Friday, October 23, 2015

Easy Ravioli

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Lemon Thyme Ravioli tossed in Olive Oil flavored with Fried Sage, Course-ground Black Pepper & French Sea Salt

For many Italians, what I am about to describe is blasphemy. But, at least one Italian grandmother I know is willing to admit that she subscribes to the quick-and-dirty way that I sometimes use to make ravioli.

The controversy surrounds the use of wonton wrappers as the pasta for the ravioli. There are plenty of people out there that say that pasta doesn’t take that much (active) time to make. While this may be true for those accustomed to daily pasta preparation, it is not true for those who attempt it once a year (or never).

The key is to find a good quality wonton wrapper (in the refrigerator section) that has not been on the shelf forever. Also, despite the fact that nearly all wonton wrappers claim that they can be frozen and thawed later for use, I would STRONGLY caution you not to do this. I did this for the ravioli that I made on this occasion. The pasta is packaged with a light dusting of flour or cornstarch between the layers. The moisture created during the thawing process was enough to turn the starch separating the usually, easy to peel apart layers into glue. I managed to make my ravioli, but it was much more of a struggle than it was during previous times with fresher, never frozen, product.

As a generally die-hard, make things from scratch person, why do I sometimes use wontons wrappers as my pasta for ravioli? Like most people, I am busy. If I waited until I had enough time and forethought to make the pasta from scratch, as well as a delectable, usually slow-cooked filling…well, I wouldn’t have ravioli very often.

This time, when the mood struck me, I looked around the house to see what I had and the best option was a fresh, local butternut squash that I’d gotten from the farmer’s market, along with some sweet onions, and herbs from the garden.

The final dish: Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Lemon Thyme Ravioli tossed in Olive Oil flavored with Fried Sage, Course-ground Black Pepper & French Sea Salt. It was amazing, so I thought I’d share both my cheater approach to ravioli and this excellent local, fall recipe with you.

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Lemon Thyme Ravioli

Ravioli Ingredients
1 medium-sized butternut squash (or leftover, roasted squash)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 medium yellow or white onion, halved and sliced ¼-inch thick
2 teaspoons chopped lemon thyme (or 1-1/2 teaspoons regular fresh thyme)
Kosher or Sea Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red wine (or other) vinegar
1 package wonton wrappers (round or square)

Sauce/Serving Ingredients
¼-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (1 Tablespoon for each serving)
1 handful fresh sage leaves per 2 servings
Aged balsamic vinegar, optional
Fresh, coarsely ground black pepper
Kosher or sea salt

2 half-sheet pans lined with wax paper, parchment paper, or Silpats
Plastic wrap to cover pans
Small dish of room temperature water
A teaspoon
Large skillet


     1. Peel squash 

    2. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard seeds.

     3. Cut into 1” cubes. Place cubed squash in a 9x13 glass baking dish and cover with plastic wrap (make sure that the plastic doesn't touch the food). Cook in 2-3 minute intervals, stirring after each interval, until fork is easily inserted into the flesh. Cool. This can be done a day or two ahead. Alternatively, you can use leftover roasted squash.

     4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat, then add sliced onions. Cook covered, stirring every 3-5 minutes until just starting to caramelize. This will take 15-20 minutes. 

Sliced onions just beginning to caramelize

     5. Add cubed squash, fresh thyme, and a few dashes of salt and pepper; stir for 30 seconds just to coat all ingredients and release the fragrance of the thyme.

                         How to Prepare Fresh Thyme for Cooking

6. Add the squash-onion mixture to a food processor (or you can use a hand mixer) and add vinegar. 

7. Puree (or mix) until most of the squash is mashed. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

8. As shown in the video below, coat sheet pans with either wax paper, parchment paper, or Silpats. Lay a single layer of wonton wrappers on pans until you’ve used half of the wrappers. Spoon a teaspoon of the squash filling into the center of each piece of pasta. Dip your finger into the dish of water and use it to moisten the entire edge of a piece of pasta. Being careful not to leave air bubbles, lay another piece of pasta on the top of the ravioli and smooth the entire edge with your finger. Repeat for all ravioli.

                            Easy Homemade Ravioli Video 

9. Cover sheet pans with plastic wrap and set off to the side as you prepare the rest of the meal or freeze. If freezing, once completely frozen, remove ravioli from sheet pans and place into airtight bag or container in freezer.

10. To prepare sage and oil: heat at least 1/4 cup of olive oil (you will use 1 tablespoon per serving) over medium heat in a small saucepan or very small skillet; once hot, drop 1 handful of sage leaves into oil and stand back in case the oil pops. After 5-10 seconds, use a fork or slotted spoon to remove sage leaves and transfer to a plate covered with a towel to drain oil. Salt the fried sage leaves. Repeat if you have more sage. You will need 1 handful of fried sage per 2 servings.

11. To prepare ravioli for serving: clean skillet and fill at least ½ way with water. Cover pot and bring to boil. Salt water to the saltiness of the ocean and then gently drop ravioli into the pan in a single layer. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil. If fresh, cook 2-3 minutes, if frozen cook 4-5 minutes.

