Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food Challenge with Cocktails, or Using Our New Standing Mixer to Make the Perfect Pasta

by Paul Zablocki

When the cupboards and the freezer can no longer hold your bounty, it’s high time for a culinary challenge.

Last Saturday morning, Steve opened the freezer and out fell a whole bunch of food-filled freezer baggies. Luckily he was wearing footwear or we’d have had to make a trip to the emergency room. I then looked through the cupboards and was dismayed by the sheer volume of stuff. “We need to do something about this,” I said. “Why do we complain we never have anything to eat? We’re such beggars in the house of plenty.”

So here’s what we did about it, the food geeks that we are, and we encourage you to do the same. Not unlike the TV show “Chopped,” but without the insane time constraints, take three ingredients that are taking up your precious storage space and make a meal. Not only will you compare and contrast saved recipes from books, magazines, and online sources, you will feel blessed by Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of Cooking and Food. But I suppose in what we churned out, the Roman goddess Vesta would be more apropos.

I wanted to up the stakes, so I suggested we write down ten ingredients each (such as the dried sardines I thought would make a great something or other at some point), throw them into a reusable canvas shopping bag (we do try to be green), and pick three. I thought it would be fair to only allow one of your own into the trio.

Here’s what Vesta saddled us with:

Paul: fire-roasted whole tomatoes, mini delicata squash, hot turkey sausage

Steve: pork rib meat (rib tips), coconut milk, filé powder

So where to begin?

Well, since our kitchen is small, and we really didn’t want to eat two big meals at once, we decided on separate days: I would make a feast on Sunday night, and Steve on Monday. Perfect.

I love hot Italian sausage, but hot turkey sausage is its milder American cousin, a little leaner, but still spicy and tasty. I also love a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, and we had a can of Muir’s Organic in the cupboards that was just begging to be used. But what about delicata squash? And mini ones at that? We picked them up at our local Farmers Market from Ray, the organic farmer who always has a great selection of seasonal vegetables. We get whatever looks good that week, but the squash were a carry-over from the week before and looked a little scary lying in the vegetable drawer in the fridge. Yellow with green stripes: they looked like mini Body Snatchers pods. So I went to the Web for some inspiration and found a blog called Barley & Me that touted the flavors of the delicata squash, and advised me to save the seeds for a simple salting and toasting.

My head started hurting from all the ideas exploding in the recipe box in my brain. Well, a challenge should be challenging, no? Why not put to good use the new pasta roller attachment I got Steve for his birthday and attach it to the new Kitchen Aid standing mixture my Mom and Dad got for us recently? I could just make a fettucine dish, but I said “Screw it, I’m going for ravioli.” Scary. I’ve never made ravioli before. Steve did once about four years ago for an Iron Chef Valentine’s Day Challenge we thrust upon ourselves one dreary winter when he, inspired by the beet and poppy seed ravioli from al di là in Brooklyn, decided he would make casunziei by hand. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve ever tried to make ravioli without the aid of a standing mixer and pasta roller attachment, maybe you should run down to your local kitchen supply store and throw down the plastic. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

(Ever since Vesta bestowed us the gift of ease, we have made apple upside-down cake, ciabatta, and coconut cake. We just got our meat grinder attachment, and now that we are no longer pasta roller virgins, we are ready to grind some short ribs and top round to make us some burgers for the bbq.)

Since I never made ravioli before, I needed to consult a few sources. Tom Colicchio’s How To Think Like a Chef proved to be a great starting point. His pasta dough recipe is simple and straightforward, same as the recipe that came with the standing mixer—no degree in molecular biology necessary. I was put at ease, but only slightly. A little voice in my head kept warning me about the possible perils to come for never having used a pasta roller before. The only experience I’ve had with a pasta roller was Steve and I making pierogi with Barbara and Jon in the spring. And that was a hand roller, a little pain in the ass that required too much work. At least I’d have ease with the attachment, right?

Looking for inspiration in the fridge, I saw a dessicated parsnip, some limp carrots, and some semi-healthy looking leeks. I hate throwing out unused food! I’ll put them to good use and make a brunoise: finely diced vegetables cooked slowly in butter. This would be the base for my sauce, a chunky tomato and vegetable ragú. And for my main dish I’ll roast the delicata squashes and their seeds, combine the roasted squash with some pan-fried Italian turkey sausage in the food processor, and there you have the ravioli filling. I needed a side dish too, and there was an orange cauliflower in the crisper, so I knew exactly what to make, a recipe Steve found a few years ago in New York Magazine for roasting one and smothering it in a anchovy–olive oil sauce.

