Friday, October 31, 2014

'Spooky' Squid Ink-Striped Ravioli with a Smoky Eggplant Filling

These ravioli have a slightly sinister look to them, don't you think? Instead of caramel apples, which I also made and were a big hit (dipped in homemade salted caramel, toasted coconut and pecans), we have 'spooky' squid ink-striped ravioli with a smoky eggplant filling

You might be thinking, who has time to make homemade pasta in this crazy, fast-paced world we live in? Let alone, a labor-intensive striped pasta (that must be made by hand, there's no other way that I'm aware of). Why bother, when you can go to the freezer section of your local grocery store and buy pre-made ravioli?

Oh, but this isn't any old ravioli. These are light, delicate pillows of sinister goodness.  

Moreover, these ravioli are not that hard to make, just a bit time consuming. For me, they are a bit of an [art] project, that is, a deliciously, edible art project. Besides, I find rolling pasta to be soothing.

The repetitive nature of making pasta/ravioli has a calming effect on me. One of the few moments I can shut my brain off and just concentrate on the task at hand (get lost in the moment). I love the whole process, from kneading the dough, to forming the sheets, to piping the filling, and forming the ravioli.  Even more fun, if you pour yourself a glass of wine and turn up the music while doing so.

Added bonus -- you can make a bunch of ravioli and freeze them. They freeze well. You don't even need to defrost before cooking, just pop them straight from the freezer into a pot of [salted] boiling water and the ravioli cook within minutes.

You can save time and skip the squid ink. If you can't find squid ink, you could use beets, spinach, etc., to make different colored pastas. However, for those of you who are curious, this is how I made the striped pasta sheets for my ravioli...

1. Roll out a sheet of yellow pasta (the pasta will be thick at this point, roll to the second thickest setting on your pasta machine).

2. Roll out a sheet of squid ink pasta (second thickest setting) and cut into strips (as shown below).

3. Lightly spritz the yellow sheet with water and evenly space out the squid ink strips on top of the yellow pasta sheet. Gently press down so the strips stay in place.

4. Carefully run the pasta through your pasta machine to the thinnest setting. You want the sheets as thin as possible for ravioli. You may need to trim the pasta with a knife if the sheet gets too wide to run through your machine.

With me so far?

5. Cut into rounds. Work quickly and keep any pasta you're not working with covered in plastic to prevent it from drying out.

6. Pipe the filling in the center of the pasta rounds. Lightly spritz with water and seal the edges of the pasta (making sure to press out any air pockets before sealing).

7. At this point, the ravioli are ready for a quick dip in boiling salted water. Or, you can freeze them for a later date. If you opt to freeze, spread the ravioli out in a single layer and place in the freezer for an hour or so. Thereafter, portion and place in ziplock bags, and store in the freezer -- and enjoy at your convenience.

For the filling...

The filling is what makes this dish sing. It's a smoky eggplant filling. Made a version of this when I was at the Dublin Cookery School in Ireland earlier this year. Have been thinking about it ever since.

Was fortunate to spend a week with the talented Matt Sigler [formerly of Flour and Water in San Francisco, CA] making pasta, among a slue of other things, to include head cheese :-). It was one of the best (and most delicious) weeks I can remember having in a long time.

The eggplant were roasted until charred on the outside and tender and smoky on the inside, as if you were making make baba ghanoush, Next,  I mixed in cheese, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and sea salt, and processed (food processor) until smooth.

Transfer the filling to a piping bag and the fun begins...

To finish the dish...I added pesto, cherry tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, toasted pinenuts, and lemon zest.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chicken Liver with Pomegranate Molasses

My latest fixation, pomegranate molasses.  It's tart.  It makes a great salad dressing, which is what I've been doing with it as of late (extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and pomegranate molasses).  A little bit of pomegranate molasses goes a long way.  It adds a nice element (sweet/tart) to your everyday vinaigrette.

When buying pomegranate molasses, be sure to read the label.  Some versions have added sugar, which masks the flavor of the pomegranate.  You want a pomegranate molasses that is nothing more than just concentrated pomegranate.  Why must everything have added sugar?

