Shiitake, Chard Ravioli in Dashi Broth w Watercress and Shimeji Mushrooms


Homemade ravioli, stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, chard stems, shallots, pine nuts, parsley and parmesan, made from fresh beet-leaf pasta, served with a dashi-mushroom broth with watercress, scallion greens, and shimeji mushrooms.

That’s a mouthful to say, but was an absolute delight to eat.  It was also my first attempt to make up an Asian-European fusion dish, and emerged out of my need to give the old creative cooking juices a swift kick in the pants.  For the last few months, I poured my energy into a startup project, but unfortunately it became clear that the necessary funding resources were not going to emerge. Creative cooking took a back seat, but last night’s meal was its way of pounding a fist on the table and crying “my turn, dammit!” I was quite proud of the results, if I can say so myself.

I’ve been a fan of fusion since it burst on the New York City restaurant scene in the mid-nineties (flashback to an incredible dinner with Aun, my then-roommate and now the author of the marvelous blog Chubby Hubby, with a Japanese-Italian pasta-and-squid-ink dish served in a bowl made from a huge cheese rind. I love me some cheese!).

With the arrival of my pasta machine (recommended by Zenchef, and after using it last night, I love it!), I decided that I wanted to serve ravioli with a Japanese broth. This led to cracking open Kimiko Barber’s The Japanese Kitchen, which has been waiting to be read for the last 6 months, and a hop down to the Japanese grocery store in Harrison, NY.  This is a fairly involved meal, so with no further ado:

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Mushroom Crostini w Truffle Salt

Saturday’s dinner posed an interesting challenge. Meal time was going to be set by the baby, not by the food, so I needed dishes that could be served quickly or wait a while. In the end, I decided on starters of mushroom crostini, with a touch of truffle salt to elevate the bite, and some asparagus and arugula rolled in prosciutto. The main course was linguine with a rich bolognese sauce enhanced with balsamic vinegar.

The asparagus rolls were the result of mind-bending repetition. I had to watch a silent Mark Bittman make them about 700-odd times. Yes, I flew Jet Blue to and from San Francisco last week and Bittman was dancing all over the screens. I never actually listened to the audio, but it’s really not necessary for such a simple and clever appetizer. Here is the Bittman video for those who haven’t flown Jet Blue recently!

I boiled the asparagus for 5 minutes, then quickly placed under cold water; seasoned the arugula with the juice of a lemon, a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper; rolled it all up in prosciutto; and sliced into “rolls”. I’ve wrapped asparagus in prosciutto and grilled it before, but really liked the addition of arugula here. Very good.

Mushroom Crostini w Truffle Salt
Serves 4

4 thin slices of ciabatta-like bread, toasted
2 handfuls cremini (young portobello) mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 tbsp butter
olive oil
thyme leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
truffle salt

truffle saltThis is a simple nibble that just takes a bit of patience with the saute pan. Melt the butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan on low heat, and saute the mushrooms for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, thyme, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper about 5 minutes into the cooking process. If they start to dry out, add a splash of dry vermouth or white wine.

Before serving, toast the thin slices of bread (note: if you are a garlic fan, you might rub a smashed clove of garlic on the top of the slice first). Spoon some mushrooms on top, drizzle some of the melted butter from the pan, and finish off with a small pinch of truffle salt.

Truffle salt? Well, after lunch with the Foodbuzz crew last week, they walked me over to the Ferry building and so raved about this salt that I had to get some. I had been doing SO well resisting the truffle craze, but you know, and I’ll say this very quietly, it really is quite yummy.

…as for the rest…

The main course was nothing fancy; I have been experimenting with different methods for making bolognese sauce. I happened upon the Food Network chef Anne Burrel because of a twitter post by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and the first thing I saw on Burrel’s webpage was a video of her making meat sauce. Her technique was very different from mine. She purees her mirepoix in a food processor, browns the heck out of absolutely everything, and uses tomato paste rather than whole or crushed tomatoes.

I did not follow her recipe exactly, but experimented with many of her ideas, finishing off the sauce with balsamic vinegar to add a spin of my own. I rather liked the results, served with freshly chopped parsley and a heaping of grated parmesan. I still like my personal method, but Burrel’s ideas make for a richer sauce for the right weather and mood.

