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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Salsa: if you can’t beat the heat, join it!


There’s an old saying, “if you can’t beat em, join em.”  It applies quite aptly to summertime heat and a good, fresh salsa don’t you think?

My current favorite method of salsa making is about as simple as it gets, and just relies on fresh ingredients.

Fresh Salsa
6 medium tomatillos, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, diced
5 or 6 spring onions, finely chopped (use all the green)
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 3 fresh jalapenos, minced (add heat to personal taste; can also use cayenne or serrano)
juice of 1 to 2 limes, to taste
large bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Just chop everything up and combine in a bowl.  Serve with some tortilla chips, or toast some bread with a little olive oil for a simple bruschetta, or serve as a garnish alongside a well-seasoned and grilled flank steak.

Don’t forget the beer. 🙂

Today Lisl had some friends from her choir over for lunch, and this went over quite well (we also had a hit with a black-eyed pea salad that was sort of a combination of this and this).

Below the fold, I’m attaching a few more photos from our recent trip up to the Catskills.

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Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin (say “bechamel” 10 time fast)


My predilection for comfort dishes means that gratins, bechamel and cheese are recurring themes, but before I begin, forgive me a small rant: there is a fine line between a dish that is richly delicious, and one that is so packed with cream and butter that you can barely eat a second bite.  Too many restaurants err on the wrong side of that line.

I remember reading the author of Cooking School Confidential write about learning the optimal way to prep potatoes for mashing in order to get as much butter into them as possible.  My first reaction was “interesting” and my second was “maybe this is why I never like the mashed potatoes in restaurants.”

It reminds me of watching Anne Burrell explain, as she grabbed a huge handful of salt, how restaurant food is tasty because it is “better seasoned.”  And I thought, “is that a euphamism for salty?”  It is true that many tentative home cooks under-salt in the cooking process, but at least guests have a chance to rectify that.  I find American Italian restaurants to be the worst offenders of over-salting.

This isn’t just about health, although that is relevant to this topic, but just the observation that more is not always better.  I understand a restaurant’s desire to exude luxury, but you shouldn’t need a red wine strong enough to punch you in the jaw to make it through more than a few bites of a dish.

Now isn’t that a marvelously hypocritical way to introduce a dish with bechamel (one with more butter than flour even!) and cheese?!  This dish is not something I would eat every night, but it was utterly delicious and while it went right smack up to the aforementioned line, it stayed just on the right side.

I’d quip that I ate my hypocrisy most happily, but perhaps the serious  analysis is that the term “too rich” is subjectively like what the judge said about pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

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Ramp and Mushroom Risotto


Every once in a while, you read amusing stories about the tension and strife that ensue when cooking in your mother’s kitchen. The hovering. The unsought advice. The skeptical brow. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I have no such stories from this recent dinner. In the making of this ramp and mushroom risotto, I had free reign. Perhaps it is because I am male, or perhaps it is simply the nature of my mom, but there was no drama to rivet this tale.

I think we got most of the mother-child conflict out of our systems when I was in high school and needed heavy pushing to study and get into a good college. Her obstinate determination at that task exceeded even my own innate and not-insubstantial stubbornness. In the end, her mission was accomplished, for which I am eternally grateful.

Turning the tables and making her a great meal is the least I can do. This risotto, while not innovative in the slightest, was particularly good for three reasons: a homemade vegetable broth made with patience, the use of the last of my ramps, and a mix of porcini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

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Ramps, Ramps, and Ramp Fritters


Easter Sunday was a bit unusual for me this year.  I spent the morning with family, but ever-patient Lisl gave me special dispensation to spend the afternoon tromping around the woods with a bunch of other food bloggers collecting wild ramps, fiddleheads, stinging nettles, wild garlic, and more.  This outing was organized by Marc of No Recipes (who has a full write-up of the event and resulting menu on his blog, along with some great photos) and Jonathan of Lab 24/7.

ramps-forage-collage(Clockwise from top-left: ramps; stinging nettles; fiddleheads; non-edible but pretty flowers)

I now understand the special appreciation people have for ramps.  Douse them in olive oil and sea salt and toss under the broiler for a few moments, and the results will make you go weak in the knees.  Since Sunday, I have also eaten pickled ramps, sauteed ramps with the drippings from a roast chicken, made ramp fritters (recipe below), and later this week will be making a ramp risotto.  One has to strike when the iron is hot!

