rigatoni and roasted delicata squash

About two months ago my entire kitchen  — along with every other room in the four bedroom Colonial Revival home I’d lived in for the past 10 years — was packed into a seemingly endless pile of boxes and loaded onto a long distance semi trailer truck, headed for New Jersey.

It took a few professionals less than a day to wrap and pack it all, but here I am, these many weeks later still sliding razor blades, sticky from packing tape, along the tops of the few remaining boxes.

Settling into a new space is a process. As I unpacked pots, pans, dishes and so many spoons, spatulas and whisks along with them I also found things that I didn’t know I had and had no idea I needed. Like about a thousand bamboo cocktail skewers, for example. And 3 dozen souffle cups.

“Why do I have all this stuff?” I wondered over and over…the whole experience left me a more than a little traumatized. I made a promise to myself that from now on I need to imagine the inevitable exit of every single thing I bring into my house.

Cooking in my new kitchen has progressed from the baby steps of basic survival meals. I’ve been inspired by food shopping. There are fantastic markets here, so well-stocked I have to restrain myself…all I need to do is remember how I gave away my pantry while we were packing a few months ago.

One night I riffed on a recipe from Heidi’s 101 Cookbooks, a roasted delicata squash, chile and mozzarella salad. Delicata is only around for a few months (right now) and I’m always glad to see it. The beautiful, striated green and sunset yellow skin is tender enough that there’s no need to peel it — I sometimes just scrape the skin randomly here and there to remove blemishes — and the flesh roasts up tender and very sweet.

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pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Right around this time last year I read a cranky rant (well, okay, I guess you could say rants by nature lean toward the cranky side), can’t remember where. Someone complaining about those crazed foodies who seemed to be suffering from some kind of trendy spring fever, everywhere strewing ramps onto every inch of their food and posting pictures of the resulting culinary mayhem all over the Internets.

Now here I am offering up my gratuitous ramp post. You could call me a crazed foodie I suppose, but it has to be said that there’s a reason people go nuts for these stinky undomesticated onions.

ramps

Ramps are alliums, members of the onion family. They’re wild relatives to leeks and garlic, possessed of a certain mysterious something that makes them exciting to be around, their aroma a presence of musky funkiness that somehow makes you lean in closer, provocatively.

Like your second cousin once-removed who shows up at Sunday dinner just home with his Eurail pass; sporting long ungroomed hair and a 5 o’clock shadow a good month exposed, still shaking out sand from a longer-than-planned sojourn on that beautiful but undiscovered beach located somewhere on the coast of the former Yugoslavia.

Untamed, but something you would very much like to get to know, or better yet devour hungrily with no words spoken. I’m talking about ramps here, remember. This is a family channel.

Dandelion greens are another spring thing that pops up, gets foraged and scattered over food but dandelion greens don’t have quite the sexy cachet that a few bunches of ramps do. Could it be it’s that they don’t have that delicious dirty smell? They are also admittedly bitter and a little tough, especially closer to the stems.

dandelion greens

My grandmother would cook dandelion down to a murky brown, then saturate them with garlicky olive oil. They went on the table once the smaller people had long departed with bellies full of macaroni, meatballs and assorted pastries. It was the comfort food of her generation, and her grown children too.

I can now appreciate – and even crave – all things on the bitter taste spectrum, greens included. I prefer not to cook them down to mush, although I recognize that long, long cooking removes a bit of that. The dandelion greens you can buy in the produce section aren’t wild but cultivated, definitely milder than wild ones from the backyard.

This combination of strong greens is a good match with pasta of the same character. I love these dried thick hollow noodles from Tuscany called pici  – I found a bag recently at An Olive Ovation, a boutique olive oil store in St. Louis.

Chef Jacob Kennedy describes pici in his fantastic book The Geometry of Pasta as “almost brutish in their diameter and lack of uniformity; they go with brutish sauces…”

pici pasta

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Yield: serves 2 - 4

Substitute bucatini or perciatelli pasta for the pici, which are similar long hollow-shaped pasta.

Ingredients

  1. 12 ounces pici, bucatini or perciatelli pasta
  2. 1 bunch ramps, root ends trimmed
  3. 1 bunch (about ½ pound) dandelion greens; washed
  4. ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  5. 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced lengthwise
  6. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  7. Kosher salt
  8. 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or dried crushed chili

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
  2. Rinse the ramps to remove any dirt or mud. Separate the green leafy tops from the root ends; slice the greens into thin ribbons and slice the ramp stalks and bulbs thinly crosswise.
  3. Slice the woody stems off the dandelion greens until only about ½-inch remains.
  4. Heat the oil and garlic in a sauté pan until the garlic becomes fragrant and starts to sizzle (but not turn brown). Toss in the ramps and greens and move them around in the pan. Cook partially covered until the greens are wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente – it will take a bit longer to cook than spaghetti or thinner long pasta shapes. Just before draining scoop out 1/3 cup of the pasta water and whisk into the eggs.
  6. Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan off the heat; drizzle in the eggs and toss everything together. Sprinkle with the chili and taste for more salt.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/pici-pasta-with-ramps-and-dandelion-greens/

fava bean ravioli

fava bean ravioli

It’s been raining so much where I live that the grass seems to have Green Giant superpowers and I’m starting to have a tiny inkling what it could be like to live in the Pacific Northwest. Notice I said “tiny”.

