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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Habanero Cheese Penne

We went shopping down on Bayview this weekend, and picked up a ton of great, local and organic ingredients.

I then went home and promptly started cooking up an awesome tribute to these fresh ingredients - an Habenero pepper spiced, St. Agur Bleu cheese, cream pasta sauce.

Of course, we stopped at the liquor store first to pick up a few bottles of wine.

So, I was pleasantly in the middle of sampling a velvety and fruity, pinotage when I started making this sauce.

Just as an aside - I know it is rather clichéd but I truly revel in drinking wine while cooking.  There are fewer things more enjoyable in life.  I've had people I respect tell me that the reason for living is this or that or whatever... but I personally believe we were made to eat.  Might as well get some serious enjoyment out of it while doing so!

So, with some good music playing, a good red wine, and some excellent company in the kitchen, my wife and I made a delectable pasta in what I'm sure was record timing.

I began by finely chopping some fresh garlic, a couple of green onions, and a couple of small habenero peppers.  The garlic, onion, and one of the peppers went into a medium-sized saucepan to sauté on medium-low for about 5 minutes.  There was about one teaspoon of margarine, and a couple tablespoons of xv olive oil in there.  Oh, and I also added a dash of sweet basil, and italian parsley flakes... just a touch.

After that got nicely diffused, and keeping it simmering on medium-low, I whisked in a fair bit of cream (milk).

You can see that the cream and the oil take a while to acclimate.  At first the sauce is separated, and the less-dense oil floats on top.  As you bring the temperature up a bit though, and whisk in the cheese, this all becomes delightfully uniform.

For cheese today, we're using one of my favourites for this purpose, a really creamy, buttery, St. Agur.


So, after the temperature gets near-boiling, slowly stir in the cheese, in chunks, and you'll notice that the sauce changes consistency, and the fats and oils are much more incorporated.

At this point, bring the sauce up to a boil, carefully as it can boil over if you're not vigilant.  Then, it's just a matter of adding some thickening agent.  So, a tablespoon or two of cornstarch, pre-whisked into a tiny amount of milk, and then whisked fully into the sauce.

After a minute or two of keeping the heat up at medium-low, and whisking rather often, if not constantly, the sauce will thicken and become magically delicious.

After that, we just spooned it on to our already-boiled penne, and we were good to go!

Oh man oh man oh man this was so good, I'm literally salivating again just remembering it.

To accompany this meal, I made up a bread drizzle (I don't know what the technical term for this is, but you know what I mean) with some of my Herbes de Provence xv Olive Oil, a generous splash of some blueberry balsamic vinegar I had, the other of my two chopped habenero peppers, and a pinch of some sel gris.

And of course, some bread.

When I was in school, I remember reading an essay once that had some excerpts from an old French Provincial domestic publication, that was from the mid-nineteenth century.  It was in my 'history of the book' class and the essay was basically about contextualizing publications according to their time period... but anyway... In addition to some very hilarious notions on entertaining, and (despite being written by women, for women) seriously misogynistic penchant, this magazine did talk about serving bread "in the peasant fashion" by breaking it instead of slicing it.  Anyway, since then I usually always try to impress people by serving bread 'in the peasant fashion'.  I love it because it's so pretentious.  And because, like those socialite Frenchwomen of the 1800s I want to feel like I'm cool for doing something so plebeian.

Seriously, though, breaking bread is easy, if somewhat messy, and it is quite a nice format for dipping like it was with this meal here.  I recommend it.  And not just for impressing people!  :)