Pasta, Noodles, and Dumplings The Book

147. Butternut Squash, Sage, and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Hazlenut-Brown Butter Sauce p.236

The recipe

This dish was my contender in our ongoing series of food battles. They faced off against my dining companion’s lovely beet and ricotta stuffed ravioli, which turned a vibrant fuchsia as they cooked. As is always the case with these battles, we both think we’ve won, because we’ve chosen recipes that suit our moods that night. The only way to solve this is to get an outside expert to come eat with us. My sister loves the idea of judging my food, but she doesn’t eat red meat, which limits her judging potential. This battle was completely meat free, and we just forgot to invite her. She brings it up every time I see her, and I don’t think she’ll forgive me ’till I show up on her doorstep with a ravioli sampler platter.

The ravioli came together easily. You start by roasting a butternut squash, scooping it out, and mashing the flesh. You then brown onion in butter with sage salt and pepper, and mix it into the squash, along with some of the oldest, hardest, and stinkiest goat cheese you can get your hands on. The squash is then distributed among 60 wonton wrappers, and sealed up. You can do all of this ahead, and refrigerate the ravioli ’till dinner time. While the water for the ravioli is coming to a boil, you brown butter with chopped toasted hazelnuts. The ravioli are boiled for a few minutes, and served with the hazelnut-brown butter drizzled on top.

I cheated with this recipe. I decided to do about five times more work than The Book called for, and made my own pasta for the ravioli. Wonton wrappers are just fine, and work quite well for ravioli, but I really prefer fresh pasta for applications like this. The texture is just that much more appealing, and in theory you have much more control of the shape (in practice some of those shapes are a little wonky). Making pasta is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and the rolling is exceedingly satisfying. The ravioli were very good, and I think that’s in part due to the pasta. I imagine they’d be fairly similar with wonton wrappers though.

These ravioli were really hearty. They were absolutely delicious, and intensely flavourful. In fact they were so flavour packed that I’d only want to eat two or three of them. They would work best as one course in an elaborate dinner. Roasted butternut squash is high on my list of good things in this world, and it has a wonderful affinity for sage and goat cheese. The flavour pairings in this dish are absolutely right, everything is well proportioned, and it tastes rich and luxurious without being overwhelming.

I could have lived without the hazlenut-brown butter sauce. It was nice and all, but I didn’t find it all that necessary. Preparing the hazelnuts was a hassle, they had to be toasted, and then rolled in a cloth to get their skins off. Unfortunately the skins didn’t quite come all the way off, and flecks of skin ended up burning in my butter, adding unattractive black specks, and a bit of a charred flavour. The ravioli were certainly rich enough without adding nuts, and it was possibly one flavour too many. A little brown butter would have been a nice accompaniment, but the hazelnuts were overkill.

I was very well pleased with my entry to Battle: Ravioli. I’d absolutely make these again, and I’d probably make a double batch just to stash some in the freezer.

Fish and Shellfish The Book

97. Sole Meunière p.284

No recipe for this one.

This is one of the simple and elegant classics that make French food so revered. It’s the first dish Julia Child had in France, and she credits that lunch of sole meunière as the catalyst for her cooking and eating career. This is about the simplest possible fish preparation there is, a fillet of dover sole is dredged in flour, then pan fried in browned butter and parsley. A quick sauce is made of the pan juices with a bit more butter, salt, and lemon juice.

When the ingredient list is short it’s a good cue to make especially sure that everything you’re using is of the best possible quality and freshness. If you use butter that has picked up a bit of flavour from the fridge, there’s no way you’re going to be able to hide it here. Unfortunately fresh local sole isn’t really a possibility in North America. Dover sole is sometimes available, but it’s fished in Europe. Gray sole is much more readily available, but it’s not actually in the same fish family, and the taste is different. Nevertheless gray sole is what I used, and I was thoroughly pleased with the results.

The simplicity and balance of the flavours here are the reason it’s a classic. It wouldn’t be half as good if you didn’t brown the butter properly, the nutty aromas make the dish. The lemon simultaneously adds sweetness and acid, and the faint flavour of parsley actually serves a purpose in a dish this subtle. The dredge in flour means you get a crispy coating, and the aromas of just baked bread are a bonus. The fish was moist and succulently flaky. My only complaint is that cooking the parsley along with the fish makes it kind of black and ugly by the end. I added a little fresh just for looks. The flavour of the fish is very mild, and it takes a delicate preparation to allow it to play the lead. Everything in the dish is there to support the fish, and they do a great job of highlighting it without stealing the spotlight.

I’ve been eagerly following this season of “Top Chef”, and I’m waiting with baited breath for the finale. One of the contestants, Casey, has had her food called “soulful” by half a dozen of the best chef’s going. The bravo forums have been abuzz wondering what soulful actually means. The best definition I’ve heard is that the food is well seasoned, balanced, thoughtful, and instantly familiar. It should tap into our collective sense of childhood favorites and family classics. This dish is a quintessential example of soulful. It’s not fussy, it’s just good.

The Book Vegetables

9. Brown-Buttered Corn With Basil p. 534

Again, no recipe for you today but this side dish is so easy you really don’t need one. I browned butter in a heavy bottomed pan, and added corn kernels, salt, and pepper. When the kernels were tender (around 4-5 minutes) I stirred in some torn basil leaves.

I think the proportions were a bit off in this one. The book recommends 2 TBS of butter, 3 cups of corn, and 1 cup of basil. I would cut the butter and basil in half. Both added really nice flavours, but the extra butter just wasn’t really necessary. The problem with the basil was too much flavour, it started to overpower the corn a bit. I’d also be careful about shredding the basil very finely, as it was I got a lot stuck in my teeth.

Despite my criticisms I thought this was pretty good; fresh and summery. I think the browned butter was a great idea, it added a much appreciated layer of nuttiness to the dish which contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the corn.