Thursday Night Smackdown: Shockingly Palatable!

Funny story, I was uploading the pictures and writing the post about this cantaloupe grappa semifreddo from Gourmet while waiting for my mini test-freddo to freeze. (The whole loaf pan is going to take a lot longer, and I don’t trust my ability to unmold and photograph semifreddo at 2:30am. Or my ability to wake myself up at 2:30 to do so) And since I didn’t have the “finished” picture, I put in a placeholder in the space above that read “BEAUTY SHOT.”

Yes, I know what this cantaloupe’s innards look like. I’m moving on.

I’m apparently unable to properly unmold and photograph a miniature semifreddo at 9:30pm, let alone a full-size one in the middle of the night. I had to scarf down 75% of the carnage so I could take one of those “Look how good this was, I just couldn’t stop myself!” photos. Which it was, but that photo is a total ploy and one that is not nearly as effective as The Standard Chive Ruse.* I stand exposed before you. It’s sad, because this was in a little fluted pan and was going to be really cute. And we know how well things turn out when I try to make them cute.

So: I was flipping around trying to figure out what to make tonight and settled on this because

  1. I dislike semifreddo, because why bother when you could just eat gelato.
  2. I loathe grappa, because why bother if I could just drink the urine I produce for free instead of spending a pile of money whenever I want to drink something that burns and tastes like ass.

Part of this whole Smackdown enterprise is working with new methods and new ingredients, right? So it’s a perfect fit. As an added perq, it involves 30 minutes of work and 8 hours of sitting, so its napping potential is off the charts, and it gave me the opportunity to shoot this very Georgia O’Keeffe portrait of a melon.

*The name of my new reggae/mathcore Spin Doctors tribute band.

Buying the grappa was my first hurdle. Even the cheapest grappa is not cheap; if you see a bottle for less than $25 it’s most likely rubbing alcohol in a bottle made of lead glass imported from China. I know I hate it and will never drink it, but it would be matched with the relatively delicate cantaloupe. Do I buy the low-end grappa because it’s a waste to spend the money but risk urine-scented semifreddo, or do I pay out the ass for the high-end bottle because the dish has to taste good or I might as well make something else?

I went with some middle-of-the-road grappa, both because I am deeply risk-averse and because I was pretty sure Brian would reimburse me for it; he likes disgusting things. Also it was in pretty packaging.

For those who have been fortunate enough to avoid grappa and/or don’t actually know what it is; it’s a liquor made by distilling pomace, which is the polite word for “all the grape shit left over after you make wine.” In Italy, there’s a beverage called ammazza caffè (literally, “it kills the coffee”) where you drink espresso followed by a swig of grappa. Among those I know, other than Brian and 85-year-old Italian men who drink it by the mugful  and can’t remember anything that happened more than six minutes prior to the game of bocce they are currently playing, drinking grappa is more a sign that you are brave enough to consume it than a sign that you enjoy the taste.

I chopped a gorgeous, juicy local cantaloupe I’d gotten at the farmer’s market on the way home, apologized to it and threw it into a blender with some sugar, the grappa and a teaspoonful of grenadine. The grenadine really makes it…slightly pinker than it would otherwise be, which is more important than you’d think because blended cantaloupe is only slightly more photogenic than overripe bananas pushed through a potato ricer.

I stirred in some egg yolks and put the mixture over a hot water bath.

And then I whisked. A lot. If you’ve followed the link above, you’ll see that the recipe directs one to use a hand mixer to whip the cantaloupe mixture until it hits the desired temperature and has tripled in volume. Inspired by Rick Bayless’s impressive performance in the egg white-whipping challenge on last night’s Top Chef Masters: Nice People Cook Some Food While Being Really Nice to One Another and by my lack of owning a hand-held electric mixer, I did it by hand.

It took a long fucking time. I’ll admit, it increased more like 2.5 times by volume. Also I checked the temperature by sticking my pinky finger into it. I couldn’t open the drawer to get the thermometer because all my upper body muscles were going into spasms from the whisking, the incessant whisking.

Yes, I licked my finger, and it was surprisingly good and did not cause my bowels to feel as though they’d been firebombed.

Thankfully, it came up to temperature sooner rather than later and it was time to stick the bowl in an ice bath so I could continue to whisk in a different location. Which really made all the difference, and when I say “made all the difference” I mean “I stirred diffidently every few minutes when I could be roused to do so.” I pressed Brian into service for some of the whisking, but our kitchen counters are on the highish side and he was concerned about his elbow height relative to the bowl containing the cantaloupe. ERGONOMICALLY CORRECT WHISKING ONLY, that’s our kitchen motto. We have it in a cross-stitch.

