Thursday, April 25, 2013

Duck and Mushroom Ravioli in creamy Mushroom sauce

Lately there are forces at work that try to upset my little happy world; I have been kicking real hard not to let them.  Today, however, I am walking around with a Cheshire smile on my face and nothing and no one can dampen my mood no matter how hard they try.  It is no secret that travel makes me the happiest and that while I am in a trip planning mode I go into my own Zen world and do not want to come out.  I finalized my summer trip to Italy today and now I get to immerse myself in the details.  I get to dive into travel books and websites and plan site seeing and food experiences with obsessive vigor.  I get to live and breathe the place I am going to long before I get there and for me this is almost as good as finally getting there.  If you immerse yourself in trip planning you can extend your trips for month ahead… and of course every trip last a lifetime in your memories.
Most existing, for this blog, is that I may actually get a chance to cook abroad, which is something I always wanted to do.  Walking around great markets of London and Spain I almost cried because I couldn’t buy anything that would not lend itself to suitcase travel.  How I wanted to bring home some of the most beautiful wild mushrooms or gorgeous cheeses or freshest seafood, but I don’t believe that a hotel kitchen would mush appreciate my cooking aspirations.   This time around I am booking rental properties instead of hotels and will have a full use of my own kitchen, so hopefully I will get to experiment a bit with the local ingredients.  This would really add a nice touch to my usual” travels and tastes” blogs.
In anticipation of the great Italian trip I am going to do this year, I am making one last meal of pasta that can be qualified as “winter comfort”.  One last fatty, starchy, creamy, before the sun comes out and the trees fully bloom.  One last decadent entry before I have to put on the bathing suit and switch to light Rose wines and salads.  Let us eat Ravioli!
With a few leftovers and some fresh ingredients here is a new Italian favorite.
Duck and Mushroom stuffed Ravioli in creamy brown butter and sage sauce.
For the filling:
½ lbs of leftover duck meat chopped (I had some leftover cooked duck meat, but any other leftovers such as a roasted chicken or beef roast will do.  You can also omit the meat altogether.)
½ lb of button mushrooms chopped
1 cup + ½ cup for garnish of chopped shitake mushrooms
1 large shallot chopped
½ cup of chopped spring onion ( or sweet Spanish onion)
Handful of fresh thyme
1 tbs of fresh sage chopped + 6-7 strands for the sauce
½ cup of shredded assiago cheese or parmesan
Olive oil
A pinch of sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the sauce
1 stick of butter
6-7 strands of fresh sage
½ lb of fresh mushrooms sliced (you can use any kind of mushrooms that are not too strong flavored)
¼ cup of dry white wine
2 tbs of Marsala wine
1 cup half-and-half

For garnish
3 strips of plain or duck bacon
½ cup of shitake mushrooms chopped or julienned
Few leaves of fresh sage
Salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the filling.  In a large skillet preheat a few tablespoons of olive oil, sauté the mushrooms on medium-high flame until nicely browned.  Lower the heat to low, add the shallot and the onion and sprinkle with sugar.  Cook on low heat until the onion is soft and begins to brown.  Add the chopped meat, herbs and seasoning.  Cook until the mixture is nicely browned.  Let it cool slightly and transfer to a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Let cool, and then stir in the cheese.

Fill the ravioli and seal them, feel free to make them as large or little as you want.  I wanted slightly larger shapes for this recipe as I wanted to taste more of the filling; in hindsight I will make them a bit smaller next time.
If not using right away, you can freeze your pasta on flat boards lined with wax paper.  Once frozen transfer to the zip-top bag and store in your freezer.  When ready to use, just drop them still frozen into the boiling water and allow an additional cooking time (usually no more than an additional minute)

Prepare the garnish.  Chop or julienne the bacon into thin strips  and fry on medium heat until crispy.  Set aside.  In the same skillet using the bacon fat (you can discard some of it if you feel there is too much), brown the mushrooms until fairly crispy.  Toss together with bacon, season if needed and let cool.  Chop some sage and toss to combine.
When ready to assemble, make the sauce.  In a medium sauce pan melt the butter, add the sage strands and cook on low heat until the butter begins to brown and smell nutty.  Turn off the heat and let cool without taking the sage out, you want to infuse the herb flavor as much as possible.

