Ravioli Genovese, Tomato Sauce and Olives

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More stuffed pasta. Delicious, elegant stuffed pasta. These Ligurian-inspired babies are ravioli filled with a mixture of sauteed Swiss chard, ground veal and homemade ricotta.

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I used to rarely cook with veal because of how it is produced and the horrible conditions the calves are kept in before they are slaughtered and sent to market. Recently though I’ve been seeing more and more naturally raised, grass-fed (not crated) veal at my local store. Frequently they have it on sale as well and I pick up a couple of packages. Ground veal in meatballs is excellent and gives a great texture to meatloaf as well.

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When my youngest son requested ravioli with tomato sauce for dinner I scanned what i had in the fridge and freezer. Ground veal, Swiss chard…there it is. Ravioli Genovese. I browned the veal a little onions and garlic. Meanwhile I blanched the chard and chopped it up. I mixed that with the veal, egg, Parmesan and homemade ricotta cheese.

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For sauce, I made a simple marinara with San Marzano tomatoes, a little garlic, herbs and olive oil. I did want something extra for the finished plate. So, I pitted some oil cured olives and scattered on top. Rich filling, tender pasta and sharp sauce made for a great dinner.

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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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Coppa e Cavatelli: Pork Collar in Whey, Ricotta Cavatelli, Onions and Peas

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Pork collar is normally cured and dried and is the delicious coppa that I’ve posted about before. Chefs figured out that this cut can be more versatile than just a salted and cured coppa. I’ve seen several recipes in books and restaurant menus recently that treat this marbled cut like an awesome pork loin. It has a great meat to fat ratio making it ideal for slow roasting or even braising. In this recipe I cooked it sous vide in whey, sliced it and pan-seared it.

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I prepared some good ricotta a day or so before using Jenn Lewis’ recipe from her Pasta by Hand book. It’s a really great book for all things pasta that require no machines or rolling. They are mostly referred to as “dumplings” in her book and she has a fascinating collection of pasta shapes and recipes from all over Italy with ingredients ranging from potato gnocchi to grated “pasta” and 100% semolina pasta.

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I had pasta in mind to go with the pork and the ricotta became the main ingredient in ricotta cavatelli. The dough is comprised of the homemade ricotta, eggs, flour and a little milk. It comes together quickly in the Kitchenaid mixer and is pretty simple -if a bit time consuming- to roll and form into ridged cavatelli on the little gnocchi wood board I have.

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I hate wasting when it comes to food, I try to use as much of my odds, ends and trimmings as possible. The whey produced by the ricotta making process (I also use Lewis’ recipe from the same book made with half and half, milk and buttermilk) is really tasty stuff and there’s quiet a bit of it. Typically, I mix it with about 1% salt by weight and put it in the fridge to use for cooking, baking or drinking. It lasts a couple of weeks with no problem. Lewis recommends using the whey to slow cook pork in the style of maiale al latte (pork in milk), a classic Italian recipe from Emilia-Romagna. I’ve done that before to cook a chunk of pork shoulder and it was delicious. I refined the same process for the coppa and bagged it with salted whey, thyme, lemon slices and garlic cloves. I cooked that sous vide for [[TEMP/TIME]] and allowed it to cool in the bag.

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For a tasty garnish I went with whey-cooked shallots. This is just whole peeled shallots and an onion simmered slowly in a mixture of whey and butter along with some thyme. The mixture cooks until all the liquid evaporates and the onions are golden meltingly soft and a bit caramelized. To serve, I sliced the pork and used a biscuit cutter to make neat disks. I browned them in a hot pan till crispy on the outside. The cavatelli were tossed with peas and butter. I plated the meat with the pasta around it and topped with the shallots.

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Szechuan Broth with Duck and Goose Dumplings

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Duck season is almost here and I still had a few teal in the freezer. The kids have been asking me to make some dumplings at home. They love steamed dumplings at Chinese restaurants and wanted to see if I can make a version at home. Not one to shy away from a started looking through a few of my books to see what I want to make. I have made traditional Chinese dumplings at home from Barbara Tropp recipes and was going down the same path but then thought why not make a version that is not easy to find at every good Chinese restaurant in Houston. This recipe from Heston Blumenthal at Home fit the bill. It’s light and refined while still remaining authentically Chinese in flavor, shape and ingredients.

