Saturday, September 28, 2013

Butternut Squash Tart with Sage & Chile Honey


adapted from Bon Appetit

 

ingredients

  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 small long butternut squash, peeled
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 habanero, scotch bonnet, or red Thai chile pepper, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
  • black pepper

preparation

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry onto prepared sheet.
Cut stem off squash. Using a mandoline, thinly slice squash from stem down through the neck, preserving base of squash for another use. Steam the squash slices until al dente. Brush pastry with 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Arrange as many rounds of the butternut squash over pastry as you prefer, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1/2" border. Brush squash slices with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with kosher salt. Place tart, uncovered, in oven and bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through, 25–30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 1/4 cup honey, 1 thinly sliced chile pepper, and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat (add another minced chile pepper if more heat is desired). Boil until thickened slightly and syrupy, about 6 minutes.
Line a plate with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet until just beginning to smoke. Add 12 fresh sage leaves; fry until crisp, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Slice tart. Arrange 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan on top; drizzle with chile-infused honey. Garnish with fried sage leaves and a few grinds of black pepper.



Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta Ravioli with Hazelnut Brown-Butter & Brussels Sprout Leaves

 

Butternut squash ravioli has been a trendy item at fine dining establishments the past few years. I’ve wanted to try my hand at it for awhile now so when our friend Michael asked me to teach him how to make ravioli from scratch (we covered how to make fettuccine last month) I thought it was the perfect opportunity to perfect butternut squash ravioli.

 

I started with a recipe I found online for the filling, refined it (changed the cheese it calls for, added roasted Brussels sprout leaves) and used Marcella Hazan’s recipe for the ravioli dough. From start to finish this dinner is a time consuming process (multiple hours) but well worth it. Make it for someone special who will appreciate your hard work.

Ingredients

For ravioli

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 large eggs

For filling

  • 2 pounds butternut squash*
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 ounces ricotta cheese

For sauce

 

*You can use either 2 pounds of whole, uncooked squash for this recipe or 1 and 3/4 pounds of peeled, frozen, diced, raw squash from your grocer’s freezer.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°F and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Make ravioli dough:

Dump the flour onto a clean work surface (I use my kitchen counter) and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs and pour them into the well. The flour should keep the eggs from running. Scramble the eggs with a fork, then using clean hands, draw the flour over and into the egg mixture, a little at a time, incorporating as much flour as you need to make the dough come together. Using this method allows us to leave some of the flour out or add it all in depending on the humidity in our kitchen and the bulk of the egg so that we don’t create too dry a dough. Once the dough comes together (should not be overly sticky; a little less sticky than pizza dough) you can begin to knead it – either by hand or using the dough hook in your stand mixer – until it’s smooth and satiny (at least 8 minutes if kneading by hand). This step is crucial; if you underknead the dough it will not survive its passage through your pasta machine. Once the dough is ready, form it into a disc or ball and wrap it in saran wrap and place it in the fridge to rest.

Make filling:
For whole squash, slice and seed it before putting the squash halves, flesh sides down on a baking sheet and roast in middle of oven 30 minutes, or until flesh is very tender. When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh into a bowl and discard skin. For frozen squash, steam until tender and then pour into a bowl. Mash squash with a fork until smooth.

While squash is steaming or roasting, in a skillet cook onion and sage in butter with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes, or until onion is golden brown. Deglaze with white wine as needed. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Cool onion mixture slightly and add to squash. Add ricotta cheese and stir to combine well.

Make and stuff ravioli:

Take the pasta out of the fridge and on a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into 10 pieces. Working one piece at a time, shape each piece into a  rectangle and pass it through your pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold dough in half, turn it 90 degrees and pass it through again, this time on the next widest setting. Now pass the dough (without any more folding) through the next widest setting and repeat with the narrower settings until you’ve gotten through the next to narrowest setting on your machine.

Put rolled out rectangle on a lightly floured surface, and evenly space tablespoon size mounds of filling along the long bottom edge of the rectangle, leaving a half an inch space between the mounds and leaving a quarter inch space between the long bottom edge of the dough and the filling. Fold the top half of the dough over the filling, pressing the long top edge against the long bottom edge to form a seam. Using a ravioli cutter, cut along the bottom edge of the dough just above the seam to seal the dough and make a pretty cut edge. Do this as well for the sides of the dough and also between the mounds. You now have a 3 edged ravioli and you can also run the ravioli cutter along the top edge to make it 4 edged ravioli. Set aside the dough scraps and at the end of rolling out all of the dough you may have enough scraps to combine and roll out one more rectangle.

Transfer ravioli to a dry kitchen towel. Make more ravioli with remaining wrappers and filling in same manner, transferring as formed to towel and turning occasionally to dry slightly.

Make brown butter and Brussels sprouts:

Cut the base off a handful of Brussels sprouts so that you are easily able to peel apart the leaves. Peel and discard the outer, frayed leaves. Peel the inner leaves and toss lightly in a bowl with olive oil. Roast the leaves on a cookie sheet at 375 F for approx 5-10 minutes or just until the leaves begin to deepen in flavor.  In skillet cook butter with hazelnuts and fresh sage leaves over moderate heat until butter begins to brown and leaves crisp, about 2 minutes, and immediately remove from heat (nuts will continue to cook). Mix in Brussels sprout leaves. Season hazelnut butter with salt and pepper and keep warm, covered.

Cook ravioli:

In a large stockpot bring salted water to a boil for ravioli.

