The idea came from a free Amuse Bouche offered by Panzano, the restaurant inside the Kimpton Hotel Group offering in Denver, the Hotel Monaco, at the 5:00 p.m. lobby happy hour. Theirs was a nugget of hamburger over a cranberry jam topped with a dot of fresh mayonnaise and garnished with apple slivers.
Their loss-leader tactic worked. The tasty Amuse Bouche – especially when combined with the offer of a free glass of wine – got us in to the restaurant for dinner that night. By giving away those two hors d’oeuvres and two glasses of wine they ended up with a party of six (that would grow to eight before the night was done). Nice bit of business.
But I could not help but think that I had some ideas about that Amuse Bouche. While it was quite good I am just not a huge fan of ground beef. Perhaps ground lamb might have improved it. Or maybe a souvlaki-like cube of pork, marinated and seared. And then it occurred to me: why not make it vegetarian and do it for Special Delivery? And instead of a bit of cranberry jam, why not a rich and spicy chutney? I was off to the races.
The result was a very different take on the offering from Panzano. And yet, different as it was, it retained the elements that had made the original attractive: the layering of flavors, the juxtaposition of savory and sweet as well as the attractive presentation.
Spinach and Cheese Gateaux with Tomato Chutney, Apple and Dijon Creme Fraiche
For the Spinach and Cheese Gateaux
- 4 heads of fresh spinach
- 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
For the Spicy Tomato Chutney
- 2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped tomato (can be good quality canned tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 2 whole dried hot red peppers (arbol or japonaise)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- Kosher salt to taste
For the Mustard Crème Fraiche
- ½ cup Crème Fraiche
- 1/4 Dijon Mustard
- 3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
For the Garnish (optional)
- 1 Fuji apple, julienned
- Finishing salt
1. Prepare the Spinach and Cheese Gateaux. Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Pulse the spinach in three batches in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the ricotta, parmesan, eggs, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to thoroughly combine.
2. Cook the Chutney. Place the tomatoes, ginger, onion, minced garlic (not the whole garlic cloves), turmeric and cayenne in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Heat the oil in a heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves, stir and fry until lightly brown. Add the cumin, mustard, and fenugreek and allow to sizzle for about five seconds before adding the red peppers. They should puff up and darken. Add the tomato mixture (it will splatter when it hits the hot oil). Add the brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. Stir and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced. This recipe should yield about 1 cup of chutney.
3. Cook the Spinach and Cheese Gateaux. Coat 8 cups of the muffin pan with brushed olive oil. Divide the spinach mixture among the 8 cups (they will be very full). Bake the spinach cakes until set, about 20 minutes. Let stand in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn out onto a clean cutting board or large plate.
4. Make the Mustard Crème Fraiche. Place the Crème Fraiche and mustard in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the rice wine vinegar and mix well. Pour the Mustard Crème Fraiche into a squeeze bottle.
5. Plate the Dish. Spread a circle of the Spicy Tomato Chutney in the center of each plate, about a ¼ inch wider than the widest dimension of the Spinach and Cheese Gateaux. Place a single Spinach and Cheese Gateaux on top of the Chutney. Line the outer ring of the chutney with the Mustard Crème Fraiche and place a dollop of it on top of the Spinach and Cheese Gateaux. Arrange the julienned apple on top of the Gateaux. Garnish with finishing salt.