First ting I made was the broth. It’s a pork based broth made from roasted pork ribs and chicken along with onions, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns to give it that distinctive fragrant zing. The meat and vegetables get de-glazed with Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). The stock is cooked as usual in a pressure cooker and strained. This makes a delicious stock but taking it one step further towards refinement it gets clarified into a crystal clear consomme.

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Blumenthal uses his ice-filtration method to clarify the stock. The liquid is set with gelatin and frozen then allowed to slowly defrost in the fridge in a colander with cheese cloth. The clear liquid drips into the bowl under the colander. This works great but is very slow compared to the agar filtration method I talked about here. The two methods basically work the same way but agar sets at a much higher temperature than gelatin, so it can be easily broken up and allowed to leak clear liquid with no need for the freezing step. So, I went with the agar method and got my nice consomme.

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The filling for the dumplings has three components: the meat, the cabbage and the Shaoxing jelly. I made the jelly first. This is nothing more than the rice wine simmered and the alcohol flamed off then it is set hard in a thin (about 1/4 inch) layer with leaf gelatin. When fully set I cut it into small cubes and reserved them in the fridge.

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The cabbage is Savoy cabbage that is shredded and gently cooked in a good bit of very un-Chinese butter. The meat as I mentioned before is wild duck and some wild goose. I ground it up and mixed it with the cooled cabbage, skim milk powder, egg, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. I actually made double the recipe and made the other half with pork filling instead of the duck. For each wonton wrapper I put a teaspoon of filling and a cube or two of the rice wine gelatin.

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To distinguish the pork filled ones from the duck/goose ones I shaped them differently. The duck ones were shaped similar to those in the book, sort of like a bundle or parcel. The pork ones had more of an angular shape. At service time I got the clarified broth nice and hot. I adjusted the seasoning and put it to the side.

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At the same time I got my steamer going and started steaming the dumplings a few at a time. They need about 6 minutes or so to cook through. During that time the wine jelly inside melts and each dumpling just bursts with delicious flavor when you bite into it. They were similar to Chinese soup dumplings. When the kids where ready to eat, I plated a few dumplings in a plate on top of finely shredded  green onions. The I poured the hot savory broth all around. The kiddos expectations were very high so I was glad they went for seconds and thirds. They might not think this is better than their favorite dumplings at Jade Garden restaurant but they definitely will do in a pinch.

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Prawn Linguini: Modernist Pasta, Rich Shrimp Sauce

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Jamie Oliver is one of the first ever chef/celebrity who I’ve learned a lot from early on and still really enjoy using his books and cooking style as an inspiration. His recipes rarely disappoint and I think his passion is infectious. This is a dish that sounds so 80’s from his Jamie’s Comfort Food book. However, when properly prepared there is no doubt that it falls under the heading “classic”.

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The instigator to making this dish was my mom. I asked her what she wanted me to cook for dinner one day so she can take a break and she mentioned shrimp. After looking through a couple of my books she immediately decided on this one upon seeing the picture. After all it combines two of her favorite food groups, pasta and shrimp.

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Homemade pasta, a wonderful food, can be a simple flour+egg mixture and lots of times that’s what I do. The ratio of flour to egg, using whole egg as opposed to yolks or maybe a combination of yolks, whites and even oil and water. I’ve been messing with the Modernist Cuisine pasta dough for a while now and really like it. It has a nice al dente texture when cooked. Due to a the small percentage of Xanthan gum in there it is very easy to work with without sticking or requiring too much additional flour. It is not really “better” than the traditional pasta dough, just different. Actually, I much prefer a classic dough if making filled pasta like Agnolotti for example. This version works very well here when you want a sturdy, snappy noodle that is still tender and rich. It is another process and cooking technique that has its place in my kitchen.  

