Cappellacci di Zucca – Pumpkin Pasta with Sage, Pumpkin Butter, Pine Nuts

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This is cheat post. It’s a cheat post because I’ve posted about similar dishes before. Well, so what. We love this dish and its ilk and I try making it every fall a few times. I really love making fresh pasta and filled pasta as well so why not post about it (spoiler warning: the next post is also a filled pasta dish).

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It is a dish I make relatively often but honestly I never make it the exact same way twice, especially with the filling. This time I think is one of the favorites. The small sugar pumpkin I used was delicious on its own and I decided not to mask it with a ton of other flavors. In Mario Batali’s first book (my favorite of his really), Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages,  has a recipe for this dish and his filling is very simple. It’s nothing more than the pumpkin, an egg, some Parmesan and a grating of nutmeg. I went with that and it was perfect. Usually I would use butternut squash for something like this, but I really am glad I gave the small “pie”pumpkin a try this time. The flesh was dry and had great flavor and sweetness.

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Sage with this dish is classic and so is butter. Both are here but with a couple of extra layers of flavor. I put all the pumpkin seeds and pulp into a pot with a bunch of butter and let that gently melt and simmer. After draining I had a nice half cup or so of golden delicious pumpkin butter.

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I boiled the pasta while I got butter browning in a pan and then tossed in sage leaves. For another texture and layer of flavor I threw in a handful of excellent quality pine nuts. These are great pine nuts that I picked up from Lebanon wen I was there a couple of months ago. After the nuts got a good color on them and the sage leaves were a bit crispy I tossed the dumplings into the pan and added a few spoons of the pumpkin butter. Served with a handful of Parmesan and anointed with more pumpkin butter it was lovely.

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Greens, Pumpkin and Rice Torta

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If I had to pick all time favorite vegetarian meals they would have to be Mediterranean. They probably focus on lots of greens and wrapped in thin flatbread or dough (proper Falafel is probably on the top of that list). This Italian gem of a recipe from Paula Wolfert is one of those recipes and I’m happy to write about it at this time since it seems very autumnal.

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Ligurian cuisine is famous for the emphasis on herbs and greens. That’s where the beloved basil-pine nut pesto comes from, herb studded olive oil soaked Focaccia and all manner of simple pasta and seafood dishes. So, it is not surprising that Wolfert’s Ligurian recipe relies on large amount of greens sauteed in generous doses of olive oil and filled in a pastry enriched with more olive oil.

I prepared the dough first by mixing flour, water, olive oil and salt. The dough is very nice and pliable. It smells great due to the fruity extra virgin olive oil in it. That gets divided into two equal portions and can sit in the fridge wrapped in plastic for up to a couple days. It could seep some oil in that time but that is ok.

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Spinach and swiss chard made up the greens portion of the filling. The most important step is to make sure these are very very well washed. There is nothing more irksome than grit in an otherwise delightful dish (same goes for removing the poop “vein” from shrimp…I hate it when lazy cooks leave it in and we get nasty grit!) Anyways, back to the filling. I shredded a few handfuls of a small pumpkin using the coarse side of the grater and tossed these in some salt for a bit. The same salting treatment was used for the coarsely chopped greens. The salt draws out some of the water and helps reduce the astringency of the raw greens.

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After rinsing and draining the greens I sauteed them with onions and olive oil until wilted but still retained their firmness. I tossed in the shredded pumpkin and cooked that for a few minutes too. Once the mixture is cooled, I added a bit of short-grain rice that was soaked in water for 30 minutes, Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella and a couple of eggs. I rolled the dough into large 14-inch rounds and topped one with the filling before covering it with the second round. I debated building the whole thing on a pizza peel and sliding it on my baking steel directly. I decided against that and went with building and baking the torta on a round metal baking pan. Next time I might give baking it directly on the baking steel a shot and see what happens (hopefully no burnt dough or a huge mess). My favorite way to enjoy this pie is at room temperature, sliced into wedges and eaten by hand. It is delicious, satisfying and keeps well. It makes lovely meals for days if you do not polish it off the first night.