Fennel Risotto

fennel risotto

Good lord I can’t believe it is December already. Where did the year go? Between work, parenting, election and the economy…. bbbzzzzzaaapppp! I haven’t even gotten up to the Met to see the Morandi exhibit. How someone could so happily paint so many bottles for so long is beyond me. Well, no, that’s a lie. I love that kind of obsessive focus on a problem, like Lucien Freud and his portraits. I’m totally obsessive too, but my obsessions tend to rotate. I can feel the breeze of art obsession starting to waft back in… look, I’m already digressing madly!

But I have to get caught up to the fact that it is December (I think surgery stealing part of November is a culprit). I love New York City in December, so have to find some time this month to wander my grand city.

Like many of you, we’re working through leftover ingredients from last weekend. I’ve got a whole bunch of leftover fennel, so decided to whip up a risotto inspired by an old recipe in one of Food & Wine’s compilations.

Fennel Risotto

1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 or 4 sliced of prosciutto, chopped
2 sweet sausages, poultry or pork, removed from skin
2 tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio risotto rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 or 5 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 handful of parsley, finely chopped
a few fennel fronds, finely chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring your stock to a boil and then keep covered until needed at the lowest heat setting.

Heat up a splash or two of olive oil in a large saute pan on medium-high heat and add the fennel, then half of the minced garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is cooked and just starting to brown, then remove to a bowl.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan, and brown the sausage for a few minutes, breaking it into smaller pieces as it cooks with your spatula. Add the chopped prosciutto and cook for another couple minutes then remove to the bowl with the fennel.

Add the butter and as it melts, stir in the onion and remaining garlic, add a pinch of salt, and saute until the onion starts to turn translucent. Stir in the arborio rice and cook for a minute or so, then stir in the white wine.

To finish cooking the risotto, you want to stir as continuously as you can stand it, adding one ladle’s worth of stock (or half a cup) at a time. When most of the stock has been absorbed or evaporated, ladle in some more. You don’t want the rice to ever get too soupy or too dry — it should remain bubbling. After 18 to 20 minutes, start tasting the rice. You want there to be a little bit of an al dente texture, i.e. not mushy.

Stir in the fennel, sausage and prosciutto and stir for a minute then turn off the heat. Stir in most of the parsley and parmesan cheese, and — very important — taste for salt and pepper.

Serve and garnish with a bit of the remaining parsley, cheese, and a pinch of the fennel fronds.

P.S. for the umpteenth millionth time, I wish I could take food photos during the daytime!

Campanelle with Rabe and Fennel Sausage

campanelle w rabe

Tonight we whipped together a relatively quick meal inspired by David Tanis’ marvelous cookbook A Platter of Figs, which I’ve raved about previously. In his “winter” menu, he bakes orecchiette with broccoli rabe (rapini) and homemade fennel sausage, and below is our spin. We’ve followed a number of his methods, with the largest differences being that he makes his fennel sausage (without casings) in a separate process, and we also added a touch of chicken broth to keep the dish from being too dry (which we felt it was on first attempt).

6 or 8 servings

1 lb dried campanelle pasta
1 lb brocolli rabe, washed
1 lb ground pork
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (hot), plus a pinch
1 tsp salt, plus a pinch
1 tsp chopped rosemary
unsalted butter
1/4 lb ricotta
1/3 cup chicken broth
pecorino cheese

Boil the pasta until very al dente in salted water, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a large baking sheet to cool, drizzling some olive oil on top. Bring the water back to a boil and blanch the broccoli rabe for a minute, then drain in a collander and let cool.

Pre-heat oven to 400F

With a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds and 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes. In a large saute pan, warm a little olive oil on medium heat, then begin to brown the ground pork, using your spatula to break it into smaller pieces. Stir in the fennel and red pepper flakes from the mortar, and add half the minced garlic and a tsp of salt. Stir together well and when the pork is browned, remove from the pan, drain any excess fat, and set aside.

Roughly chop the broccoli rabe. Then, add a little more olive oil to the saute pan, set it over medium heat, and add the remainder of the minced garlic. Fairly quickly, because you do not want to brown the garlic, add the chopped broccoli rabe, the rosemary, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir everything together and turn off the heat.

Combine the pasta, sausage, and broccoli rabe, and chicken broth in a large bowl and gently stir together. Add the ricotta, in small pieces, and stir that in. (Note: we used store bought ricotta, but we really want to make our own)

Butter a baking dish, and fill it with the pasta. Depending on the size of your baking dish, you may need to use two. Sprinkle a little pecorino cheese on top. At this point it will look like the below picture:

campanelle w rabe

Cover the baking dish and place in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for 5 more minutes. Serve with some additional pecorino cheese grated on top or on the side.


