January 8, 2012
Or, I Did It Chai Way.
There’s a resale shop in Chicago – actually, there are a few of them – whose proceeds benefit the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, the premier GLBT health services provider in the Chicago area. It’s called The Brown Elephant. I go there whenever I can, because A) It benefits a good cause, B) there are treasures in their used books section, and C) their kitchen goods section is expansive, awesome, and cheap.
I recently bought a teapot that matches my cup-and-saucer set, and since then I have been making tea like a lunatic. Sure, I made tea before, but in that way that I never particularly liked; I’d fill a teabag with loose tea, plop it in a coffee mug, and pour hot water over it to steep. It’s the single-serve coffee-shop way of selling tea in the U.S., the way I used to dish out tea when I worked in a coffeeshop as a teenager. I don’t like the way the teabag flops out of the mug and hits you in the nose; it’s like being slapped by a tiny sea lion. It seems evident to me that the best way to drink tea is in little cups, out of a teapot. You can control the sweetener on a per-portion basis, you can make rather a lot at once, and you feel a little bit more like a grown-up, rather than an on-the-go-nup drinking lukewarm, second refill tea out of your sustainable but silly to-go sippy cup.
So, I’ve been drinking a lot of Kenilworth Estate Ceylon tea. It’s the business, brother. It’s damned fine, and I can get a pound of it for 16 bucks at the Coffee and Tea Exchange near Carolyn’s apartment (put that in your pipe and smoke it, Teavana, you 8-bucks-an-ounce tea thieves!). I love this city.
Carolyn’s wanted a Chai Spice mix recipe for a while now, so here we go! Chai is just Hindi for tea (Hindi and Russian and Persian and Aramaic and Mandarin and Japanese – cha/chai is an incredibly common pronunciation. Medieval trade was global too, people.), and what we generally think of as the chai stuff in a chai latte is the chai spice-mix, the chai masala, and that’s what I’ll be describing today.
A spice-mix like this has applications beyond tea! We’ll investigate them after I give you the recipe.
Four Friends Chai Spice Mix
A recipe in proportions
You will need:
- 1 part cloves, either ground or whole
- 1 part cardamom, ground or whole (more on that later)
- 2 parts ground cinnamon
- 2 parts ground ginger
- a spice grinder, probably
- a plastic bag and a wooden rolling pin for the cardamom
Chances are, if you don’t have ground cardamom, you’ll have purchased the green seed pods. These things are obnoxious, and until I figured out this option, I used to crack the pods open with my fingernails, and laboriously loosen each of the pod’s small black seeds free from the papery-white pith. Predictably, the seeds would spring out like cannonballs, shooting across the kitchen, into my shirt, behind the refrigerator, onto the stovetop. This would not do.
So, what I do now is take my cardamom pods, place them in a bag, and roll them over with a rolling pin or wooden dowel until they’re completely broken up. Then I put them through the loosest wire-mesh strainer I have to catch the husks, and then I chuckle to myself for my cleverness.
Of course, you could always just buy pre-sorted cardamom seeds, which will keep their flavor longer than ground cardamom but save you the bother as well. I think you’ll have to buy them online or in specialty shops, as whole cardamom is hard enough to find in this country in the first place.
1. Sort out and measure all your spices.
2. Using a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or a draft horse-driven mill, grind all the spices into a fine powder.
3. Bottle and label. Store in a cool, dark cupboard.
Making a pot of Masala Chai
1. For every cup of tea you intend to make, use one teaspoon of tea. For every teaspoon of tea that you add, add 1/3 teaspoon of chai spice mix. (Thus, a teaspoon of spice mix for every tablespoon of tea.) And when you’re done calculating that, always add another teaspoon for the pot. And use a black, unflavored tea, something with a strong taste and a good body – Darjeeling is traditional, but Ceylon or Assam will do fine. Earl Grey is a no, because of that bergamot oil.
2. Fill your teabag with the chai spice and tea, place it in the teapot, and pour boiling water into the pot. Cover and steep for five to six minutes.
3. Pour into cups, add milk and sweetener to taste (I don’t think it’s masala chai unless it’s a milk tea), and enjoy.
Making other things with your chai spice mix
Melissa Clark, the food writer I seem to reference the most often in these entries, has an all-purpose shortbread recipe, which Carolyn swears by. After I made this spice mix, she made the Rosemary Shortbread, subbing out the rosemary for a teaspoon of masala. I’ll reprint it here, but buy Melissa’s latest book, Cook This Now! It’s a recipe book organized seasonally; unsure of what to make? Befuddled by the variety of recipes available? Flip open Cook This Now to January. There. She’s just made it easier for you.
Melissa Clark’s Everything Is Shortbread Cookie (Chai Spice Edition)
You will need:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon chai spice mix
- 1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 to 2 teaspoons dark, full-flavored honey (optional).
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, chai spice and salt. Add butter, and honey if desired, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.
2. Press dough into an ungreased 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan or 9-inch pie pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.
You could also make Heather’s Blackberry Flan with chai spice instead of (or in addition to the vanilla) – take out the blackberries. And my sister Julie likes these Chai Cupcakes, but I think you could get away with using a tablespoon of chai spice (or 2 and a half teaspoons of chai spice and a half-teaspoon of nutmeg), and make your own chai-spiced milk tea for the cupcake batter instead of using bagged chai.
But really, the applications are pretty widespread.
Ah, friends. Where would I be without friends? And tea?
Probably prison, that’s where.
