Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Word for the Day is "FLAVOR"......... MMmmmm!

I'm sitting here, talking to you while having some coffee and a piece of the New York Cheesecake Rene made Thursday, Mmmm rich and creamy with a hint of orange.... lovely (the only reason we still have some is that it must cool overnight before being consumed! He's really been into polishing his cooking skills since we decided to go to Culinary School), but it helps organize my thoughts, while putting together the ingredients of what will surely be a great evening meal..... I've always believed that anticipation is the key.....

Inspiration is funny. Sometimes I think one thing will be done and while looking through the old chill chest for the makings of it, I am taken on a totally different direction by a surprise ingredient. I love that! Regimented or predictable meals for some reason don't appeal too much to me and spur of the moment inspiration has given us some wonderful kitchen moments... I should also add that it helps having a wildly eclectic larder to chose from....

I had bought a large package of Won Ton Skins the other week when we were in the mood for Potstickers (which were really great by the way) and had quite a few left over, lurking in the door of the fridge wrapped in plastic, and all of a sudden tonight's meal came to me... Zap! Fond memories of trips long past came flooding into my mind while my taste buds told me I was on the right track. Plus, if you consider that using the wrappers instead of having to make the pasta from scratch will shave lots of time and make this a fast meal..... Add a salad and you're done. Ready, Set.... Go!

Ravioli..... a simple yet complicated little item that can be the simplest thing or can be taken all the way into the stratosphere. You can decide how basic or elaborate you want to get and it's another great "clean out the fridge" type meal since you can use leftovers for the filling and make them in all flavors. You can also have them as appetizers, a heavy meal, vegetarian, fried or tender, something delicate or even a decadent dessert. With so much flexibility how can you go wrong.

Based on the leftovers I found, our Raviolis would be in two flavors plus the dessert ones. For the main meal I found some leftover Moroccan Bastiya filling made with Ground Lamb, infused with cinnamon, almonds and raisins plus a little Ricotta and Ham, except that in order to make it different I will turn the Cheese and Ham one's into Tortellinis instead, so it will make it a totally different dish. For the dessert Raviolis it would be Nutella and Ricotta Apricot fillings.

Don't think that this will be a hard project, not at all. The meat Raviolis will be used flat, one square on the bottom with a teaspoon of filling in the center, topped with another square, then sealed. That's all. The Tortellinis are just as simple. Take a square of pasta and place the filling almost in the center, then fold over the top corner to make a triangle and seal. Now join the two points from the long side of the triangle and pinch together so you have a ring with the other point sticking up, right? Now fold the point that's sticking out back and down. Done! You've made Tortellinis. Don't forget Raviolis don't need to be in a particular shape either, it's your choice. Just make sure to press any air that's in the filling out so they will seal really well and put some water around half of the edges so they will stay closed.

You can use any sauce you like. (Another great way to use those leftover sauces sitting in the fridge) Traditional ones of course are Marinara, Tomato and Basil, Spicy Arrabiata, Pesto, White Cream Sauce (with Wine or not), Vodka or Cheese Sauce or Butter and Sage. Whatever you like is great. Or you could simply toss in good Olive Oil or Butter (Brown? Clarified?) and top with grated cheese. They can also be fried in oil and are great like this too, especially the dessert ones. YUM! These you can sprinkle with powdered sugar, cinnamon or serve alongside ice cream......

To finalize all this information: The Lamb Bastiya Raviolis will be accompanied with a Butter and Sage Sauce since the filling is rich and heavy with full flavor notes of cinnamon, almonds, raisins and the lamb. A salty, sweet, spiced combination that needed some mellowing and doesn't need any more flavors added to it so the Butter Sage Sauce will accomplish this nicely. The Ricotta, Garlic and Basil Tortellinis will have the Ham and Peas Cream Sauce to finish them off and the the dessert ones will get a different treatment: These I will fry until crispy and golden. Topped with fried mint leaves and powdered sugar and maybe served alongside ice cream.

Tortellini Cream Sauce.- A great basic sauce you can use on all things.... Worth geting familiar with since it will always be handy to have around.... You can omit the ham and peas and use it with wine instead of the cream and some Nutmeg or flavor it any way you like.

2 ounces Prosciutto (or ham)
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream (you can use half and half if you like)
Salt and pepper to taste (depends on your ham and taste)
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh green peas
Grated cheese to taste

Make a bechamel sauce by melting a tablespoon of butter and stirring in the flour with a whisk to keep lumps from forming. Cook until the mixture is a pale brown, then add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Continue cooking over a low flame until the sauce thickens somewhat, then stir in the cream, heat through, and set aside. Meanwhile, set the pasta to cook in salted water. Shred the ham and lightly saute it in a large skillet with the remaining butter. Add the peas to the prosciutto and cook for a couple of minutes, add the bechamel sauce and keep the sauce warm. When the pasta is almost done, turn the flame under the sauce to high, drain the pasta and finish cooking it by tossing in the sauce. Taste to adjust salt and pepper. Serve with grated cheese if you like.

Here's the recipe for the Dried Apricot and Amaretto Dessert Raviolis.- An easy and wonderful dessert that will please everyone! Fantastic for the holidays too!

6 ounces dried Apricots, chopped
1/4 cup Amaretto di Saronno
4 ounces cream cheese (1/2 a package), softened
1/2 - 1/4 cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios.... your choice), chopped
6 ounces white chocolate, melted (you could use dark too)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Soak the dried apricots in the Amaretto for abut half and hour. Drain the fruit well but reserve the Amaretto, you can use it for coffee later... Put the apricots in a blender or food processor along with the cream cheese, nuts, chocolate and cinnamon and blend until it gets incorporated. It will look like a thick paste. Use just a little less than a teaspoon of this filling in each Ravioli.

Once you've assembled all of the Raviolis, insuring no air inside and that they're well sealed, put about 1/4 inch of oil in a pan over med-high heat and bring to temperature. Fry the Raviolis about 4 at a time, carefully so they don't burn but get golden. Turn. Drain in either a colander or on paper towels and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Best if served warm.
NOTE: I'm sure you can think of many, many other fillings you can use for these, right? Almost anything will be great, from marmalade, cheeses, fruits, etc. They don't need to be fried all the time either, your choice there too.

I'm done, I've got everything organized and just need for dinnertime to come around so I can throw it all together, this is another reason why using leftovers is great, it's all done plus recycling always makes budgetary and logical sense, right? Hope I've given you some ideas for great and easy meals to come. Take care and I'll be reporting back soon.....

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