Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cookbook #47: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Adapted from Cookbook #47:  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)

Recipe:  Ravioli Stuffed with Parsley and Ricotta in Tomato Sauce with Heavy Cream

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays.  Every year the husband and I trundle on over to his parents' (one of three pairs) house for dinner.  The crowd has ranged from an intimate eight to an overwhelming twenty.  But every year we congregate around 3 p.m., sip wine and snack on some fantastic appetizer, and then gather around a big table and laugh and laugh.

Some highlights have included:
  • the best salad ever.  A simple pear, goat cheese, and butter lettuce salad with a divine, tangy, peppery dressing.  Which was later revealed in some secrecy to be Girard's Champagne Dressing;
  • the most, umm, interesting and Midwestern salad ever: a pear poached in red hots (yes, red hots, those cinnamon hard candies) served atop iceberg lettuce--let us not speak of this again;
  • a porcini, cream, butter, potato, cream, butter, chanterelle, and cream gratin.  The recipe I have since lost and should be taken out back and put out of my misery;
  • a dough throwing at my first thanksgiving with the husband's (then boyfriend's) family--we had gotten quite hungry and the husband was making pie when he threw some dough at me; at this moment we learned to always eat a little something before making apple pie; 
  • sweet potatoes with hatch chiles in them--I skipped those;
  • the demonstration of my mad line dancing skills (picked up during my summer working at a dude ranch) with two amazing friends of the husband's and mine from Utah (how we wish those friends would join us again--I am thinking 2011, guys!);
  • kabocha squash and chestnut soup with chipotle crème fraîche--one of my favorites.  Here's the recipe.
I love the interior of nutmeg.

The husband has been doing this same Thanksgiving with his father since he was about eleven.  I asked him what he loves so much about Thanksgiving.  He said something along these lines:  a holiday built solely around a meal, Thanksgiving is not about buying and buying for one another; instead, it is about a different kind of consumerism.  However this consumption of food is less about our actual dishes served and more about those with whom we're eating.

In sum we have eaten well and eaten with love. I am certainly looking forward to tomorrow.

Because I love good food and want to get in the practice of eating well, I turned to Marcella Hazan again this evening.  As always, she comes through with simple and heart-stopping goodness.  Between the butter and the sheer divinity of this sauce, you're risking your life, but it's well worth the third of a cup of butter and a half a cup of cream.  Sadly, I would normally say, take it easy with the food the day after this meal; however, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  So hey, take it easy next week.

In the mean time, Marcella has PAGES on how to make your own pasta, but for convenience sake, just invest in fresh pasta from a local vendor.  This is a short cut well worth it.  We now use the Pasta Shop since Phoenix no longer has a store front.  But you can also get  pasta at the Berkeley Bowl.  For this recipe you need about a pound and a half, pound and a quarter of fresh, sheet pasta.  And the recipe has some seemingly complicated instructions on how to make your ravioli, but they're really not all that difficult (Marcella recommends practicing on paper if you're a little less confident).  Just ensure you seal the edges of the pasta around the filling with no air bubbles.  You don't want any filling bursting out at the seams.  Which is precisely what I intend to do on Friday after eating like this for two days.  

Buon appetito! And Happy Thanksgiving!

6 servings

For the Stuffing
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1-1/2 cups fresh ricotta
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 egg yolk
Whole nutmeg

For the Pasta
1-1/2 pounds of fresh sheet pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil.

For the Sauce
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons each of celery, carrots, and onion, finely diced
2 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table.

For the Stuffing
1.  Put the parsley, ricotta, grated Parmesan, salt, egg yolk and a tiny grating--about 1/4 teaspoon--of nutmeg into a bowl and mix with a fork until all the ingredients are evenly combined.  Taste and correct for salt.

For the Pasta
1.  Cut the pasta for square ravioli with 2-inch sides.  To do this with some precision, cut the dough into a long rectangle 4 inches broad and as long as the sheet of pasta.

2.  Put dots of stuffing down 2 inches apart.  The distance between the dots must always be the same as the width of the dumpling, in this case 2 inches.  The dotted row of stuffing runs parallel to the edges of the rectangle and is set back 1 inch--half the width of a dumpling--from what you determine to be the outer edge.  [Even Marcella admits this is very hard to visualize, so she recommends trying it first with paper cut to size.  She reassures you that you'll find it quite easy.  I have provided a little photo tutorial below.]

3.  Once the rectangle is dotted with stuffing, bring the edge farther from the row of dots over it and join it to the other edge, thus creating a long tube that encloses the stuffing.  Use a fluted pastry wheel to trim the joined edges and both ends of the tube, to seal it all around.  I generally use a little water or egg wash to seal the edges.