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Plums and Pistachio: Olive Oil Cake, Pistachio Gelato, Poached Plums, Yogurt

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This is the second installment of the Plums/Pistachio pairing and this one has a much better gelato. This one is an easier plate to pull together and delivers excellent flavor and texture. We have a fragrant Italian olive oil rosemary cake, excellent pistachio gelato, plums poached in a juniper syrup and a yogurt vanilla sauce. I took all the pictures using natural light for this post too and..well…I think I can use some improvement (and maybe a new camera!).

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I prepared the gelato following my usual method based on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream template. Jeni Bauer’s formula of milk, cream tapioca (or corn) starch, sugar and corn syrup rarely fails and is very simple to make. I allowed pistachios to infuse the cream mixture and then blended it all together. The final gelato had the right flavor and creamy texture I was after.

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The cake is a classic Italian pastry. It’s one of those dry (in a good way) cakes that I love. This one is based on a recipe from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook. The cake is made from flour, chopped rosemary, eggs, sugar and a fruity olive oil. It’s a very forgiving and flexible recipe that can be flavored in any number of ways (great with orange/lemon zest and ground almonds). I baked it in a small loaf pan and sliced it into neat rectangles.

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The plums I prepared with the previous plum/pistachio post were awesome. Not sure why I wanted to try a different method, but I did. Maybe I wanted to prove that my sous vide method is much better? Anyways, this time I poached the plums in a pot with blueberries and some juniper berries. I figured the juniper flavor would play off nicely against the rosemary in the cake. The flavor was pretty good and the juniper was a nice touch. However, I did not get nearly the nice ruby red color, the barely tender texture or the blueberry flavor that infused the plums that were cooked sous vide.

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The dish needed a bit of freshness some sharp notes. So, I made a quick sauce from whole milk yogurt and vanilla sugar. I added a dollop of the sauce in a bowl and topped it with a slice of cake. On that went a few slices of the plums and right next to it a scoop of the gelato. I gently poured some of the poaching syrup to finish off the dish.

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Plums and Pistachio: Dacquoise, Blueberry Poached Plums, Ice Cream, Chantilly Cream

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This is a very good combination of flavors that I tried out in two separate desserts, both are delicious, both imperfect and need some tweaking. The first one is another lift from Daniel Bouloud that features a disk of crunchy chewy pistachio dacquoise with whipped cream and poached plums with a scoop of pistachio gelato. The original recipe uses cherries instead of plums.

Making a pistachio dacquoise is pretty much the same as the dacquoise for one of our favorite cakes. A mixture of pistachio powder, pistachio paste and sugar is combined with whipped egg whites. This mixture is baked until browned and mostly crispy but not brittle. When done I cut it into roughly 2 inch circles and a few smaller ones for  the ice cream.

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Bouloud actually does not cook the cherries in his recipe. He just marinates them in a hot syrup. That would be fine for cherries but I had other plans for the plums. I cooked them sous vide with blueberry syrup.  The syrup is just blueberries, water and sugar simmered, mashed and strained. I bagged the sliced plums with the purple syrup and cooked it at 82 C for about 30 minutes.

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I liked how this worked out very much. The plums took on the amazing color from the syrup, they cooked perfectly without being mushy and had nice hints of the blueberry. It is obvious from the pictures that the plum took on a much deeper ruby color after cooking. I strained the cooking liquid and reduced it as well to make a simple sauce for the dessert.

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Now where the recipe failed is the pistachio ice cream. Bouloud’s recipe makes for a very thick ice cream base with lots of pureed pistachios. The end result had a good flavor but was closer to frozen pistachio butter than creamy smooth ice cream. To plate it I put a disc of the cookie and layered the poached plums in top. I whipped some cream with cherry liqueur and vanilla sugar then piped a nice rosette on top of the plums. A scoop of the mediocre ice cream goes along the side and a few drizzles of the reduced plum sauce.