What else can you do with pomegranate molasses?

There's Fesanjan, a classic Persian chicken stew made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses.  Am planning on making this very soon.  If anyone has an authentic recipe or any tips/secrets they would like to share regarding Fesanjan, please send my way (thanks!).

Oh, and then there's the chicken liver I've prepared today.

So yea, chicken liver.  It's not for everyone,  I get it.  Chicken liver has a strong flavor that may take a little getting used to.  But, you'll never know until you try.  If you're feeling adventurous and enjoy minerally, earthy flavors, give liver a whirl.  The pomegranate molasses lends a sweet/tart flavor to counterbalance the minerality of the liver.

I came across this recipe for chicken liver with pomegranate molasses on the Egyptian food blog Buttered Up.  I think the recipe is a keeper.

This one's for the chicken liver lovers of the world.  Am hoping there are one or two of you out there, somewhere...

Liver is fast and easy to cook, not to mention inexpensive.

The liver just needs a quick sear in a hot pan.  A minute and a half per side, that's it.  You want the liver to have a hint of pink in the middle.  When overcooked, liver takes on an unpleasant, chalky texture.

Serve with flatbread.  I particularly like this one, which is a whole wheat sourdough flat bread with nigella (aka onion) seeds, from Yetka Market in Rockville, MD.  You can reheat the flat bread in the oven; it gets nice and crispy in just a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Carrot + Lemongrass + Ginger Soup

I love leisurely Saturday mornings.  It's what I look forward to all week long.  On the agenda, after my morning coffee (nothing officially starts before coffee), is a trip to the farmers' markets. 

Stop #1: U/14th Street;
Stop #2: New Morning Farm;
Stop #3: Silver Spring farmers' market (and that's just Saturday).

On Sunday, there's Dupont Circle and's always fun to see what awaits. The difficult part, restraining myself from buying too much and then figuring out what to do with it all (to include strategically finding a spot [read: stuffing it into] my cramped apartment-size refrigerator).

Am slowly getting into a fall/autumn state of mind -- wool socks, comfy sweaters, and big bowls of soup to stay warm.  While it's not my favorite time of year from a weather standpoint (gray skies, sigh), on the brighter side, I do look forward to the array of produce that thrives this time of year.  

'Tis the season of roots.  With roots, come carrots.  Lots and lots of carrots, in all colors of the rainbow -- purple, red, orange, tangerine, yellow, and even white.

Hard to walk past colorful collages of carrots without them catching your eye (I'm easily swayed).  I conducted a blind taste test, and while the orange carrots were the sweetest (just by a hair), for the most part, they tasted identical regardless of color.  

Taste aside, from a visual standpoint, these carrots add an eye-popping splash of color to your plate (which is particularly noticeable when served in the raw, for example, in a salad).  Oh, the things that get me excited.  After all, we do eat with our eyes first.

With carrots in hand, this soup quickly came together with the rest of my farmers' market finds -- fresh, young ginger, lemongrass, and cilantro. 

It's a simple, homey, warming soup.  

Enjoy this soup on its own, jazz it up with some coconut encrusted shrimp, or simply garnish with toasted coconut (or toasted nuts [such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts]) and fresh cilantro leaves.

For the soup, you'll need: Carrots...


Ginger.  Have you tasted young, fresh ginger?  It's tender, juicy, sweet, and mild...

I'm a bit of a ginger addict, love tossing some in my juicer for one of my crazy morning concoctions. Ginger gets me going in the morning.

For the coconut shrimp:

1) dust the peeled shrimp in all-purpose flour (seasoned with salt and pepper);
2) dip the shrimp in a bowl of egg wash (I used just the egg whites), and;
3) coat the shrimp well with dried shredded coconut.

After experimenting with baking versus pan-sauteing, decided that I much preferred the pan-sauteed shrimp.  Simply heat a little oil (used coconut oil) over medium-high heat, and when hot, add the shrimp and cook until the coconut is nicely browned and the shrimp is cooked through, no more than a minute to a minute and a half per side is all you should need.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, toasted coconut (or nuts, if you prefer)...

Time to make more soup...