Oh. Oh, that was a rhetorical question. You didn’t need to hear the end of that thought, did you?
Happy cooking, everyone.
October 4, 2011
Preparing for the End Times the Tastiest Way I Know!
Probably you are tired of this by now, but I’m not:
A gorgeous and long-awaited fall has graced Chicago, and consequently I am girding up for winter’s terrible onset. Actually, I’m excited. Carolyn is terrified, and already misses summer. I scoff at her, and put on my favorite KWUR hoodie.
I’m so ready.
The change in seasons has me collecting food like a chipmunk. I recently purchased a chest freezer off Craigslist – a big one, but not the biggest one. It’s, uh, noticeable.
See, I kept on running out of room in my freezer. I’d cook in quantity, and then run out of space for ice cubes. I made a large quantity of leek and potato soup, and froze 3/4ths of it, and with the chickens I’d recently de-boned, the stock cubes I made from those bones, and the bottle of homemade limoncello that my friend Aaron gave me a year ago, there wasn’t room for much of anything else in my freezer. And, having just eaten a quart or so of the stuff, I was in no hurry to defrost and finish the soup.
Now I have space enough to store a hundred meals (and, to anticipate a few wags, yes, a coupla corpses. Don’t cross me.). Finally, with room to store anything I could ever want to make, I’ve finally found my calling – COOKING IN OBSCENELY MASSIVE QUANITY. My new friend Terri works at the Chicago Food Depository as a cook, and if I asked her, she’d probably say that my exuberance for that very thing might wane the moment I had to stick my gloved hands into “a massive bucket of mayonnaise.” Despite my hearty Defense of Mayonnaise, I think she’s right. And I shall have to avoid buckets of the stuff.
Anyway, having storage space like this means that I can save money by buying in bulk and not having to worry about spoilage. It also means spending a lot of money up-front for long-term savings. That pork shoulder is $1.99 per pound, but it only comes as a full 20-pound shoulder? Well, okay! Lemme just throw down 40 bucks and we can do business!
It was this kind of thinking that led me to the realization that I could (and should!) make approximately 18 pounds of my mother’s spaghetti sauce. I mean, after all, what else are giant stockpots and chest freezers for?
This is the spaghetti sauce I grew up with; it’s not a bolognese or anything – it’s just a chunky tomato, beef, and Italian sausage sauce with a whole load of fennel. I’ve modified it slightly to fit my more fennel! more red pepper! tastes.
I understand that probably you don’t have an enormous freezer, or even a stockpot the size of your torso, which is why I present this recipe in normal proportion, with wildly incongruous photographs.
Mostly My Mother’s Spaghetti Sauce
Makes enough for two pounds of spaghetti. Freezes like a champion.
If you like, I’ve made up the (roughly scalar – I recognize that 24 ounces is not 3/4th of 28 ounces, but it makes sense as you scale up the recipe that the tomato outpaces the meat) part-to-whole ratios, although I’ve got to admit that they get a little ridiculous as we get to the spices, because they’re by weight, not volume.
You will need:
- 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (1 part)
- 1.5 pounds ground beef (3/4th part)
- 1.5 pounds hot italian sausage (3/4th part)
- 1 large onion (1/2 part)
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic (1/50th part)
- 1 cup red wine (1/6th part)
- 1 6-oz can of tomato paste (1/6th part)
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed (approximately 1/100th part)
- 2 tablespoons italian seasoning (1/200th part by weight)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper (1/850th part)
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (1/850th part)
- salt to taste (the sausage is probably going to be fairly salty, just warnin’ ya, so maybe don’t salt until after everything’s all together)
1. Dice the onion or onions and set aside. Then peel and chop the garlic fine. My friend Aaron was the first person to show this to me, so he gets the credit – there’s this video from Saveur magazine floating around lately that details a technique for quickly peeling an entire head of garlic. Since I was using an entire head of garlic, I decided to try it – it certainly worked, but I think it’d be silly to do for fewer than eight cloves of garlic. Don’t bother unless you wanna cover the insides of two bowls with garlic peels.
2. Start browning the beef in a big, 6-quart pot (and, y’know, if you’re making it with 10 pounds of meat, use a great big multigallon stockpot). Drain the fat (optionally, into a measuring cup) and set the meat aside. I used a wire-mesh spider to get everything out of the pot.
4. Deal with the sausage. I actually liked that the sausage was still semi-frozen, because it made it easier to cut and portion evenly.
Still. That’s a lot of sausage. I mean, we’re looking at a mountain of meat, here. Cut or squish the sausage into 1/4-inch chunks and cook it in the same pot as the one you browned the meat in; remove the sausage from the pot once it’s evenly cooked through, and set it aside with the beef.. At this point, switch out your slotted spoon or wire spider for a Trusty Wooden Spoon.
5. Dump the onion and garlic into the rendered sausage fat, add the fennel seeds, and cook over medium heat until your kitchen smells like heaven. The onion will get yellow and soft, the garlic will melt like it’s sinking into a comfortable bath, and you will then…
6. Give your sous chef, co-chef, guy- or gal pal a high five because it’s step six. And Step Six always has a high five in it. Secret handshakes, too, are admissible.
7. Pour in the red wine and stir it into the aromatics – let the wine vapor fill your kitchen, and breathe deep: if it makes you feel special, you may pretend that a Calabrian has just burst. (No, they aren’t from Star Trek.)
8. Measure out your canned tomatoes and dump them in on top of the aromatics, the wine, and the fennel. Wash the cans out with water (or more wine) and add their contents to the pot. Stir to combine.
