Behind the Dish: Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Tomatoes

Tonight’s James Beard special is another heartwarmer for wintertime. It gets its flavor not only from corn, shrimp and tomatoes, but from bacon and mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery). The mirepoix is sautéed in the bacon fat after the bacon is cooked; then potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, clam juice (or water or fish stock) and white wine are added, as well as corn on the cob. (The cobs get removed later and the corn scraped off and added to the chowder, sometimes with more corn added.) This mixture gets cooled down, fat skimmed, and then some of the solids are puréed so it has a part-creamy, part-chunky texture. Milk, salt and pepper are stirred in, and the bacon, shrimp, tomatoes and chives are added for the final minutes of simmering time.

To make this more of a main dish, we’ve also beefed it up a little by adding a combination of large and small shrimp; pearl onions; some green peas for color and flavor; and topping it off with a trio of crispy little corn-bacon fritters.

A bowl of this chowder will bring warmth to your evening for sure. Don’t forget to ask for bread!

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Behind the Dish: Lamb Moussaka

Tonight’s Julia Project dish, Lamb Moussaka, is familiar to most modern diners. If you know anything about Greek cuisine, you’ve probably heard of moussaka, and you may well have enjoyed it as part of your family’s cooking or at a Greek or other restaurant. The dish, which usually is made in the form of a kind of “lasagna” that layers slices of eggplant with ground lamb in a tomato sauce, originated in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which makes it rather interesting that a recipe for it was included in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1.

Julia’s instructions for how to structure and serve the completed dish are quite a bit different from how it’s normally done today; they’re much more classically French. Her original recipe uses a charlotte mold, which she instructs the cook to line with the skins of the cooked eggplant portion of the dish and then fill with a combination of the eggplant, mushrooms, lamb and sauce, resulting in a “shiny, dark purple cylinder surrounded with a deep red tomato sauce.” Wow! Her completed entree, brought to the table whole at a dinner party, must have looked rather like a purple Bundt cake. For our purposes, however, we used the more conventional rectangular pan and “layered” method of preparation commonly seen today. We’re also providing it with our own version of a “French twist.” And we’re proud to add that the vegetables are all organic, from Jim Darr’s Old Plank Farm in Windsor, Ohio — pesticide and herbicide free.

We’ve been prepping our moussaka since yesterday, because it is quite a bit labor-intensive. One of the steps requires slicing up the eggplant, sprinkling the slices with salt and letting them sit out for a half hour to “sweat out” the excess water (eggplant holds a lot of water) before cooking it. This process makes the eggplant more permeable to the olive oil in which it bakes before it’s layered, but it also requires a lot of room to lay out all the slices when you’re making as much moussaka as we are! With the limited space available to us in the Bistro kitchens, we had to do it in stages.

The recipe also calls for minced mushrooms, shallots or onions, the ground lamb (already cooked before being placed in the dish — which is probably why Julia describes it as a way to use “leftovers”), salt and pepper, thyme, garlic and rosemary, tomato paste, eggs, and a brown sauce. Rather than the brown sauce, however, we’re topping our moussaka layers with a classic béchamel, or white sauce, made with milk, flour and butter. Also, our bottom layer is sliced fried Yukon Gold potatoes — another item not in Julia’s original recipe. And, we added oregano and cinnamon, two other spices Julia’s version omits, but that are very much components of a classic moussaka.

The ingredients are layered and baked up to make a hearty, heartwarming dish, which we will top with an arrabiata pepper sauce. It will be accompanied by a classic Greek side salad featuring cucumbers, kalamata olives, our rooftop tomatoes and basil, red onion, orange and red peppers, and feta cheese, dressed in a Greek vinaigrette.

Sounds like a great fall dish? We thought so!