Cape Gazette
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Cape Flavors

Nage cooking class teaches the classics

By Denise Clemons | May 04, 2011
Photo by: Jack Clemons Nage's warm vegetable salad includes portobello mushrooms, pearl onions, asparagus, fingerling potatoes, fennel, leeks, red pepper, arugula and goat cheese.

Last weekend Jack and I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas present from our son and daughter-in-law. They’d heard us say how much we liked the food at Nage and gave us a gift certificate for a cooking class. We arrived on time and found the room already packed with a group of 30 students eagerly studying pages of recipes. Our instructor was chef Hari Cameron, who has been with Nage since the restaurant opened seven years ago. The subject of the day’s lesson was Nage classics - dishes that have been on the menu since day one and remain constant customer favorites.

Hari began the morning’s lesson by explaining that his approach to any dish is to carefully balance a combination of product and technique, starting with the all-important mise en place. Roughly translated as “setup”, the phrase refers to the kitchen’s preparation for cooking. All the recipe components and tools are arranged in advance so the process of assembling a dish isn’t interrupted by the search for a spatula or spice. Hari demonstrated he was ready for the class by reaching behind a curtain to shelves stacked with skillets, bowls and dozens of containers filled with premeasured ingredients.

The first recipe we were taught was hummus, the traditional Mediterranean dip of pureed chickpeas flavored with cumin. While the mixture churned in the food processor - you can’t overmix hummus; the texture should be like creamy peanut butter - Hari shared his philosophy of product for this dish. It’s fine to use canned chickpeas, but essential to use fresh garlic that has been poached in olive oil to defang its bite (see recipe for garlic confit). As small tasting plates made their way around the room, we sampled the hummus and Hari began the next recipe, onion soup.

Once again we were instructed on the marriage of technique and product, in this case, the correct way to caramelize onions. Slice them thinly, but not too papery or they’ll disintegrate during the long cooking process. Heat the oil in a wide pan before adding the onions, to avoid any cold spots. Season in layers, adding kosher salt a little at time to help release moisture and concentrate the flavor. As for product or ingredients, be sure to complete the tedious but necessary chore of roasting bones for your veal stock to add rounded depth and body to the soup. Choose decent (i.e., drinkable) brandy such as Christian Brothers and a dry sherry like Harvey’s Bristol Cream. His recipe includes a few shakes of Tabasco sauce for another vinegary note designed to sharpen and brighten the soup’s flavor profile.

Before going on to the next recipe in his lesson plan, Hari talked us through two other staples on the Nage menu: sweet pea succotash and warm vegetable salad (see photo). The latter dish is emblematic of finding the ideal technique for every ingredient. Each vegetable in the salad is cooked separately, using the method most appropriate to elicit the finest flavor and texture (he gave us an unambiguous “no” when asked if there were any shortcuts). We didn’t get a written recipe for this one. He told us to cook our favorite vegetables individually, mix them with sautéed garlic and sherry vinegar in a skillet, toss in salad greens for a moment, then plate with a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese and a decorative squeeze of balsamic reduction.

Because of his interaction with the audience and detailed responses to our questions, Hari ran out of time before he finished the tomato jam demonstration. Fortunately, we were able to taste the finished product with crab cakes. As the clock struck noon, we were ushered to the dining room of the restaurant and served a three-course lunch featuring the dishes we’d just learned how to make at home. I’ve included several recipes from the class, as well as Nage mac and cheese from the recipe card we found at our place setting. And, if you want to hear more from Hari Cameron, visit his blog, thecombandwattle.com, a venture he describes as “culinary exploration from a state that has more chickens than people”.

Garlic Confit
1 C peeled garlic cloves
1 1/2 C olive oil

Arrange garlic cloves in a single layer in a heavy saucepan. Pour in olive oil to cover the garlic. Heat over medium until tiny bubbles begin to appear. Reduce heat to very low and cook until cloves are pale golden, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature before using the oil.

Hari’s Hummus
16 oz can chickpeas
5 poached garlic cloves
1 1/2 T tahini
2 T olive oil
5 t cumin
4 T lemon juice
kosher salt, to taste
parsley

Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse once or twice. Add the garlic cloves, tahini, olive oil, cumin and lemon juice. Blend on low setting to the texture of soft peanut butter. To serve, add salt to taste; garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, pinch of cumin and chopped parsley.

Onion Soup a la Nage
5 onions, thinly sliced
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 t minced garlic
1 C dry sherry
1/2 C brandy
8 C veal stock
8 C chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/4 t dry thyme
1/4 t dry oregano
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T red wine vinegar
1/4 C Worcestershire sauce
5 shakes Tabasco sauce
salt & pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large pan and add onions. Sweat over very low heat until golden, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Deglaze the pan with sherry and brandy, dissolving any brown bits from the bottom. Cook over medium until reduced by half. Add stock, herbs, vinegar, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle into ovenproof bowls, top with a thin slice of French bread and a handful of gruyere cheese; brown under the broiler.

Nage Mac & Cheese
4 oz Parmesan cheese rinds
4 C heavy cream
1 lb orecchiette pasta
2 T mascarpone cheese
1 oz Parmesan cheese
2 oz white wine
3 shakes Tabasco sauce
1/2 C breadcrumbs
2 T butter
drizzle of white truffle oil
drizzle of sherry vinegar
1 oz Gouda cheese

Heat cream in a saucepan and add Parmesan rinds; remove from heat and allow to steep for one hour. Remove and discard rinds. Add mascarpone and Parmesan cheese to the cream. Stir in wine and Tabasco; cook over a low heat until reduced and thickened. Combine breadcrumbs and butter; set aside. Cook pasta to al dente, drain and shock in cold water, drain and set aside. When the cream mixture is thickened, combine with pasta and stir in the truffle oil, vinegar and Gouda cheese. Place in a casserole dish and top with buttered breadcrumbs. Place under the broiler until golden brown.

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