Lasagna a la Uncle Scooter

Welcome back, gentle readers!  I’ve been away from the computer (and the kitchen) for a little while as I’ve been settling into my new role as the gm for Firefly, a landmark neighborhood institution here in San Francisco.  Now that I’m fully plugged in, I wanted to get back to feeding you, too.

Lasagna, for me, falls into a special category of foods; good today, better tomorrow.  So when I can, I get started on this dish a day in advance.  However, pulling a dish like this together and not eating it, requires more will power than I have the time to cultivate.  Ah well.  This style of lasagna, bound together with a cheesy sauce, was introduced to me by Michael Park back in the day.  I don’t make it any other way now.  Also, I like the “no boil” noodles, but do what your heart wants.  Let’s jump right in –

When I make a lasagna, I like to make the sauce separately.  In this case I made a pork and beef red sauce, with onion, garlic, carrot, fennel, and orange.

Here’s the soffritto shot.  In the French tradition, the aromatic base for a dish is mirepoix, (onion, carrot, celery) in the Italian tradition; soffrito (onion, garlic, carrot, fennel, other tasty things).  The Italian style uses olive oil, but the principal is the same for both, sweat some tasty bits of vegetables until they are soft and sweet and delicious.

Next, brown the meat(s), deglaze with a little wine and reduce that wine by half.  Then I added the tomato product and aromatics.  Fresh oregano and a little orange zest went in the pot.  Next up, cheese sauce!

By my count, we’ve seen the above process (or some variation) fifteen hundred times already at swfoodworks.com.  We do however have a technique newcomer; singer (sawn-jay).  Here’s what Larusse has to say:  “Singer  A French culinary term meaning to sprinkkle ingredients browned in fat with flour before adding liquid (such as wine, stock or water) to make a sauce”.  But that’s not all, “[t]he term previously meant to colour a sauce with caramel, which was familiarly called jus de singe (‘monkey juice’)”.  Which only reminds me of Eddie Izzard’s Dressed to Kill monolouge in french.  I’ll spare you the laborious reading, and point you here if you have questions about what makes a roux, bechamel, or mornay.  I’m making a quart of sauce, so I started by sweating some garlic cloves and bay leaf in a couple table spoons of butter.  When that smelled great, I sprinkled a couple of heaping table spoons of flour in the pot and whisked it around for a few minutes.  Then I added the quart of whole milk and stirred until the whole mess thickened.  Voila!

For the lasagna proper, I wanted to make a vegetable filling of potatoes (above sauteed with garlic), red onion, oregano, and citrus zest (below, in the bowl).

Now that the meat sauce has simmered and is delicious, the bechamel is prepared, and the filling is ready, we have to assemble the dish.  I have some fresh mozzarella to add some cheesy-body and I wanted to add a little ricotta along with the filling.  Here is the assembly process in photos, and the directions in haiku:

Sauce, noodles, filling

cheese, sauce, noodles, cheese, filling

cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese

Of course, please finish with seasonings (salt, pepper, nutmeg?), wrap with foil and bake in a hot oven (350 or so).  Peek under the foil after an hour to see how everything is coming along.  If the sauce is bubbly, you’re good to go.  Remove the foil and bake (or broil) looking for a nicely browned top layer.  Comme ça.

Now, let that steaming tray of delicious sit on out and start to cool.  If you can stand it, wait for several hours before cutting out a slice and making lunch.  If you can not, at least wait while you set the table.

Then, heat up your ragout, cut out a slice, and sauce the noodles.  If you are making this plate after the lasagna has had a chance to rest, it’s easy to heat up the individual servings on a sheet tray or small oven proof dish.

No fancy wrap-up for this posting.  I just want to wish the best for your family, friends, health, and happiness.  Au revior,  Scott.

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Baked Rigatoni with Three Cheeses

“Like cheese and macaroni” is an Italian idiomatic expression used when two things work together harmoniously, naturally, and effortlessly.  I would add deliciously to that list.  Cheese and noodles are really satisfying together, but you already know that, don’t you?  🙂  I’m a big fan of baked or broiled noodle dishes.  This last step adds other dimensions of flavor and texture, and it’s pretty simple to execute.  So let’s jump into this version of cheese and macaroni!

Here’s the shopping cart; mushrooms, sausage, onion, garlic, parsley, and three cheeses (blue, fontina and Gouda).  I like the cheese trifecta.  The fontina melts well, gouda lends body and sweetness, and the blue gives a punch of salt and savor.

Here’s what you need in order to make a cheese sauce at home.  Essentially, what you’re making is a cheese rich bechamel sauce.  Bechamel is a milk sauce that is thickened with roux.  If you need roux tips, look here.  I little tip I always remember for bechamel is that one ounce of roux with thicken one cup of milk.  So for this batch I used four ounces total (2 butter, 2 flour).

Once you get your white sauce up and running, get that cheese in the works.  For a quart of sauce, I started with about two cups of cheese business.  Stir the cheese into your warm sauce, and season with a little of whatever you like.  I like nutmeg and cayenne, salt and black pepper.

And here’s the other stuff that makes eating pasta so delicious; mushrooms, onion, and sausage.  If you buy little closed mushrooms like the ones here, I always wash them off before I proceed.  If they are wild, or have exposed gills, I brush, or wipe, or pick them clean.  When I can, I like to use one pan for this part, so I start with a good high-heat saute on the mushrooms until they color, and then I bring the onions to the party.  Last, I give the sausage a little time in the pan to color and develop flavors.

