Valentine’s day! Beet Ravioli!

 I was originally planning on celebrating valentine’s day this upcoming Saturday - at work we’re doing a tasting for the holiday and I usually work Tuesdays anyway. But I got a text a little after midnight on Saturday with a schedule change.  After I groggily figured out what day it was (Sunday morning) and which week my boss was referring to (this one) I realized I’d be around for valentine’s with my partner and started thinking up a menu.  Beets are Sam’s favorite and since I had one dish pretty down pat (red wine-braised tempeh with apples and bowties), I figured I could go out on a limb and do some beet-filled agnolotti which I had never done before. The look is great for valentines day, but the flavors are immense anyday.

 

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Creamy Mushroom Lasagna with Hazelnuts and Rosemary

I’ll admit - this is almost straight out of the new york times.  The picture is theirs too, although mine looked even better. Lasagna is difficult for me just because it is one of few particularly fond food memories from growing up and so if the texture is too different - even if it’s good - it’s wrong.  I don’t even remember where I ever had really good lasagna, but somewhere in my memory is the perfect combination of crispy, fatty, crumbly, creamy, chewy, and, of course, silky pasta. The problem with vegan lasagna in particular is that there is very little that we have which is creamy, melts, and caramelizes, so you have to think a little about the different components and the way they work together, which is why I have yet to figure out a really good tomato-based lasagna.  Whatever - whenever I crack the code of vegan baked pastas, I plan to open a vegan lasagna kiosk where we serve 6 different kinds of Grade A lasagna (and a ziti!).  This one will definitely be on that menu.  

The hazelnuts in this - while obviously not resembling grated parmesan at all, seem to fill the same role: textural contrast; sorta-chewy, tasty fattiness.  All the creaminess comes from the béchamel so the consistency of that is real important - I highly suggest weighing out the ingredients to the gram.  A word of warning - the end of this recipe isn’t difficult but it takes awhile because it’s best layered, rested, cooked, rested, and reheated to serve so plan in advance. 

Pasta: 

  • 1 tablepoon of minced Rosemary
  • 500g semolina flour
  • 200g water
  • 3 g salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or rosemary-infused oil)

Bechamel:

  • 500g cold soy milk (preferably freshly made)
  • 25g flour
  • 25g olive oil
  • 1 shallot, halved
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 pieces dried porcini

Mushrooms:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup Hazelnuts

Pasta:

Place the flour, salt, and rosemary in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook.  Mix it for 30 seconds on low, then add the water and continue mixing for 5 minutes, intermittently scraping down the sides and kneading it together with your hands. Keep mixing and kneading until it’s a solid ball, homogenous and smooth feeling - no graininess on your hands when you mix it.  Then roll it in the oil. Wrap it up tightly in plastic and let it rest for 45 minutes or however long it takes to do the rest of the prep.  Roll out the pasta on your machine into sheets, cut to the size of the baking pan.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the pasta for about 90 seconds, till it’s cooked through.  remove from the pot onto an oiled sheet tray and spread them out so they don’t clump up.

Bechamel:

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour gradually, avoiding clumps.  Add the shallot, herbs, porcini.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly so that the roux (the mixture of flour and fat) takes on color evenly.  When it becomes a deep khaki but not quite brown, vigorously whisk in the soymilk, trying to avoid lumps.  Bring to a simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil over, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

While the béchamel is simmering, heat the oil for the mushrooms in a large skillet over high heat.  Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, agitating once every minute or so until they start to brown on all sides. Add the shallots. Cook until the shallots just aren’t raw anymore. Add the wine and let reduce till the pan is almost dry. Remove from the heat. When the béchamel is done simmering and the mushrooms have cooled for a couple of minutes, pour the béchamel through a fine mesh strainer into the mushrooms.  Mix well and taste the mixture. If needed, season this with salt, pepper, and the red wine vinegar.  

Put the hazelnuts in a plastic bag and seal it.  Lay the bag on a cutting board and smash it with the bottom of a pan.  Try to get even sized pieces, each about ¼ the size of a hazelnut, but it will be messy.  Just make sure none are left whole.  

