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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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

Heritage Tryptophan

Most things worth doing in life will leave you tired at the end. That goes for working out, finishing the Sunday crossword puzzle or watching the six Star Wars movies in one sitting. Now that I think about it, doing that crossword may not be worth the fatigue that follows. But the drowsiness that follows a great turkey dinner should be worth it.

I’ve read more food articles in the last month talking about how the turkey can be only a supporting player alongside a cast of stuffing, gravy and potatoes. But there are great turkeys to be found and they are well worth a trip to the farmers market or even to the farm itself.

For the second year in a row, I’ll be roasting a turkey from Frantzen’s Scenic Acres in Berne, NY. The turkey last year was rich and meaty and needed no gravy or anything else to liven it up. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t enjoy the sauce that came about from a quick deglaze of the pan with local apple cider and some chopped onions, but the turkey more than holds its own.

Heritage turkeys are a bit more delicate and shouldn’t be cooked at very high temperatures. But we all love the dark and crispy skin so I like to pre-salt the turkey the night before cooking and also add a little bit of apple cider mixed with butter and baste the outside near the end of roasting. That assures you the color and crispy texture that you want without any chance of overcooking.

So have a wonderful Thanksgiving and by all means, write in if you have a turkey recipe or even a great farm you want to mention and I’ll put it up…As soon as I wake up from my post-Thanksgiving nap.

Cider Glazed Heritage Turkey

The night before the meal, sprinkle Kosher salt liberally over the turkey and leave in fridge uncovered overnight

Thanksgiving Day

Preheat oven to 325

Peel 4 carrots and 4 parsnips and place in roasting pan

Place an 8-10 pound Heritage turkey on top of vegetables and put pan in oven

Roast for 1 and ¼ hours

In a small saucepan, add a cup of apple cider and 4 tablespoons of butter

Cook on low, stirring to blend

After turkey has been roasting for 1.5 hours, baste the outside with the cider mixture

Sprinkle the outside again lightly with salt

With a meat thermometer, check the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Temperature should read around 165.

When bird has come to temperature, remove from oven. Remove turkey from pan along with parsnips and carrots.

Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from pan, place pan over 2 burners on stove and add a large chopped onion

Sauté for 5 minutes or until onion softens

Pour in a cup of cider and a half a cup of white wine and scrape bottom of pan with a wooden spoon

Simmer for 5-10 minutes

Season with salt and pepper to taste

Carve turkey and serve roasted veggies and pan sauce alongside

Sautéed Calamari w/ Grape Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Sautéed Calamari w/ Grape Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Farmers Market Bill $12/4 servings= $3/serving

Most things that come with a side of marinara are yummy. Mozzarella sticks, mini-calzones, and calamari. In fact, I think after a particularly late night once, I might have ordered an appetizer sampler with all of the above. That’s what happens when you watch all the Police Academy movies back to back. Eventually, it’s 2AM and you start craving something with a side of marinara.

But if it’s earlier in the day perhaps you have good ingredients around, there might be an even tastier option.

The squid from Long Island was described to me by a fellow farmers market shopper as ‘The most underrated thing at any farmers market.’  It’s cheap, extremely easy to prepare, delicious, sustainable, and available much of the year. This time of year, there are plenty of tomatoes as well. And some of you I know are still trying to get rid of herbs from your garden and this is a good way to do it.

I do this with only the tiniest bit of breading and a very hot pan. It certainly has the bite of good calamari, but it’s missing the heaviness of the fried version and the raw tomatoes make the whole thing an ideal warm-weather main course. In fact, I think that after making the dish, you’ll agree that sides of marinara are for late nights and bad movies, but not usually for fresh and seasonal cooking.

Sautéed Calamari w/ Grape Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Farmers Market Bill $12/4 servings= $3/serving

Heat 2 tablepoons of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat

Blot dry 1.5 pounds of squid and slice into small rings

Season a half cup of bread crumbs with salt and pepper

Add a teaspoon of white flour

Dredge squid very lightly in breadcrumb flour mixture and place in pan

(If your pan is crowded, do this in smaller batches or the squid may not brown)

Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally

Slice a pint of grape or cherry tomatoes in half

Chop a large handful of basil, tarragon, parsley, or whatever else is fresh

Toss squid with tomatoes and herbs

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and drizzle with olive oil

Add salt and pepper to taste