But back to the scary pasta attachment. Sunday arrives, and I know I’m going to make hot turkey sausage and delicata squash ravioli with a fire-roasted tomato sauce with leeks, carrots, and parsnips, sprinkled with roasted delicata squash seeds. Filling, easy. Sauce, I could make it half asleep. Pasta dough—it was a breeze! After consulting for a step-by-step course in basic ravioli making, the only scary part occurred when, as I was using the standing mixer to make the dough, I thought it was too shaggy and dry. I remembered that Colicchio uses olive oil in his recipe, so I added a tablespoon of that, plus a little more water, and crossed my fingers. If that didn't work, I was screwed. But it did work, and beautifully. There’s a synergy that happens when one uses a pasta roller. When you load the dough into the top and it travels through the roller, as if entering a black hole, it emerges transformed into a thin shiny sheet of delight. It’s not delicate, it actually can’t wait to meet your fingers and the palms of your beckoning hands like wide swaths of velvet ribbon unrolling onto your gathering palms. Magical.

I made two batches of ravioli, having rolled out four sheets of dough, and the first one I messed up a little. I was so overexcited about the ease in rolling out pasta dough that I actually cut the dough into squares after plopping down a little filling on half the dough. Down boy! That meant I had to cut up the other dough and press each ravioli individually. If you’ve made ravioli before, you are either shaking your head or laughing at me (or both). What I rectified on my second try was placing the second sheet of dough over the first sheet that had dollops of succulent filling waiting to be blanketed. Then I tamped it with my fingers, smoothing out any air holes surrounding the mini mounds of savory squash and turkey, and cut it up into squares using a pizza cutter. Easy as pie (and yes, pie is easy, but more on that on a later day).

There were a few instances during the cooking where I changed direction and went with the flow, like my decision to go for a chunky tomato sauce as opposed to pureeing and straining the sauce, but for the most part, I knew what I wanted from the start, especially flavorwise. We’d start the meal with a Cocktail à la Venezia, the Gondolier, a light, refreshing fizzy drink with flavors of lemon, juniper, and hazelnut; devour the ravioli with a side of the cauliflower; and follow that with some passion fruit ice cream for dessert and a digistif of bourbon and crème de menthe to settle the food fervor.

If I thought my food challenge results were stellar, Steve’s were galactic. Even though he cheated a little and made two dishes from the three ingredients, the end results made me quiver with glee. Filé instantly makes one think of gumbo, and Steve knew he’d have to add the tea-tasting sassafras powder at the end of any sauce he’d come up with or else overcooking with filé will make your sauce stringy and bitter. Ugh. But Steve’s a dessert lover—no meal is complete without some dessert component, whether it be a slice of melon or a full-on croquenbouche—so what do do with the three ingredients? Make two dishes, one using filé and some rib tips we had frozen after making some St. Louis-style barbecued spare ribs this summer, and one using coconut milk. The coconut milk would go into the makings of a to-die-for cake. The crumb of the cake was delicate but firm, and this contrasted perfectly with the chewy texture of the baked-in coconut crust. We had some toasted coconut in the fridge, leftover from Steve’s birthday cake, so sprinkling that on top of the cake, which was already doused with a sweet and tangy coconut icing, only added another layer of coconut flavor. And pairing it with the passion fruit ice cream from the night before was genius (we must reuse the leftovers!!!).

But what was really genius was Steve’s repurposing the leftover pasta dough. Keeping the sheets of rolled-out pasta dough at their widest, he laid them effortlessly into a glass baking dish and started the layers of a lasagna. What he laid atop the pasta sheets made my mouth water: a thick bolognese of braised rib tips, fire-roasted tomatoes, and tomato paste (the amount of umami yumminess was staggering). When the lasagna came out of the oven, I was privileged to nab the slightest wisp of cheese that had formed a string from being pulled to the breaking point as Steve lifted the pan out of the oven. If that tiny wisp would be an indication of the flavors to come, I knew we were in for a treat. As the lasagna cooled, we nibbled on some sopressata and Parmesan cheese, and for the drink, a Rattlesnake, a silky rye and lemon juice cocktail that bites you back with its dash of absinthe. Steve then prepared a simple salad of mixed baby greens and slices of his house-made ciabatta bread, the best I’ve ever tasted.

