Striped Bass with Beet Green Ravioli and Citrus Beurre Blanc

This post is a beast.  There’s a lot of information to chew on, but why not?  🙂  That’s how much I love you.  We’ll look at three major components, and break them into digestible literary servings.  Part one; the ravioli.  And away we go!

Beet greens are sometimes discarded in the kitchen.  However, if you wash them well and pull the leaves apart from the stem, you’ve got a great braising green that’s flavorful, colorful, and free.

For the ravioli filling, I have a small dice of shallot, fennel, and garlic, along with some currants.  Sweat these aromatics in a little olive oil until they are tender, and then reserve them.

Cut up your clean beet greens, and saute them in the same pan, until they are pretty tender throughout.

Bring all of the first items together in a large bowl, and add the zest of a small lemon, a good dusting of nutmeg, and season with cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

Set the whole mess in a strainer or colander to allow the excess liquid to drain.

Set up a little station with the greens, a little egg wash (one egg whisked with a couple tablespoons of water), the fresh pasta sheets (2), and a couple of ring molds.

Portion out the filing, and brush around the filing with the egg wash.

Press around the filling with the first (smaller) ring mold, to ‘seal’ the egg wash, then cut out the ravioli with the larger ring.

Put a pot of salted water on to boil while your assembling the ravioli, and boil them once they are assembled.  Or, refrigerate (or freeze) for future use.

Here’s what the finished product may look like!  If you are going to serve them right away, go ahead.  If you will serve them once they have cooled and you need to reheat them, just drop them into some boiling water for 30-45 seconds, and you should be golden.

And now, the beurre blanc.  Beurre blanc, is simply a white wine and butter sauce. In this case, we’re replacing some of the white wine with citrus juice.  Here’s the standard ratio that I use for making 2 cups of sauce:

  • 2 cups white wine (here I replaced half the wine with equal parts orange and lemon juice)
  • 2 TBSP. white wine vinegar
  • 4 shallots (diced)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2 cups butter (cold, cut into thumb-sized chunks)

Put the diced shallots, wine, and vinegar into a pot, and reduce au sec.

Here’s a look at au sec.  It means ‘to dry’ or almost dry.  There’s a bad joke in the kitchen which goes; “Hey what comes after au sec?  Awww shit!”  Which is actually true.  If you reduce past the au sec point, ‘aww shit’ will be the first words out of your mouth.  Because you’ve almost certainly burnt the hell out of your sauce.

Add the cream, and reduce it by half.  This is going to help you keep the sauce from breaking.  Technically, if you add cream you’re making a beurre fondue, I think, but I won’t tell if you don’t.  After the cream is reduced, whisk in the butter pieces.  Here’s the only important point about the butter incorporation; you want to keep the sauce warm throughout.  That means you need to keep enough heat on the pot (but not tooo hot) to be able to incorporate the butter with out letting the sauce cool.  Make sense?  You want to keep everything in the pot hot to melt the butter, but not so hot that you break the sauce.

Once you’ve got all the butter incorporated, taste for seasoning.  Add any of the following: a squeeze of lemon, cayenne, salt.  Then strain the sauce.  In a restaurant, I would strain out into a thermos to keep the sauce warm.

At home, I strain out into a coffee mug that I’ve warmed up with hot water.  It will keep the sauce warm long enough for me to get the rest of the plate put together.

With thin skinned fish (like this bass from MA), I prefer to keep the skin on and sear the skin to keep it crisp and delicious looking.

Get the pan nice and hot, with a little vegetable oil.  Lay the fish in, skin-side down, and sear.  Season the flesh side of the fish as well.  At the point you see above, the fish is ready to be basted to finish.

Toss a couple tablespoons of butter into the pan with the fish.  Once it melts, start pouring the hot butter over the top of each fillet until the flesh is cooked (opaque).

Reserve the fish to a paper towel to rest while you put the rest of the plate together.

Quickly reheat the ravioli in some boiling water (with a little salt).

