Spring Kale and Goat Cheese Ravioli

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I used to love Olive Garden when I was little but I always thought the name ‘Olive Garden’ had very little to do with the actual experience of eating there. I do remember an olive or two in the salad and I suppose there might be a garden involved somewhere in the process of producing the food, though I doubt it looks very much like the gardens any of us have at home.

In warmer weather, I do crave lighter foods and I like to taste vegetables throughout as many courses of the meal as possible. Salads are of course incredibly easy to make this time of year but with a bit of work, it’s possible to make the entire meal taste bright and vegetal and that’s exactly what many of us crave as summer sets in.

I love the fresh goat cheese from Lynnhaven. Their cheese is grassy, a bit tart and perfect for making a vegetable dish a bit richer. I’ve found great fresh goat cheeses at markets in nearly every region of the US. Most of my guests are omnivores but none of us misses meat when we eat this ravioli. Nor do we miss the unlimited salad. A regular bowl of salad on the side seems to do just fine.

Spring Kale and Goat Cheese Ravioli

Start by making a batch of basic pasta dough. I use a little extra egg yolk when I have very fresh eggs on hand.

In a food processor, add:

1.5 Cups Flour

1 Egg + 2 Egg Yoks

1 teaspoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

Turn processor on and slowly add ½ cup of water until dough forms into a ball.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

 

For the filling:

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium heat with one clove of chopped garlic

Rinse and chop a small head of spring kale and add to pan

Sautee for 4 minutes or until the kale softens

Add a splash of white wine or lemon juice and cook for another minute or so

Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature

In a small bowl, stir 6 oz of fresh, local goat cheese (soft chevre rather than aged) and add the kale mixture

Add a pinch of salt and a bit of ground black pepper

 

To Assemble:

Using a pasta maker, roll dough into sheets and cut into 12 4”x4” squares

Add tablespoon of filling to each square and top with another square of pasta

Seal with a fork or with your fingers

(You can cover them at this point and leave them in the fridge or even freeze them to make another time)

 

To finish:

Heat a small saucepan of salted water until it comes to a boil

While water is heating up, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium/low heat and add a pinch of salt and a few sage leaves or whatever herbs you have on hand and a drizzle of lemon

Cook ravioli in boiling water for 2 minutes and then strain and add to pan with butter

Toss ravioli in sauce and serve 3 ravioli in each bowl

Drizzle the remaining sauce over the pasta

Garnish with pea shoots or a few pieces of raw kale

 

Serve with Unlimited Breadsticks

 

 

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Pepper Roulette– Blistered Shishito Peppers with Salt

Shishito Peppers #2

Pepper Roulette– Blistered Shishito Peppers with Salt

The farmers say that 1 out of every 12 of these peppers is very hot and that you should be careful. I’ve certainly eaten a fair number of hot ones over my shishito pepper eating years and I’ve never found them to be excruciatingly spicy or anything like that. The rare hot one is somewhere between the medium salsa at a New Hampshire Mexican restaurant and a jalapeno. But it can be a rush to put a plate of these on the table and then watch to see who gets the hot one. It’s like a very low stakes game of roulette where if you lose, you simply have to have a sip of water and then you can play again. Speaking of low stakes, this is one of the easiest and fool-proof dishes that I’ve ever made and they are always delicious as long as you find good peppers at your farmers market and have a decent cast iron skillet. That’s not to put down the great Spanish tapas bars in NYC like Txikito that do this dish beautifully. It’s just that it’s accessible for most home-cooks as well. So get ready for pepper roulette and remember, always bet on shishito.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Salt

Preheat broiler

Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of good olive oil over 1 Pint of Shishito Peppers

Add a pinch of Kosher salt and toss to coat

Put peppers in a cast iron skillet and broil for 5-7 minutes or until they start to blister

Taste again and add more salt if desired

Sichuan Chicken with Local Chicken and Peppercorns from Thousands of Miles Away!

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There is a sign at my local Whole Foods that says something to the effect of “We carry local products and coffee is no exception.” Unless climate change is even worse than I realized, New York has not yet become a coffee-growing region but I applaud their seeking out local roasters. Coffee is indeed on my list of foods that I’m not willing or able to give up despite the distance it has to travel. There are plenty of others as well like olive oil, some citrus, and almost every Asian seasoning I can think of. It is possible to find local ginger here in the Northeast but I don’t see it very often. And my favorite seasoning of all, Sichuan Peppercorns, are not likely to be growing in the Hudson Valley.

I’ve recently taken some classes in Sichuan cooking and have done an extraordinary amount of careful research involving eating authentic Sichuan dishes and then saying “Yum.” When it’s done well, it’s far more than just spicy. In fact, the slightly warm tingle that comes from Sichuan peppercorns is nothing like the sharp heat of chili peppers or hot oil and for me, it’s the most pleasurable part of good Sichuan cooking.