9. Add in the cooked beef and sausage, as well as the red and black pepper, stir with your Trusty Wooden Spoon, and bring the mixture to a gentle bubble – reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes.
10A. For service: Fill your pasta pot with water (I’m assuming you’ve got a 6 to 8 quart pot) and a tablespoon of salt, cook the pasta of your choosing al dente (I like how this goes with spaghetti, even if it’s senseless and nontraditional to have a thin pasta with a chunky sauce. However, nothing about this is traditional, or even Italian. If you’re not into the long, thin pastas, the sauce goes nicely with penne rigate or rigatoni. Crucially, reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.
Drain the pasta, put it back in the pot (over low heat), spoon over the sauce (a little at a time. By god, not all of it – you’ll probably end up tupperwaring 3/4ths of this anyhow), and splash some of the pasta water over everything. The starchy pasta water will thicken up the sauce, and lend a really full-bodied mouthfeel to the already quite-substantial sauce. Cheese is, at this point, almost superfluous. But feel free to be superfluous.
10B. For packing up and freezing: As soon as it’s cool enough to pack up, portion the sauce into pint and quart-sized containers (leaving at least a half-inch of headroom to allow for the sauce to expand as it freezes). Cover and let stand until they’re cool enough to put in the refrigerator. Let them hang out in the refrigerator overnight (or for a few hours) – you don’t want to melt the stuff in your freezer. Then label them, pop them in the freezer, and let them freeze into lovely hard pucks of sauce.
Then stack them to show how much there is. Because you’re smart. And stacking them is definitely a clever and intelligent thing to do.
The sauce should keep for up to 9 months, and then get slowly less good as the months wear on, but let’s be real, here – unless you make an actual literal metric ton of the stuff, you’re probably going to eat it all inside of six months anyway.
11. To thaw and reheat: run hot water over the bottom of the container for about 30 seconds, until the saucepuck detaches from the container. Plop the saucepuck into a smallish saucepan and pour a tablespoon or two of water over it. Turn the heat up to medium, cover the pan, and go do something else for about ten minutes. Uncover the pan, break up the saucepuck as it melts, and stir it around until everything’s warm and bubbly again.
Enjoy, and happy cooking!
September 23, 2011
The Whole Foods by my girlfriend’s apartment used to sell Sukhi’s Naanwiches, or at least, the kind she liked – the kind with spinach and potato and tofu. She’d keep them in her fridge, and hurl one into the oven for dinner if the mood struck her. I had one, once, and liked it. I developed this copycat recipe back in February 2011; we made a bunch of homemade naanwiches and brought them to a Super Bowl party, where, despite the preponderance of popcorn, dips, and peanut M&Ms, they disappeared off the platter at Warp 9.
And then I forgot about it. Completely. Until Carolyn’s Whole Foods stopped selling the spinach Naanwiches. “Remember when you made those?” she said.
“Sort of,” I said.
“I think that would make a great blog post,” she said, coyly. I know what you were after, Girlfriend. You mercenary. She was in it for the naanwiches, America!
So, using the naan recipe I’ve previously detailed on this site, and the following recipe for saag paneer, I recreated the magic. Except I did it a little differently; instead of just making a folded piece of dough like I had previously, enfolding the filling in a sort of folded pita configuration, this time I crimped the dough into little hand pies, so that they most resembled empanadas, or, more accurately, spanakopita – Greek spinach pies. (Or Lebanese fatayer. Or calzones!)
My cultural depredations lead me from India to the Levant to the Greek Isles* to, as you shall shortly see, Mexico. I shall never rest. I shall never stop bastardizing the cuisines of nations – not until I have trod on every page of Larousse Gastronomique.
I’d call this a samosa, except it isn’t, really. It’s too large, and it’s baked, not fried. I’m sure there aren’t exactly hard lines on nomenclature, but it feels like I’d be calling a knackwurst a cocktail wiener. But yet, it’s not a spanakopita, either; it’s not made with phyllo dough, and it’s also a little bit too large. If anything, it’s like a pasty, but it’s made with the wrong sort of dough. It’s its own classification. Naanwich or Naanakopita will do, although I prefer the second, for its quality of sheer phonemic bewilderment.
Now, palak paneer is a classic Indian dish, which I shall further insult by describing as being “essentially creamed spinach with fried cubes of fresh Indian cheese in it.” It is very easy to make your own paneer. I was going to advocate that you do it for this recipe. In fact, I nearly did it myself, figuring there wasn’t any place within walking distance of me that sold paneer cheese.
But guess what? There is. Paneer is a fresh farmer’s cheese – it’s firm, kinda squeaky, and somewhat bland. It doesn’t melt like other cheeses would– it just gets nice and brown and crisp when you cook it in a non-stick skillet. It is, in fact, identical to Mexican panela. Identical. There is nothing in the production of those two cheeses that would set them apart – you heat some milk; you add some lemon juice, you drain it, you press it, you salt it. The end. Cheese.
Now, if you’re an American, and you live near a large city, there is undoubtedly a sizeable Mexican population in your community, and the grocery stores in your neighborhood undoubtedly stock Mexican goods. You’re going to want to march right up to the deli counter and order several inches of cheese – don’t get it in slices, get it in a big ol’ chunk. This stuff is delicious.
So. If you can get paneer, excellent! Good for you; it’s not so terribly difficult to come by in the first place. And you could always make your own. But I like the firmness of store-bought stuff. It’s made with more patience, weight, and industry than I could ever muster.
