Isaac Mizrahi: The Key 3

Isaac Mizrahi is the award-winning international designer and Project Runway judge. He's a self-taught cook who doesn't waste time. He goes straight to the masters and has a critical eye for whose recipes to trust. In this installment of The Key 3, he shares with Lynne Rossetto Kasper his methods for preparing a basic tomato sauce, a family vinaigrette and Jacques Pepin's chocolate souffle.

Here are Isaac's keys, as told to Lynne:

Three key recipes is a really hard thing, because there are a million recipes that are key. So I'll pick my most guarded, favorite recipes that work in millions of different ways -- my workhorse recipes.

One of them is Alex Guarnaschelli's yellow and red tomato sauce, because it's so easy and versatile and so incredibly delicious. Then I picked a vinaigrette. It's the way my mom used to make vinaigrette and kinda like the best way to make it: in a jar. And finally, Jacques Pepin's chocolate souffle recipe, which is flawless. You could do an endless amount of sauces for it.

1. Tomato Sauce

I swear by this recipe since I saw Alex Guarnaschelli demo it. I'm so entirely smitten with the technique that I can giant batches in August when tomatoes are in their prime. I encourage everyone to do the same.

My whole life, I've been beguiled -- perplexed -- by the idea of creating fresh tomato sauce. It's not an easy thing. People cheat and they put a little bacon or something in it, but no, that's not tomato sauce. I want just tomato sauce.

I love that you just put it in the blender. That's my favorite part of the recipe.

If you look at her recipe, it only says yellow tomatoes. But I'm telling you, on her show she had both yellow and red. So split the difference on the beefsteak tomatoes; do three red and three yellow.

Here's Alex:

Ingredients

5 or 6 beefsteak tomatoes, washed, core removed, a small "x" cut on the bottom of each
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
3 large shallots, peeled and sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 pound dry pasta, such as penne or cavatappi
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
25 to 30 basil leaves, washed and dried
Grated Parmiggiano - Reggiano to taste

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt the water generously. Prepare an ice bath for the tomatoes by filling a medium bowl with cold water and some ice cubes. Use a slotted spoon to plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 1 to 2 minutes. The skin should show evidence of peeling away from the flesh of the tomatoes. Remove them from the water and plunge them into the ice bath. Allow the tomatoes to sit in the cool water so they stop cooking.

2. In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon of the olive oil and add the garlic, shallots, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oregano and sugar. Stir to blend. Allow to cook, over low heat, until the shallots and garlic become tender and translucent.

3. Meanwhile, remove the tomatoes from the ice bath, peel off and discard the skin from each. Place them on a flat surface, quarter them and scoop out the seeds and "jelly" from each piece. Gather all the seeds in a strainer and push through the liquid that naturally surrounds the seeds. Discard the seeds. Reserve the liquid and tomato flesh.

4. Add the tomato and liquid to the shallot mixture and stir in about 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the tomato flesh starts to lose shape, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the water and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. If there are still some hard pieces, add a little more water and cook for a few more minutes. Taste for seasoning.

5. In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt. The pasta water should taste like sea water. Add the pasta to the pot and stir so none of the pieces stick to the bottom as they cook. Cook the pasta until "al dente", chewy but not hard or raw tasting, 8 to 10 minutes, and drain the pasta in a colander until the sauce is finished. Reserve a little of the pasta cooking liquid in case you need it later.

6. Put the tomato sauce in the blender and puree until smooth. Slowly add the vinegar through the top of the blender as the sauce is blending. Next, pour the remaining olive oil through the top in a slow, steady stream. Blend in another cup of water then remove the sauce from the blender and taste for seasoning.

7. Pour most of the sauce into a large skillet and add the pasta. Toss to blend with a wooden spoon. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta liquid to thin it out. Taste for seasoning. Add the basil leaves and sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Then you have this incredible sauce that can be taken in so many directions. You could add cream to it, you could add meat to it. I make lasagne with it. I make baked ziti with it. It's my tomato product. Seriously.

[Lynne's idea: Wouldn't it be fabulous to put this -- just at room temperature -- on the most wonderful summer tomatoes that you taste? Sliced thick with some mozzarella, so you have tomato cooked on tomato raw?]

2. Vinaigrette

This is the vinaigrette I grew up eating. Improvisation is the name of the game with this recipe. Taste as you go, and adjust the seasonings to your taste.

The recipe says to start by mincing some garlic. Now to be honest, I would press it, but you're not supposed to because it makes it a little bitter. I'm not a snob about these things, but for the sake of this recipe, I'm going to say mince.

Then olive oil -- a good olive oil. I'm very paranoid about my brands of olive oil since reading that article in the New Yorker. I use two parts olive oil to one part vinegar. Even a little less vinegar.

