Linguine with Fresh Spinach, Red Pepper, and Lemon

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I love going to the grocery store; I do it several times a week, if only for a few things. I know, I know, it is poor planning on my part, but I enjoy weaving through the aisles, checking out new and interesting ingredients I may have missed during my previous visit. I recall going to the grocery store with my dad when I was small. He would take a list with everything we needed but inevitably, we’d return home with something he wanted. I remember riding in the cart or walking alongside my dad down every aisle in the grocery store. He’d take his time, selecting a bottle of this, or a jar of that, turning it over in his hands, considering its use, before returning it to the shelf or placing it in our cart. Mom never really knew what he’d bring home. Sometimes it was a jar of pickled herring, sometimes it was a new mustard, and sometimes it was a package of cookies he’d open on the drive home for the two of us to sample.

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Three-Cheese Tortellini with Parmesan Broth

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What do you think of this artsy photo of my tortellini??  Pretty yummy looking.  Am I right??

I woke up yesterday thinking, “Today I will make pasta.”  I wanted to challenge myself and make a style of pasta I’ve never tried before.  Tortellini it was.

Now, I know that if I had a tortellini craving I could just shop the freezer section of my local market, but why do that when fresh pasta tastes infinitely better??  And besides, fresh pasta is so simple to make.  All you need is flour, eggs, salt, and a little patience and elbow grease.

As for the filling, typically tortellini is filled with a meat or cheese mixture.  I decided to go with a trio of cheeses – ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Asiago.  I love the silky texture of ricotta, and I love the salty bite that Asiago and Parmigiano-Reggiano provide.  Fresh parsley is a natural choice in terms of herbs, and I added a touch of freshly grated nutmeg to warm up the flavor a bit.  After a few grinds of black pepper and a little kosher salt, my filling was done.  Super delicious, super fast and easy, and you can spread the leftover mixture on slices of toasted baguette for a snack!  Yum!

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Making fresh pasta shouldn’t be intimidating.  Really.  I mean, you get to use your hands and mix things up!  It’s easy, and once you do it a few times, you’ll have the feeling for it and from then on you’ll choose fresh over frozen or dried pasta any chance you can.

The only warning I’ll give to you is that making fresh pasta can be a little time-consuming.  So, your best bet is to make it when you have a couple of hours to spare, or you can always make it the night before and store it covered in the fridge prior to rolling it out.

It helps if you have a pasta attachment for your stand mixer, or even a counter-clamp pasta machine like this.  If not, a rolling pin will have to suffice.  Don’t fret, it’ll be fine.

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It is important to let your dough rest for at least 30 minutes after you have kneaded it.  This allows the gluten to develop and as a result, the dough becomes more pliable.  Some might say otherwise, but why not take advantage and give yourself a rest while you’re at it?

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Ricotta Gnocchi

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I have been so behind on posts lately!  Ack!  I’m sorry.  Hopefully, this super simple recipe for ricotta gnocchi will make up for my absence.  I made this not long ago and served it with roasted broccoli and it was delicious.  It had the flavor of ricotta cheese and maintained its pillowy texture – not heavy at all.

Most gnocchi is made with potatoes, but frankly, the prep for potato gnocchi was way too time consuming for that particular night.  Ricotta it was!

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All that is required for this recipe is one bowl and a large floured surface – and some patience.  Because the dough itself is a bit soft, you’ll need to flour your hands well and make sure the surface is floured, in order to roll the dough into ropes.  Be patient and don’t worry about the way they look.  They’ll taste amazing.

As for the ricotta – go for whole milk ricotta when choosing at the store.  It’ll be thicker and have more flavor.  If you find that there is a lot of liquid in the container when you open it, dump the whole lot into a fine mesh strainer and let it drain.  The less liquid, the easier it’ll come together.

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Too Busy To Cook??

Yes…it’s true.  The past two weeks have been two of the busiest weeks so far this year.  School is really throwing down and it seems like just when I have it all under control, my classes knock me down again.  Oh, and I should mention our furnace died earlier this week and it’s winter in the midwest.  Stressed!  Fear not, though, as a new furnace is being installed at this very moment!

My sincere apologies to all of you dear and devoted readers.  You are out there, right?

I have only made a few things worth sharing in the last two weeks – ramen and some lovely snacks I brought to an Oscar party.

The ramen:

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Now, this dish was no easy feat.  Just ask David Chang, as it was his recipe I followed.  I’m absolutely loving my Momofuku Cookbook and I’ve been trying to make at least one thing from it every week.  The ramen broth was quite an ordeal.  I had to order five pounds of pork bones from the butcher and then wait.  And wait.  After about five days, I got the call that they were ready.  I had all the other necessary ingredients: kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, scallions, chicken legs, smoky bacon, onion, and carrots.  I couldn’t wait.  Into the oven went the pork bones!