* Which reminds me of a story my classmate Molly told, once. She had pledged a college sorority, and her father, upon hearing this, exclaimed, “Excellent! I’m so pleased you are Greek, now; did they bid you drink from the brackish waters of the Aegean Sea?” Molly’s father is, evidently, awesome.
A tasty pocket of spinach and cheese!
You will need:
- One full recipe of naan dough
- a 10-ounce bag of fresh spinach, or, failing that, a thawed and drained package of frozen spinach
- 1 cup of paneer/panela, cubed
- 1/4 cup buttermilk (feel free to use 1/4 cup of milk with a teaspoon of vinegar – just let it sit for ten minutes)
- 1/4 cup yogurt
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 teaspoons of ginger
- 2-3 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp coriander
- salt, to taste
1. First, make the dough, following the instructions in my entry. Set the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Fill the sink with water, if you’re using fresh spinach, and soak the spinach in the basin, shaking it around to get rid of any sand or dirt.
3. Dice the onion, mince the ginger, and mince the garlic, too. Set it aside. Cut the paneer or panela into smallish, 1/2-inch cubes.
4. In a medium-sized nonstick pan, heat a few teaspoons of oil and begin cooking the cheese, not doing much to them. Make sure they don’t stick (use a rubber or silicone spatula), but other than that, let them cook at medium heat, turning every four minutes or so, until they’re brown on a few sides. Reserve the cooked pieces of cheese on a plate or in a bowl. Keep the pan on the stove.
5. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or pot, heat a little oil, and wilt the spinach in it – use a tongs to squeeze all the water out of it as it cooks down, and plop it into a bowl. It should take about two to four minutes to wilt all the spinach. I grow weary of having to blanch spinach in a big pot of water, only to have to squeeze all the water out of it endlessly. I think this way is a little easier.
6. Give the person next to you a high five. You’re making naanwiches!
7. In the pan you used to cook the cheese, which should still have some oil in it, add the aromatics (the onion, the garlic, and the ginger), and cook them, with a touch of salt, the curry powder, the coriander, and an optional pinch of hot red pepper flakes, until the onion is soft and yellow, about 5 minutes. I believe it was around this time that I said, “Maybe this is too much onion.” Carolyn almost slapped me. She was right. It cooks down. And there’s no much thing as too much onion.
8. When the onions are soft, add the spinach in – stir until the spinach is evenly distributed , then add the yogurt and the buttermilk. Stir, taste for seasonings, and cook until the mixture is still a little wet, but not drippy. We don’t want too much buttermilk leakage in the naanakopita. Stir in the cubes of paneer and kill the heat.
You could totally stop here, too, if you wanted, and just serve the saag paneer as is. We had a lot of trouble not eating it all out of the pan. Just sayin’.
9. Line a baking sheet with tin foil, and spray it with cooking spray. Roll out your dough into six-inch rounds – just like you would for the naan recipe, but thinner – you might be able to get eight to ten of these, depending on how thin you go. Place these rounds on the greased tin foil on the baking sheet.
10. Plop a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of saag paneer into the middle of them.
11. Fold them in half, and crimp up the edges. There’s no need to seal them super well, because if they leak, they won’t leak so terribly much – the filling shouldn’t be all that wet.
12. Bake the naanakopita at 400 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, depending on how crispy and brown you want them to be. Let them rest for at least 10 minutes before serving, because they will be insanely hot on the inside.
These reheat spendidly. but they also freeze, uncooked, exceptionally well: cook them, straight out of the freezer, for 25 minutes at 425 degrees F – spray them with a little cooking spray first, though. But pop ‘ em in, hot ‘em up, take ‘em out. And that’s sort of the entire point of these – while they certainly make an excellent sit-down meal, I’ve designed these with long-term frozen storage in mind, so you can say, “Oh, dang. It’s 5:45, and I want to eat something at 7, but I don’t want to make anything. And I don’t want to get takeout.” This is me, reaching out across the ether, preventing you from tearing the lid on another loathsome Lean Cuisine.
This is the first entry in The Clone Platter, a new feature in which I will attempt to clone an existing commercial product or piece of restaurant food, or generate a home-cooked equivalent. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments! As a warning, I probably won’t take on anything that requires a deep-fryer – so I probably won’t take on the suggestion of “David, clone McDonald’s french fries!”, because, first of all, fried, and second of all, there’s an immense supply chain with a very specialized cultivar of potato (Oh sure, their website says they use regular old Russet Burbanks, but I’m convinced they’re the ones who buy up all the fancy Kennebec potatoes). So there. Lots of caveats, but request away. If the product in question is available in my area, I’ll buy it, dissect it, and eat it, and then try to recreate it! Otherwise, you’ll need to describe the hell out of it, and maybe take a photo.
August 5, 2011
While my parents were in DC a few weeks ago, I was tasked with watching Penelope, the familial springer spaniel. She’s a very cute critter, and last summer she stayed with me for a time at the House in Indiana. She served as my amanuensis, and even took dogtation.
She’s very smart.
Anyway, I was dog-sitting in the suburbs for a week – my fabulous job (as a game-writer, not a professional tweeter) permits me to work from anywhere with an Internet connection. My girlfriend, Carolyn, came to stay for the weekend, and that Saturday, we went garage saling, where we found some TREASURE.