Layer the lasagna in a baking pan from the bottom up like so:

Mushrooms/Pasta/Mushrooms/Hazelnuts/pasta/mushrooms/hazelnuts/pasta/mushrooms/hazelnuts/pasta.  On the top layer of pasta, you’ll want to spread some béchamel from the bottom of the skillet without any pieces of mushroom and then sprinkled with hazelnuts.  The layers of mushrooms should be pretty thin, and the hazelnuts are really just sprinkled throughout, not even like a full layer.  If you would like, you can add some small torn pieces of radicchio in the layers to add color and a real vegetable.

Wrap in plastic and let sit for awhile - anywhere from an hour to a day.  Take off the plastic and cover with aluminum foil.  Preheat the oven to 350 and pop the baking pan in.  Cook for 30 minutes.  Take off the aluminum foil and put under the broiler just until the top is lightly browned.  Set off the heat and let sit for about an hour or up to a day, refrigerating if it‘s going to be sitting for more than 2 hours.  When you’re ready to serve, heat the oven to 300. Cook the lasagna for about 30 minutes, just till it’s heated through, and serve family style. 

polenta agnolotti with porcinis, quince, and frisee

Corn is a grass.  There are thousands of varieties of corn.  No one knows how ancient people living in what is now Mexico transformed a particular inedible, small, unremarkable species of grass into the basis for the great civilizations that thrived there. Corn is a weapon of U.S. imperialism.  Corn’s unique chemical structure enables a lot of cool textures in foods.  Corn is a weapon against people in food deserts, as well as people who choose to buy into industrial food.  Many kinds of corn have to be treated with slake lime in order to become edible.  Corn is a lot of things.  Between 1500 and 1700 corn, along with potatoes, transformed European agriculture, especially in places where it was difficult to grow wheat, like in some parts of north/central Italy.  And polenta was born.  Here is a basic polenta agnolotti that can be served with lots of things, including tomato sauce.  Here it goes with a simple mix of fruit, vegetables, and mushrooms.  

Polenta agnolotti:

1 ball pasta dough (link below)

7 cups water

1 cup polenta

1 tablespoon of salt (and more to taste)

½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed

¼ cup olive and argan oil, olive oil, or any flavorful oil.

Fricasse(?):

2 medium shallots

1 head frisee (or other bitter green)

2 Tablespoons of diced quince (or apple or firm pear)

1 fresh porcini mushroom or ¼ cup dried porcini.

½ a cup dry white wine, (or tablespoon of wine vinegar)

2 sprigs of thyme, picked

Marc Vetri(aka the dark lord) says this is the only way he knows how to make polenta:

Bring 6 cups of water to a simmer, whisk in 1 cup of polenta so as to avoid lumps.  Simmer this over the lowest flame possible for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring almost constantly.  I use a non-stick pan which helps, but you still have to stir a lot.  Most good polentas are unique, so you may have to add in some more water as it cooks in order to fully hydrate it, like I did with the “heirloom polenta” from Fair Food. At the end of cooking, it should be smooth so that as you stir in the ¼ cup of oil it becomes creamy.  While this is cooking, you can prepare everything else:

Make this semolina dough, but add a flavorful nut oil like walnut or argan instead of olive oil, if you so desire.  Now you can mince your shallots, dice your quince (or apple or pear),  slice your fresh porcini (if using), and trim your frisee (or kale or radicchio).  When the polenta is done, fold in your crushed hazelnuts. Here is a quick video of the basic process of folding agnolotti (the relevant section starts around 1:07).It’s pretty straightforward: After the dough is rested, roll it out as thin as possible into large sheets at least 3 inches wide.  Either using a pastry bag or just a spoon or whatnot, make a line of polenta down the dough long-ways, about 1 inch away from the edge.  Moisten the edge of the pasta and fold it over the polenta, pinching it closed, trying to get all the air out.  Then, using your hand, press on the encased line of polenta every inch or so, pushing the polenta out from under your hand and sealing the agnolotti.  Use a pizza wheel or a sharp knife to cut them into individual pieces.  

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.  In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the fresh or dry mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  When they’ve started to gain color, add the shallots and fruit.  Cook, stirring, until the shallots lose their raw smell.  At that time add the thyme and the wine or vinegar and cook until the pan is almost dry, or “sec.” Add ½ cup of water and cook until the quince and/or the dried mushrooms are tender. When they are tender, drop your agnolotti in the boiling salted water.  Add the greens to the mushroom pan, season them and stir them in.  Cook everything for about a minute longer and then, using a slotted spoon, drop the agnolotti in to the vegetables.  Stir to combine and then plate.