Before:

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After:

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Just let me tell you, after all was said and done, after all the roasting, simmering, and waiting – the flavor of the broth was divine.  I wish I could hug David Chang and thank him for bringing something so amazing into my life.

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Homemade Ricotta & Quail Egg Ravioli

Sometimes I wonder if Scott thinks I like to pretend I’m on Iron Chef when I’m preparing a meal.  I say this because the other afternoon, I sent him out to pick up some ingredients for a vegetable stir-fry I was planning.  Upon his return, he presented surprised me with a container of quail eggs.  He said to me, “I figured you could do something with these.”

Clearly, they weren’t going in my stir-fry, so they would have to chill for a day in the fridge while I gave it some thought.  It didn’t take long before I remembered seeing (on Iron Chef, perhaps) someone put a lovely, golden quail egg yolk inside of a ravioli.  Oh yes.  This is what I was going to do.  But not just any ravioli.  A ravioli made by hand, and stuffed with homemade herbed ricotta cheese.

I apologize for the poor photo quality.  Someday I’ll get a better camera.

So, I set out to make my own ricotta, which was super easy.  It had a lovely and light citrus flavor from the lemon juice, and the texture was super silky.  Waaay better than anything you could buy at the store.

Bring whole milk and heavy cream to 190ºF, remove from heat, add lemon juice.

Place mixture in cheesecloth in a strainer set over a bowl.  Let sit for up to 2 hours.

Voila!  Ricotta!  Add whatever herbs you have on hand.  I added thyme, dill, tarragon, parsley, and cilantro.

Every time I make pasta, I start with a new recipe in the hopes that it’ll be the one I will use forever.  Sometimes I make it in the food processor, and sometimes I make it by hand.  The amount of flour varies, as well as the number of eggs.  This time, I wanted to try a very eggy pasta from, you guessed it, Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

Simple ingredients = the best food.

Perhaps I made my well too big? 

Slowly and deliberately, the dough came together.

I let the dough rest for about an hour and then I rolled it out using the attachment for my stand mixer.  The consistency of this dough is outstanding; it’s tough, yet pliable.  I was able to run it through the thinnest setting of my roller without it tearing.  Deb, this is now my go-to recipe for pasta dough.  Thank you!

Onto the quail eggs.  The tiniest of eggs.  Frankly, I had no idea how to even open one.  Yes, they are eggs, but their size intimidated me.  I knew that I had to separate the whites from the yolks for this particular recipe, so I had to be very careful not to break the yolk as I tried to open them.

Once opened, the yolk separated from the white relatively easily, and I gently placed each one in a little divot I made in the ricotta.

Before I knew it, I had eight lovely ravioli stuffed with my very own herbed ricotta and the littlest of yolks.  Simply divine.

Scott and I enjoyed these with a simple green salad, and I topped the ravioli with brown butter, pine nuts, and freshly grated Parmesan.

Homemade Herbed Ricotta
Makes about 1 cup – recipe easily doubles.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, I used Maldon
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream, and salt into a large saucepan.  Attach a candy/deep fry thermometer to the side.  Heat the milk mixture to 190ºF, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t scorch.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice.  Stir it once or twice, gently and slowly.  Let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a fine mesh sieve or colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl.  Pour the mixture into the strainer and let sit for 2 hours.  It’ll firm up as it cools.  Discard the whey, and add your ricotta to an airtight container.

Chop up a handful of fresh herbs (1/2 cup or so, or more or less depending on your taste)
You can use all the same herb, like basil, or you can mix it up like I did and use whatever you have on hand.
I used tarragon, parsley, dill, cilantro, and thyme.

Add the herbs to the ricotta along with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper, and sea salt to taste.  Mix together and adjust seasonings based on your taste.  Refrigerate until ready to use in ravioli.

You can also just leave the ricotta plain and spread it on slices of toasted baguette or use it in lasagna.  It should save quite nicely for at least 3-4 days in the refrigerator. 


Pasta Night

So, the other day, Scott and I stood in the kitchen and discussed how many foods have a “night” of their own during the week?  Meaning, par exemple, when say, Thursday rolls around, is it Taco Night or Chicken Night or Chili Night in your house?  When I was growing up, we most definitely had “nights” devoted to certain foods or dishes.  I can recall Taco Night, for sure.  It usually consisted of ground beef with a taco seasoning packet mixed in, along with several bowls filled with various accompaniments (shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, onions, shredded cheese, and of course, salsa.  I loved Taco Night.  I got to eat with my hands and customize my own dining experience!  What’s not to love?

