
● 4 cups tomatoes*, cut into large chunks.
● 4 cups day old (somewhat dry and hard) crusty bread (Italian or French loaf)**, cut into chunks the same size as the tomatoes.
● 1 cucumber, skinned and seeded, cut into large chunks.
● 1/2 red onion, chopped.
● 1 bunch fresh basil, torn into little pieces.
● 1/4-1/2 cup good olive oil.
● Salt and pepper to taste.
* As you cut the tomatoes, remove some of the seeds and liquid. Your salad will be juicy enough.
**Leave the crust on the bread; they’ll stay chewier and give the salad substance. If you don’t have hard, old bread, take fresh, crusty bread cut into big cubes, lay them on a baking sheet, and grill in a 300°C oven for 5-10 minutes until the outer edges are dry but not toasted. Otherwise, fresh bread may disintegrate into mush.
Mix everything and let marinate, covered, at room temperature, for at least 30 minutes and upto 12 hours. Don’t refrigerate, or you’ll destroy the texture of the tomatoes. Serve at room temperature.
Yield: Serves 6-8.
So let’s wrap up with the cheese souffle straight from Amsterdam.
● 500 gm cottage cheese.
● 1/2 cup milk.
● salt, to taste.
● 1 tsp white pepper powder.
● 2 tbsp dried cheese powder.
● 3 tbsp garlic croutons.
● 2 tsp baking powder.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, except the garlic croutons. Put in a blender and make a smooth paste Pre-heat oven at 250°C. Use lower grill. Bake for 20 minutes till the souffle has risen. Garnish with garlic croutons. Eat immediately.