Sunday, September 27, 2009

Buttercup Squash & Sage Ravioli (with Roasted Garlic & Walnut Sauce)

We're in that nice seasonal window when the gardens are still producing, the farmers markets are still rolling, and it's cool enough at night to turn on the oven and roast some veggies. Last night I roasted a bunch of garlic, a dozen beets, and a buttercup squash. I like doing this with a bunch of vegetables on the weekend, so they're easy and convenient for lunch and quick suppers during the week.

Today I used about half of the squash to make ravioli. Instead of making my own ravioli wrappers, I cheated and used gyoza wrappers. Gyoza or won ton wrappers lend themselves nicely to making ravioli, even though it's not exactly traditional. Just be careful to read the ingredients, since many brands contain eggs.

This ravioli filling was a fun balance of sweet and savory - natural sweetness from the roast squash, countered with roasted garlic, lots of fresh sage leaves, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. That's a walnut and roasted garlic sauce on the ravioli above - I wasn't crazy about the sauce's color, but it had great flavor.

Here's the breakdown, starting with the squash filling. These quantities made me about 15 ravioli:
1 1/2 cups of roasted buttercup (or any other sweet) squash
4 or 5 cloves of roasted garlic
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp ground peppercorn medley (optional - I just bought a McCormick peppercorn medley grinder, with a few different peppercorns, coriander, and allspice - good matches for squash)
12 to 15 fresh sage leaves, minced (or 2 tsp rubbed dry sage)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1. Mash the cooled squash and garlic together with a fork - it doesn't need to be completely smooth, just well combined. Meanwhile, saute the fresh sage leaves in the olive oil, just for a minute or two.

2. Add in the rest of the spices, and salt to taste. Mix well and set aside.

3. Making the ravioli is simple once you do a couple. First, have about a half cup of water on hand - you'll use this to dip your fingers in, then use your fingers to moisten and seal the edges of the pasta. Place a heaping spoonful of squash filling in the center of one gyoza or won ton wrapper, being careful not to smear squash on the edges.

4. Moisten and seal the edge of the wrapper all around, then crimp together tightly in order to seal them well. If they're not well-sealed, you'll know when you cook them. You can crimp them any way you like - I used a fork on the first one below - top left - but decided to just use my fingers and crimp them all the way around like gyozas. This turns the ravioli into little bowls, which work as little basins to hold a bunch of sauce. This wasn't planned, but seems like a good idea in hindsight :)

5. You can cook these in boiling water, but I just sauted them in a little olive oil on the flat side. Then add just enough water to cover them about halfway, and cover the pan. Kept on medium heat, this steams the ravioli - the advantage over boiling is that they move around less, and are thus less prone to breaking apart or coming unsealed.

The walnut sauce is a lot easier. Just put these ingredients in a blender or food processor:

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup raw walnuts
5 cloves roasted garlic
3/4 cup flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water (or pasta water if you boil the ravioli)

And blend to make a smooth sauce. If it's not combining down, add a little more water. I warmed this in a sauce pan just before serving, but there's no need to cook it. Toss the sauce with the ravioli, and enjoy! These are sort of labor-intensive, but worth the trouble.

Here's a bowl of chili I made earlier this week. It's with some leftover guajillo chile sauce from the previous post. I was trying to think of ways to use it up, and then the obvious one hit me. It's a bean and seitan chili, with garden tomatoes and a healthy shot of guajillo sauce.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guajillo Chile Enchiladas, Two Ways

I'm not yet ready to fly solo when making sauces with dried chile peppers, so I had my copy of Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen on the counter for this one. Yesterday I made my first sauce with guajillo chiles, and I was skeptical at first about what I was getting myself into. Before cooking, the sauce of guajillos, garlic, spices, and broth was unpleasantly, almost painfully hot, and I had that feeling that I'd just wasted a bunch of ingredients. I kept right along with the recipe though (and Bayless warns about the perils of raw chile heat), and after a half hour I had seared and simmered the sauce down to something impressive. It was thick, a beautiful brick red, and had fantastic flavor. Still hot, but in a great way. It mellowed while cooking in some kind of magical, alchemical way, and turned into something special.

I made an enchilada filling of tempeh, spinach, mushrooms, onion, and garlic. First I fried a crumbled 8 oz. package of tempeh in hot oil until it was browned and starting to get crunchy. I removed this from the pan, and sauteed the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, along with a little ground cumin, until everything was soft and fragrant. The raw spinach and browned tempeh went back in, and cooked just until the spinach was wilted down.

I took two approaches to making the enchiladas. The first photo above is a little trickier, and messier, than the second method. To make those enchiladas on top I quickly dipped corn tortillas in the guajillo sauce (completely cool by now), then fried them in hot canola oil for just a few seconds on each side. This sort of sears the sauce into the tortillas, but I found they were really fragile to work with...might have been the brand, which is a very soft tortilla. These were really tasty, and I loved how the sauce is fried into the tortilla. On the down side, it was kind of a mess to make these, and I got tired of torn tortillas.

