I love drawing inspiration for new dishes from restaurants. If I’m not jotting down notes in my pocket-sized pink Moleskine journal , or stealing menus (with permission) for reference later, then I’m still trying my hardest to remember the flavor combinations I’ve enjoyed.
The latter was the case two weeks ago when I had tapas and sangria with my parents at Café Ba Ba Reeba , which is located just a few short blocks from my apartment. We ordered a range of items from short rib-stuffed piquillo peppers to spicy potatoes with tomato aioli to chicken and ham croquetas. But one of the standout bites was also the simplest: a goat cheese croqueta. These crisp balls of fried goat cheese had a lovely melt-in-your-mouth quality that was enhanced by a thin slivered of candied orange on top. I loved the way the sweetness of the fruit balanced the tang of the cheese. They were so understated and yet the flavor combination stayed with me.
Orange confit cooking on the stove.
So this week the goat cheese croquetas were the inspiration for a no-cook pasta sauce. A base of goat cheese (I used two 5.3 ounce packages of Chavrie Original that I received free thanks to some coupons) got combined with minced garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, orange confit , and fresh thyme for a luscious sauce with layers of nuanced flavor. Tossed with pasta and toasted walnuts it made for a vegetarian meal that satisfied with its fine balance of light and rich.
The homemade orange confit does require some advanced planning as there are a few steps and some waiting time involved. However, time requirements aside it’s pretty simple to make and the name alone sounds impressive. It’s basically just slow cooking oranges in a syrup, but the results are fabulous. The process enhances everything that’s lovely about an orange and takes away the less desirable – most namely the acidity and bitterness. Yes, it does make for a bit of a weekend project, but it’s a versatile ingredient. Dice it over Belgian waffles, incorporate into a spring-inspired vinaigrette, or serve it simply with vanilla ice cream. However you serve it, I think you’ll find it quite addictive and a fun way to transform an often overlooked fruit into something more special. I link to Mark Bittman’s recipe below which is fantastic.
Pasta with Goat Cheese, Orange Confit, and Thyme Serves 4 to 6 as a main course or 6-8 as a side dish
-12 ounces dried pasta (I used Al Dente Whole Wheat Fettuccine)
-10.6 ounces goat cheese
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-1/4 cup grated Parmesan
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/3 cup finely diced orange confit
-1/2 teaspooon Chile Crunch (optional)
-Leaves of 4 sprigs of thyme
-Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
-1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, combine the next four ingredients (goat cheese through olive oil) in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add in the orange confit, thyme and chile crunch and pulse just until well mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot and toss with the sauce mixture and walnuts until well coated. Serve immediately.