4.  With the same wheel, cut across the tube between every mound of stuffing, separating it into squares.  Spread the squares out on clean, dry, cloth towels, making sure they do not touch while the dough is still soft.  If they do they will stick to one another and tear when you try to pull them apart.  If you are not cooking them right away, turn the squares over from time to time while they are drying.  Then freeze.

5.  Bring a pot of water with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a boil. Cook the pasta until done, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remember, a little underdone is preferred to overdone.

For the Sauce
1.   In a saucepan, heat the butter, celery, carrots, and onions in a large saucepan.

2.  Add the tomatoes.  Cook, uncovered, at the "merest of simmers" [sigh, I love you, Marcella] for 45 minutes.  Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon.

3.  Marcella says that at this point, you should remove the tomatoes and puree them.  I decided to puree it all, because I don't like the little chunks of celery, etc.  However, you're the master.  You make the call.

4.  Return the tomatoes to the sauce pan.

5.  Adjust the heat so the simmer "picks up a little speed"  [again, Marcella with the quaint descriptor].  Add the heavy cream.  Stir and cook for one minute.

6.  Plate the pasta and the sauce with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese to taste.

After cutting your pasta double the width of your ravioli, dallop your filling about an inch in on both the bottom and side edge.

Fold the pasta over into a tube.
Cut the tube in between each ravioli. 
Seal the edges (again, I use egg wash or water), ensuring there are no air bubbles.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cookbook #46: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Adapted from Cookbook #46:  The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook  (1999)

Recipe: Homemade Granola

I am woefully behind in posting, but I am keeping up with the cooking.  This week is Thanksgiving week, and I want to think about all that I am thankful for. The sublime--my family, as spread out, as welcoming, and as wacky as they may be; my friends, who understand that it's not personal that I am not returning their phone calls (but know that I am too lazy after four months to look for my phone charger); my job, which this week brought me to unexpected tears when some students thanked me for a glimpse into the teenage experience through The Bell Jar; and my husband, who lets me steal his poker chips and who holds my arm in the rain as we walk to the car.  The ridiculous--my personal parking god (you'll be getting this year's thank you letter, Peter); NyQuil, which has been keeping me going the past two days (and by keeping me going, I mean putting me to sleep), and my book group, who don't realize that Freedom is the book of our time, but I will forgive them anyway.

And so, let's turn to Ina Garten, who reminds us that cooking can be simple, good, communal, and something we should be thankful for.  This is our second foray into her lovely world (the other happening much, much earlier in the year).  Her catch phrase, of course, is "how easy is that?"  And indeed, the Barefoot Contessa continuously gives easy recipes that are not at all complicated but always hit the spot.  And I admit it, I am a sucker for her food network show, mostly because I have kitchen envy.

Garten is yet another self-taught Food Network darling, but she learned from the master of chefs, Julia Child.  Then she befriended Martha Stewart, and, well, that's a duo I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that I get behind.  But what I love the most about Garten is that she began her adult career as a political analyst, turned to real estate, and ended up in the catering business (with a shop named after an Ava Gardner film).  She's nothing if not versatile.

Indeed, her granola is quite easy and delightful.  Do be careful to keep an eye on it--mine began to burn only a fraction of the time into the cooking.  I cut her recommended 45 minutes down to 15.  I would just check in on it every five minutes or so, once you hit the 15 minute mark.  Interestingly enough, in her FAQ on her web page, Garten recognizes that the granola often burns.  I am delighted that she follows up on this little glitch in the recipe.

In sum, I have been eating this granola all week both in milk and atop yogurt.  It will make a fine Thanksgiving day breakfast.  How easy is that?

6 cups (Garten's recipe makes 12 cups, but I halved the whole thing.  12 cups is a lot of granola.  So that's why there are some weird measurements.  Feel free to redouble the recipe.)

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup + 1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup diced, dried apricots
1/2 cup diced, dried figs
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds (Garten calls for cashews, but, well, I don't like cashews.)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Toss the oats, coconut and almonds together in a large bowl.  Whisk together the oil and honey n a small bowl.  Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the oats and nuts are coated.

3.  Pour oat and nut mixture onto a baking sheet.  Bake, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until the mixture turns an even, golden brown.  Begin checking after 15-20 minutes.