While I waited for the cantaloupe mixture to fully chill, I whipped some heavy cream in the KitchenAid Professional 600 Best Mixer In The World. That lucky-ass, bastard heavy cream. I folded it into the inferior hand-whisked cantaloupe and poured the mixture into a loaf pan that had been lined with no less than eighteen pieces of plastic wrap because we’re still plowing through our supply of off-brand plastic wrap that won’t tear into pieces larger than five inches across without instantly adhering to itself and forming a dense ball of plastic you could throw through a window.

Here’s the full monty, which will be unmolded in the early evening tomorrow when I’m at the height of my semifreddo-unmolding powers. My mini-freddo, as explained, was an unmitigated unmolding disaster. For something so small and pliable it managed to break into a remarkable number of pieces.

It looked like shit and contained the detested grappa, but I had a responsibility to eat it. As a solo liquid, I still hate grappa. However, as a component of this dish, it’s actually quite good. Surprisingly so, like a good movie with Jim Carrey (I.e., Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is the only one).

I’m tired and the people at Epicurious already wrote some florid yet accurate prose, so I’ll just tell you what they said: “Grappa, which is floral and just a little edgy, bumps the musky, intoxicating sweetness of the melon up a notch.” I’m still not entirely sold on the texture of semifreddo, which is not quite creamy enough, not quite dense enough, but not quite light enough if it’s not going to be dense; I might try to take this and turn it into a gelato.

I remain a dedicated cantaloupe fan, although I will never look at it quite the same way again. That is, as not containing a vagina. There, I said it. Yes, this cantaloupe appears to contain female genitalia. The elephant in the room is dead.

If I manage to produce an unmolded, photogenic slice of this tomorrow I will gladly add it here, but it’s probably faster and easier to go see Epicurious’s picture because really, what are the chances?

10 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: Shockingly Palatable!

  1. I, erm, actually like grappa. And this looks fabulous.

    And, since I do have an open bottle of the higher-end stuff in the house anyway, I am SO making this after Saturday’s public market run.

    Actually, maybe I should probably wait until we finish the cherry lambic sorbet that’s waiting in the freezer.

  2. I ALWAYS cheap out at the store and buy the store-brand plastic wrap, only to curse myself and my cheapness later when the box falls apart/the teethy-part comes off/the plastic wrap won’t unroll. I don’t learn so good.

  3. I desperately want an ERGONOMICALLY CORRECT WHISKING ONLY cross stitch for my kitchen! I might have to learn to cross stitch just to make it happen…

  4. Grappa makes me want to go hide in the corner and cry for days. I’m glad that there is at least one recipe on the planet that turns lighter fluid into delicious creamy cantaloupey goodness.

    Also you make me laugh. Hard. And I’ll never be able to look at a cantaloupe the same way.

  5. >like a good movie with Jim Carrey (I.e., Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is the only one).

    No love for The Majestic?

  6. toylady, are you an 85 year old italian bocce player?

    if you’ve got some good stuff, i do highly recommend this. really easy, really good. just make sure you pick out a flavorful melon.

    kristin, don’t even get me STARTED on the teethy part.

    granny, i sense an etsy business in the making – i can cross stitch. childhood hobby.

    kaitlyn, i’m still a little taken aback by the lack of disgustingness.

    i’m glad i make you laugh. it’s always the ones i don’t think are very funny that make people laugh. maybe i should always try to be not funny.

    derrick, nope. no love. i have limited love to distribute for films. it’s like triage.

  7. Grappa is like an STD—burning pee. But cantaloupes I can get behind. They’re SO good right now. The last few we’ve had have been so dense and juicy and flavorful that I almost questioned that they were the same fruit I’ve been eating and calling “cantaloupe” for the last 27 years.

    How tall are your countertops, exactly? And how tall are you? I know it’s irrelevant, but I’m curious since my ex-boyfriend and I had extra-tall countertops at the house we shared, and we loved them. Then again, he was 6’5 and I’m 6′ tall in any kind of respectable shoe.

    Finally, I ask you this: Can we call your fruit a cuntaloupe?

  8. kristie, they’re only an inch or two higher than normal. we live in an old brownstone with crooked floors, and when they put in the counters they had to build up underneath them to get them level. i’m 5’11″ barefoot so i love ‘em. brian’s…less than that, so him not so much.

    also, re: cantaloupe naming: no.

  9. My parents have horror stories about grappa. They visited my dad’s relatives in Italy and every house they went to offered them some. Of course, the residents of each house were only having the one glass, but my poor parents had to go from house to house to house, getting progressively more shitfaced on the worst-tasting booze ever. It wasn’t a good scene.

    Based on that alone, I am already on your side vis-a-vis grappa.

  10. Pingback: It’s the Whole Fredo . . . « Dark Side of the Fridge

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