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Rustic Provencal Galette; the new site

Before diving into the recipe, we want to welcome you all to the new home of Constables Larder.  Thank you for joining us here, and please let us know what you think. If you are an RSS subscriber to the old blog, please unsubscribe that one and sign up here (although if you are seeing this post, it means it’s working automatically, miracle of miracles).

Spring is finally starting to emerge, and my palette is very Mediterranean-focused. Last weekend, this manifested in the form of a galette — essentially an onion tart with the addition of zucchini, olives, garlic, and tomatoes.  Instead of a pâte brisée, I decided to try a Provençal pastry (pâte à l’huile d’olive) which Richard Olney describes in Simple French Food (my new flame). It is easy to make, quite tasty, and has a rustic personality and texture.

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Potatoes In Beer

This is a simple yet surprisingly sophisticated dish from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. I’ve long been a fan of making scalloped potatoes with milk and/or cream. The use of beer makes the dish a little less rich, which can be a good thing, yet still flavorful, and the onions add a sophistication that I really enjoyed.

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Savory Crepes

I used to make savory crepes all the time, and do not know why I ever fell out of the habit. The basic premise is that you create a stack of crepes and complementary fillings, and then bake for a brief period in the oven. The process is easier than it appears and the results are delicious. Crepes freeze well and can be made well ahead of time. You also have lots of opportunities to get creative around sauces and filling.

Making Savory Crepes

I have always used Julia Child’s recipe, which offers the following proportions to make two dozen or so crepes:
1 cup cold water
1 cup cold milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
4 tbsp melted butter

Julia places the liquids, egg and salt into a blender, and then adds the flour and then butter. I just whisk it together (in that order) by hand. You might be surprised at how thin the batter is, but that is correct — to quote Julia, it should just “coat a wooden spoon.” Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Making the Crepes I’ve never actually owned a proper crepes pan, and do not let that stop you. In the era before non-stick pans, I used a small frying pan and oil. Now I just use a six inch non-stick pan (see the picture below).

crepes making

We’ll see if I horrify professionally-trained Zen, but here is my approach: heat up the pan on a medium to medium-high flame, and hold it in one hand. With the other hand, scoop out about 2/3 to 3/4 of batter in a soup spoon. Pour into the pan and very quickly rotate and tilt the pan around with your wrist (kind of like a spinning top that is losing momentum), so that the batter spreads out across the pan surface evenly. You want just enough batter to fill the bottom of the frying pan.

Place the pan on the heat for 1 to 2 minutes. The bottom should lightly brown. Gently lift and edge of the crepe with a spatula, then scoop under and flip. Cook for another 30 to 90 seconds (depends on heat of pan). Then place on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes before stacking, and repeat the process.

It might take a couple tries at first to get the right amounts of batter and motion, but once you have the hang of it, it is fast and easy.

Making your Fillings

To complete your meal, you need to decide upon your crepes filling(s). You can go vegetarian or add meat. You can work with tomato sauces, white sauces, cheeses, or whatever strikes your fancy. If you have Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, her suggested filling recipes are marvelous. In this case, I made two simple fillings: a chard and parmesan layer and a mushroom, leek and cream cheese layer.

Chard Filling
1/4 onion
1 bunch chard, stems finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter
splash of vermouth
grated parmesan cheese

For the chard, I chopped and sauted /4 of an onion for a couple of minutes in a tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil, on medium-low heat, then added the chard stems, finely chopped. After a few minutes, add the chard leaves (roughly chopped), cover, and let cook for several minutes more. Like spinach, the chard leaves will reduce in size. Add a splash of white wine or vermouth, and let cook until the leaves are fully tender, and taste for salt and pepper. After spreading this filling on the crepe, add a layer of grated parmesan cheese.

crepes layering

Mushroom, Leek and Cream Cheese Filling
1 leek, white and light green portion, halves and finely sliced
1/4 onion, chopped
handful of white button or cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp butter
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

You can cook this at the same time as the chard. Place a tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan and saute the onions and leeks on medium-low heat until softened, around 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, a pinch of ground nutmeg and a little salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are fully cooked, remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese.

Making Your Stack
Pre-heat your oven to 350F.

In a lightly-buttered baking dish, put down two crepes (for two different stacks). On this bottom crepe, smooth out some of the chard filling and sprinkle grated cheese on top. Then place another crepe on the stack and spoon out some of the mushroom and leek filling. Layer another crepe with chard filling, then a crepe with mushroom filling, and finally top with a final crepe and sprinkle more cheese on top.

