Sunday, November 22, 2009

ravioli bites and an afternoon delight

I've definitely been burnt-out the past weeks of culinary school. Due to extreme time constraints and perpetually thinking on my feet, I've been anxiously awaiting a low-pressure class where I could simply have some fun doing what I love: playing with flavors.

Our Fusion class was just that- an assignment of random, crazy International cuisine partnerings with a course to pair it with.
My first drawing: French, Asian, Appetizer

Dish: Currant Brie Turnover with Garam Masala Sauce

I grabbed a wonton skin and delicately filled it with sliced, rich Brie, toasted almonds and currants soaked in fresh orange juice. After I sealed the dumplings, I deep-fried them while I concocted my sauce. For the sauce, I combined garam masala, olive oil, honey and orange juice in a food processor and spooned it aside the fried dumplings.

My second drawing: French, English, Dessert

Dish: Peppercorn and Raspberry Preserve Parfait with a Tarragon Cream and Bacon

For this dish, I wanted to do a play on an English trifle but forgot the necessary ingredient in a trifle: a layer of soaked cake. When I presented my mini-dessert, I referred to it as a parfait. The ingredients were sweet, salty and tangy.

My third drawing: Asian, Southwestern, Soup

Dish: Apple Celery Broth with Poached Apples, Green Cabbage and a Steamed Apple and Queso Fresco Dumpling

When I drew this dish, I immediately wanted to develop a broth-based soup pulling more of an Asian fusion with a touch of Southwestern. The base of the broth was a vegetable stock enriched with sauteed aromatics, celery and apples then strained to a clear, tasty broth. I finished the broth with the poached dumpling, poached apples and thinly-sliced green cabbage.

My fourth drawing: Russian, English, Amuse Bouche

Dish: Beer-Battered Fried Sausage with Capers, Beets and a Lemon Aioli

During our mise en place, my tablemate Eric made a delicious looking beer batter and suggested I coat a slice of sausage for this dish. Great idea- I paired the rich bite of sausage atop a thin slice of beet with a drizzle of tart, lemon aioli and briny capers.

My fifth drawing: Russian, Southwestern, Salad

Dish: Thin-Sliced Cucumber with a Jalapeno Dill Dressing, Lemon and Toasted Fennel Seeds

I liked the flavor combinations in this salad but I didn't execute it well. My dressing was under seasoned and the fennel seeds were too abundant.

Although we were only required to draw 5 pairings, I finished two more plates within the time constraint. I first rolled spring rolls with an Asian French influence and spicy dipping sauce. I was then handed Treacle by our head chef- a bitter, molasses-like British condiment. My final dish was:

Warm Treacle-Glazed Tomato Salad with Fried Basil

The cherry tomatoes in this dish were added to a scorching saute pan, quickly sauteed then glazed with a drizzle of Treacle. The basil provided color, flavor and provided a hit of fat in the dish.

Also this weekend, I was able to visit Z's Cafe in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center with Ms. Fort Worth Foodie and a friend from the Tarrant Area Food Bank. We met with Carlo, the adorable General Manager and son of head chef and owner, Janet Z. Capua. Amongst tarragon chicken salad, lovely peach sweet tea and brownies with fresh fruit, our al fresco afternoon lunch was calming and quaint.

After lunch, the three of us visited the brand-new eco-friendly boutique in Fort Worth: The Greener Good. Owned and operated by past co-worker of mine, Elizabeth, and her husband Bryan, this new local addition is fresh, chic and good for the environment. I left with a gorgeous silver bowl made from recycled plastics and hand-spun in a tiny village in Nepal- a perfect vessel for my beloved Cowtown Farmers Market produce.

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I took advantage of local spaghetti squash, delicata squash, onions and scallions to create a hearty homemade pasta dish boasting fall flavors:

Homemade Winter Squash Ravioli with Fresh Oregano, Crispy Pancetta and Ricotta Salata

For ravioli filling:

1 large spaghetti squash, seeds and skin removed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 small delicata squash, seeds and skin removed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T red pepper flakes
2 T chopped fresh oregano for roasting squash plus an additional T for filling
1/4 c cream cheese
salt to taste

Toss squash with oil, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and salt on a roasting sheet pan until liberally coated. Roast at 425 degrees until browned and softened, about 45 minutes. When squash is cool enough to handle, mash with cream cheese, additional fresh oregano and salt with a fork. Set aside.

For pasta:

4 rolled fresh pasta sheets
approximately 25 wonton skins
egg wash to seal pasta or wontons

Lay pasta sheets out as shown and fill with about a tablespoon of filling. Or, fill an individual wonton wrapper with a tablespoon of filling. Seal either with a brushed egg wash. Refrigerate raviolis until ready to use.

Pan Sauce:

1/2 stick butter
2 T chopped fresh oregano
1 T chopped fresh sage


4 slices of pancetta, pan-fried to render fat and crisp
1/2 c ricotta salata, crumbled

To assemble the final plate, simmer ravioli (I boiled half and froze the remaining uncooked ravioli) for approximately 3 minutes and add to pan with melted butter, salt and herbs and toss to coat. Plate ravioli beneath crumbled pancetta, ricotta salata and a grind of fresh-cracked pepper.

Yield: Approximately 25 raviolis (I cooked 10 for recipe and froze the rest for later use)

These are perfect for a winter supper with crusty bread and a simply-dressed green salad. This definitely satisfied my Thanksgiving craving- a full Thanksgiving review soon to come!


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