Dress the plates with the citrus butter sauce.  For presentations like this one, I like to put the sauce down first.  I think it looks cleaner, and when you eat the dish, you get some of the sauce in every forkful.

Remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon or spatula, and place them on the edge of the sauce.  Follow with the fish, and garnish.  Here I’ve used a little beet green and some tiny lettuces.

This is the kind of fish dish I could eat all the time.  I love the ravioli’s sweet/savory profile.  The sauce is light and rich all at once, and the fish is delicate and crisp.  There are so many textures and flavors all coming together, I love it.  I hope these pictures inspire you to give this dish a shot (or one like it!).  I’m sure you’ll find it satisfying and delicious.

Here’s to your best!-

-Scotty

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Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup

I’ve just recently accepted a client who wants me to make one soup per week for him.  For the whole year.  This offering is a great start for our relationship.  It’s easy to make, it utilizes some items your might have kicking around anyway, and it only gets better as the week progresses.  When I was working as the Sous Chef for Ottimista in the Marina, I used to make this pretty often.  There are a few dishes based on the ‘cucina povera‘ or cooking of the poor that have been popularized over the last several years.  Old bread (or stale bread) is put to use in several of them.  Here’s what you’ll need to pull this off:

-Some bread (baguette, Tuscan loaf, or some other un-garnished bread), herbs, onion, garlic, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, some stock or broth.

The Basic Recipe (yields about 1 gallon)

  • 2 onions (small dice)
  • 1 head garlic (thin slices)
  • 1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 pound bread (small dices, toasted)
  • 1 tsp. crushed chili flakes
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 medium (28 oz) cans tomato puree
  • 4 (14oz) cans stock
  • 4-8 TBSP. Fresh Herbs (minced)
  • 2-4 TBSP. red wine vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Start by cutting the bread into little pieces.  Get an oven going at 350 and toss these guys in until they are slightly toasted and dry.  Set a timer for about 15-20 minutes and check them every few minutes if they aren’t quite done.

Meanwhile, cut up the onions –

And the garlic.  I like to use a little Japanese mandolin.  Mind the finger tips!

Sweat the onion, garlic, and chili flakes together with a little olive oil until the vegetables are soft and translucent.

Like this –

Now, add the can of tomato paste and cook it for a couple of minutes.  This will develop a little richer flavor.  Next, add the wine, and reduce the wine by at least half.  Then add the crushed tomatoes and half of the stock.

It might look something like this –

At this point add the toasted bread bits.

Add the herb (and bay).  I like to use leafy herbs in warmer months (basil, tarragon, parsley), and stemmy herbs (rosemary, thyme, even sage) in colder months.

Put a lid on it, and let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Check the consistency, and add the remaining stock if desired.  The bread will continue to soak up liquid during the cooking process, so depending on the type of bread you’ve chosen, and the consistency you prefer, you will find you need more stock (or not).

This is the thickness that I like.  It’s sort of reminds me of a chili soup.  Now you should make your tastes for seasoning.  Adjust with the red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper as needed to your liking.

I chose to garnish with some creme fraiche,  balsamic, and a little extra virgin olive oil.  Fresh herbs are also a welcome finish, as is grated cheese, or whatever your heart desires.

I hope you enjoy this soup.  It is hearty, and bright all at once, and you can take it in many directions.  52 weeks of soup are looming large on my horizon.  I’ll try and send the best ones your way.

Cheers, my dears-

-Scott

Bacon Rosemary Biscuits

Biscuits can be glorious, right?  Flaky, buttery, soft and crisp at the same time.  Essentially; biscuits are little gifts every time you make them.  For my holiday festivities this year, I opted for a slam-dunk combination.  Great biscuit + rosemary + bacon = ridiculous biscuits.

I always look to Fannie Farmer for my homey baked goods.  She never disappoints, and with over 1,100 pages of recipes, the book is pretty comprehensive.  The recipe I used here is a combination of two different recipes (Baking Powder Biscuits, p. 764, and Cream Biscuits, p. 765)  The first uses shortening and milk, the second, from time spent with culinary icon, James Beard, uses melted butter and cream.