In this case, I did not have a wet tomato or bechamel sauce, so the top crepe became quite crispy, but if you do make a wet sauce, save some from your mixes so you can ladel on the top of your stack.

Place the baking dish in the upper third of the pre-heated 350F oven and bake for about 25 minutes. To serve, you can cut into wedges or just place the entire stack on a plate.

crepes plated

Thanksgiving Pt 2: Potato & Fennel Gratin

While much of our Thanksgiving dinner was pretty traditional to our family, Lisl and I decided to change up the usual scalloped potato dish and add fennel to the gratin. Stacey, of Stacey Snacks, mentioned that Ina Garten had a great recipe, and I found a version on the Food Network website. I made a few changes, reducing amounts and layering rather than mixing in a bowl (I just love how attractive the layered approach looks when it comes out of the oven).

The results received universal approval from the adults at the table (munchkin, not so much, but the three-year-old palate is a frustrating thing to cook for). This was a convenient dish as well since I was able to bake it 90% done before the turkey took over the oven, and then just finish it off while the turkey rested.

Potato & Fennel Gratin, adapted from Ina Garten

4 to 6 medium-large idaho/russet potatos
1 large fennel bulb
1/2 large spanish or vidalia onion
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups gruyere cheese, thickly grated
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Thinly slice the onion. Remove the fronds and 1/4″ of the base of the fennel, cut in half, remove the core, and then thinly slice.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a saute pan, heat the butter and olive oil on medium-low and cook the onions and fennel for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. While this is cooking, thinly slice (1/8″ or 2mm thick) the potatoes.

Butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish and place a first layer of potato, slightly overlapping each piece like fish scales. Sprinkle some gruyere cheese, a small amount of salt and pepper, and pour a little cream. Add a layer of half of your onion and fennel, and repeat with the cheese, salt, pepper, and cream. You will add another layer of potato, a layer of onion/fennel, and a final layer of potato, interspersing each one (including the top) with cheese, salt, pepper, and cream.

Place in the oven and bake for 1.5 hours until the top is nicely browned and the potatoes are very tender.

sliced potato

Minestrone, and the joys of making soup with Parmesan rind

minestrone soup

Today was the first time I’ve been really happy with my results with a from-scratch minestrone soup attempt, and I give all the credit to Stacey Snacks for suggesting the addition of a rind of parmesan cheese. Soooooooo much better.

This was a day for soup. Our town had a festival sponsored by the local businesses (the Christmas decorations are out in force already), and I got to stand around freezing while Munchkin happily leaped around inflatable castles like a maniac. Ah, energizer bunny. I had made the soup for lunch, but by the time I got back I wanted nothing more than another bowl. The cheese transformed a vegetable soup into a comfort dish.

1 large onion, diced
4-5 large garlic cloves, crushed and minced
4 carrots, chopped into circles
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
6 white button mushrooms, sliced
1 rind of parmesan cheese
1 cans (~400gr) of cooked red kidney beans
1 can (~400gr) of cooked “young” red kidney beans
2 bay leafs
large handful of parsley, washed and tied into a bunch
handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped for serving
3 or 4 tbsp tomato paste
3 or 4 handfuls of dried small pasta shells
1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese, plus a little more for serving
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
water (huh, what’s that? is that organic?)

Fill a kettle with water and bring it to a boil while you put the soup components together.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a soup pot on medium heat and saute the onions and garlic for several minutes, and then add the carrots, celery, mushrooms, fennel and the parmesan rind. Add a few pinches of salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Rinse the beans well in a collander and stir into the pot (Note: you can use two cans of red kidney beans, but I liked the texture difference of having normal and young kidney beans, the latter of which Goya sells as “small red beans” or Habichuelas Coloradas Pequenas).

Place the tied parsley on top, add the bay leaves, 6 or 7 whole peppercorns and the tomato paste, and then pour in the cup of white wine and the hot water from your kettle — add water until the level is over the top of the vegetables. Stir gently, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat, cooking covered at a gentle simmer for 40 or 50 minutes. Give it an occasional stir and make sure the tomato paste has disintegrated nicely into the soup.

In another pot, boil your pasta shells in lightly salted water until al-dente and then transfer the pasta to the soup pot. Depending on the desired consistency for your soup, add water from the pasta pot. Cook the soup for another 10 minutes, tasting for salt and pepper. Right before serving, stir in the grated pecorino cheese.

Serve with a little freshly chopped parsley and grated pecorino cheese on top.