Even when cooked simply, local chicken can have a richer flavor than some cuts of beef or pork and some specialty breeds like Belle Rouge chicken from Violet Hill Farm are so rich and delicious that I feel like I’m at a celebratory holiday feast every time I take a bite of one. So when well-raised, local proteins combine with the intense flavors of Sichuan cuisine, the results can be ridiculously satisfying.

Some ingredients like black vinegar and Shaoxing wine can be hard to find outside of a Chinese supermarket so I suggest substituting balsamic vinegar and dry sherry respectively. If you can find the real thing, go for it.

The peppercorns however, have no substitute.

Sichuan Chicken with Local Chicken and Peppercorns from Thousands of Miles Away!

4 boneless chicken thighs (with skin)

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

2 1.5 inch pieces of peeled ginger

3 large cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon of dry sherry

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of corn starch

1 small eggplant

2 tablespoons of peanut oil

1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorns

 

Cut chicken thighs into 1 inch pieces

Grate 1 piece of ginger and mince garlic (setting aside one clove) for later and combine with soy sauce, vinegar, sherry, sugar and corn starch

Whisk together and pour over chicken thighs

Toss together and marinate for 1-2 hours

Mince second piece of ginger

Crush 1 tablespoon of peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or with a chef’s knife and leave other tablespoon whole

Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towel

Cut eggplant into 1 inch pieces

In a wok or large skillet, heat peanut and sesame oil over high heat

Add chicken and eggplant and stir fry until it has good color (around 4 minutes)

Add remaining ginger and garlic as well as the whole peppercorns

Cook for another 1-2 minutes

Add dried chili peppers and toss together

Cut into a piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked through and serve on a platter

Sprinkle crushed peppercorns over the top just before serving

Balcony Omelettes

Balcony Omlettes!

I always thought that a garden on a 10th floor balcony would be protected from squirrels. But no. Even though we have only a few small plants, squirrels are willing to climb the 10 stories for a shot at some organic vegetables. I always knew squirrels were serious about their health and diets and had high standards for local produce, but this is a little much. My wife planted garlic chives and marigolds, which actually repel them.

But because we made such efforts to protect our crop, I find myself savoring every bit of produce we get from our tiny garden and making sure nothing goes to waste. Now and then we have some extra herbs and vegetables that are more than we need for dinner. Sometimes there are extra eggplants or hot peppers but most often, we have extra cherry tomatoes and basil. They are of course good on their own or in pasta but if they need to be eaten the next morning, they work well in omelettes.

There is something energizing about having such fresh herbs and vegetables in the morning and there are very good local eggs available all over now. I’ve also been cooking with crème fraiche from Ronnybrook Farms. (I love the crème fraiche from VT Butter and Cheese Company as well). It’s tangy and rich and works really well with the bright taste of fresh tomato. Obviously, there are endless combinations of fillings that work here but I find this to be the most simple and satisfying. It works.

Omelette with Balcony Tomatoes and Basil ($2.50/serving)

In a small cast iron skillet, heat  1.5 teaspoons of butter and a teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat

Beat 3 eggs together with a pinch of salt and pepper

Pour egg mixture in skillet and let cook for about a minute

When bottom of omlette just starts to firm up, spoon two teaspoons of crème fraiche into middle of egg mixture

Cook for another 30 seconds or so and add a few halved cherry tomatoes and some basil leaves

Fold omlette and plate with some extra basil leaves on the top.

Check balcony for squirrels.

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Scape Pesto

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Pureed Garlic Scapes and Lemons (farmers market bill $18/2 servings= $9/serving)

When I say Cornish, surely you must think of everyone’s favorite Celtic language. Or maybe a taste that reminds you slightly of corn.  Not corn entirely but corn-ish. But when I hear the word, I think of the Cornish Game Hens that are popping up at farmers markets all over  the place. They are really just small chickens but their meat is delicate, they cook quickly, and they can take bold seasonings. I’m also seeing lots of garlic scapes hanging out at the farmers markets these days often for a dollar or 2 per bunch. And if there is a better way to blast a dish full of garlic flavor, I’m not sure what it is.

I like to puree the scapes in a food processor along with some lemon juice and salt. Herbs are great here too if you have any hanging around. Also, I love grilling some dandelion greens or even chard right alongside the birds.

Cook well and see you in Cornwall!

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Pureed Garlic Scapes and Lemons

The night before:

Puree 4 garlic scapes, 2 cloves of garlic, and the juice from 1 lemon (reserve lemon halves for later) in a food processor.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pulse to blend together.

With a chef’s knife or kitchen shears, split hen down the middle

Put the halves in a large bowl and pour garlic scape puree over

Cover and refrigerate overnight

Preheat a gas grill with the flame on as high as possible

Remove hen from marinade and pat dry

Grill hens skin side down for 5 minutes and then rotate and cook for another 3

Turn heat to low and flip hen over

Baste with marinade and place lemon halves on top of hen

Close grill top and cook for 12-15 minutes and then check thigh temperature

When the thigh temperature reads 175

Remove hen from grill and let it rest for 10 minutes so juices have time to reincorporate.