- Two unused yoga mats in a carrying case: $7
- One bamboo jewelry-organizer: $2
- Some lovely wrist bangles for Carolyn, including a chunky brass one that will be All The Rage next season (so she claims. I think it makes her look like Wonder Woman. No complaints there.): $10 or so
- A lovely green glass vase, which was: $free
- A never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop, still in its taped-up box: $5
which is what I have taken to calling this gorgeous Marcato Atlas pasta maker, which goes online for €51 (about $73 USD), which Carolyn and I acquired for … yes. Five dollars.
LOOK AT IT.
Ah! Che bella macchina! I behold you and I hear the swelling chorus of a Morricone score.
Carolyn and I looked at each other. There was no way we couldn’t make pasta for dinner. I had to know if it was hard to do; I’d tried to make pasta without a machine a few years prior, and I had a hell of a time (using a rolling pin) getting it thin enough without tearing. It was also obnoxious to cut the pasta into fettucine with a knife, because it wasn’t thin or straight enough, and I didn’t have a food-safe ruler to use as a straight edge. (And frankly, the idea of rubbing a metal ruler against one of my knives makes me cringe a bit.)
I’m not a food gadgety person. It’s taken me a long time to embrace Carolyn’s strawberry huller, her cherry pitter, and her totally adorable water-carbonator, but I knew I would love LA MACCHINA immediately. It had such a handsome shine! It clipped to the table! It could roll and cut pasta to even thicknesses and dimensions! I was in love. (For the record, it only took me three dates to embrace Carolyn herself, who is cuter than a water-carbonating device.)
But while I do love some gadgets, I’m also frugal (or a skinflint. you decide), and although a new handcranked pasta machine certainly won’t break the bank, I guarantee you can find an unwanted pasta machine no matter where you are. A pasta machine is just the sort of thing a couple might receive for their wedding, regardless of whether or not they put it on their registry. Where there are garage sales, you will find pasta machines at reasonable prices. And even if you did buy a new one: in the past two weeks, I’ve already created enough pasta to exceed its retail price – three different ravioli dishes, enough to serve four, assuming an average restaurant price of $14 per plate comes to (3 x 4 x 14) $168. And that’s not counting the other pastas I’ve made.
We decided we would make ravioli, and so I decided to do what I generally do when I’m staying at my parents’ house: mount raids on the freezer, the pantry, and the liquor cabinet. I found a pound of frozen, uncooked shrimp, a can of tomatoes, and a handle of Stolichnaya vodka.
“Carolyn?” I hollered up the basement stairs, “Do you like vodka sauce?”
I couldn’t find a recipe for shrimp ravioli in my parents’ capacious cookbook library, but I found and tweaked a basic recipe for pasta dough from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. Then I hunted around on the internet, and found this recipe for shrimp ravioli in a vodka sauce, which I have slightly adapted, defatted, and seriously copy-edited.
This recipe has a lot of steps, but isn’t altogether that complicated. You can make the filling and the sauce well ahead of time, but the dough should probably be made the day you intend to assemble the ravioli. However, they freeze beautifully, and we’ll get to that later.
Let’s get started!
Ravioli/Tortellini di Gamberi alla Vodka
The Vodka Sauce
- 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1/4 cup basil, ribbon-cut (chiffonade)
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and lightly fry the garlic until fragrant. Kill the heat.
- Add the vodka. You don’t want to add liquor to a pot over a live flame because there could always be a wayward splash, a sudden flare-up, and then it’s goodbye, eyebrows (and possibly goodbye, face). Bring the vodka to a bare simmer and let it cook over low to medium heat for about five minutes.
- Add in the tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add in the cream, bring to the very barest of simmers, and stir. It should get somewhat thicker after a few minutes. At this point, add the basil and kill the heat.
Pasta Dough (for Ravioli)
makes enough for about 50 ravioli or so
- 2 egg
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp milk or cream
(So, one half-cup of flour and one teaspoon of milk per egg)
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and make a little well with your fingers, or a fork.
- Crack the eggs into the well, and pour in the cream.
- With a fork, beat the eggs and the cream, first into one another, and then gradually begin introducing the flour into the egg mixture, until it’s fully incorporated.
- Clean off the fork and begin kneading the dough with your hands until it has picked up most of the flour and is relatively unsticky. Pad the dough into a flattish round, and perhaps cut it into thirds or quarters with a knife or dough scraper. Put another half cup of flour into the mixing bowl, because you’ll be using it later to dust the pasta.
- Cover the dough with a towel and let it hang out while you make…
The Shrimp Filling
- 1 lb shrimp, defrosted, peeled, and deveined*
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup ricotta
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbsp parmesan cheese
- a generous handful of parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper
* Save those shrimp shells for a shrimp velouté for your SQUIZZA! Or, if you like, incorporate them into the vodka sauce with the garlic – but be sure to strain out the shells before serving.
The shrimp don’t need to be big, or even that attractive-looking; they’re going to be minced into tiny little pieces anyhow. Ah-ha-ha-ha. But seriously, the part of this dish that looks good isn’t the shrimp filling; nobody can see that bit.
1. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan, and gently cook the garlic until pleasantly scented, about 30 seconds to a minute.
2. Drop the shrimp in, and sauté until the shrimp curl up (which they do because of proteins contracting during cooking. Shrimp cocktail pro-tip: if you want to prevent shrimp from curling, make little slits on the ventral side of the shrimp; it’ll hamstring that muscle and curtail the curling.