One night that most families have (I’m sure) is some form of Pasta Night.  For my family, it was Spaghetti Night, but for others, perhaps you’re looking at Lasagna or Alfredo Night.  Who knows?  The point is, from time to time it’s good to have nights devoted to certain dishes.  Not only does it make menu planning a breeze, it also drastically simplifies grocery shopping.  Besides, it’s fun to look forward to your favorite “night,” isn’t it?

As you may or may not know, for my birthday Scott gifted me a pasta-making attachment for my KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  It is divine.  I adore it, and it is why I look forward to Pasta Night at our house.  More specifically, Ravioli Night.  Oh yes, and I think I have found the most perfect pasta dough recipe!  It is made with a mixture of both all-purpose flour AND cake flour.  That’s right, cake flour!  I was skeptical as well, but you know me, I’m always willing to try something new in the kitchen!  The cake flour supplied the lightness pasta needs and contributed to its delicate mouthfeel.  This is definitely my go-to dough recipe from now on!

Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats homemade ravioli, but getting there is labor-intensive.  You have to want it.  You will not be sorry, though.  Just start early, and allow yourself some time to make the mistakes you will inevitably make.  Take deep breaths and I promise you, all will work out.  Add this recipe to your weekly dinner rotation.  Give it its own night.  You won’t regret it.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Ravioli
adapted from Gourmet, 2007

For Pasta:

2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water

For Filling:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 pound baby arugula, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (4.5-5oz) soft goat cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

For Sauce:

1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/3 cup pine nuts (1.5 oz)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped arugula

To make pasta:

***Note:  I use a food processor to make my pasta dough.  I know, I know, I should probably be making it by hand on my marble board.  But you know what?  This is simpler, cleaner, and the dough turns out just as lovely.

Blend together all the dough ingredients in the food processor just until it starts to form a ball.  Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  You can add just enough flour to keep it from sticking.  Wrap the dough in cling film and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour. 

***Note:  If, for any reason, you’re going to be leaving the house, or you’re starting this dough early in the day, place it in the fridge to chill, but make sure to let it come to room temp before you start working with it.  It’ll make rolling easier.

Make filling while dough stands:

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add the arugula and zest and cook, turning with tongs, until arugula is wilted, about 2-4 minutes.  Transfer arugula mixture to a colander or fine-mesh strainer and press with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out any extra liquid.

Make ravioli:

***Note:  Yes, you can do this with a rolling pin, it’ll just take a lot longer.  But, if you have a pasta maker or a tabletop pasta roller, use it. 

Cut dough into 8 equal pieces.  Cover 7 pieces with cling film and gently pat out remaining piece into a flat rectangle.  Dust generously with flour.

Set rollers of pasta maker on widest setting.  Feed rectangle, short side first, through rollers.  Fold rectangle in thirds, like a letter, and feed it, a short side first, through rollers.  Repeat 6 or 7 more times, folding dough in thirds and feeding it through rollers, a short side first each time, dusting with flour to prevent sticking.  Turn dial to next (narrower) setting and feed dough through rollers without folding, a short side first.  Continue to feed dough through without folding, making space between rollers narrower each time, until the second to narrowest setting is used.  When we made this, we stopped on number 5 – we found this was just thin enough not to tear when filled.

Put sheet of dough on a lightly floured kitchen towel with a long side nearest you.  Drop 3 or 4 rounded teaspoon size mounds of filling 1.5-inches apart in a row down the center of the right half of sheet, then lift left half of sheet and drape it over the mounds.  Press down firmly but gently around each mound, forcing out air.  Cut pasta between mounds with a knife (for square) or round cutter.  Line a large baking sheet with another kitchen towel, then arrange the ravioli in 1 layer.  If your round cutter doesn’t already have a crimper built in, then just run the tines of a fork around the outer edge of each ravioli.  Continue with the remaining dough and filling.

Make sauce:

Heat butter in a cleaned 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook pine nuts, stirring frequently, until pale golden, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes.  Add lemon juice and oil, swirling skillet to combine, and remove from heat (leave sauce in skillet).

Cook ravioli:

Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle boil.  While water is heating, reheat sauce over low heat if necessary.

Add half of ravioli (we only boiled half of what we originally made – we froze the rest) to gently boiling water, carefully stirring to separate, and cook, adjusting heat to keep at a gentle boil, until pasta is just tender 2-4 minutes.  Lift cooked ravioli with a slotted spoon, draining well over pot, then transfer to skillet with sauce and gently swirl skillet to coat pasta.  Transfer ravioli carefully to serving plates (or bowls).  Spoon a little sauce over the ravioli and sprinkle with chopped fresh arugula.