Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ricotta-Basil Ravioli with Chanterelles

I have something to add to the list of things than which nothing is tastier: mushrooms you've picked yourself sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper, and more butter than is perhaps decent. Add to that fresh ravioli stuffed with the ricotta cheese like substance you made a few days ago and you've got a winner.
I've been in rather a pasta making frenzy lately. The frenzy was brought on by a fit of financial irresponsibility, during which I bought myself a pasta machine and a used copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. She uses lots of 'nevers' and 'alwayses,' which I find a bit much, but I guess she's allowed, being the authority that she is. After reading the 25 pages on the differences between the equally worthy factory-made and handmade pastas; the cooking of pasta; the mixing, kneading, and rolling of pasta; the cutting of pasta; the stuffing of pasta; the possible problems and pitfalls encountered while making pasta, I have to admit to feeling intimidated by the entire process. I had made pasta before, though, and with good results so I tried to see these 25 pages in a different light. With the thought that M. meant only to be helpful, not discouraging, I mounded my flour, made a hollow in the center of it, and cracked in the eggs.
I read several ricotta-based filling recipes before making my own. They all agreed that both ricotta and parmesan were necessary. Some called for an egg or a yolk some for lemon zest and juice. I used both, my ricotta being quite dry and needing the extra moisture. Some wanted parsley, while others favored mint. I had basil on hand so that's what I used. A two-thirds majority added grated nutmeg, and who am I to argue against it? Basil? Lemon? Nutmeg? It does sound like it could create a cacophony of flavors, but actually it was quite delish.

Ricotta-Basil Ravioli with Chanterelles

infinitely adaptable

  • 1 2/3 cups flour, more or less
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbs. milk
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta
  • 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • zest of one lemon
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 nutmeg, grated
  • as many chanterelles as you can find
  • more butter than you think is decent
  • a few cloves garlic, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • For the pasta: Make a mound out of the flour and then make a hollow in the center of it. Crack the eggs into the hollow, then add the milk. Whisk the eggs and milk together and then start incorporating the flour. You might find, as I did, that you need considerably more flour than Marcella recommends. Add flour until your dough passes M.'s test: after having washed and dried your hands 'press your thumb deep into the center of the mass; if it comes out clean, without any sticky matter on it, no more flour is needed.'
  • M. stresses the importance of kneading your dough well. This is her process: 'Push forward against it using the heel of your palm, keeping your fingers bent. Fold the mass in half, give it a half turn, press hard against it with the heel of your palm again, and repeat the operation. Make sure that you keep turning the ball of dough always in the same direction.' After kneading after this fashion for 8-10 minutes your dough should be 'as smooth as baby skin' and ready for rolling.
  • For the filling: Combine the ricotta, parmesan, basil, lemon zest and juice, egg yolk, and nutmeg, using just enough lemon juice to loosen things up a bit. Feel free to use any tasty herb in place of the basil (e.g. mint, parsley).
  • To assemble: Roll out your dough either with a machine or by hand. Put dots of filling (about a teaspoon per dot) evenly spaced down half of your dough. Fold the other half over the dots and seal the dough around the filling, making sure to eliminate any air pockets as you go. Cut the ravioli apart using a fluted pastry wheel (or pinking sheers in a pinch). Ideally the distance between your dots of filling will be the same as the width of your ravioli (for 2 inch ravioli, space your filling 2 inches apart) so when you cut them out there is no wastage. If there is wastage, reroll the scraps and cut and dry some pasta for another time.
  • Bring water to a boil in a large pot. When it reaches the boil add a generous amount of salt and a tablespoon of oil (M. insists that oil be added only to water for boiling stuffed pastas). When the water comes back to the boil, drop in your ravioli. Sauté the mushrooms and garlic in butter while your ravioli are boiling, adding salt and pepper to taste. When the ravioli are ready, drain them and add to the pan with mushrooms. Toss them about a bit to coat in butter. Serve in deep plates sprinkled with ribbons of basil and grated parmesan.
M. insists that ravioli be square. I wanted to comply, but I don't currently own a fluted pastry wheel and only have round cutters. I could have just cut them with a knife, I suppose, but I really wanted my ravioli to have zig-zagged edges. And then it came to me: pinking shears!
And don't forget the chanterelles. The ravioli took more time and effort and were delicious in their own right, but the chanterelles stole the show. What a meaty, deep, earthy flavor. I had been wondering if the two-hour trudge through the woods, aggravating my knee was worth the handful of mushrooms in my sauté pan. The first bite of chanterelle removed all doubt--they were worth all that and more.
In the end, nothing bad can be said of mushroom hunting. The setting (the woods) is gorgeous. The activity (walking) is equally pleasant and healthful. The reward (mushrooms in the pot) is more than anyone could ask of a pleasant walk in a gorgeous wood. Just please go with someone who knows what they're doing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Moules Frites