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Halibut en Paupiette, Leek Royale, Red Wine Sauce

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One thing off the top here: Leek royale is awesome velvety delicious stuff. Ok, now that I’m done with that, the rest of this dish is very good too even if my execution is not as ideal or refined as I would’ve liked.

Chef Daniel Bouloud made this, a version of it actually, popular when when he was working at Le Cirque. At his restaurant, Daniel, he kept the popular dish in spirit but updated it a lot. In this version here I am doing a hybrid of sorts. The classic original is a fish, usually sea bass, wrapped in thin slices of potato and pan fried in butter. It is then served on top of sauteed leeks with a rich red wine sauce.

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In his book, Daniel: My French Cuisine, we get the updated version of the classic. It’s a steamed bass fillet with potato lyonnaise “rolls”, a rich leek custard (the aforementioned royale) and the classic red wine sauce, a Bordelaise. I started working on the recipe with the leek custard because that takes the most amount of work and needs to set in the fridge. I simmered the green part of the leeks along with Italian parsley until tender. I then cooked the drained greens in some cream and blended the whole thing, strained it through a fine sieve, seasoned it and blended in eggs and more cream.

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To cook it, I lined a small loaf pan with plastic wrap for easy removal later. I wrapped it with aluminum foil and cooked in a bain marie in the oven until set. This took a bit longer than the recipe recommends. I let the royale cool and popped it in the fridge until dinner time. Before plating, I gently unmolded the royale and cut it into neat 1 inch cubes and let them temper and come to room temperature. I tasted a few on their own. It’s rich with a lovely flavor of leek and has such a great smooth and comforting texture. For a few days after serving it with this dish we enjoyed the leek custard leftovers as a random side dish with dinner. It also goes great spread on crispy bread for a snack.

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Next I prepared the red wine sauce by reducing stock, plenty of red wine and some port along with shallots and thyme. Then I whisked in a crap load of butter until we had a glossy rich sauce. Chef Bouloud uses a vegetable sheeter to make long perfect sheets of potato which he uses to make strips to wrap the fish. I don’t have one of those contraptions so I bought the longest potatoes I could get my hand on and used the mandolin to make long paper thin sheets. This worked pretty well. I seasoned the halibut fillets with salt and pepper and some thyme. Then I brushed the potato sheets with clarified butter and used them to wrap the fish.

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The mistake I made here is to let the wrapped fish sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. The salt drew some moisture out of the fish in the meantime. So, it was a bit of a pain to get the fish to brown in clarified butter when I was cooking it for dinner. With some careful gentle heat I got the potato/fish packets cooked well, but next time I will wrap and fry the fish right away.

To plate, I poured some sauce on the plate and topped it with the fish. I put a couple of royale cubes on the side. I dressed a small salad made primarily of parsley leaves with lemon and olive oil. The salad went between the leek custard cubes. The flavors were awesome and the whole thing worked. With a bit of care with cooking the fish the dish could be quiet spectacular.

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Atelier Crenn: Kir Breton

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A Kir Breton is a simple cocktail made from apple cider with creme de cassis. Another “Kir” that is popular is the Kir Royal wich uses Champagne instead of apple cider. The Kir Breton as the name suggests is a specialty of Brittany, the French region famous for great seafood, salted butter and apples.

That’s where chef Dominique Crenn comes from. She is a proud Breton and chooses to serve all her diners this one bite “cocktail” as soon as they settle for dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. The recipe is from her book, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste and like dinner at her restaurant it is the first recipe in the book.

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I chose it as part of a three course dinner I prepared for Diana and I. It’s neat looking, delicious and really not terribly difficult.  The orbs are filled with liquid hard apple cider, encased in a thin shell of cocoa butter and topped with a gel of creme de cassis (black currant liqueur). Sounds daunting? It does, but really it is not difficult to make and requires mostly time in the freezer.