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I include the recipe for the pasta dough in the bottom of this post. It is not a direct lift from Modernist Cuisine, rather it is adapted from the Modernist Cuisine at Home book with a few changes including the incorporation of semolina in the mix. It works very well but I will probably change something next time I make it. That’s the nature of cooking, change, evolve, test and then do it again. There is almost always room for improvement or customization. An  idea could be to include different flours instead of semolina depending on the sauce, like buckwheat or rye or corn flour….

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The other half of this recipe is the sauce, a rich a deeply flavorful one based on shrimp shell stock. I peeled the shrimp and de-veined them. The shells get sautéed in olive oil with onions. These get cooked with saffron threads, wine, canned tomatoes and anchovies for an extra briny kick. The sauce gets pureed and very well strained. This beautiful shrimp sauce is now ready to go into the final dish.

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As the pasta is cooking away I sautéed some garlic and very thinly sliced fennel in olive oil. Earlier when I cleaned the prawns, I chopped most of them and some were left whole for a nice garnish. When the vegetables are soft, I added the prawns and a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes. Last, in goes the prawn sauce. To finish, I toss the al dente cooked pasta in the prawn sauce mixture, plate in warmed plates and garnish with fresh fennel fronds and the whole tail-on large shrimp. Truly a luxurious, delicious and comforting dish.

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Modernist Pasta Dough

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

  • 600 gr. All Purpose Flour
  • 30 gr. Semolina Flour
  • 210 gr. Eggs
  • 6.2 gr. Xanthan Gum
  • 120 gr. Water
  • 37.5 gr. Olive Oil
  • 24 gr. Vital Wheat Gluten
  • 6 gr. Salt

Mix in a stand mixer and allow to hydrate for an hour before rolling and cutting.

Green Pea Agnolotti, Crispy Pork, Consomme

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Spring is here and even in hot humid Houston it’s…well it’s nice. The weather, at least for now, is not brutal yet and feels like spring with cool evenings and days that are not stiflingly humid. This dish is a good bridge between winter and spring. It combines lovely deep flavored “braised” pork and it’s crystal clear consomme with that emblem of spring, bright green peas.

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This meal was a result of buying a whole untrimmed pork shoulder. This includes several muscles that can be separated and treated differently as opposed to the traditional American method of just slicing through the bone and slow-cooking everything (as in barbecue). My purpose was to harvest a whole Coppa which is a cylindrical muscle that is usually cured and air-dried. Then it is served like most Italian whole muscle salumi, sliced thin and enjoyed on its own, as part of a simple composed plate or on top of a pizza. This type of butchering meat is known as seam butchery and is practiced a lot in Europe. Its intention is to leave the muscles whole and divide up the animal’s quarters into manageable pieces without cutting through the bones much or at all.

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I ended up with a lovely looking Coppa (picture above) that is curing right now. The Coppa  has a great shape and really good marbling in it that it got me thinking about doing this again but cooking the muscle instead of curing it. Really it is like a pork loin but with more fat running through it. How bad could that be? After butchering the shoulder I also ended up with a few other nice muscles including a flat one that looks a lot like a thick skirt steak. I believe this is what sometimes is called a Pluma. That’s what I used for this dish.

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As soon as I finished butchering the pork shoulder I tossed the flat piece with some salt and a touch of sugar and let it rest in the fridge. I figured I’ll cook it sous vide with a bit of lard and go from there. Not sure what to do with the meat one it is cooked (tacos are always a good option anyways) I also took care of the resulting shoulder bone. Not wanting it to go to waste I roasted it well along with an onion cut in half until deeply browned. I deglazed the pan with Madeira and then Sherry vinegar, scraped all the browned bits and tossed all that into a pressure cooker. I added more aromatics and water and made a superb pork stock.

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Now I got a perfectly cooked piece of pork along with a few cups of delicious pork stock. Let’s mangle those two ideas togehter and see what comes out. Ramen? that could work, but I was not sure I wanted a stock flavored with Madeira and Sherry vinegar in that. I like the noodle idea though. I started looking for something more European. Maybe a fresh pasta tossed with the pork? I could shred the pork. Pour some of the stock into the served pasta bowls? That sounds good. Toss in some peas? Yeap! Maybe make it a bit more refined though. I also have that ricotta in the fridge that needed using….