I have to say, I like to salt it a lot. Two to three very good pinches of salt. And I like a lot of pepper in there, because I don't like to salt and pepper the salad itself.

I use a little bit of dry white wine because I like the way it makes it less thick. It's not so viscous and it's easier to toss the salad. Also, it's delicious.

Now, a little tiny secret: I always do just a little pinch of sugar. That's cheating, I think, because you're supposed to be able to get the proportions right. But this corrects that. Like, I always find lemon really hard to work with, because I always end up just tasting the lemon. Whenever I leave the sugar out, I go, "Oh, that's bitter," or, "That's too lemony," or, "That's too much vinegar," or something's wrong with it. And the minute I add that magic -- a little teeny dram of sugar, it really does a trick. It's funny.

I don't like too much dressing. That's one thing I don't like that the French like. The French like to overdress things. I don't like to overdress a salad. I like more lettuce taste and less vinaigrette taste. That's my thing.

Ingredients

1/2 clove minced garlic
2 tablespoons good-tasting extra virgin olive oil
1 scant tablespoon vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh herbs
1 scant teaspoon mustard
Dash of white wine
Pinch of sugar

1. Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake until the ingredients are well mixed. Pour over clean greens and toss.

There are people who make vinaigrette in bowls and whisk it for hours for the emulsification. But why? Shaking it in a jar is better emulsification than you could ever get whisking. I like a smaller jar -- a pickling jar. I'll buy Hellmann's mayonnaise just so I can empty them out and use the jars for vinaigrette. They're so perfect. They're the right size and have the plastic top that isn't two parts and you can wash them. They're fantastic.

The ideal consistency is when it's just coating the glass -- completely smooth.

3. Chocolate Souffle with Rum Sauce

Jacques Pepin has made the best cookbooks. I find his recipes to be like suggestions more than recipes. They're really, really plain; it's like a set of instructions on how to get somewhere and then you fill in the blanks. It's like cooking school.

This recipe is foolproof. I love it because the directions are so clear.

Of course, all making a souffle is is figuring out the egg whites. There are so many different people who will tell you so many different things about egg whites and cream of tartar and vinegar and I don't know what they say. And none of that's right because I can always taste that stuff. Here, you whip the egg whites the way Jacques tells you to beat them. He says beat them to sort of soft peaks, which is easy to see. I love that. And it works. It doesn't say what speed to beat them, but somehow in 1960 we knew what that meant.

Where you make or break the souffle is folding the sauce into the egg whites. If you are impatient and you don't have the patience to fold, let someone else do it, because you're not going to get the perfect rise. Also, you have to kind of walk away from it for a while, because if you over mix it, it's not going to work. You turn the bowl, cut in half and turn the contents over on itself. Use these big round circular movements so you're not losing air. It doesn't look like you're getting anywhere; it just looks like you're turning the bowl and cutting the thing. But eventually you'll be very happy.

(I swear, it's all about what kind of chocolate you get. I use the stuff called Callebaut.)

Here's Jacques:

This souffle is better without flour, because the chocolate has enough body to hold the egg whites. More than any other souffle, the chocolate souffle should not be overcooked but slightly wet in the center. Serve hot right out of the oven with the sauce or let it cool, unmold and serve in wedges like a cake with or without a sauce.

Rum Sauce

1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the souffle)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons good dark rum

Place the milk, cornstarch and vanilla in a saucepan. Mix with a whisk and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture is light, fluffy and pale yellow. Pour the boiling milk all at once directly on top of the yolks whisking to combine well. The hot milk will cook the egg yolks. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool. When cold, add the rum.

Souffle

4 large eggs at room temperature, separated, plus the 3 egg whites leftover from the sauce
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or 3 ounces sweet and 1 bitter)
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Butter and sugar a 6-cup souffle mold and refrigerate until ready to use. Place the chocolate in a saucepan with the milk and melt on top of the stove. Stir until it comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and whisk the yolks in. Beat the 7 egg whites until they reach a soft peak and add the sugar. Keep beating for about 1 minute until very stiff.

2. Whisk about one-third of the mixture into the chocolate. Pour the chocolate mixture back onto the beaten egg whites.

3. Carefully fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites, then pour into the souffle mold. It should reach the rim of the mold. At this point, the souffle can be kept for a good hour, refrigerated or at room temperature.

4. Place on a cookie sheet in a preheated 375-degree oven and cook for 18-20 minutes. The souffle should be moist in the center. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately with the rum sauce around.

5. You can leave the souffle to deflate and cool overnight and then unmold it, cut into wedges and serve with sweetened whipped cream or with the rum sauce. It will have the consistency of a very light cake.

The Key 3 is a series of discussions with great cooks (not just professional chefs) about the three recipes or techniques they think everyone should know.

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