I realize that 2 or 3 days of back-to-back misty gray couldn’t ever compare to seemingly endless months without blue skies. It’s just that when the sun has popped out for a few minutes lately, it’s been notable. In the lights blinking on in the middle of the night during a power outage kind of way. But the upside is that the world outdoors is such a Technicolor shade of green, actually shades of green with all the chartreuse new growth exploding everywhere, that it hurts my eyes a little. In a good way, of course.

fava beans shelling and peeling fava beans
fava bean ravioli fava_bean

Verdant shades of green have been part of my cooking lately too, and I don’t expect that will fade anytime soon. And just wait – ramps are coming!

Fava beans are one of those harbingers of spring I like to grab while they last. Usually at this early point in the season favas are still pretty tiny and tender, but the ones I brought home recently were more manly in stature – big boys.  I have a feeling they were grown somewhere south of California, if you know what I mean. When the beans are bigger than a thumbnail – 1/2  inch or so – they develop more starch. Which makes them a perfect filling for ravioli.

fava bean ravioli recipe

Favas are a bit of work, but not tediously so, as shelling tiny peas can sometimes be. They require a two-step process to prepare for cooking, shucking them first from their thick-skinned velvety pods and then peeling off the tougher outer coat surrounding the bean, which simply means the cook is free to enjoy the Zen-like peaceful place of soothing repetition. If you’re into that sort of thing, I mean.

If you can find fresh pasta sheets at your local store or Italian market, making a batch of these ravioli becomes a few steps simpler.

fava bean ravioli

fava bean ravioli

Yield: about 2 dozen ravioli

Serving Size: 4 - 6

Ingredients

  1. Ravioli dough:
  2. 6 large egg yolks
  3. 3 whole large eggs
  4. 3 cups flour, all-purpose or Italian-style “00”; plus additional
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. Filling:
  7. 2 ½ pounds fava beans in their pods
  8. ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, plus additional
  9. 3 tablespoons drained whole milk ricotta cheese
  10. ¼ cup chopped fresh mint or Italian parsley
  11. ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  12. Salt to taste
  13. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  14. 2 tablespoons butter
  15. 2 leeks, sliced into thin matchsticks
  16. ½ pound asparagus, sliced into ½-inch pieces

Instructions

  1. To make the ravioli dough, pulse the egg yolks, whole eggs, 3 cups flour and salt in a food processor until the dough comes together in a ball. Add more flour if the dough seems very sticky. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead briefly until the dough is smooth. Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour at room temperature.
  2. To make the filling, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Shell the favas, then drop them into the water to blanch for 2 minutes; drain. When cool enough to handle, make a small tear on the tough outer skins and peel them off. You should have about 3 cups peeled fava beans.
  3. Reserve ½ cup of the fava beans, and put the rest in a food processor along with the ricotta, grated cheese, mint and pepper. Puree to a thick, smooth consistency. Be sure to taste the mixture for salt as needed.
  4. Divide dough into 4 portions, keeping reserved dough covered while working so it doesn’t dry out. Flour the dough and roll into thin 3-inch wide sheets on a pasta machine (I stop at setting 6 on my hand-cranked Atlas). Trim the sheets into workable sections about 2 feet long and place on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Form the fava filling into small balls about 1-inch in diameter and arrange 1 inch apart in the center of pasta sheet. Make an egg wash with an egg white and a drop of water, and brush over the dough all around the filling. Fold dough lengthwise over the filling, pressing gently between each ravioli and pinching to seal along the open edge.
  6. Cut the ravioli with a fluted cutter or use a pizza cutter if you don’t have one. Transfer the ravioli to a floured tray and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  7. Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Sweat the leeks with a pinch of salt until soft; add the asparagus, cover and cook 2 minutes, until tender but still bright green. Remove from heat and stir in the reserved fava beans.
  8. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the ravioli in about 6 at a time and cook until they float to the surface, usually less than 3 minutes. Remove ravioli using a slotted spoon or mesh skimmer and keep warm; transfer to a serving bowl and combine with the sauce. Serve right away with more grated cheese alongside.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/fava-bean-ravioli/