Here’s my hybrid:  Yield about 12 2″ biscuits with extra for chefs treats

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 TPSP. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
  • 6 oz. cold butter (small pieces)
  • 2 stips bacon (cooked well, small dice)
  • 1/2 onion, (small dice, sweated in left over bacon fat)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup heavy cream

For garnish

  • 2 TBSP. finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 TBS. coarse (kosher or other) salt

If you know how to make biscuits, I won’t bore you.  If you have never heard of the ‘Biscuit Method’, check out this link.  Here’s the basics for this recipe.

Brown the bacon and onions then cut up the bacon.  Reserve those bits on a paper towel to absorb extra fat.

Put all of the dry ingredients together in a big bowl.  Whisk that around a bit with a fork (or whisk…).

Take the little pieces of cold butter and incorporate them into the dry mix quickly, using just your fingers with a kind of smooshing / rubbing technique.  Stop when all of the butter pieces are no bigger than a small pea.

Use a fork to stir in the bacon and onions, and then to incorporate all of the liquid at once.

Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead slightly to bring together.

Roll to a 1″ thickness, and cut into squares or punch out with cutter.

Brush the tops with cream or buttermilk, then sprinkle the rosemary and coarse salt on top.

Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or so, until the tops are golden and delicious looking.  You may need to rotate the pan half-way through depending on your oven.

My friends and I ate these little guys with prime rib on Christmas night, and then again with a little honey for breakfast.  Biscuits are a super easy treat to bring together, and the homemade, fresh-baked goodness translates into every bite.

Happy Eating, Happy Living!

-Scott

Merguez and Olive Braised Lamb

When the season gets cold enough, I love to serve braised beasts.  There is no easier (or tastier) way to turn a tougher cut of meat into a juicy, yielding morsel.  And it’s pretty easy.  If you follow the steps for braising, you can apply the technique to any protein and even some vegetables.  It gets even better; if you add more liquid, you’re now stewing, and you’ve mastered two techniques in one fell swoop.  Nice work, you.

Grocery bits.  When you are looking for braising or stewing cuts, look for shoulder, shanks, rumps, butts, leg and thighs, essentially the harder working parts.

While the braise was working, I got a vegetable side going as well; red bliss potatoes cooked in a saffron/garlic/bay broth.  I love this combination of flavors with potatoes.  Especially with fish or lamb, yum!

Step one:  Brown the meat.

Braises and stews are great because you can almost always produce the whole event in one oven-safe (enameled or otherwise) dish.  Get a little oil going in the pot, and bring it to a high temperature.  Lay the seasoned protein in the pot and give it a good sear.  Then turn down the heat and remove the meats.

Step Two:

Sweat the aromatics (here, onion, garlic, and bell pepper), then deglaze with a little wine (enough to just cover the bottom of the pot, let’s say), let that reduce by half.

Get your aromatic garnishes ready.  Hare are kalamata, castelvetrano, and oil cured olives.

Lamb likes a lot of aromatics.  I wrapped all of this up in some cheesecloth and butcher’s twine so that it would be easy to remove when the braise was finished.  A lot easier that picking out little pieces of this and that.

Step Three:

Return the protein to the pot, along with the aromatic garnishes, and cover the meat with additional stock or water by 1/2.  Bring this to a simmer and cover the pot (with lid or foil).

Step Four:

That’s it.  Now pop it in a 350 degree oven and check for doneness every once in a while.  Start after an hour for small pieces or thin pieces.  Then check every thirty minutes.  The protein is well cooked when the meat is very tender (pierces easily with a fork or pairing knife).

Here’s the braised lamb shoulder, tender, and out from the oven.

Step Five:

Check the remaining liquid for consistency.  It may need more body.  It may not.  Either way, remove the protein and get a good look.

This sauce need more body, so I brought it to a boil and whisked in a cornstarch slurry to thicken it.  Then I returned the lamb to the pot, brought it back to a simmer.  I served it out with the saffron potatoes and sauteed zucchinis dusted with a little smoked paprika.