Braised Pork, Poblano and Cream Sauce; weekend pictures

poblano solo
Work demands tonight required a speed meal so a few leftovers and miscellaneous fell together into a great little combo – a braised pork, poblano pasta and cream sauce to accompany pasta.

By the way, someone recently blogged another pasta sauce with leftover pork braise which gave me the idea, but when I went looking for it, I was at a loss even after much searching. I winged the meal in this post, but I’d love to try the other recipe so if you know what I’m referring to (it was just in the last few days) please post a link in the comments!

braised pork poblano
Braised Pork, Poblano and Cream Pasta Sauce (photo is pre-cream)

Served 2

braised pork, shredded (enough for two people)
1 poblano pepper, chopped
1 cayenne pepper (or a jalapeno), sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
dried oregano, sprinkling
salt and pepper
heavy cream and a touch of milk
pasta (preferrably egg noodles)

Shred the pork it into smallish pieces with two forks. In a saute pan on medium-low heat, saute a the onion and garlic in olive oil. Seed and chop the poblano pepper, then slice the cayenne pepper was sliced crosswise (into thin rings), keeping some of the seeds to add some heat. Add to pan.

Stir in half a teaspoon of ground cumin, a sprinkling of dried oregano and a few grindings of salt and pepper. Raise heat and stir for a few minutes, then turn the heat all the way down.

Pour in a small amount of cream, maybe a quarter cup (just enough to nicely coat everything — do not let it get soupy). I didn’t want the sauce to be too rich, so I cut the cream with a little bit of milk, and then added a spoonful of the starchy water from the pasta pot. Taste for salt and pepper and serve by spooning over the pasta. Note: we only had spagetti but I would have preferred egg noodles, campanelle or farfalle (in that order).

Weekend Pictures

Most of the cooking Lisl and I did over the weekend was for recipes that still need tinkering, but I thought I would share some photos from our flickr set.

We have a tree with little white peaches which can be great to cook with.


cranberry beans shelled
I loooooovvvveeeee fresh cranberry beans!

In our neighbor Gail’s garden

morning glory

Geeking out with beans

Rancho Gordo
My Rancho Gordo beans came today! Let the games begin!

fresh blackeyed peas

When we dropped by Gills farm stand last weekend, they had fresh black-eyed peas. Some of the pods were really green and soft, with young, green beans that hadn’t fully developed (you can vaguely see them in the background above, out of focus). To any black-eyed pea experts out there: does that mean they were picked too soon?

fresh blackeyed peas

And Now For Something Completely Different…
Tonight my attention was starting a lamb and lentil (part of the geeking out with beans day) braise which will be finished off tomorrow when I get home from work. So for dinner we whipped together linguine with a simple tomato sauce. Once upon a time, I used to think you had to cook a tomato sauce for hours but it’s really not true. Tonight’s version took about 40 minutes and was great.
quick pasta sauce

Chop and saute an onion in olive oil, followed by chopped mushroom, sweet yellow pepper, and a whole bunch of parsley. Let it all cook for a few more minutes, then add a can of whole, peeled tomatoes with some salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce for 30 more minutes before breaking up the tomatoes into smaller chunks with a spatula. Taste for salt and serve on some al dente linguine. Fresh, simple, fast, healthy, tasty and filling. All good descriptors for a work-night meal.

Lastly, we’ve created an email for the blog for anyone who wants to contact us but doesn’t want to leave a public comment: larder -at- constable -dot- net. Pardon my spelling it out that way, but spam bots are such a scourge!

Fusilli, Ricotta w/ Lemon, Tomatoes and Corn

Fusilli with Ricotta

Earlier today I came across Food Blogga’s Penne with Fresh Ricotta and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, which is a beautiful take on a classic combination (just go look at her photographs – absolutely killer), and there was no question what I was having for dinner tonight. Food Blogga (aka Susan) had these amazing baby heirloom tomatoes, but I was stuck with something a lot less appealing — tomato envy. However, I had some grape tomatoes (poor chaps, buck up, it’s hard to compete with the fashion models) and had picked up some fresh sweet corn. Here’s my riff:

1/2 lb fusilli
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 ear, very fresh sweet corn
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp pine nuts
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
handful of fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper

Halve the tomatoes and combine in a bowl with the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, basil, and some grindings of salt and pepper. I was in a hurry so I microwaved the corn in the husk for 2 1/2 minutes, let it cool for a few, then cut the kernals from the ear and mixed into the bowl.