My 3 favorite chinese restaurants and a recipe

in case anyone’s curious.  and yea, they all have plenty of vegan options.

1.  Mission Chinese (“Lung Ting”) in San Francisco

2. Xi’an Famous Foods in Queens and in Manhattan

3. Han Dynasty in Philadelphia

And to make Chinese noodles yourself check out this nyt article from harold mcgee:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/dining/15curiousrex.html?gwh=3929CF8CF18D425040CA021BDEBCA128#

Olive-stuffed ravioli with fresh spicy tomato sauce

When people stuff pasta with tofu I gag a little bit.  I have no problem with tofu, in fact good fresh home-made tofu is one of my favorite things. But with ravioli filling you want a strong taste as well as some texture.  In this puree the flesh of the olives, the richness of the almonds, and the fluffiness of the bread come together really well.  The key is balancing the flavors: depending on your olives you may want to add a little lemon juice or vinegar to balance the richness.  The sauce is just like a Mexican salsa, but you don’t want it to taste that way so don’t use a jalapeno.  There are innumerable varieties of chilis and if you have access, I would experiment but you basically want a chili that’s not too spicy and also has a good flavor - padrons are good and add some green, dulces are good, or you can use a nice chile flake, like Aleppo or a nice nice Italian one.  This recipe yields enough for about 3 hungry people, but the raviolis also freeze well, so keep that in mind.

For the pasta:

  • 200g semolina flour
  • 3g salt
  • 80g water
  • 5g olive oil

Filling:

  • ½ cup Oil-cured olives
  • 1 ½ cups slivered almonds
  • ½ cup fresh torn bread
  • ¼ cup packed picked parsley
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 small chili, preferably padron, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Use a food processor, a Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook, or a large table and your hands. Mix the semolina and salt. Pour in the water and mix until it becomes a firm ball. Keep kneading for a few more minutes until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is hard.  Rub the dough with the oil.

Wrap it in plastic wrap and let sit for about 45 minutes. During this time you may want to make the sauce and filling (directions below).

Dust a surface with flour. Roll out large bubblegum-size pieces of the dough as flat as possible using a pasta machine or a rolling pin. Square off your sheets. Then ball the scraps back up and roll them out again. Sprinkle flour over the top of the rolled-out dough and hang it up on your clothes dryer rack from target, or clean shower curtain rod so that they don’t stick to anything as you keep rolling out more.

For the filling:

Puree all the ingredients except the oil together in a food processor.  While the machine is running, add the oil.  Puree thoroughly, scraping down the sides to make sure that everything is mixed in.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the sauce:

Mix everything together in a bowl and let sit.  You may want to be careful with the chili if you don’t like things too spicy, maybe start with a half. This is best at room temperature, so leave it sit out while you make everything else.

To construct the pasta, lay your sheets out on a clean, floured work surface. Dollop a teaspoon of filling onto a sheet in regular intervals, leaving a little more room than you would think is necessary.  Take another sheet and lay it gently over top the first.  Press down in between the dollops of stuffing to seal the filling in. with a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut out squares.  Make sure they’re sealed by pinching the outsides.  You can stop here and leave them as ravioli or you can continue to make a more intricate shape that, in my opinion, shows off the pasta a little bit more.  Turn over your ravioli so that it is sitting on the bulge.  Fold up two opposite corners and pinch them together to seal them.  Then do the same with the other two corners. it’s sorta like a backwards tortolloni, but i don’t know what it would be called, i was just messing around and i sorta liked it.

To finish:

Bring a large pot of water, with lots of salt, to a light boil.  Drop in your raviolis and let them cook for a minute and a half or so.  Italian ladies used to repeat different church prayers or hymns to count off the correct time for boiling different kinds of pastas, so i recommend memorizing your favorite Mao Zedong quote and repeating it for the appropriate amount of time. You can also check them by poking them in their centers with a cake tester and touching that to your lip.  If it’s warm, you’re ready! With a slotted spoon, fish out your pasta and lay them in bowls.  Spoon your tomato mix into the center of the bowls.  Eat.