Here’s the recap:

  • Step One: Sear
  • Step Two: Sweat aromatic vegetables / Deglaze with wine (or not)
  • Step Three:  Return meat and aromatic garnish(es) to pot, cover protein by up to 1/2 with liquid / bring to simmer
  • Step Four: Pop into 350 degree oven and check for doneness after one hour, then every half hour (or so) until done.
  • Step Five: Once protein is tender, check sauce for consistency, and correct body / seasoning / return meat to the pot and serve.

Okay now.  I realize that some of these steps are multi-step-steps.  Don’t hate.  I grouped them this way, because I find natural resting points at each step.  If you need to walk away at any point in this chain of events, these are safe commercial breaks.  And as I mentioned, keep this process in mind, and you can apply the same technique to stewing as well.  There are a lot of classical favorites that fall into this category of cooking, and for good reason.  The technique it not overly complicated, variations are easily employed, and the end results can be really, really delicious eating.

Jump into the fire, my friends!

-Scott

Your First Bread Pudding

#12 Return to the oven until the top is nicely browned, 15-25 minutes.

Think of this as breakfast for dessert.  When I first heard the words ‘bread’ and ‘pudding’ slapped together and offered as a dessert, well, let’s just say I was skeptical.  But after several exploratory samples, I realized that bread pudding is like the best French toast ever.  With whipped cream and booze.  Hello!!!  The picture above is from a pear, tart cherry, and pecan episode I dished out over the holidays.

This is a great and easy recipe that I’ve used over and over.  Get a nice solid enriched bread, like a brioche, challah, or even egg diner rolls.  They will soak up the liquid really well.  Variations on this theme are only as limited as your time, energy, creativity, and pocketbook dictate.  So, feel free to play.

Here’s the master recipe which yields two 10″x6″ bread loaf pans, or two 9″ round pans.  They freeze well if you let them cool and wrap tightly with plastic wrap, so don’t worry about making two at a time.

  • 2 pounds of bread (1″ cubes)
  • 1 quart cream
  • 5 (or 6) eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • misc. flavorful ingredients (nuts, fruit, chocolate, etc.) about 2 – 2 1/2 cups total.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Follow the pictures below for the rest, and enjoy!

Once you take these guys from the oven, let them cool.  Then, get them out of the pan to cool further on a wire rack or something that will let them breathe.  Once they are pretty much room temperature, refrigerate, or wrap and freeze for future use.  If you have a little caramel sauce, and some whipped cream, you better quality assure a piece while your standing there.  Better safe than sorry.

Treat yourself to a little slice of nice –

-Scott

Cooking Notes and Vocabulary (Gnocchi)

I’ve been waiting to make these little treats for the last two days.  Actually, I’ve been looking all over San Francisco for a gnocchi paddle.  Two days, five wasted hours, and an indulgent trip to Kamei Restaurant Supply; still no paddle.  But, a new pasta roller, shinny martini shaker, bread knife, and crazy grooved rice scoop / gnocchi paddle stand-in did make it home with me.  So tonight, the gnocchi!

If you’ve made (or eaten) these guys before, you know they are delicious little chunks of potato fluff.  Most recipes ask for you to boil the potatoes, but I would like to recommend a different approach.  Bake them.  And keep the skins on too.  The potato skin has most of the aroma, and potatoes cooked in their jackets retain more of that aroma in the flesh (in my opinion).  If you think about it, bake them a day (or two!) ahead of time.

