I have said this before, but it really bears repeating: flavour encapsulation is the ultimate weapon in the war against palate fatigue. If you want to keep the palate stimulated and prevent it from becoming bored or tired, one solution is to feed it with foods containing bursts of flavour.
These flavour bursts are encapsulated in concentrated pockets, rather than spread evenly throughout the food. The coffee bean theory I mentioned a month or so back demonstrates this perfectly - namely, that a cup of coffee made with just one ground coffee bean will have a far weaker flavour than the same amount of water drunk immediately after crunching a coffee bean between the teeth. There is the same amount of water and coffee in each, yet the encapsulated bean, crunched, delivers a far greater flavour than when blended into the water.
All recipes serve four.
Butternut squash and red pepper soup
A prime example of flavour encapsulation. The burst of flavour given by the bits of red pepper is wonderful and has a far greater impact than if the red pepper were liquidised with the butternut. Some raw butternut, grated or finely sliced into the bowl before you pour the soup over, adds a wonderful contrast.
3 or 4 large ripe red bell peppers
1kg butternut squash, as ripe as possible
1 large onion
200g unsalted butter
1 litre water
700ml whole milk
Salt and cayenne pepper
Halve the red peppers and remove the seeds and pith. Rub the skin of the peppers with olive oil and place under the grill. Leave them for at least five minutes, probably longer. The skin needs to be really blackened. They will look burnt but, when peeled, will taste fantastic. When the skins have blackened completely, remove from the grill and peel, either with your fingers or a small knife. Do this under cold running water and they should peel easily. Collect this water and use it to make the soup.
Once peeled, chop the peppers into 1cm dice. Peel the squash, cut it in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Slice the flesh as thinly as possible (on a mandolin, if you have one). Halve the onion, cut off the root, peel, then slice it as thinly as possible.
Take a heavy-bottomed casserole large enough to hold all the ingredients and, in 150g butter, sweat the onion and squash on a low to medium heat for 10 minutes. Turn up the heat, add the water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are completely soft. Remove from the heat, liquidise and then pass through a fine-meshed sieve. The resultant liquid will need thinning with milk - add enough to obtain the correct soup-like consistency, checking that you're not diluting the flavour too much.
To finish, heat the soup gently in a heavy-based pan and whisk in the rest of the butter. Check the seasoning. To serve, put some red pepper dice in the bottom of four soup bowls and pour the soup on top. Finish with a grating of Parmesan.
Vanilla ice cream with encapsulated flavour bursts
The encapsulated flavour bursts are, in fact, cubes of jellied cream. This recipe uses the fact that ice cream made without cream and, more importantly, with milk has a different flavour profile from ice cream made with cream. The flavour in ice cream made with milk rises in intensity very quickly after it has been put in the mouth. The flavour impact is powerful, but it fades quite quickly.
Ice cream made with cream, on the other hand, takes longer to reach its maximum flavour, and this maximum is less than that of the ice cream made with no cream. It does, however, stay in the mouth for longer. So, I thought, how do we get the best of both worlds: the clean intense flavour of an ice cream made with milk but with the flavour-lasting properties of cream. These jellies were the answer.
By making two gels, one pistachio and the other chocolate, I could not only prolong flavour in the mouth but create something with overlapping flavours. The flavour of the vanilla in the milk-based ice cream would come through first, all clean and intense. Then, when this began to fade, the pistachio flavour from the creamed gel would come through and last for a little longer. And finally, the chocolate gel containing fat from both the chocolate and the cream, being the creamiest of the three flavours, would take the longest time to be perceived but stay in the mouth for the longest.
This way, the ice cream has three time-released flavours; something that a Willy Wonka of the ice cream world might come up with. In this recipe, the gels are stirred into the ice cream, but they can also be sprinkled over other desserts or just eaten with coffee. Ideally, if you were going to do this, I'd suggest that you cut down the amount of gelatine, because these are quite hard gels - they need to be so, so that they can be mixed with the ice cream. For this to work to its maximum potential, the ice cream should be made with milk and no cream - my vanilla ice cream from a few months ago is ideal; otherwise, a top-notch bought-in version will do.
For the chocolate jelly
3 gelatine leaves
100g Valrhona Manjari chocolate
100g double cream
Soften the gelatine by placing it in a bowl of cold water for five minutes. Roughly chop the chocolate with a knife. Bring 25g of the cream to the boil, remove from the heat and add the dissolved gelatine. Pour it over the chopped chocolate, stirring to melt it all. If the chocolate has not melted after a couple of minutes, pop it in the microwave for a few seconds.
Lightly whip the rest of the cream, then carefully fold it into the melted chocolate and gelatine. Pour the lot into a tray so that it is at least 0.5cm deep. Place in the fridge to set - this will take about half a day.
For the pistachio jelly
3 gelatine leaves
100g double cream
50g pistachio paste (the best you get can get your hands on)
Melt the gelatine as in the previous recipe, then stir it into the same 25g of cream. Next, stir in the pistachio paste. Lightly whip the remaining cream and fold this into the gelatine/pistachio mix. Set as in the recipe above.
An hour before you want to serve, take the ice cream from the freezer and turn out both jellies. If they do not lift out easily, dip the bottoms of the trays in hot water for a few seconds. Cut the jellies into 0.5cm cubes and stir into the softened ice cream. Put the lot back in the freezer for a while, to harden a bit, then serve.