Moules. Frites. Happy Bastille Day.
Maybe you associate moules frites with Belgium; I associate moules frites with France. I had moules frites at the very beginning of my semester abroad in France and it remains one of my favorite meals. I got to Nantes in August of 2003, during the summer of the grève des intermittents du spectacle. The week my sister and her husband visited from England on their way to Italy there was supposed to be a music festival, but since all the musicians were en grève there wasn't one. To our benefit, that didn't mean the food booths weren't going to set up. We wandered down to the river, the Erdre not the Loire, one afternoon and from one of the many booths decided on moules frites, but forewent the Muscadet. We sat at a picnic table next to the river and when the vendor brought us our moules frites she also brought three plastic cups, opened a bottle of Muscadet, and gave us each a very generous 'taste' of the local wine. The August sun, the river, the moules, the frites, the wine, the company: all reasons I love moules frites and all reasons I chose to mark Bastille Day with it.
For the moules I was correct in assuming that I need look to no one but Julia. Her recipe, which I give here, serves six to eight, but as I was only one I scaled it down. I was pleased to see that among her recommendations for wine to accompany the dish was Muscadet. For the frites, which were absolutely perfect (really), I followed the directions given on The One and Only Belgian Fries website. They don't specify what type of oil to fry them in, but after tonight I can highly recommend grapeseed oil.

Moules à la Marinière, I

Julia Child

  • 2 cups of light, dry white wine or 1 cup dry vermouth
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots, green onions, or onions (very fine)
  • 8 parsley sprigs
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 6 Tbs. butter
  • 6 quarts mussels, scrubbed and soaked
  • 1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
  • Bring the wine to the boil in an 8- to 10-quart enameled kettle with the shallots, parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme, pepper, and butter. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate its alcohol and to reduce its volume slightly
  • Add the mussels to the kettle. Cover tightly and boil quickly over high heat. Frequently grasp the kettle with both hands, your thumbs clamped to the cover, and toss the mussels in the kettle with an up and down slightly jerky motion so the mussels will change levels and cook evenly. In about 5 minutes the shells will swing open and the mussels are done
  • With a big skimmer, dip the mussels into wide soup plates. Allow the cooking liquid to settle for a moment so any sand will sink to the bottom. Then ladle the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.
I hope one day to eat moules frites on the banks of the Erdre again. Until then I will content myself with the occasional fix from my own kitchen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Panna Cotta with Mulberries, Cassis, and Teeny Tiny Tuiles

I really like pudding. I am particularly fond of silky, smooth egg custards, but this slightly firmer cream and gelatin dessert is not half bad either. The nice thing about panna cotta is the complete absence of fretting. You just mix it up and bung it in the fridge and forget about it until after dinner. The most stressful part is the unmolding, and if you don't feel like it, you don't even have to do that. So thank you to David Lebovitz for sharing Judy Witts' recipe, which I have here cut in half to serve four.

Panna Cotta

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 packet powdered gelatin
  • 3 Tbs. cold water
  • Heat the cream and sugar in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the cream, and drop the bean pod in too. Allow to infuse for half an hour.
  • Remove the bean, then put the cream back over medium heat and while it is rewarming lightly oil four custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil.
  • Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl or large measuring pitcher and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
  • Pour the very warm cream mixture of the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  • Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, at least two hours, preferably more like four.
  • Run a sharp knife around the edge of each PannaCotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, garnishing as desired.
For the syrup, I simply simmered 100g of berries in about 4 Tbs. of cassis until it had reduced considerably. I mashed the berries with the back of a wooden spoon and then passed the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the seeds, trying to get as much of the pulp through the sieve as possible.