In a large skillet, add a few teaspoons of olive oil and brown the mushrooms without salting them.  When nice and brown add both wines and let the mixture cook out on medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half.  Add cream or half and half and seasoning.  Discard the sage leaves from the brown butter; slowly whisk the butter into the mushroom sauce.  Cook for a minute on low heat whisking continually.  Adjust seasoning if needed
Boil a large pot of water, salt it generously and drop your ravioli.  Cook to aldente ( exact time will depend on size and thickness of your pasta).  With a slotted spoon transfer to the mushroom cream sauce and cook on low heat additional 30-40 seconds. 
Serve with sauce and garnish with bacon, mushroom and sage mixture. Add a bit of assiago or parmesan cheese on top as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Labne and Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Sour Cherry compote and Granola

I am a planner… I really meticulous planner… down to the very last detail and if for some reason things do not go as planned I get pissed, confused and then pissed again.  I am very enticed by the concept of “spur of the moment” as long as it was planned… I do fully realize that it makes me freaky and inflexible, but I figure leopards don’t change their spots so it is too late to fix me now.   On top of being an obsessive planner I seem to have developed memory lapses probably due to a complete mind overload, which is my life.  So now I am the worst kind of a planner, the one who cannot remember what she planned. 
When I go grocery shopping I need to have at least an overall idea of what I am cooking or what am I looking for.  If I do not, I sometimes end up with a bazaar basket of disjointed products just because they looked good or interesting.  It is almost like coming home with a “Chopped” basket, what the hell do you do with baby bananas, sword fish wild mushrooms on the same day?  It could be fun to come up on a fly with ways to use these but I am a planner, so I stick with the planned… this means that all of these obscure ingredients sit in my pantry or fridge and grow mold, because they somehow did not fit into my intent.  I hate to waste good food, so sometimes I bite the bullet and try and come up with dishes based on what I have, not what I aimed for. 
Recently I stared at buttermilk and labne in my fridge and wondered what the hell was I thinking when I bought it.  I might have had something in mind but I couldn’t remember what it was and I mentally searched through my typical dishes that I normally use these for…fried chicken, pancakes, green-goddess dip…? None of the usual suspects were supported by anything else I had on hand, so I kept on ignoring the two jars in the fridge until the expiration date was almost upon me.  I could bear the thought of throwing something out just because it didn’t fit into my menu so I came up with a quick and easy way to use them…. Labne and Buttermilk Panna Cotta. 
Labne is a Middle Eastern strained yogurt, it similar to Greek yogurt but is tangier and unlike sour cream it is heavier in texture, almost like cheese.  Buttermilk is of course a great tangy and versatile ingredient and I sometimes substitute part of milk with it just to give something another level of flavor.
Panna Cotta is an Italian milk pudding which ideally should be made with freshest, best tasting milk and cream.  I first had it in Florence and I can still remember not too sweet desert that tasted of pure raw milk…  Since I am unlikely to find milk this good at the Stop n Shop, I went into the buttermilk and labne round.  Topped with homemade sour cherry compote and granola, it was not to sweet, decadent and a good finish to a Sunday dinner. 
Labne and Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Sour Cherry compote and Granola
Makes about 8 3 oz deserts
1.5 cup of Labne ( you can use Plain Greek yogurt as well)
2 cups Buttermilk
¾ cup of heavy cream
¼ cup of milk
1 cup sugar
3 tbs honey
2 packets of gelatin (or about 1.5 tbs)

For the Cherry compote
2 cups fresh or frozen sour cherries (pitted)
1 cup sugar
½ lemon sliced
1/3 cup of water

Whisk the labne, buttermilk and honey and set aside.  In a small sauce pan, combine cream, milk and sugar and heat until very hot but not boiling and the sugar is fully dissolved.  Whisk in the gelatin and stir until it is fully dissolved.  Pour the cream mixture into the buttermilk mixture slowly and constantly whisking.  Whisk until smooth.  Pour immediately into small ramekins, desert dishes or wine glasses and let set in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hrs or until set.  This can be done a day ahead of serving.
Make the compote by combining all of the ingredients and brining to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the consistency is between jam and syrup.  The liquid should start coating the back of the spoon but still flow freely when chilled. 
When ready to serve, top each panna cotta with the cherry compote (at room temperature or slightly warmer) and homemade granola for crunch (you can see my recipe for healthy granola here).