New Years Feast - Lobster Thermidor, Pasta with Monkfish and Zucchini

Well - the downscaling continued a bit at New Years. Well, at first it did. NY Eve dinner was somewhat straightforward, mostly by keeping the number of dishes small. Again, at first. Once we hit upon the Appetizer Throw Down, things started getting a bit more involved. More on the throwdown in the next post.

New Years Eve Dinner
Lobster thermidor is a classic dish from another era, and as stated by the Gourmet editors, it's surprising how good it remains. Of course it follows the rule of excess butter and cream: how can it be bad with that much butter and cream? Actually, it's not even those ingredients that are the secret - nor is it even the lobster. An effective quantity of reduced sherry is what adds the intense flavor to this rich blend of lobster and dairy. Finished under a broiler to add slightly browned top and it can't fail.

Though the flavors can't fail, there are technique aspects that can. I wasn't pleased with the consistency of my butter/cream sauce, so turned up the heat to let it reduce a bit. Turning my back to work on other dishes, I let it simmer too long and the cream sauce broke. By that,
I mean that it broke down from a creamy sauce to a buttery/oily sauce. Now this could be a disaster if the consistency of the dish were paramount - but fortunately this is not the case here. Simply filling the lobster shells with the resulting mixture still lead to a luxurious and still rich blend of lobster and sauce flavoring.

Given the richness of this dish, there was more than we could eat, and even the leftovers lasted for a while. Tossed over pasta or rice it was great. Also a little bit at room temp spread onto a cracker turned into a nice instant appetizer.

The pasta with monkfish, thyme and zuchhini turned out to be more than I had expected. More as in "more better", not more work. This recipe is now about the 5t
h or 6th straight hit dish from the Molto Italiano cookbook. It requires a tomato sauce to also be made, but that too was an outright success. Here's why:

When I started cooking seriously right after college, one of the things I was trying to grow past was "college student tomato sauce". By that I mean a simple saute of onion, cans of tomato sauce/paste/tomatoes with dried basil and oregano added. From there I graduated to sauces made with fresh herbs, whole peeled fresh tomatoes, some simmered for hours (the Italian-American kitchen stereotype). In fact, over 25 years I've made all manner of sauces. Rarely are the complex and long simmering ones really that much better than a sauce made simply with high quality ingredients. I know I've made several from Cooks Illustrated that were very good.

However, the Batali Basic Tomato Sauce was successful on all fronts. It had few ing
redients, little technique, little babysitting, and MAXIMUM flavor. He calls for whole canned tomatoes. A well known fact is that canned tomatoes imported from San Marzano near Naples are generally a superior product for tomato sauces. In fact, they're close to the quality of fresh grocery store quality Roma tomatoes, without the hassle of peeling. I've been using this one, branded as San Marzano, for many years with good success. Sorry to see that an online specialty site is selling them at $5.50 for a 28 oz can, as I get them for about $2.75 in a local grocery store.

Back to the recipe. Simply saute onion, fresh thyme then two cans of tomatoes. Then simmer down to a thick sauce. I was sceptical that it would thicken appropriately without assistance. Not a problem. The thyme gave it all the flavor it needed.I broke the whole tomatoes in half while cooking so they would release their juices.

Added to the monkfish and zuchini the sauce was superb. Once spread through the whole pound of pasta, it was not the typical thick coating (picture jarred sauce - yuck) - but more a thin sheen of tomato everywhere, with large chunks of tomato halves interspersed throughout. Wonderful.

The simplicity of the sauce and the finished dish were impressive, as was the taste. Many layers of flavor from very few ingredients. I have to admit, I've become quite impressed with Mr. Food Network Star Batali, and look forward to cooking and eating my way through more of his creations.

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