The second method is much easier, and like enchiladas I've made before. Corn tortillas are stuffed with a little filling, rolled up, and packed into a baking pan on top of a little chile sauce. Extra chile sauce is poured over the top, and I baked them for just 20 minutes or so at 400 F. This was really good too, but not quite as exciting as the top version. I think I would go to the trouble of making those for company or a special occasion, while the simple oven version is good enough for every day enchiladas.

This guajillo sauce really is something though - worth a try if you're curious, and it's fun to watch the transformation of the sauce. The final product is something you can really be proud of, and it tastes really authentic.

Here's a couple more for the road. I picked up the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook last week - I love her site, and the cookbook has all of the quality and gorgeous photos as the blog. My humble little spelt flour pancakes look pretty ho-hum, but it's a great pancake recipe. I sort of fell in with the maple syrup, as you can see.

Finally, a stuffed green pepper. This wasn't especially exciting, but I think it's going somewhere. The idea was to mix cooked quinoa with the flavors of old school cream of mushroom soup. Man, I loved that stuff growing up. It's getting there, but my recipe isn't quite in shape yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hmong-inspired Chik'n & Tomato Stir Fry

Here's the latest reason why I love having a seemingly endless supply of cherry tomatoes this summer. It's adapted from a cookbook I picked up over the weekend, about Hmong cooking in America.

There is a big Hmong population in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and they have wonderful farmer's markets in the cities. It's one of many food traditions where I'm really curious but not very experienced, so I was happy to find this book - Cooking From The Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America - over the weekend. The book is equal parts recipes and cultural history, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Lots of the recipes are heavy on fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, and Asian greens - sounds good, right? The first thing I made was based on a chicken and tomato stir fry, which the authors say is more Hmong-American than traditional Hmong food from Laos.

Here's the ingredients:
1 tbsp. canola oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled, lightly crushed, and coarsely chopped
6 scallions - I used everything, saving some of the green ends for garnish
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 a package of Morningstar chik'n strips (chicken-style seitan, or any seitan for that matter, would be good too)
20 or so cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. tamari
1 tsp. agave nectar (sugar would work fine too)
lime juice
black pepper

1. Stir fry the garlic and scallions for 2 or 3 minutes in the oil, just until they begin to soften and become fragrant. Add the mock chicken or seitan, reduce heat, and cover for five minutes - just to steam the mock chicken or seitan until it's nice and hot.

2. Add the tomatoes and cilantro, and stir fry over medium heat just until the tomatoes are warm and the cilantro wilts a little bit. There's no need to overcook either, to keep the flavors nice and bright.

3. The original recipe calls for oyster sauce, but I finished this with tamari and agave nectar, mixed with just a couple tablespoons of water. Mix it in at the end, again just until everything is hot - a minute is enough.

4. I added lime juice to complement the fresh flavors of the green scallion ends and cilantro, but it's just fine without. Season to taste with black pepper, and eat immediately - I made some good white rice, which soaked up the flavors beautifully :)

This was worth snapping a photo too - chickpea croquettes from this month's Vegetarian Times, with a Greek-seasoned tomato and cucumber salad. The croquettes include roughly equal parts canned chickpeas and chickpea flour. I'm learning that chickpea flour is good in all kinds of places, and here it takes a star turn instead of a supporting role.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tomatoes and other goodness

If there is any food out there better than a fresh-picked tomato in the sunshine, I would love to hear about it. My tomato plants have been producing ripe fruit for over a month now, and they peaked this past weekend, when I picked a big basket full. My neighbor's have a dozen or so plants too, and they're sagging with huge, ripe, amazing tomatoes. I'll have to do some canning this weekend - I'm cooking with them and of course eating them raw as much as I can, but I can't keep up. What a great problem to have.

Besides the tomatoes, my family gave me a ton of fresh veggies when I was home last weekend. My sister's family has a big garden out in the country, and they gave me a bunch of pototoes, zucchini, these great twisty cucumbers, and peppers. To round things out, my parents gave me some sweet corn, a big bag of carrots and two big bunches of onions. And last week my brother, nephew, and I went down to a cool public apple orchard south of town and filled a couple bags. Needless to say my tiny kitchen is stuffed with veggies, and I'm just trying to keep up with everything at this point.

I'll keep this post to tomatoes, since I think they deserve the most attention, and everything else keeps a little longer. I've been making tomato-based suppers just about every night - there's a pot of marinara sauce on the stove right now. Here's a couple of pics of how tomatoes have been making me happy the last few days:

Another stove-top tomato sauce, over polenta slices. I mixed an ear of sweet corn in with the polenta, along with some fresh Italian parsley and basil.

I'm eating cherry tomatoes all day long. Here they're mixed with a tofu scramble, with some grated carrots and zucchini.

Just about every day, for lunch or an after-work snack, I make a little tomato and cucumber salad. They're the peanut butter and jelly of fresh summer veggies, really loving each other. Here they're joined by walnuts and walnut oil, with just a little sea salt. Walnut oil has a subtle flavor, and naturally complements walnuts really well. I'll have at least one full day off this weekend, so I'm looking forward to spending some more time cooking with the bounty in the kitchen. I know that in January I'll be dreaming of these days :)