Baking the potatoes will yield a less waterlogged flesh than boiling.  And that’s good.  When making the gnocchi, you want to incorporate a little egg, and just enough flour.  With boiled potatoes, I find that I end up adding a lot more flour to get the consistency I’m looking for.  Also, some recipes will ask for you to boil, mill, and then bake the potato flesh.  This seems like a lot of work (and time) just to end up with baked potato flesh.  But I’m open to feedback here 🙂

Here’s the recipe that follows below:

Chef Louise’s Parmesan Potato Gnocchi

Yield : About 250 pieces (i.e. sh@tload)

  • 6 ea Russet potatoes (baked, peeled, shredded)
  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour (plus some for shaping)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 yolks
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here are some important things to remember.  Once the potatoes have cooled and been peeled (I try to wait a few hours, and up to two days), think about this process as a work of pastry.  Try to keep the potato light and fluffy.  Work lightly with just the fingers to incorporate the flour.  Try to get almost all of the little potato bits covered in flour.  You should end up with something that looks a lot like wet sand or the beginning of a biscuit mix.  Incorporate the cheese in the same way.  Add any salt / pepper / dry seasoning (I like a little nutmeg) the same way.  Then incorporate the egg all at once with a fork.  Bring the dough together, and give it a few turns (knead it a few times) to make sure that everything is incorporated and holding together well.  Then proceed with the shaping process.

Gnocchi Basics

Peeled Russet

Shredded Potatoes

Flour, Incorporated

Seasoning

Fork It

Brought Together

Gnocchi Loaf

Start with a small piece of dough on a lightly floured surface.

I find that pulling the dough towards me with one hand keeps everything together and makes a uniform roll.  Once the roll is big enough, I move to both hands.

Roll the piece out to a uniform diameter.  Usually, a half inch is a good size.  If the gnocchi are uniform in size they will cook at the same time.  You don’t have to freak out about this, but you are welcome to.

Cut pieces off that are pretty close to the same size.  I use my thumb joint as a guide.

Put each gnocchi on the grooved surface, with the cut ends parallel to the left-right motion of the thumb.  Some people will use the tines of a fork for this process.

This doesn’t entail several hours looking for a gnocchi paddle, but as my good friend says “To each, they own”.

Fork gnocchi / Paddle gnocchi

Here’s another point of interest.  Cook the gnocchi in simmering, salted water.  They will rise to the top when they are almost done.  Let them simmer for a minute and then remove them.  They will be cooked through and fluffy.  Some recipes ask for you to cook in boiling water.  I prefer to simmer.  Do what you like best.

You can reserve to a perforated tray, or even a resting / wire rack.

If you plan on eating these right away, toss them with oil (to keep from sticking) and keep them in a covered container, or put them into your sauce and serve.  Otherwise, proceed once the gnocchi have cooled a little bit, toss them with oil (olive or neutral), and set them out to cool on some parchment or a clean kitchen towel.  Reserve for your future use.

When you are ready to use the stored gnocchi, you can steam, saute, simmer, (microwave?) and serve with whatever sauce / garnish sounds tasty.

For my treat tonight, I sweated some diced onion, zucchini, and garlic with some chili flakes and rosemary.  Then I threw in some diced tomatoes and kumquats.  It was just what I was looking for.  I used 10 gnocchi for this portion which was a nice (smaller) side dish size.  I snacked on about 15 naked gnocchi while I was making them.  Quality control, of course.

Your first gnocchi may not be picture perfect, but hopefully they taste great.  It takes a little while for some people to get a ‘feeling’ for both the dough and the shaping.  If they look really terrible, just dim the lights, eat them with lots of red sauce and grated cheese, and find an excuse to try making them again soon.

Eat well and Be well!

-Scott

Thomas Keller’s Newest Book

Hey there –   If you read this blog even a little, you know I’m a fan of technique over recipes; ratios over complications.  If that sounds like something you might like to delve into, check out this new book.  The Ad Hoc at Home cook book has just recently been released, and it’s delicious.  Like all of Keller’s books, the photos are sexy, the writing is inspirational, and the mofo is heavy.  But this is a buttoned down T.K.  This is the backyard, crack a brewsky, slip into my yacht loafers T.K.  According to insiders, we can thank Chef Dave Cruz for this accessibility.  He spent months with out a day off in order to work on this book, and he put his heart and soul into it.  Bravo, Chef.

Here’s Chef Keller and me.  Chef Cruz is in the background right.

I had a copy signed for a friend, and the inscription reads “It’s all about family”.