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First step is to prepare frozen spheres of the base liquid – the apple cider in this case. I cooked the hard cider down a bit to remove some of the alcohol or it will never freeze. I froze them in half-sphere molds. When totally solid I removed them and “glued” them together by gently melting the flat sides and attaching them to each other. Now I had frozen apple cider orbs. For the cassis part, I blended creme de cassis with Ultratex-3. This very quickly gives us a thick gel that is not heated at all so it retains the delicious taste and all the alcohol.

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A few hours before service, I made the shell mixture. This is mostly comprised of melted cocoa butter and very little white chocolate. The cocoa butter is relatively tasteless and not sweet. It also hardens very fast if anything cold touches it. So, I used a toothpick to pick up the frozen cider spheres and dip them in the melted cocoa butter. This instantly created a shell around them. With some practice I got some nice smooth ones. I let those rest in the fridge until service. This allows the cider to melt creating the liquid in the shell. To serve it I put the cider filled spheres on spoons and piped a good dollop of the cassis gel on top.

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Hay-Roasted Pork with Yucatan Achiote Marinade

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Pork shoulder or pork butt is  one versatile piece of porcine goodness. It is infinitely flexible and can be at home in any cuisine. It can be roasted, braised, cut up and stewed, barbecued or smoked and of course it is the main ingredient in sausage. On top of all that I love how it can feed a crowd and everyone loves it. I use it often and this time it was Mexican cuisine I turned to, specifically that of the Yucatan peninsula.

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I’ve been reading through David Sterling’s awesome book, Yucatan. It is an amazing piece of work about the lovely food of that region, many of which we enjoy but maybe do not know that it is from the Yucatan specifically. One of the most well known Yucatecan (I love that word!) dishes is the Cochinita Pibil. Piib is an oven/pit that is dug in the ground. Foods cooked in it acquire the acronym Pibil. The food cooked in it is usually covered with banana leaves so they slowly tenderize, smoke and steam as well as acquire a lovely herbal aroma.

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Since I did not have any banana leaves lying around and no Piib dug in my yard I am not calling this Cochinita (pork) Pibil but that does not mean it is any less delicious or special.  The main flavor in this preparation is from the marinade. It’s called Recado Rojo and consists of plenty of ground Achiote (aka Annatto), allspice, black pepper, white vinegar, seville orange juice (I used a mix of lemon, lime and grapefruit juices since seville oranges are not in season now), charred garlic and Mexican oregano. I marinated the pork with this mixture overnight before cooking.

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I put the pork in my large clay baking dish. At first I was simply going to cover and bake gently for a few hours. As I mentioned before Pibil foods are usually covered in banana leaves to gently steam. I had none but I did have clean organic hay that I use for cooking sometimes. It works great to add flavor and aroma to all kinds of dishes like these potatoes. So, I soaked a large handful in water and added it on top of the pork. It would be a pain to pick a bunch of hay from the meat after cooking, so I laid a thin cheesecloth between the meat and hay.  I covered the baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil and cooked it in the oven at roughly 300 F for several hours until the meat is tender and flakes easily. This process  worked great and I will certainly be baking with hay again with one small change.

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While the aroma from the cooked meat, marinade and hay was spectacular I think next time I will put most of the hay in the bottom under the meat. This will ensure more flavor in the sauce and permeating the meat. Traditionally, lightly pickled red onions go with a Cochinita Pibil. This is very easy to make. I  blanched red onions in boiling water for a few seconds and tossed them with lemon/lime juice along with a bit of white wine vinegar, orange juice and dried oregano. I had small sweet peppers on hand so I added those in with the onions as well. A few slices of habanero added a good spicy kick. I served the flaked meat on fresh corn tortillas with avocados, sour cream, the pickled onions and crumbled queso fresco.