  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • splash vanilla
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  • Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla together on low spead. Beat in lightly egg whites a little at a time, beating very well after each addition. Fold in flour and mix until just combined.
  • Chill the batter for half an hour.
  • Place a circle stencil on parchment (or preferably silpat) lined baking sheet. Spread batter in stencil. Remove stencil and repeat, leaving some room between each one.
  • Bake about 7 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Centers should remain light. Remove cookies from baking sheet at once and drape over something that will give your tuiles the shape they're named for.
  • Batter can be kept in the fridge up to a week.
The tuiles are very similar to last weeks langues du chat, though the proportions are slightly different and they take powdered instead of granulated sugar. I expected them to spread as the langues du chat did, but, probably because they use half the butter to the same amount of sugar, they didn't spread at all. So there you go--make your stencil the size you want your finished cookie to be.
A crisp cookie, a substantial, creamy pudding, and a berry whose acquaintance I am very happy to have made: a good end to any week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


When I arrive at the farmers' market, I usually like to do one round to see what all the vendors have and then go back and buy the best from each farmer. This morning, however, I was seduced by the tomatoes at the very first stand I came to. She had these gorgeous little yellow ones and, beside the flats of perfect heirloom tomatoes, a flat of equally perfect, as far as I could tell, seconds for half the price. Local tomatoes. Cheap. How can you go wrong?
After briefly considering using them with the baby zucchini and summer squash I got from the same woman in some pasta thing, I decided to make a quick tomato salad.

Quick tomato salad

  • a few tomatoes, large or small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • large handful flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 Tbs. good olive oil
  • 1 tsp. vinegar or your choice
  • generous pinch salt
  • good grind of pepper
  • Chop tomatoes, removing the seeds if you so desire, and place in bowl. Mince garlic and parsley and add to tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and vinegar. Mix together. Set aside while you do something else, allowing flavors to marry.
Toast came instantly to mind once the salad had been made. I don't have a toaster, so when I say toast you can think of this instead: I take a nice thick slice of good bread, spread butter on one side, and put it butter side down on a hot dry pan. I put something heavy on top of the bread and when the buttered side is golden-brown it's done. One side is crispy and buttery and the other side its perfect complement: warm and soft. And I do love a poached egg on toast. So lunch became quick tomato salad with poached egg on toast.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I am so glad I went for a walk around the block this afternoon. I've been feeling a bit cooped up the past few days--a summer cold, knee surgery, and an entire month of rain will do that to even the most stalwart soul--so following on the success of yesterday's short venture outside, I decided to go for a stroll before cooking dinner. My block is not the most picturesque and I hesitated before turning the corner, but in the end I decided to take my chances. If only all my gambles ended so deliciously.
I past the saw mill on the left, S.'s house on the right, and just ahead saw a man obscured by foliage greedily gobbling whatever was growing on the tree. I started to walk by, but thought better of it and instead asked, "What do you have there?" "Berries." "Mmm. What kind?" "Mulberries." "I thought so," I said, "My mom and I were just talking about mulberries." And without an invitation I picked one for myself and popped it in my mouth. He assured me they were very poisonous. Not worth eating. Really, very bad for you. I paid him no heed and continued to pick and eat the small fruits because they were delish and just as much mine as his. I ate a few more and then picked myself a handful to take home for dessert. When the berries started rolling off the mound I held in my palm I started to feel like the greedy character in a Greek moral tale and decided I had enough.
Several possibilities ran through my head: mulberry cobbler for one; mulberry tartlets; mulberry crisp; mulberry crumble. In the end I just sprinkled them with a bit of sugar, let them macerate while I prepared and ate dinner, and yummed them up with some whipped cream and two of the langues du chat I made on Sunday.
I don't think you'll find them at market, somehow. They're not as luscious as a blackberry or spritely as a raspberry, but they're a fine berry in there own right. They're firmish, subtly sweet, and definitely tart--if you happen upon one that is perfectly ripe the sweetness does actually outweigh the tartness. Their seeds don't get stuck in your teeth--I didn't notice them at all--which is nice and although their little green stems don't seem to come off, I didn't notice them any more than I did the seeds. If you ever get the chance, definitely give these berries a try.
Having discovered this mulberry tree, I feel my block has become that much more attractive. I'll be walking that way more often, I think, and if there are any berries left--if the birds and that man haven't eaten them all--I'd like to pick enough to bake something.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Q Tonic: A Taste Test

I was in Brooklyn a few weeks ago and while there picked up some locally produced food goods. I got the divine Mast Brothers chocolate used in yesterday's pots de crème and this tonic water. The 'Q' presumably standing for quinine, the essential ingredient in tonic water (not high fructose corn syrup, as we have been brought to believe).
Ages ago when my family lived in Johannesburg, my parents would quite often have friends over for dinner. I knew we would be having company when several bottles of tonic water appeared on the kitchen counter and olives sat tantalizingly in the fridge. Fortunately, my parents were not of the go-to-your-rooms-til-the-company's-gone persuasion, but let my brother and sister and me join the grown-ups at the table. I always ate too many olives and felt very cosmopolitan drinking my glass of tonic water.
Somewhere along the line drinking tonic water became less daring. When I was little, tonic had a nice bitterness to it. As I grew up, I thought it was a maturation of my taste buds that made what once had been pleasingly bitter seem sweeter and sweeter. I think now that it had more to do with the addition of copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup. I am very pleased to taste a tonic water with a more complex flavor than I have come to expect, the bitter edge I remember, and not a hint of hfcs. This truly is 'a superior tonic water.' I can't wait to try it with gin.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Langues du Chat