3. Remove from heat, and either mince the shrimp finely, or quickly pulverize in a food processor. Move the shrimp to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, the eggs, the cheese, and the parsley. Season to taste (yes, I know there’s raw egg in there. It won’t kill you.).
4. Pass a chunk of your pasta dough through the machine, on its widest setting. Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat two or three more times, until the dough is glossy, pliant, and cheerful.
5. Begin passing the dough through the rollers at increasingly thinner settings – just once through on each setting will do. I tend to stop at the penultimate thinness.
6. High five your significant other, for finding a pasta maker. *
7. Lay out a sheet of dough on your work surface – maybe one foot long by six inches wide (depending on how wide your rollers are). Lay out another piece with similar dimensions beside it.
8. Take a 1/2 teaspoon measure and dollop out the filling onto one of the sheets, about an inch and a half away from each other, and from the edge. This means that if your sheet is 6 inches wide, place one dollop at 1.5 inches, the next at 3 inches, and the third at 4.5 inches.
9. Wet a finger or a pastry brush with water or egg wash and brush down every part of the dough that doesn’t have filling on it. Lay the other piece of dough on top of it, and crimp the dough around the filling. Then press everything down so that the dough fuses together. You can see Carolyn and I were doing something slightly differently, and making tortellini andravioli, but mostly because we weren’t sure exactly how to do either, at first.
10. Take a knife, or, if you have it, a scalloped pasta roller (I don’t have one yet, but I think I’d like one. They can’t be hard to find) and cut the ravioli close enough so that you’re not just eating a sheet of dough, but not so close that you expose the filling, either. Recover the dough, ball it up, and put it aside – you can mix it with the remaining dough to make the rest of the ravioli.
11. Sidenote 1: as you cut each raviolo free, dunk it in flour and shake off the excess; you don’t want them to stick to each other as you prep them for cooking – trying to separate stuck-on ravioli will rip their skins and expose the filling, which will cause you to curse assiduously.
12. Sidenote 2: if you wish to freeze the ravioli, line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, and plop the floured ravioli on as you complete them – let them sit in the freezer for at least 40 minutes before removing them from the sheet, putting them in a freezer bag, and throwing them back in cold storage.
13. Bring salted water to a rolling boil and cook the ravioli until they float, and the filling is hot throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size, quantity, and thickness of ravioli. Frozen ravioli take 4 to 6 minutes to cook, on average.
14. Toss lightly with sauce, and serve.
* Just so you know, from now on, Step Six is always going to be “Give the person you’re cooking with a high five.” I jokingly put in the original step six when I was writing out this recipe to myself in an email, while Carolyn read over my shoulder. Now, whenever we reach Step 6 in a recipe, we high-five. We have even gotten to the point where we refer to high-fiving as “step six”.
Sure, it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s also important, in a way: cooking is always more fun with others, and it’s important to acknowledge your co-chef now and again.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Never high-five your co-chef while holding a sharp object.
Contra odii (a note to the haters):
I am aware that the images in the photos above do not depict ravioli, but rather tortellini. Yes, they are not square. Yes, they’re somewhat ring-shaped. I got better at making them; more photos to come.
For additional guidance on making ravioli, I refer you to this video featuring Sergio Maria Teutonica (which is a pretty excellent name) making shrimp ravioli and a ragù di mare (a sauce of the sea – here grape tomatoes, shrimp, pine nuts, and basil). It is, unsurprisingly, entirely in Italian, which I do not speak, but the technique is pretty self-explanatory.
I’m just starting to get into pasta; we’ll see where this takes us. Probably weirder places than this – just warning you. (I see more squid in my future.)
Enjoy, and happy cooking!
June 3, 2011
The second main heading in the professional cook’s handbook I purchased a few weeks ago is “World Cuisines”, which is designed to familiarize the culinary professional with the key flavors of different food cultures. The Americas get twenty pages. Asian cuisines get fifty. Europe gets about 40, with entries for Hungary, Portugal, Spain, and ‘Eastern Europe’.
The British Isles have no such entry in The Professional Chef. This saddens my heart. The late Laurie Colwin first opened my eyes to the notion that British cooking, particularly English cooking, could be enticing and wonderful in her book Home Cooking, which gave me a really good ginger cake recipe that I used to bake a lot in college. But it wasn’t my idea to do English-style bivalves. No, I give credit to Carolyn, my lovely librarian girlfriend; I was struggling with ideas for another Mussel Night.
“Do something English,” she said.
”How would that work?” I said.
”Serve it over mashed potatoes!” she exclaimed. “And put English flavors and aromatics in the mussels themselves.”
This was enough to set me off on a really excitable jaunt that stopped just short of Marmite (English Vegemite, or autolyzed yeast extract. One puts it on toast.). “What’s English?” I wondered aloud. “Ooo! Mustard! Mustard is exceedingly English. And bacon! And ale!”
My impression of traditional English cookery is very much one in which flavors are tamped down and tamed – save the heat for vindaloo; tonight we’ve a lovely roast with mint jam for tea. I can’t say I blame this on the books I read as a child, since my childhood was full of the glorious feasting dreams of the Redwall novels. But I’ve long suspected that the English were mistrustful of members of the Allium genus, finding garlic and onions rather too brash and Continental for their tastes. This suspicion stems from the way Geoffrey Chaucer describes the court summoner (sort of an ecclesiastical bailiff) in the 14th-century Canterbury Tales, which I’ve put at the end of the post, because it’s a little gross. *
I know this isn’t really true anymore, and hasn’t been for many years, but I didn’t want garlic to be a major player in this recipe – if you feel that two cloves of garlic is too many, I respect your opinion. But I wanted the mustard to come out and play – and if I were being really awfully traditional, I’d be using Colman’s dry mustard powder, not (hateful, French) coarse-grained Dijon mustard. In fact, really, I should be thumping the table, eating a sausage off a knife, scratching my muttonchops, and damning the Dutch over my claret. But I’m an American, by cracky – and I ask you to forgive my my trespasses.