12. Remove each ravioli from the pot gently, draining water. Arrange 3-6 ravioli on a plate. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil used to fry sage leaves and (optional) a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Crumble a generous amount of fried sage over the dish. Sprinkle with salt and coarsely-ground black pepper. Serve immediately

Finished Ravioli topped with Crumbled Fried Sage Leaves, Extra-virgin Olive Oil, Coarsely-ground Black Pepper & French Sea Salt

Makes: 24-28 ravioli (six small servings, 4 regular servings).

Bonus: There is enough squash puree left over to use as a side dish for 3-4 people at another meal; use instead of mashed potatoes. You can freeze and reheat leftover squash puree later as well.

Make ahead: squash can be leftover or made a day or two ahead. See #5, above, for freezing instructions for ravioli.

Alternatives: You can use any filling or sauce that you wish with this method of making ravioli. Other great fillings include ratatouille, wild mushroom and thyme, and sundried tomato and herb.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Eat your greens—the versatile kale salad

Leftover salad that tastes even better the next day? Yes, it’s possible.

Enter the kale salad.

Fall Kale Salad: Fig-Balsamic Vinaigrette, Roasted Heirloom Winter Squash,  Pecans, Pomegranate, & Black Mission Figs

For many foodies, kale salad is “so last year,” but when it comes to your health this is not a recipe that should be taken out of rotation. 

In every serving (1 heaping cup) of the Fall Kale Salad recipe below, there is 4 days’ worth of vitamin A, nearly 3 days’ worth of vitamin C, 20% each of your daily calcium and iron, 7g each of daily protein and fiber needs, 377mg of omega-3’s, and nearly half a months’ worth of vitamin K! Kale is also a good source of B vitamins (including folate), magnesium, and potassium.

As is usually the case, the recipes I post are a product of what is in season locally (including what is growing in my yard) and what is leftover in my refrigerator or stocked in my pantry. Don’t give up on the recipe if you don’t have all of the ingredients or they are expensive in your area! Below the recipe is a long list of substitutions that you can use to tailor this recipe to your taste, the season, and the ingredients you already have (or easily have access to).

Happy cooking and healthy eating!

Fall Kale Salad*

Ingredients-Salad Base
1 bunch of curly kale (the type most commonly seen at the grocery store)
Approximately 1-1/2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (aged is best)
1-1/2 teaspoons fig jam, honey, or other sweetener
Approximately 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup cubed roasted or baked winter squash (acorn, butternut, or kabocha)
6-10 ripe figs, sliced or cubed
Arils of ½ medium pomegranate (see the Knife Skills #3: Pomegranates to see how to remove the arils from the fruit)
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 -1/2 cup roasted, chopped walnuts or pecans

1.     Rinse kale and dry with a salad spinner or towel. Fold kale leaves in half so that the ribs are on one side and the curly part of the leaf is on the other; slice the ribs off with a knife and discard. Chop the leaves into roughly 1-2” square pieces and put into a large mixing bowl.

2.     Drizzle kale with the vinegar, sweetener, and oil. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, then “massage.” This means grab handfuls of the kale mixture, make a fist to crush the leaves in you hand, then release. Repeat until all leaves are glistening and the volume of kale in the bowl is reduced by 1/3-1/2. Add more salt and pepper midway through this process.

3.     Taste one of the pieces of kale and adjust with vinegar, oil, salt and pepper until you achieve a flavor that tastes good to you (i.e. if too acidic add more oil, if not acidic enough add more vinegar, if the flavor doesn’t stand out after that add a bit more salt and pepper). As with all salads, you should have enough dressing just to coat the leaves but not pool in the bottom of the bowl.

4.     Mix in toppings and serve.

Serves: 6 medium-sided or 4 large salads

Storage: This salad tastes great for 2 days after you make it, so make it ahead or make extra to take for lunch the following day.

*Alternative Kale Salad Ingredients
Below are substitutions that you can make to the salad recipe above to create different flavors or make use of other ingredients you have at home.

Alternative Ingredients
·      Substitute other greens for the curly kale, including:
o   Swiss chard, other types of kale, or shredded collard greens.
·      Substitute another acidic ingredient for the balsamic vinegar, including:
o   Lemon/lime or orange juice, or other vinegars.
·      Substitute another sweetener, including:
o   Agave, honey, different jam, brown sugar, maple syrup.
·      Add other ingredients to the salad base/dressing, including:
o   Dijon or whole grain mustard, tahini or nut butters, herbs, spices.
·      Substitute different toppings, including:
o   Other fruit (apples, pears, orange slices, mango, berries, dried cranberries or other dried fruit),
o   Other vegetables (shredded carrots, cucumbers, peppers, artichoke hearts, avocado, radishes, sprouts, scallions, shallots, red cabbage, fennel, roasted Brussels sprouts),
o   Other nuts or seeds (pine nuts, sesame seeds, shaved coconut, macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews).
·      Add other ingredients to the toppings:
o   Legumes/Beans (edamame or other beans),
o   Grated or shaved hard cheeses (parmesan, asiago) or crumbled feta,
o   Cooked whole grain (quinoa, brown rice, etc.),
o   Croutons, fried strips of tortillas or wontons.