Eight dollars might seem like a lot to spend on two and a half ounces of chocolate one is only going to cook with. I probably should have savored each square over the course of a month with an after dinner liqueur or espresso. They do say, however, that one should never cook with wine one wouldn't drink and I don't see why the same shouldn't hold true with chocolate. And besides, I had raw Jersey cream in the fridge, 'cause I always do, and last week's eggs that needed using, and one can always find 1/4 cup of sugar in the pantry--so pots de crème it had to be.

Chocolate Pots de Crème

serves 6

  • 5 oz. good dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 cups heavy cream, please not ultrapasteurized
  • 4 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch salt, cause it always helps
  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring a quart or so of water to a simmer over medium heat. Arrange 6 ramekins (or tea cups, or small bowls) so they are not touching in a large baking dish and set aside.
  • Have the chopped up chocolate ready in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan bring the cream just to a simmer over medium heat. Pour cream into chocolate and stir until completely melted. This might take a few minutes. If necessary, hold the bowl over the water you're bringing to a simmer for a few seconds to melt the last few stubborn bits. Be sure to stir constantly. Set aside.
  • Whisk the yolks, sugar, and pinch salt together in a large bowl until they have thickened and become pale, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in about 1/3 of the chocolate mixture. Once combined add the rest while stirring constantly and trying not to incorporate any air.
  • Strain the custard mixture into a large measuring cup or that perfect bowl which pours well. Once strained, divide the mixture among the ramekins. Rap each dish sharply on the counter a few times to eliminate any air bubbles.
  • Carefully pour the water you have heated into the baking dish so it comes about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover baking dish with foil and poke several holes in it to allow steam to escape. Bake about 25 minutes or until the outer edge of the custard is set but it is still jiggly in the center. (In my opinion, it is better to take them out too early than too late. Nothing is more disappointing than rubbery, overcooked custard.)
  • Remove ramekins to a rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Serve straight away or cover with plastic and refrigerate up to 4 days. Allow pots de crème to come back up to room temperature before serving.
As for the langues du chat. The pots took 2 egg yolks and, as you might have noticed, I am not one to throw out left over whites. One instantly thinks of meringue when there are whites sitting on the counter, but I didn't want to make meringues. I had been wanting to try langues du chat for some time and thought a crisp, plain cookie would go well with my pots de crème. I found a recipe in Paula Peck's The Art of Fine Baking and was delighted to see that it called for egg whites. I do love it when a plan comes together.

Langues du Chat

Paula Peck

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup flour, sifted
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  • Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in unbeaten egg whites a little at a time, beating very well after each addition. Fold in flour, salt, and vanilla.
  • Fit a pastry bag with a round 1cm tip and fill with batter. On prepared baking sheets, press out pencils of batter about 2 inches long. Leave 1 inch between cookies for spreading.
  • Bake about 7 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Centers should remain light. Remove cookies from baking sheet at once.
  • Yield: approximately 50.
The chocolate I used from the Mast Brothers of Brooklyn--72% cacao with sea salt--gave my pots de crème a very particular, even peculiar, yet not at all unpleasant flavor. Very chocolaty, but with something else besides. Not salty, really, but something...something obviously difficult to describe. The texture was heavenly, though. What else could one expect when using the best cream in the world and eggs from chickens I've met.
This was my first attempt at langues du chat and there are several things I wish I'd known before I started. When eaten soon after coming out of the oven they are perfect--crispy and buttery and melt on your tongue. If humidity is an issue where you live, as it is here, your cookies will soon become soft even if stored in an air tight container. Also, and next time I'll try this, many recipes call for powdered sugar instead of granulated. Apparently it maximizes cookie spread, minimizes aeration during mixing, and lends a finer texture to the finished cookie. One other tip: have a steady hand while piping out the cookies and try not to spread the dough with the tip as you pipe. Any irregularities will be magnified as the cookies spread. An entire sheet of mine came out wiggly due to uneven piping.
All the same, they were delicious and a lovely accompaniment to a rich chocolate pudding.