The, I like to drain all of the ‘garnish’ so that I’m not diluting my delicious cheese sauce with the moisture that the veggies are giving up.  It’s all about the little thing…

You could use standard bread crumbs for dishes like these or you can dress them up a bit.  This version is a parsley bread crumb.  When you get herbs, be sure to wash before using.  I know they look clean and all that, but there’s almost always dirt there, I assure you.  Use a big bowl, and shake the herbs around.  Then, drain them and spin them dry in a salad spinner like the crazy yellow one above.  If you find yourself stranded on a small desert island with no herb spinning device, use a colander and then roll the herbs in some paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, and give them a good squeeze to absorb the water.

This is a quick way to chop the crap out of some parsley, and then make tasty bread crumbs.  Toss the parsley into a food processor, and pulse it until the pieces start to get small.  Then, throw in some of your bread crumbs, which will help get everything chopping.  Once everything is the size you want, add the remaining bread crumbs and pulse a couple of times to incorporate them.  Oh, start boiling some water, it’s almost time to eat!

Now, take a minute to make them really delicious.  Add a little garlic, some olive oil, and grated Parmesan, then taste, and season with salt and pepper to your liking.  You can turn on the broiler at this point, too.

I made a whole mess of this stuff, so I saved the rest for later (on gnocchi, and on baked eggs, and to thicken a soup).

Now we just need to bring everything together.  Add the garnish to the cheese sauce, incorporate them well, and check the flavor.  Adjust the seasoning, and make sure the sauce is delicious.  I added a little Tabasco and cayenne in the end.

For this dish, I wanted almost equal volumes of noodles and sauce.  I also had some fresh basil kicking around in the vegetable drawer, so it went into the mix, torn into bite-size pieces.  Then I added the warm sauce to the hot rigatoni and tossed it all together.

Here’s the last step in the dish.  I plated the pasta, and covered it with the parsley bread crumb mixture.  Then I popped it into the oven, under the broiler.  When the bread crumbs were toasty and delicious looking, I pulled these guys out, and we went to town.  Be sure to keep an eye on them in the broiler, once they start to brown they can go from delicious to burnt pretty quickly.

While it may not be the macaroni and cheese that some of us grew up eating, it is a tasty variation that is open to interpretations.  My friend Shane still remembers the mac & cheese we used to serve him at my first (real) restaurant job in Nebraska.  That was over ten years ago, folks.  Powerful stuff.  I hope you find some tips or ideas in this episode to turn up the volume on your next cheesy pasta moment.

Be well, and eat well-

-Scott

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

Tagliatelle, potatoes, Pt. Reyes Blue, walnuts, mushrooms, and black garlic –

Come Closer -

Yep.  That’s right.  Winter as we know and use it has gently settled into the bay area, and it’s time for some hot carb on carb action.  This is a variation of a dish that Michael Park made for me back in the days of Restaurant Vintage Park (Kearney, Nebraska).  We ate some great pasta there at the restaurant, and also (as my roommate from that period reminded me the other day) quite a lot of pasta at home as well.  Here’s to a healthy helping of cozy carbohydrates draped in creamy warmth.  Enjoy the show below!

For me, what’s great about this dish is its balance of flavors.  Bitter (from the walnut skins), sweet (black garlic, cream), sour (blue cheese), salt (blue cheese once again), savor or umami (from the walnut, cheese, and mushrooms).  There is also a earthy, and starchy goodness along with a pleasant blend of textures.  I like the nutmeg as an aromatic note, and the cayenne lends its heat which is welcome with a richer sauce.  Enjoy the season, and experiment with this pasta idea.  Substitutions, additions, subtractions and tweaks can all be employed with this forgiving bowl of comfort.

Be well and Eat well –

-Scott

Scallop and Chanterelle ‘Primavera’

Maybe more like a Pasta di Autuno.  Let’s be honest.  Spring is long behind us, but the spirit of ‘Primavera’ is alive and well is this dish that celebrates the transition between Indian Summer, and Bay Area Autumn.  As long as were in the “Honesty Zone”, this isn’t the dish I was thinking about making when I was wandering around the farmer’s market.  My housemates had mentioned lobsters yesterday…  They were on sale at the local market.

I love eating lobsters and chanterelles together, so that’s where I originally planned for this dish to go.  However; when I got to the market, I just didn’t feel like killing the little bugs.  And I certainly didn’t want ones that had been cooked already.  Who knows how they cooked those things.  So I opted for some little bay scallops instead.  I find I’m using vegetables cut like noodles in my pasta dishes more and more.  I like the texture, the color, and the interest they add.  This dish features a few veggies done in that style.  The story unfolds in pictures below.  Click for more info, tips and techniques.  Cheers!

Maybe when I have a little more time on my hands I’ll get back to the lobster business.  I do love to cook those little buggers.  Ah, well.  I hope that you are cooking with your senses and including flexibility in your repertoire of frequently used kitchen tools.  There are substitutions and variations for almost any dish you have in mind.  Don’t be afraid to bend with the breeze.

Here’s to your next cooking adventure!

-Scott