Yin and Yang: Homemade Crème Fraiche, with Pasta

5 Mar

The middle of nowhere, for a much-needed 12-hour break from winter and work

One of the reasons I got into the event-planning field is because I enjoy atmospheres of riotous cacophony in which unfettered bedlam is threatening to jump out of her metaphysical closet, put me in a headlock, throw me in the trunk of her rusted green Chevy Chevelle and speed off toward Bellevue.

One of the reasons Stephen got into the legal field, is that he craves order, balance and harmony; loves nothing more than stymieing undue displays of behavior that slop outside of the social contract’s definition of suitability. His idea of heaven is working in an environment of rigorously enforced professionalism in which the threat of a partner popping his or her head into his office and demanding that he review important case documents for the next 48 hours, with short breaks for the B.R. and greasy takeout food, lurks under the surface of every hastily scrawled memo.

Our life together has been a joyful bout of seesawing between our extremes, to the benefit of our mutual sanity and quality of life (interrupted by minor skirmishes over my laissez faire approach to huswifery).  A typical episode is usually set off when I unexpectedly and merrily pull the trigger de jour, after which Stephen dutifully extracts the bullet, stitches the wound and quietly makes the necessary phone calls.

The past few weekends have been whirlwinds of aggressive work (for both of us) mashed up with aggressive bouts of relaxation (my doing, mostly).  Recently, the Willcox-Repsher Yin Yang bus of bipolar fun took the form of a mini-work-and-pleasure-road-trip during which we met our friends Brenda and Jerrold, as close to halfway between our houses in the Hudson Valley and Columbus, Ohio as possible.

Stephen and I are still waiting for Pennsylvania Tastykakes to go international

In our search for geographical compromise, Brenda and I happened on the site for Blue Knob resort in Pennsylvania, we exchanged a flurry of Facebook messages, Stephen and Jerrold mapped our respective routes and the four of us gunned it … for the middle of nowhere.

Presented, without comment

A 12-hour break from reality punctuated by trips to antique stores, truck stops (they have the best fries) and live-music joints up in the Allegheny Mountains … just what we needed to snap ourselves back into the game.

Brenda meets a handsome, mysterious stranger

Oh, and bookmarking our little road trip was my experiment with “making” crème fraiche – or really, just letting it make itself. I threw some cream and buttermilk in a super-clean glass, covered it with saran wrap, then threw (for a lighter version) some half and half and buttermilk in another super-clean glass, covered it with saran wrap, left it on the stove next to our fridge for 48 hours, and let nature take its course.

Stephen, of course, bristled at the notion of consuming what is essentially spoiled dairy, but when I assured him that Julia Child and Jacques Pepin frequently made their own crème fraiche, his eyes glazed over and he stopped listening, vaguely reassured, but still doubtful.

(Just for the record, the “good” bacteria and natural enzymes in the buttermilk zap the “bad” bacteria in the cream as it sits, for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours; the colder you keep your house, the longer it will take, ergo our two-day crème fraiche recipe).

When we got home, the batches of crème fraiche – both full and slightly reduced fat – were velvety rich, gorgeously thickened and rich. Just begging to be spooned over fresh berries, piled into muffin recipes … and that night, tossed with hot, salted noodles, butter-sauteed shallots, freshly zested lemon peel, shaved Pecorino, petite peas and a generous dusting of mint.

Click on for recipes ….

They start out as glasses of liquid cream

Recipe for Crème Fraiche:

Servings vary

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 TBSP buttermilk

Method:

  • Mix together in a glass and cover with saran wrap. Let sit for 12 to 48 hours, until thickened.

Recipe for Lighter Crème Fraiche:

Servings vary

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 TBSP buttermilk

Method:

  • Mix together in a glass and cover with saran wrap. Let sit for 12 to 48 hours, until thickened.

After just a few days, they're glasses of heavenly, velvety rich, spreadable cream. Nature's frosting, better than buttercream.

Nutritional Breakdown for Crème Fraiche: The full-fat version contains about 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon; the lighter version contains about 20 calories and 2 grams of fat per tablespoon.

Cost Breakdown for Crème Fraiche: About $5 for both batches, or a bit more if you can’t find a small buttermilk or go organic with all three.

Verdict / In the Future: Bizarrely delicious; we’ve all moved away from fermenting our own foods, but as long as you use clean tools and monitor the process carefully, at-home fermentation and pickling is perfectly safe and results are far superior to anything you can buy off the shelf.

Fast, easy and sophisticated -- like Brenda's new friend

Crème Fraiche Pasta

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz penne or favorite pasta
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 shallot, diced fine
  • 1 TBSP lemon zest (about 1 lemon’s worth; try to use organic if possible, the pesticides on conventionally raised can be tough to wash off and they taste acrid)
  • ½ cup crème fraiche (I used the regular version)
  • ¼ cup mint, chiffonade
  • 2 oz. Pecorino, freshly grated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

  • Boil noodles until al dente in heavily salted water and drain, reserving a cup or so of cooking water for the sauce, just in case.
  • Melt butter in sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook shallots until translucent. Add salt to taste.
  • Meanwhile, if using frozen peas, boil them in a bit of salted water, either on the stove-top, or in the microwave, until just cooked. Drain. When shallots are just beginning to take on a bit of color, add the peas and cook for a minute or two until slightly crisped and golden.
  • In a large bowl, toss the noodles and the remaining ingredients (with a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water if necessary), saving a bit of cheese and mint to garnish dishes when you serve.

Nutritional Breakdown of Crème Fraiche Pasta: About 425 calories and 15 grams of fat. Peas are one of the best sources of protein in vegetables, and cheese is also always a great source of vegetarian protein; crème fraiche is high in saturated fat, but used sparingly as it is here, it adds a lovely, rounded mouth-feel without approaching Paula Deen levels of dangerous LDL.

Cost Breakdown for Crème Fraiche Pasta: About $2 a pop.

Verdict / In the Future: This tastes a lot more wicked than it is; the nutty, tangy richness of the crème fraiche transforms a prosaic, if yummy pasta dish into a special-occasion meal; but it’s easy enough (if you make or buy the crème fraiche ahead of time) to throw together on a Wednesday night with only 30 minutes to spare.

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