Heat a small saute pan (ideally non-stick) over medium heat and toast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes, periodically shaking the pan to roll the nuts.

Boil the fusilli until al dente (with dried pasta, about 10 minutes). When done, reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta and return to the pot, then mix in the ricotta cheese and about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid until the pasta is well coated. Stir in most of the grated parmesan.

Note 1: The Kitchn writes of an interesting approach where the ricotta is warmed in a bowl over the boiling pasta. Note 2. 101 Cookbooks has a post on making your own ricotta (mine was store bought whole milk ricotta).

Add the herbs and vegetables, as well as the pine nuts, and lightly toss. Taste and if you feel that the texture is a little dry, add a little more of the reserved cooking liquid or squeeze some fresh lemon juice and lightly toss again.

Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top when serving. I think this dish goes really nicely with a Sancerre or an Australian or New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc (the Chilean Sauv’s are improving as well).

Vegetarian Lasagna; Strawberries with Basil and Honey

Vegetarian Lasagna
My kitchen is a complete disaster area right now. I’d share a picture but it might short out your monitor. The silver lining is that my first attempt at a vegetarian lasagna was successful (your first, you cry! ah but tis true — normally Lisl is the lasagna champ in this household but she’s on a plane to the UK). And so with no further ado:

Lasagna Components
2 golden zucchini (green zucchini or summer squash would work)
2 red or orange bell peppers
big handful of white button mushrooms
lasagna pasta
parmesan cheese
mozzarella cheese
bechamel sauce (flour, butter, milk – see below)

Tomato Sauce
1 medium yellow or vidalia onion
3 cloves of garlic
14 oz can of skinless, whole tomatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper
bay leaf

Vegetarian Lasagna Ingredients
Note on above picture: I didn’t end up using the orange pepper or green zucchini

Whip up a tomato sauce: in some olive oil, saute the finely chopped onion on moderate heat, then add the garlic, minced. Add the tomatoes, half a teaspoon of salt, some grindings of pepper, a healthy pinch of cayenne pepper, a bay leaf, and a handful of chopped parsley (I also added a touch of white wine). Do not chop up the tomatoes yet, but rather bring to a boil then let it lightly simmer uncovered for an hour if time permits. Then remove bay leaf and chop and mix the tomatoes with your spatula. Note: you don’t want this sauce to be too watery, or your lasagna will be equally watered down.

Fire up your grill or broiler. Char the peppers on all sides and place in a paper or plastic bag for 10 minutes. Then peel off the skin and remove the seeds and stem.

Thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and grill or broil briefly, taking care not to burn.

Thinly slice the mushrooms and saute them in a little butter and olive oil.

Next, create a bechamel sauce (white sauce). I decided to reference a few sources here and amusingly everyone differed. For a single cup of milk: Marcella Hazan used 2 tbsp of butter and 1.5 tbsp of flour; Julia Child used 1 tbsp of butter and 1.5 tbsp of flour; and Mark Bittman was right in the middle, with 1.5 tbsp of butter and 1.5 tbsp of flour.

I ended up going the Hazan route more or less. Heat the milk in a saucepan, with a dash of salt, until it starts to bubble. In another saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and then wisk in the flour. Remove from heat and slowly add in the hot milk, wisking aggressively. Continue to cook over low heat, wisking, if you want to thicken the sauce.

For the construction of the lasagna, I used “oven ready” pasta so I didn’t need to pre-soften but actually I would have preferred the latter since it would have made it easier to cut the pasta to fit my baking dish. I used a smaller but deeper pan than normal because I went multi-layer.

My layers (as best I can remember):
1. thin layer of bechamel, 2. pasta, 3. thin layer of tomato sauce, 4. zucchini, 5. grated parmesan cheese, 6. bechamel sauce, 7. pasta, 8. tomato sauce, 9. basil leaves, 10. bell peppers, 11. sauted mushrooms, 12. pasta, 13. tomato sauce, 14. grated parmesan cheese and torn chunks of mozzarella cheese.

I tend to cook light on salt, but you can always sprinkle a touch of salt and/or pepper on a layer or two as you form the lasagna. When complete, place in the oven for 45 minutes at 350F, or until mozzarella on top starts to brown.

