Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Virtues of White Sauce (and swearing at your kids)

For the past eighteen years I've strenuously steered myself away from swearing around my kids, but now that they're teenagers, I've relaxed my efforts and allowed my language to be a little more natural.

Like when I was teaching Henry how to make white sauce. His first attempt had been a floury, lumpy fiasco. This was his second try, and I wanted him to get it. "You've got to show it who's boss," I told him, "you've got to whisk the hell out of it!"

He emitted little sparks of glee at hearing me say a bad word, and something seemed to click in him. He whisked the hell out of it, and the results were gorgeous, a smooth, satiny white sauce.

We've focused on sauces for most of our first cooking lessons, an approach I've borrowed from the curriculum at Le Cordon Bleu. I worked as an English instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago a couple of years ago, teaching Composition to future American chefs and bakers, and I learned from my students (wonderful students! Some serious potty mouths on them, though) that much of their initial course work was in knife skills, broths, and sauces.

Henry and I have worked a bit on knife skills (see The Tao of Broccoli), we've made one broth so far (see the kombu/mushroom broth in Fast Food), and we'll be delving into these areas more soon. But he is coming along nicely as a junior saucier. He can make a basic red sauce, adaptable for any pasta dish, and convertible - with a change of spices - into enchilada sauce. He can make a pesto out of herbs and vegetables to use as a dip, spread, or pasta sauce. And now he can make a white sauce, the foundation for countless treats: cheese sauce, nacho dip, butternut squash sauce (our favorite fall recipe for Butternut Squash Ziti is coming in the next post), or spinach dip. Henry singlehandedly made this obscenely rich and delicious dip for our family on Thanksgiving.

We ate the hell out of it.

Spinach Dip 

1.5 lb fresh spinach, washed, stems removed

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

4 medium cloves of garlic, minced very fine

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup 1/2 & 1/2 or non-dairy substitute

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese or non-dairy substitute

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

pinch each of oregano, basil, thyme

3 tablespoons sour cream or non-dairy substitute

Cook spinach in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, just until it's all wilted. Strain well and squeeze out excess water. Chop spinach finely and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute (don't let it brown). Add flour and stir well. Cook, stirring constantly until flour turns light blond and smells toasty, 1 or 2 minutes.

Whisk in the 1/2 & 1/2 or substitute, little by little, until the mixture is smooth. Keep cooking until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, 2 or 3 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring, for 4 or 5 minutes.

Add parmesan or substitute, lemon juice, salt, paprika, oregano, basil, and thyme. Stir well to combine.

Remove from heat. Add the sour cream or substitute and chopped spinach.

Serve with tortilla chips or whatever you like to dip.