I also felt that thyme was an herb so English as to be absolutely necessary. You must let no man steal it, after all. Jeez, this entry is so thickly buttered with references, I’m not sure what side would hit the floor first.
This is classified as a Mussel Day recipe, though there aren’t mussels in it. The folks at my favorite fishmonger, The Fish Guy at Montrose and Elston, were out of mussels. Jolene, who mans the counter on Wednesdays (womans the counter?), cried out, “Oh no!” when I came in. “I’ve got bad news, Dave,” she said. “We’re out of mussels BUT we have plenty of clams.” I pretended to be angry. “How could you, Jolene,” I deadpanned. “I am so furious with your business-type establishment.”
She assured me I’d be happy with the clams, and I remembered that she’d asserted her preference for clams over mussels anyhow. She prefers their taste. They’re easier to clean, too – clams don’t have beards like mussels do. Jolene is right: clams are excellent! Mussel Day might become Clam Day for a while.
Important Note 2:
Cockles and clams aren’t exactly the same thing. They’re both bivalves, and both part of the family veneridae (that’s right, all hinged-shell bivalves are named after the goddess Venus.), and that’s good enough for me. A cockle is a little clam, and we’re using big clams. I apologize. I really wanted to name this recipe something jocular and Englishy, so there. And phooey on your insistence on accurate nomenclature. Go back to sleep, Carl von Linné; return to thy unquiet grave.
Cockles ‘n’ Mash, or English-Style Clams and Mashed Potatoes
For the clams:
- A dutch oven, or any heavy pot with a lid, at least 5 quarts
- 2 lbs clams
- 1/4 lb bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tbsp coarse-grained mustard
- 1 bottle of ale (not IPA or stout), like Newcastle Brown Ale, or Boddington’s Pale Ale
- 4-5 green onions
- Salt and pepper
For the mashed potatoes:
- a large pot, 4 quarts or larger
- starchy potatoes, like russets
- a touch of cream
- salt and pepper(I’m not going to include a quantitative recipe for mashed potatoes because I don’t think I’ve ever used one. I’ll just give you basic instructions.)
- Execute your mise-en-place – chop up your onion, mince your garlic, dice your bacon thickly (if you have chunk bacon, make them into little cubes or lardons), and chop your potatoes into quarters or sixths, depending on their size. Scrub the clams with a brush and rinse them with cool water. Do not cover the clams with water or they’ll drown, never mind the fact that you’re about to murder them in cold blood and hot beer. You don’t have to worry about the green onions yet – that’s the garnish.
- Collect your chopped potatoes and chuck them into your potato pot. Cover them with cold water, sprinkle in a teaspoon or two of salt, and put it on the stove over high heat.
- Meanwhile, begin heating your dutch oven over medium heat, and start cooking the bacon in the dutch oven.
- When the potatoes come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook until fork-tender, almost crumbling. This will probably take about 25 minutes. I might start the potatoes before anything else, honestly.
- While the potatoes are cooking, and when the bacon is sufficiently crisped, remove it from the dutch oven with a slotted spoon and reserve it for later. Cook the onions in the bacon fat until they’re soft, and somewhat browned – perhaps 5 minutes. Then add the garlic, the mustard, and the thyme – cook for a few minutes until the flavors all harmonize and start singing together (that is, when you can’t distinguish any of the individual scents so distinctly anymore).
- Pour in the beer and bring to a boil – wait for the fizz to abide before you make that judgment; it’s difficult to discern carbonation from boiling in that first minute.
- Toss in the clams, and bring to a boil again – then clamp the lid on your dutch oven, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 7 to 9 minutes, until the clams open up. Kill the heat.
- Drain the cooked potatoes and return the pot to the stove over low heat – throw in a few smallish cubes of butter, a healthy glug of milk, and a little dose of cream (a tablespoon or two), as well as salt and pepper. Mash, stir, don’t overdo it cause you’ll turn it to glue.
- Slice the green onions thinly and sprinkle them over the clams – mix and then serve: fill half of a deep bowl with the mashed potatoes, and then the other half with the clams and their broth. Top with green onions and the reserved bacon.
Eat with splendid lashings of ginger beer, rhubarb tart, and post-colonial racism! Spiffing, isn’t it? Rather wizard! **
The Slightly Gross Chaucer Bit, below the fold
May 20, 2011
This time, Carolyn sang to the mussels. “What do mussels dream of/when they take a little mussel snooze?” Carolyn intoned, to the tune of some song from some movie I haven’t seen. The guilt at eating bivalves – cute, cuddly bivalves! – had grown in her. Lauren had scrapped her previous argument – What if we get invaded by giant, sentient mussels? – but had replaced it with a more compelling one, which countered my argument of They don’t feel anything. And they’re delicious with What if WE’RE DELICIOUS and the vastly-intelligent creatures that invade US don’t think we can feel pain, either? What about that, huh?
I said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, girls. D’you want dinner or what?” They wanted dinner. My friends have it rough.
