Friday, August 15, 2008

Lemon Zesty!

What’s on the menu tonight? – my usual question when walking into the Family Meal kitchen. Everything vegetarian…baked falafel, Israeli couscous and roasted plum tomatoes with a lemon Ricotta filling.

While we are on the subject of vegetarians, it amazes me how some FCI students and even a fellow classmate are vegetarians. I was perplexed when I first learned this, with the usual questions of why French Culinary School?, how do you taste or judge dishes that are not vegetarian, and for God’s sake why don’t you eat meat? The answers never seem to quite make sense to me.

My job for the family meal buffet was to prepare the stuffed tomatoes, the team sliced plum tomatoes lengthwise, removed the seeds and the woody stem. Next, out comes the giant bowl once again and I start making the filling with 4 qts. Ricotta, handfuls of coarsely grated Parmesan, minced garlic, salt, ground black pepper, chopped scallions, copious amounts of finely chopped herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, chives) some extra virgin olive oil and lastly 1 cup of lemon zest.

When I was reviewing the recipe and came upon that last ingredient and my eyes glazed over (I had a mayonnaise moment). How many lemons and how long is it going to take me to get a cup full of lemon zest, I pondered. I washed about three dozen lemons, got my micro plane and went to work. One lemon yields maybe about a teaspoon of zest – if you’re lucky – as I’ve come to know quite assuredly.

With my hands tinged yellow and scented like a lemon chiffon pie, I worked though lemon after lemon and saved the naked fruit for lemonade. The final mixture was creamy, cheesy and rich – and to give it a more South of France flavor I added some dried Herbs de Provence.

Stephen and I worked to fill the 80 – 100 tomato halves and get them on sheet pans into the convection oven. After roasting for about 20 – 25 minutes I dusted the tomatoes with Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) to add some crunch. As the Panko went from pale to golden the Lemon-Ricotta Tomatoes were done.

A drizzle of Arugula pesto finished the attractive side dish and we were ready for buffet service to begin. That same night the other Buffet Meal students were presenting their ideas for their special Wednesday night buffet meal. Our family meal was overshadowed by their Asian/Indian-inspired dishes – I even turned my back on our vegetarian offerings and crossed the line to sample the Pork Vindaloo, Beef Rendang, Lamb Rogan and Chicken Tikka – all spicy, flavorful and delicious! Vegetarian – Smegetarian, I say!

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