Cook ravioli in batches in gently boiling water 6 minutes, or until they rise to surface and are tender (do not let water boil vigorously once ravioli have been added or the ravioli make break apart). Carefully transfer ravioli as cooked with a slotted spoon to a large shallow baking pan and add enough cooking water to reach 1/2 inch up side of pan. Keep ravioli warm, covered.

Transfer ravioli with a slotted spoon (letting excess cooking liquid drip off) to plates and top with hazelnut brown-butter sauce.

Note that this recipe will vary in its pasta dough yield based on humidity and how thick you roll out your dough. You may find you need to actually double the brown butter sauce if you’ve rolled out a significant amount of ravioli. It’s all about your preference, so don’t be afraid to experiment. You will almost always have filling left over, which is excellent the next day warmed up and served alongside roasted pork.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Gratitude

Today a new acquaintance thanked me for the time and grueling effort I put into working with the mentally ill back in my days as a counselor (my first career before I got into IT). Nobody has ever acknowledged or thanked me for this before and I didn't realize how much I needed to hear that. The world of mental hospitals and physical restraints and Ativan and trying to help people who struggle with helping themselves is a horror story that I'll never forget. When I have bad days at work now (which is rare btw) I think back to what it was like working in those mental health facilities - scraping human feces off the walls, dealing with violent outbursts, or trying to comfort a little boy who was kept in a cage and fed nothing but dog food and table scraps till he was 9 - and I count my blessings. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who are dealing with mental illness as a patient, family member, or health service provider.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: Diary of a Wildflower

Over my vacation, I read Diary of a Wildflower by Ruth White.

Lorelei is one of many children in the Starr family, growing up in an isolated mountain area in Virginia in the early 1900s. Diary details her childhood - very reminiscent of the Waltons, but a bit darker - and her eventual horizon-broadening introduction to city life and upper class society. Inevitably Lorelei crosses paths with a handsome and kind upper class gentleman and together they bring her Cinderella tale to its happy conclusion. I am a sucker for happy endings and so White has found a fan in me.

White is an accomplished children's book author and this is her first foray into adult literature and the adventure that is Kindle self-publishing. She's done very well here and other than a few typos inherent in self-publishing and an abrupt and stark change in accent & writing style for Lorelei's character (our narrator) late in the novel, I find Diary to be a great read.

Recommended; 3 out of 5 stars.




Book Review: The Wicked Girls

Just finished reading The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood. It bills itself as a psychological thriller and it definitely delivers. Probably one of the most riveting books I've read all year.

At the age of 11, Jade Walker and Annabel Oldacre are convicted as juvenile offenders and co-conspirators in the brutal murder of a 4 year old girl (Chloe) in their community. Because of Walker's dysfunctional upbringing, no one is surprised at her involvement in this kind of trouble but Oldacre comes from a proper well respected family and so she is viewed with more derision as "she should have known better". Likewise, Jade's rehabilitation is more generous and forgiving allowing for her poor upbringing while Annabel is dealt with by the court system more harshly. Annabel has her own family troubles as well - just deeply hidden from the public spotlight- making the way she was singled out for stiffer punishment seem especially cruel. Years later, aged out of the juvenile prison system and released, Jade and Annabel live with the secret of their shared past. Each of them has been shielded by the state with a new identity and sent into adulthood with a fresh start and gainful employment and they both believe that no one is the wiser to their secrets. A condition of their parole is that they must not have any contact with one another and while both adhere to this without issue for years, a brewing news story in Annabel's community brings Jade (now Kirsty Lindsay) face to face with Annabel (now Amber Gordon) and opens up a new chapter in their lives that threatens to unravel everything good they've managed to establish after their release. Woven into this thrilling central plot are two compelling side stories involving disturbed men in Annabel's community, a great deal of secondary character development for Jade and Annabel's friends and coworkers, and a well paced flashback story that slowly teases out the details of the day Chloe died.  

At the end of the book I found myself questioning the perception of Annabel and Jade as cold blooded childhood killers. Did each get what they truly deserved in the prison system? And as adults did they prove that wickedness is something you're born with or something you grow into with a habit of bad choices and lies? Perhaps even evil can be something we are desperately and helplessly pushed into by external factors?

The great strength of Marwood's writing is that she has drawn me into a genre I rarely enjoy. I prefer happy endings and I don't do well with graphic violence but Marwood tells her tale so well that I can't help but recommend it anyway.


Book Review: Lies You Wanted to Hear




Lies You Wanted to Hear is a well paced, well styled, and engaging debut novel by James Whitfield Thomson. A lot of discussion has taken place regarding the author, who at age 67, has made quite an entrance onto the literary scene. In Lies, Thomson showcases the rocky relationship between Matt and Lucy from courtship through its eventual unraveling. Lucy is depicted as wholly selfish and troubled while Matt's character is more nuanced. The decisions that each of them make wound not only each other but their children as well. For a lot of fathers reading this novel, Matt's sentiments on the family court system and his moral dilemmas on how to protect his children will hit a little to close to home. And I don't doubt that for a few mothers who look back on their decision to settle for a 'nice' guy and  wrestle with feelings of wanting more - more excitement, more fun, more passion - that Lies will hit a little close to home as well. This, THIS is the dark version of Bridges of Madison County  where temptations are not refused, where adultery is discovered, and where lives are ruined in a cautionary tale.

A good read; 3.5 stars.