Wish my pictures had come out better…

Strawberries, Basil and Honey
Strawberries, basil and honey
For dessert, I tried a very simple but surprisingly good combination I picked up over at Lucullian Delights, thanks to the Food Blog Search. It doesn’t get much easier than this: cut up your strawberries, chop up some basil, drizzle on some honey, and mix it all together. What’s really interesting is that the basil starts taking on the flavor of cloves.

Pasta sauce with homemade milled tomatoes

Tomato Sauce
A few months ago, some friends of ours from Harrison, NY, gave us a jar of homemade stewed tomatoes. Apparently every year, a group of Italian women in the neighborhood (our friend’s mother being one) buy a huge quantity of tomatoes, mill them to de-seed and de-skin, stew, and then preserve in sterilized glass jars with a sprig of basil. Note: I’m hoping to get a more detailed description of this process to post in the next day or so (Update: description posted here).

On Monday evening we decided to crack open the jar and taste. I can only describe my taste bud reaction as “holy moly!” It had to be the sweetest tomato flavor I’ve ever had. Well, after this moment, my goal could only be to use this as the base for a pasta sauce without distracting too much from the incredible core flavor.

1 jar of stewed tomatoes (see below)
1 vidallia onion, chopped
1 and a half stalks of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
8 oz white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
handful of parsley, washed and chopped
virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

I started by heating some olive oil in a big pot on low heat, and then sauteing the onions and garlic until the onions started to turn translucent. I then added the mushrooms and sauted, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms were cooked and exuding their juices. I tossed in the parsley and celery, a pinch of salt and some ground pepper (I kept the salt light because the natural flavor of the tomatoes was so good), and let cook for a couple more minutes.

Normally I would also add wine or vermouth at this stage but it just wasn’t needed here. I then added the tomatos, turned up the heat slightly to bring everything to a light simmer, and cooked for about 30-60 minutes stirring regularly. We served this with farfalle pasta (campanelle would have worked nicely too) and a d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz.

Now, the tomato sauce we used as a base is obviously not something you can run out and get. Normally I use tins of peeled Italian tomatoes, and to be honest I rarely take the step to deseed the tomatoes (usually due to time considerations). Jamie Oliver also tends to leave the seeds in, and takes the approach of letting the tomatoes cook whole (i.e. he does not cut or break them up) with the sauce for a while and only breaking them up and letting the seeds out into the mix near the very end.

Many cookbooks talk about how tomato seeds can add slight bitterness. I had never really felt this to be enough of a problem to take the time, but if you want to try working with canned, peeled Italian tomatoes without the seeds, it’s a relatively easy, if slightly messy, step. To preserve most of the juices, I recommend working in your sink with a strainer over a bowl. Take each tomato, break it open in the middle with your fingers (they will be very soft), and let the seeds run out, gently scooping out any recalcitrant ones. Let the juices flow into the bowl, save the tomato flesh (can just put in the same bowl), and toss out the seeds in the strainer.

Gourmet Mac & Cheese

mac and cheese

I believe that this recipe originally came from a Gourmet magazine, which I adapted to simplify. It is rich and very delicious.

1 lb tube shaped pasta such as rigatoni or penne rigate (Campanelle is also very nice)
2 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp Dijon mustard (ideally whole grain)
1 lb aged cheddar cheese grated on large holes of a box grater
ground pepper
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs (make by putting stale or fresh bread, crust removed, through a food processor)

1. preheat oven to 400. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 7 minutes — you do not want the pasta to be fully cooked. Drain, then rinse under cold running water in a collander.

2. melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat (I like to use a cast iron pan so I only have one pot to wash). Add onions, garlic, thyme, and rosemary (if used) and cook until onions are soft, 8-10 minutes. If you do not have fresh herbs, use a pinch of dried thyme. Add wine and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove and discard the sprigs of herbs (if you used dried herbs, just leave in the mix). Whisk in flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk then mustard. Reduce heat to keep the sauce at a gentle simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy (about 30 minutes). Remove pan from heat and stir in most of the cheese, leaving about 1/2 to 1 cup of cheese for the top. Stir in the cheese a handful at a time, stirring until completely melted after each addition. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. fold pasta into sauce and stir until well coated. If your pan is not oven-proof, transfer everything to a baking dish. Scatter the remaining cheese on top, then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake until crust is golden, about 25 minutes.

Mac and Cheese
I prefer making this in a wide cast iron frying pan, but it also works with a narrower, deeper pot such as the above.