I decided I wanted to do Mexican-style mussels this week, using pretty standard flavors from the Mexican kitchen, but maybe with one or two items unfamiliar to American home cooks – cooking with dried chiles, for one, and trying out epazote, a Mexican herb which can be found in pretty much any Mexican supermercado if you ask politely – and not even in Spanish. I don’t speak a word, and I got mine pretty easily – it’s with the other fresh herbs, at any rate, and besides, how difficult is it to say, “Disculpeme, donde está el epazote, por favor?”
There are a ton of dried chile peppers that belong in the Mexican pantry, but we’re going to start today with chile de árbol, which is a fairly hot pepper that’s usually found dried – you can probably get them fresh in the United States, but I wouldn’t ask you to try for those. Chiles de árbol are skinny and red and long, and they tend to come in little plastic packets; don’t let me catch you paying more than 2 or 3 bucks maximum for one of them. I’m pretty sure I pay $1.50.
Now. Epazote is a pretty exciting herb, and a rather obscure one to the American palate. I’m still not at the point where I can just nibble on it raw, the way I might with a basil leaf or a bit of chopped mint or cilantro, but I do like it. I like its weird, strong flavor – sort of like a sprig of tarragon that’s been steeped in premium-grade gasoline. No, it tastes better than that, like lamp oil and licorice. No, seriously, don’t run away! It’s good, I promise, and when you disperse it across a large body of liquid, it takes on a much subtler, friendlier flavor. It’s especially good with black beans (and they say it acts as a carminative – that is, a gas-reducer. The more you know!).
So those are your two Mexican flavors to get used to – the bright, punky jolt of árbol chiles, and the verdant, smoky embrace of epazote. I almost want to compare it to cooking with Scotch, but not the terrifyingly funky Islay Scotch whiskey that my roommate loves – I’ve told him I think it smells like Swamp Thing. Fiery Demon Swamp Thing. He agrees, but still finds it delicious. I demur.
Mejillones con Chorizo y Epazote – Moules à la Méxicaine – write the recipe in English already, for chrissake – Mussels with Chorizo and Epazote
You will need:
- 1/2 lb fresh Mexican chorizo/spicy pork sausage
- 4 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
- 1/2 tsp cumin seed
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4-5 chiles de árbol, dried.
- 1/4 cup to 1/2 epazote leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 medium-sized tomato, chopped (optional, because I forgot about it)
- 1/2 cup white wine (I used a Riesling)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2.5 lbs mussels, scrubbed (the most important part!)
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 handsome squirt lime juice
- Execute your mise-en-place: chop the vegetables, portion out your spices, chop the epazote and cilantro.
- Heat a large (6 to 8-quart) cast-iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo, and stir to break up – cook, stirring none too gently, for three or four minutes.
- Add garlic and cumin seed, and stir until nicely fragrant, perhaps two minutes.
- Deposit onion in pot and cook till soft.
- As the onions are cooking, take the arbol chiles, break them in half, and rub them between your fingers over the pot – this will unleash a rain of very spicy seeds – you may wish not to use these seeds. You would be wrong to do so, but it’s your prerogative, kid. (They end up not being all that spicy, in the aggregate.) Drop the spent husks into the mix as well.
- Once the onions are soft, add the chopped epazote and the optional tomato, and stir until the epazote is wilted. Then pour in the white wine and the water and bring to a brisk little boil.
- Dump in the mussels.
- Bring to a boil again – cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and cook till the mussels open – perhaps 7 minutes or so. Sprinkle in the cilantro and kill the heat.
- Apply handsome squirt of lime juice, mix, and serve with a crusty loaf of bread or lil’ homemade gorditas!
* note on service: what you see here is just a stylized representation of the plate – serve the mussels in deep bowls so you can collect all that marvelous broth. Serve with spoons, too, so you can just eat it (and all that chorizo) when you’ve finished the mussels
On gorditas: Don’t hate me, people of Latin, Central, and South America: a gordita is an arepa is a pupusa. Basically. Sort of. Not really. A Mexican gordita is a small round of masa dough that has been fried in oil – it’s thicker and fatter than a tortilla (which is usually made on a comal or griddle without oil), and thus we call it a gordita, which means, I guess, lil’ fatty. Venezuelan arepas and Salvadoran pupusas are similar, though not exactly the same – that’s sort of like me comparing a Chicago-style hot dog to a Detroit-style Coney dog – they’re superficially similar enough, but it’s a specious enough comparison that, if I spoke it aloud, would probably get me punched in the face. WITH THAT IN MIND:
Lil’ Homemade Gorditas (chubby tortillettes*)
Makes two or three pretty chubby gorditas
- 1 cup masa harina
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- vegetable oil as needed, for pan-frying
* that is a word I made up.
- Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually add water until the mixture comes together in a somewhat crumbly dough – go a little beyond this, but not too much. It can be damp, but not gooey.
- Begin heating a non-stick pan with a little bit of oil in it.
- Shape the masa dough into little rounds with your hands (no need for a tortilla press or rolling pin here), and smack them back and forth between your palms until you have little discs about a quarter- to a half-inch thick – quite thick, as far as these things go.
- Plop a gordita into the hot oil and fry gently over medium heat, 3 to 4 minutes per side, until golden brown, crispy, and delicious. Drain on paper towels and serve with marvelous things. It may also be possible, if the masa gods smile on you, to split the gordita in half like a pita and stuff it with things. But I believe that takes time, practice, and proper obeisance to Quetzalcoatl, so we’ll cover that another time.