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So I jotted down my initial idea that at one point included making a roulade out of the pork and slicing it to serve, similar to this venison dish. I abandoned that down the line. Crisping the pork chunks in a touch of lard would work and look better as well as give me some great texture. The agnolotti though stuck. The idea of pasta pillows filled with a ricotta-pea mixture contrasting with the flavorful consomme and  the crispy pork was irresistible. I have made those French Laundry-style dumplings a few times since I first posted about them here and now they have become much easier to prepare. The filling is a bit based on the recipe in The French Laundry book for fava bean filled agnolotti and it includes the peas (blanched and shocked in ice water), ricotta as well as a bit of fine fresh breadcrumbs to give it more body.

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Since I wanted a more refined dish I decided to make a clear consomme from the pork stock as opposed to leaving it as is, delicious but slightly “cloudy”. It would still taste great but just would not look as nice. The traditional method for making consomme is the one from the Escoffier days or earlier. It involves whisking egg whites, ground meat and some vegetables into the stock. This coagulates and forms a “raft” that traps all impurities and you strain off the clear stock.

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I opted for the more modern and much less labor intensive Agar clarification. I first learned about it from Dave Arnold’s Cooking Issues blog and posted about it before. The idea is to gently set the liquid with agar then, through a cheese cloth, squeeze and strain the clear consomme leaving all impurities stuck in the Agar web. I recorded my before and after weights for the stock to see how much I would lose and I started off with close to 750gr of stock. I ended up with around 500 gr of clear consomme. Not a bad yield for a very easy method that produces crystal clear result and pure flavor.

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To plate, I served the boiled dumplings and topped them with chunks of crispy pork. I added some reserved blanched peas to the plate as well. Then I heated up the consomme and seasoned it with salt and maple vinegar before pouring it around and over the pasta and pork. As a last touch I added a few drizzles of walnut oil and fresh thyme leaves.

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Fettuccine, Lobster and Marjoram

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I wish I have more time to post these in a more expeditious manner. For now, I have to get them up as time permits. Anyways, for Valentines Day this year I planned a four course meal for Diana. Actually I had a fifth course “option” that I was hoping to get to. Four courses though, as good as these were with wine and lovely company is nothing short of a perfect evening.

This was the first course. I stopped by Whole foods with the intention of getting a good dry aged steak (that would be the next post) and scallops for the first course. As luck would have it, due to the rough cold weather hitting much of the US recently, scallops were in short supply. What they did have was frozen and carried a very hefty price tag. However, Whole Foods was apparently running a special for Valentine’s Day. If you buy a dry aged steak you get a lobster tail for free! A quick change of plans and instead of scallops with butternut squash and chestnuts we ended up with this delicious dish.

I first set about making the pasta. This is a classic fresh Italian noodle with nothing but flour and egg. I rolled it thin and cut it into ribbons using the pasta machine. While the noodles were drying a bit I set about working on the lobster.

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I had three tails total (one free with the steak and I bought two more…still cheaper than the damn scallops). I removed the tails from the shell and bagged them in aFoodsaver bag with plenty of butter and some fresh marjoram. I cooked them sous vide for around 15 minutes at 59.5 C per Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure. At that point the tails were perfectly cooked and juicy. To finish them off I seared them briefly in a mixture of butter, garlic, lemon zest and juice and another dose for chopped fresh marjoram.

The sauce for the pasta was built around the same flavors of the lobster. So, I melted butter with lemon zest, lemon juice and marjoram leaves. At the last moment I boiled the noodles and tossed them in the butter mixture. To give the pasta a neat presentation I rolled the noodles on the tines of a long skinny bamboo set of tongs and slid them onto rectangular plates. On top went the sliced lobster and a few leaves of marjoram. I am glad I portion-controlled the both of us. Fresh springy pasta, tender juice lobster seasoned perfectly with herbs, lemon and butter would’ve alone made for a royal dinner.

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Course number two following the pasta was a very nice salad that for some reason I failed to take a picture of! It had a mix of baby greens including red kale and arugula. I used my mandoline to make paper-thin slices of persimmon. The whole thing was dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with shavings of Pecorino Romano.