Darlings! It's time for the CREATIVE COOKING CREW CHALLENGE again and September's challenge is to pick an ingredient and present it as the star of the dish.... but you have to use it two ways, hot and cold! So many ingredients come to mind, especially fruit, that would work so well for this challenge but as always, I am trying to think of ingredients not usually used in a typical way to create two unusual and unique dishes!
As I had just picked up some lovely Donnie avocados from Bee Heaven Farm down here in Southern Florida, I pondered the many ways I've enjoyed avocados and the wheels began to spin. I like the idea of avocado because it can be used in both sweet and savory applications.
But first, a brief explanation of the differences between the popular California Hass avocado and the many varieties grown here in Southern Florida. Green avocados come in many varieties and are lower in fat, have a higher water content and are much larger when compared to their Hass counterpart. The green avocados also have a sweet, delicate flavor which I've grown to love. While Hass is the most commonly cultivated, in Florida you'll find myriad cultivars in different shapes, sizes, some even with red skin. Take a look at some of them by clicking HERE.
Hardee, Hass and Donnie avocadoes. Image courtesy of Bee Heaven Farm
When I chose our local avocado fruit as the STAR ingredient for my cold dish, I conjured up delights I'd eaten in my previous life as a Sydneysider. Living in "Australasia," I was introduced to many styles of Asian cooking and fell in love with Indonesian food. It was at the Java restaurant in Randiwick when I first tried es campur for dessert at the encouragement of my Indonesian friend Mela who insisted that avocados taste great in desserts.
I was served a small bowl of shaved ice topped with lashings of condensed milk, shaved coconut and chunks of sweet, ripe avocado. I had never had avocado in a dessert before and found the dish refreshing and delightful. The coconut really worked with the creamy avocado and I ate the entire thing, knowing I'd be craving it again.
Avocado coconut ice cream with milk chocolate fudge topping and toasted coconut flakes
Already knowing that avocado and coconut would complement each other, I decided not to re-invent the wheel and looked online for ice cream recipes. I decided on David Lebovitz's recipe, which included mostly coconut milk instead of whole milk with small amounts of cream and sugar.
As luck would have it, I found that my ice cream bowl would no longer freeze, though I had it in the freezer for more than 24 hours, so I added the concoction to the freezer in a metal bowl, stirring it every once and a while. While the avocado coconut ice cream tasted great, the texture came out slightly grainy and less creamy than I would have liked.
The taste combination was as I had remembered it: Lovely, buttery and not overly cloying! I decided to be a little decadent and topped it with Sander's Milk Chocolate Hot Fudge, a childhood favorite I brought back from a recent holiday in Michigan. The crunch of the toasted coconut and the smooth, sweet fudge were both perfect foils for the subtle avocado ice cream.
For the hot dish using avocado, I kept recalling a memory of the first time I'd had avocado warm in a sauce, outside of the usual way I'd eaten in guacamole. I was in my early twenties and dating a Canadian restaurant owner and remember him serving me a lovely curried avocado sauce over fish. It was so light and delicate and I remember thinking to myself, "this is such an unusual way to eat avocado."
But images of the delicious red curry avocado cream I had used for the duck taquitos a few months back, and it's cringe-worthy color, helped me to re-think the dish. Even though I would be making an Indian-spiced curry sauce, it was too similar and too soon and I thought harder for a new application for the fruit.
When I think of using an ingredient in an unusual way, I consider other traits it might share with other foods. For me, avocado reminds me of butter, it's creamy, fatty and decadent, so naturally I begin to think of how I'd use butter in this dish? Also, the flavor of avocado is very subtle, making it a very malleable ingredient like tofu, meaning it could be used in a number of ways.
The delicate nature of avocado and the afore-mentioned traits made me think of pairing it with one of my all-time favorite foods, crab. The medium to carry these two delicate-tasting ingredients would be pasta!
The Donnie avocados were a whopping two pounds each, so I cut one in half, that would be plenty for a sauce! Thinking of the Italian crab classic, "penne granchi," I decided to buy a high-quality artisanal "gigli" pasta in the shape of a lily flower, another short tube-like pasta.
I bought cream, fresh snow crab claws and lump crab for the dish and then I remembered I had some lovely Italian seasoned thick-cut bacon from Proper Sausages and diced some up and crisped it for a garnish.
I pureed the avocado and added a good dollop of cream and then salted to taste. The sauce, while very tasty, needed more depth of flavor. So, I sauteed very thinly sliced cloves of garlic and then added the lump crab and legs only to warm and then added the hot pasta. I gently mixed it together, careful not to break up the fragile crab pieces. Then I plated it and garnished with the smoky bacon and The DJ and I dug in to our decadent dinner!
Avocado garlic cream sauce with crab over gigli pasta with smoky Italian-herb bacon garnish
The result was ABSOLUTELY DIVINE! But oh SO RICH! I barely got through my dinner, but the avocado sauce with the cream and crab were such a delicious combination of flavors, I managed to force it down! While the bacon added a nice bit of crunch to the dish, I thought the smokiness overpowered it. The garlic, surprisingly, did not and lent the depth of flavor I was looking for. However, I was not happy with the plating. While the texture of the gigli pasta was certainly pleasing to the palate, I thought it looked messy and inelegant as a dish. I decided I would make it again and tweak it.
Devilishly delicious: jumbo lump crab and Aslakan King crab combine with a garlic avocado cream sauce for a decadent starter
A week later, I decided to make the dish using fettuccine noodles. I also was going to serve the dish as a small starter instead of as an entire main, it was just too rich to eat that much again. I sent The DJ off to get a crab claw for plating but he misunderstood me and came back with Alaskan King crab legs, my favorite. So, whilst I didn't have the picture-perfect claw for the ideal plating photo, I would be enjoying chunks of sweet King crab in the dish instead of the more lightly-flavored lump from the can. For added fruity flavor, I doused the pasta with Bertolli Premium Select Fragrante extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest and chopped Italian parsley for a bright, green taste.
Here is the link to all of the uber-creative dishes from the Creative Cooking Crew! Ciao for now, darlings!