4.  Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.  Add the dried fruits and almonds.  Serve or store in an air-tight container.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cookbook #45: Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Adapted from Cookbook #45:  Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961, my edition is 2001)

Recipe: Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons (Fish Fillets Poached in White Wine With Mushrooms)

Well, here we are with The Cookbook.  Not just any ole cookbook, but The One.  Oh, Julia, how we love thee.  Julia professed she was no fan of blogs that went in for stunts, such as the infamous Julie Powell blog.  Stunts were too flimsy for our Julia.   So I guess that she would suppose this stunt of mine to cook page 210 from every cookbook is too flimsy.  But so be it.  Let the flimsy stunts carry on.  Join me, will you?

So under Julia's watchful eye, I made a lovely poached fish with butter, cream, Swiss cheese, and more butter.  How could it not be amazing?  And it was.

While this is a deceptively simple dish, you might want to save it for more special occasions, if for no other reason than you'll need to diet for three days afterward.  Oh, but those three days of denial will be well worth it, for the sauce has added a surprising zing (say hello to white wine and lemon juice) to its creaminess (like I said, butter, cream, cheese, more butter).  And the fish is delicate but it holds its own to the mushrooms and cream sauce.  Serve with a salad or a side vegetable (we had roasted zucchini), some toasty bread, and you have a divine meal.

This recipe comes from Bercy, a section of southeast Paris where you can also find one of the larger stadiums in Paris.  As of this writing, you may also find Lady Gaga playing in Bercy.  However, I would argue this recipe and results are far more subtle than the stadium or its performers.  Bercy sauce is a simple white-wine fish velouté (stock-based white sauce) with shallots.  Doesn't that just sound delightful?  The poaching liquid is then thickened with beurre manié--a flour and butter paste--and then thickened again (and made oh-so-good) with heavy cream.  And then more butter.  Did you see that?  More butter.

Velouté is one of 19th century chef Antonin Carême's "mother sauces" (or grandes sauces), which include bechemel (a milk-based sauce thickened with white roux), espagnole (a brown-stock sauce thickened with brown roux), velouté, and allemande (a velouté thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream).  Want the history of sauces?  Search here.  Go ahead, click the link.  There's lots of good stuff there.

Beurre manié (which means kneaded butter) is made by mixing flour and softened (I used room temperature) butter together.  Such mixing coats the flour with butter so that when you whisk it into the hot poaching liquid the flour doesn't form clumps.  Clever, huh?  Don't confuse the beurre manié with roux, which is cooked as the dish begins.  Beurre manié is added near the end.  

Growing up, the husband didn't eat a lot of fish, unless it came canned or breaded and stick-formed. Thus, I was surprised when he professed he liked this recipe, and he even went back for a second helping.  Julia and people of Bercy, I believe this would be a hit.

6 servings

3/4 lb. or 3-1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 Tbsp butter
1/8 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
1-2 shallots, diced
2-1/2 lbs. fillets of sole or flounder
2/3 cup dry white vermouth and 1/4 cup bottled clam juice OR 2/3 cup white wine and 1/3 cup water
2-1/2 tablespoons flour blended to a paste with 3 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 to 1 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese (by which Julia means Gouda, but Swiss will also do quite nicely)
1 tablespoon butter cut into bits

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In an enameled skillet, toss the mushrooms in hot butter over moderately high heat for a minute or two without browning. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

2.  Season the fillets lightly with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle half of the shallots on the bottom of a baking dish (or a skillet that can go in the broiler--I used the cast iron skillet).  Arrange the fish fillets in one slightly overlapping layer over the shallots. If fillets are thin, they may be folded in half so they make triangles.  Sprinkle the remaining shallots on top of the fish.  Spread the mushrooms over the fish.

3.  Pour in the white wine or vermouth and clam juice and enough water so fish is barely covered. Bring almost to the simmer on top of the stove. Then place dish in bottom third of the preheated oven. Maintain liquid almost at the simmer for 8 to 12 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. The fish is done when a fork pierces the flesh easily. Do not overcook; the fish should not be dry and flaky. Place a cover over the dish and drain out all the cooking liquid into an enameled saucepan.

5.  Preheat broiler.

6.  Rapidly boil down the poaching liquid until it has reduced to 1 cup.

7.  Off heat, beat the flour and butter paste into the hot liquid, then 1/2 cup of the cream. Bring to the boil. Thin out the sauce with additional tablespoons of cream until it coats the spoon nicely. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and drops of lemon juice.

8.  Spoon the sauce over the fish. Sprinkle on the cheese, and dot with butter. Place dish 6 to 7 inches from a hot broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to reheat fish and brown top of sauce lightly. Serve as soon as possible.

9.  Dish may be prepared ahead and reheated as follows: After sprinkling on the cheese and butter, set aside. Before serving, reheat just to the simmer on top of the stove, then run for a minute or two under a hot broiler to brown the top of the sauce.