Fellow home chefs and appreciators of good food, I neglected to tell you that Steve layered his lasagna not only with the tangy, stewy, savoriness of the pork and tomato sauce, he layered it with béchemal sauce as well. I just love the richness of this simple white sauce. Butter makes everything taste better and the way the creaminess of the béchemal danced with the fatty richness of the meat sauce, then performed a three-way with the oozy mozzarella—I am reminded of why we go through all the trouble to create complex, yet satisfying food.

The following are the recipes we created, borrowed, and adapted, and some are one-offs we haven’t perfected. Please feel free to adapt as you see fit.

Paul’s Meal

The Gondolier
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray gin (or other juniper-forward gin)
3/4 ounce limoncello (such as Danny DeVito’s or Pallini)
1/2 ounce Frangelico
6 drops Falernum bitters*
lemon wedge

In an ice-filled rocks glass, add the first four ingredients and stir. Top with about an ounce of soda, add a squeeze lemon and add wedge to drink.

*available from Blair Reynolds, You can substitute another falernum or tiki-style bitters.

Hot Turkey Sausage and Delicata Squash Ravioli

2 pasta sheets (see Pasta recipe below)
hot Italian sausage and delicata squash filling (see Filling recipe below)
fire-roasted tomato sauce (see recipe below)
toasted delicata squash seeds (see recipe below)

With a rounded teaspoon measure, scoop out some filling (see Filling recipe below) and evenly dollop on top of the pasta sheet closest to you in a manner that will create as-square-as-you-can-get ravioli. When you are finished adding the filling, take the other sheet and place it atop the sheet with filling. (You can, with some water and your fingertips, paint the pasta sheet in between the meat filling before you place the second sheet atop it. This may create a better seal.) Starting from the center, tamp the pasta dough with your fingertips, working the air pockets out to the edges of the pasta sheets. When all the air holes have been eliminated and the sheets have stuck together from pressing, you can shape the ravioli with a pizza cutter.

Place ravioli on a lightly floured surface, not touching each other. If you must stack ravioli, place atop lightly floured sheets of wax paper. Repeat with another quarter of dough. You can refrigerate the remaining dough and keep refrigerated for a few days.

In a pot of boiling water add the ravioli a few at a time, carefully so they don’t stick or break open. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until ravioli float to the surface. You can taste a corner to make sure they are cooked enough. Drain, separate in serving bowls, top with sauce and sprinkle with toasted delicata squash seeds (see recipes below). Add grated Parmesan, if you so desire.

Making the Pasta:
(adapted from KitchenAid and Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef)

4 large eggs
1–2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place eggs, water, olive oil, flour, and salt in a standing mixer bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater. Turn to Speed 2 and mix for 30 seconds. Then, exchange flat beater for dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and knead for 2 minutes. If the mixture looks too dry, add a little more water, but only a teaspoon at a time. When done kneading, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for about an hour in the refrigerator.

When ready to make the pasta, remove the dough from the fridge and divide into four equal pieces. Lightly flour a clean surface upon which to make the ravioli. Attach the pasta roller attachment to the standing mixer. Take one of the dough quarters and flatten to about 3/8-in. thick. Turn pasta roller setting to 1 and turn on mixer to Speed 2 or 4 (your dexterity will dictate the setting). Feed dough through roller. Fold and feed again. Do this for every setting up to 8, the thinnest. Lay pasta sheet on counter and cut in half and place them adjacent to each other, one farther from you.

Making the Filling:

2 turkey sausages, skin removed and chopped
3 mini or 1 medium delicata squash
olive oil
brown sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cassia
salt and pepper, to taste

Delicata Squash
(cooking the squash and seeds adapted from Barley & Me)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the squash in half horizontally (and if using a larger squash, one more time in half). Scoop out the seeds. Reserve. Put squash in a medium bowl. Add olive oil enough to coat the squash while stirring. Place squash flesh side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

Delicata Squash Seeds
While the squash is baking, rinse the seeds off with water and pat dry (wash off the strings; this is time-consuming, so be prepared for a little messiness). Then, add enough olive oil and kosher salt to coat the seeds. Toast in the oven (or a toaster oven until browned). Remove from pan and let cool.

Hot Turkey Sausage
In a pan, add garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil. Turn heat to medium. As the garlic starts to smell fragrant, add the sausage. After the sausage cooks for a few minutes, add the cinnamon, and then salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until sausage is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any liquid. Add to food processor.