New Haven Style Clam Pizza (from Behind Enemy Lines)

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New Yorkers are proud of their pizza. There are good slices to be had on corners in the Village, amazing pies to be found throughout most of Brooklyn and upscale pizzas served in trendy restaurants with hipster waiters promising that their crusts are ‘bold and festive.’

But 90 miles away in New Haven, there is an even more intense, albeit smaller pizza pride movement. Indeed the clam pies at New Haven’s legendary Pepe’s are truly remarkable. The pizza is not cheese-heavy and the flavor hints of the very best Pasta alle Vongole you’ve ever tasted. Garlicy, buttery and briny at the same time but with a chewy crust. I’m afraid to sing the praises of New Haven’s pizza while only 3 blocks away from one of New York’s most intense pizza joints which has had a line out the door for the last 25 years but sometimes, I prefer New Haven style pies. And I like them even more when they’re made at home with local ingredients.

I had been playing around with Mario Batali’s pizza crust recipe using local honey to add the tiniest bit of sweetness to the dough. And don’t get me started on local clams. They are one of most affordable ways to make a top-tier local meal at home. And because a good clam pie has only a little cheese, it’s an ideal way to showcase firmer, sharper, local cheeses.

So get that pizza stone in the oven and get ready for what could be…hang on…someone’s coming. I mean “New York has the best pizza in the world! I love it. I don’t like anything else.”

New Haven Style Clam Pizza (from Behind Enemy Lines)

Farmers Market Bill $7/2 servings = $3.50/serving

Make enough pizza dough using your favorite recipe to make 2 large or 4 small pizzas

Roll out pizza into an 8-9 inch round

Preheat pizza stone to 500 (or 550 if possible) for half an hour

Coarsely chop 3 cloves of garlic

Steam a dozen small clams in a half-cup of water and reserve cooking liquid

Remove clams from shell and set aside

Add 1 and 1/2  tablespoons of butter to clam cooking liquid and stir in chopped garlic

Grate a half-cup of firm, local pecorino or other sharp cheese

Dust pizza peel with a small handful of cornmeal

Place crust on pizza peel

Sprinkle cheese on top along with a pinch of salt

Spoon clams on top of cheese and drizzle butter/garlic mixture over the top

Place pizza on stone

Bake pizza for 6 minutes or until brown on top

Serve with a local IPA or red ale

Interim Salad with Apples, Red Onion and Goat Cheese: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Cold Storage Fruits and Vegetables

Interim Salad with Apples, Red Onion and Goat Cheese: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Cold Storage Fruits and Vegetables

Have you ever upgraded to a nicer version of something and then missed the old one a little bit? The new video games are impressive but I do occasionally miss the days when  Mario and Luigi were two-dimensional. My father recently got a Smartphone and remarked that it had ‘an awful lot of buttons compared to the old one.’

Most of the farmers markets in the US are about to be flooded with what most people consider the best vegetables of the year. It will start with pea shoots and some greens and then move into peas, asparagus, and artichokes. The corn and tomatoes will come in for the finale and stay for some time before local eaters go back to cold storage fruits and vegetables.

I’ve certainly eaten my fill of parsnips and potatoes this year and I was ready to splurge on some of the beautiful greenhouse greens at the market to tide me over until the spring veggies come out. In a way, I wanted to speed up the arrival of spring. I found amazing microgreens and fresh goat cheese from Lynnhaven, my favorite goat cheese producer in NY. But on the way out of the market, I started to notice the bins of onions and apples. They weren’t as pretty as the greens I had in hand but I couldn’t get myself to leave without some cold storage action.

Together, they make a ‘sort of spring’ salad that is fresh and light but with a little nod to the delicious fruits and vegetables of fall and winter. The apples and onion also add a more serious crunch that really holds up to the richness of the goat cheese.

I am very excited for the spring foods to come out but in the meantime, I plan to enjoy the comforting local foods of the past few months. I may even try to unlock the lost levels in the 4-4 fire world in Super Mario Brothers. Does anybody remember how to do that?

 

Interim Salad with Apples, Red Onion and Goat Cheese

Farmers Market Bill $12/4 Servings= $3/Serving

Mince small clove of garlic and place in mixing bowl

Add 2 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Whisk in a 3 tablespoons of good olive oil

Add a pinch each of salt and black pepper

Peel and slice a large red onion

Core and slice 2 tart apples (granny smith work well)

Place onion and apple in bowl with dressing and add 6 oz. of baby greens

Toss to coat well and plate

Check salad for seasoning again and adjust if necessary

Break apart 3 oz. of local, fresh goat cheese and spoon on top of salad