When squash has cooled, remove as much skin as possible and add squash to a food processor. Pulse until sausage and squash are incorporated.

Making the Sauce:

1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
3 leeks, soaked and rinsed thoroughly, small dice (white and light green part only)
2 small to medium-sized carrots, small dice
1 parsnip, small dice
olive oil
unsalted butter
turkey stock (or chicken)
salt and pepper
fresh and dried marjoram
fresh and dried thyme

In a stainless steel skillet, heat the oil and butter. When the oil shimmers and the butter has melted, add the leeks, carrots, and parsnip. Star every so often, and after ten minutes, add the stock, salt and pepper, to taste, and the dried marjoram and thyme, to taste (about a teaspoon of each should be good). Then add the tomatoes, including the liquid, and as the tomatoes begin to cook, break them apart with a spoon. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the sauce has thickened, about 20–30 minutes. Turn off heat and keep covered.

Jonathan Waxman’s Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy

2 small heads orange cauliflower
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 anchovy fillets
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, split in equal halves
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 425°F. Wash, dry, and cut the leaves away from the cauliflower. Detach the stem by making a cone-shaped incision into the bottom of the cauliflower, and pull away into large florets, then cut into bite-size pieces. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil and add cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes, then pan-roast in oven until golden brown (approximately 10 minutes). Add a 1/4 cup of water, lower the heat to 350°F, and continue cooking for 30 minutes, turning florets occasionally until brown and tender.

While cauliflower is cooking, make the anchovy sauce. Using a mortar and pestle, mash garlic and anchovies with th olive oil, adding lemon juice to taste. Reserve.

Remove cauliflower from oven, place on a large platter, and drizzle with anchovy sauce.

Jonathan Waxman’s Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy
New York Magazine
November 21, 2005
from Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto

Green Beam
(created by Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce Jim Beam bourbon
splash green crème de menthe
dash Angostura bitters

Shake in an ice-filled shaker for 15 seconds. Strain into a cordial glass.

Steve’s Meal

Rattlesnake Cocktail

(adapted by Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz, from the Savoy Cocktail Book)

4 ounces rye
1 egg white
1 1/2 ounces lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes absinthe

Add ingredients to shaker before adding ice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute, then add ice and shake again for at least 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Serves two.

Rib Tips Lasagna

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Lasagna noodles (see basic pasta sough recipe above in Paul’s Meal)
Rib Tips filling (see Filling recipe below)
béchamel sauce (see recipe below)
1/3 pound mozzarella, grated

Making the Filling:

2 pounds pork rib tips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon filé powder
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, including juice
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup tomato paste

Pat pork dry and season with salt. In a dutch oven, heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown pork in 2 batches, transferring with tongs to a bowl. In fat remaining in kettle sauté onion and celery, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add garlic and rosemary and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Return pork to kettle and add tomatoes with juice and 2 cups water. Simmer, covered, 2 hours, or until meat is very tender.

Transfer pork to a cutting board to cool. In a small bowl stir together flour and remaining 3 tablespoons water and whisk into liquid remaining in kettle. Discard any excess fat or bone from pork and chop meat. Add pork and tomato paste to kettle, stirring, and simmer until filling is reduced to about 6 cups. Turn heat off, stir in filé.

Making the Béchamel Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk

In a small saucepan heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking, 1 minute. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Simmer béchamel sauce, whisking, until smooth and thickened slightly, about 6-8 minutes, season with salt.

Layering the Lasagna:
In a 3-quart baking dish spoon a layer of filling and top with lasagne noodles. Spread the filling, followed by the béchamel, then a thin layer of cheese. Repeat layering with remaining filling, cheese and béchamel sauce. Finish with a layer of cheese and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes, or until heated through and top is golden. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with a salad.

Coconut Bundt Cake with Powdered-Sugar Glaze

3 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/4 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups (packed) sweetened flaked coconut (about 7 ounces)
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
Additional sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 12-cup Bundt pan; dust pan with flour. Stir 3 cups cake flour and salt in medium bowl to blend. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then both extracts. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with 1 cup coconut milk in 3 additions. Fold in 2 cups flaked coconut. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack; cool completely.

Whisk powdered sugar and remaining 1/4 cup coconut milk in medium bowl to blend. Spoon glaze over cake. Top with additional coconut, if desired. (I topped with toasted coconut.)

Coconut Bundt Cake with Powdered-Sugar Glaze
Bon Appétit
October 2000

All photos except squash © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

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