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Turkey-cranberry ravioli

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What can I say? We’re crazy for ravioli-making now.

We were intrigued by, of all people, Giada De Laurentiis whipping up a turkey-cranberry stuffed ravioli on a recent segment. Now, while I am a bigtime tinkerer with recipes, there are some things I generally consider sacrosanct. The very notion of this peculiar fusion of Italian and American classics is not normally my milieu, but something about it piqued our interest.

Blasphemy of blasphemies, Giada used wonton wrappers for her ravioli. I understand the convenience, but I just can’t abide by this practice. Fortified by Wednesday’s pasta-making efforts, plus benefitting from both a full day with which to do it as well as an entire extra pair of hands while my mother was still in town, we jumped at the opportunity.

This second crack at the same recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Mastering Pasta book fared at least as well as the first. The dough was firm, pliable and just slightly on the wet side, all the better for the incorporation of flour while kneading and rolling.

In the interest of making cuter, more uniform pasta, we invested in a set of nesting ring molds and a pasta crimper. This makes it far, far easier than layering entire sheets of paste upon each other and cutting it down.

The ravioli are kind of a wry twist on Thanksgiving dinner — ground turkey, cranberry sauce, bread crumbs inside the pasta, smothered in a straight-up milk gravy. And you know what? They were pretty damn good. We just might repeat the experience on Turkey day proper.

I won’t repeat the recipe for the filling, cuz you can read it here. But the recipe for the pasta dough — with pictures! — follow after the jump.

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Midweek ravioli

Ravioli

"Bring home Italian wine," barked the IM from my other half.

"Why?"

"We’re having Italian food, duh."

Italian food? On a Wednesday? Is it Prince Spaghetti? AAAAAAANNNTHONEEEEEEEEEEE!

No, better than Prince pasta, imagine my surprise upon strolling through the front door to find my very own prince making pasta, diligently cranking dough through our pasta machine. Now, I love making pasta, but this much I can tell you: It goes much easier with an assistant. So I shed my jacket and bag, and returned to the kitchen to lend a hand.

But Anthony, er, DPaul wasn’t content to make mere ribbons of pasta. No tagliatelle or linguine, not even pappardelle. No, he simply had to go and make ravioli. Not that I’m complaining.

We have many recipes for fresh pasta, but this time DPaul selected one from a massive tome blandly titled Italian Cooking Encyclopedia (and loquaciously subtitled, "The definitive professional guide to Italian ingredients and cooking techniques, including 300 step-by-step recipes"). It’s a big, glossy book purchased at a corporate book fair, the kind you expect to be just fluffy food porn, but in fact has absolutely never steered us wrong. Every recipe is flawless. (Edit: DPaul corrected me — the recipe we used came from the Williams-Sonoma Mastering Pasta book. However, the Italian Cooking Encyclopedia is still our main go-to book for Italian recipes.)

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Otto Enoteca Pizzeria

OttoSurprise! I’m in New York for work. I flew out yesterday on a direct flight to Newark. The thing took off over an hour late, and because I had a crappy seat in the ass-end of the plane, the overheads were completely full by the time I was permitted to board, so I had to check my one wee bag that I had so lovingly and efficiently packed to prevent doing exactly that. Grumble.

I had hoped to make a stealth attack on Babbo last night and score a seat at the bar, but knew from a friend’s recent experience that after 7 pm odds dwindle dramatically. I popped my head in shortly before 8, and it didn’t take long to figure out that it just wasn’t going to happen. No sign of a host, and the bar was packed two deep. Next time.

Luckily, I had a backup plan. Scarcely two blocks away is another installment of the Batali culinary empire, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. Where Babbo is understated, Otto is boisterous. The bar is at least as much the point as the restaurant itself. If you’re waiting
for a table, you’re given a beautifully printed slip with the name of
an Italian city on it. Behind the host station is one of those European
train schedules with the tiles that clatter as the names of cities —
and by extension tables — come up: Vicenza, Ancona, Portenza… Between the host station and the bar itself are several standing counters where you can sip your sangiovese. The upshot of that is greater access to the bar proper, where you can order up. I was perched at the bar and perusing the menu within minutes.

I had read a few user reviews of the place and was a tad surprised to see a certain degree of tepidity in them. As with all user-generated content, though, you have to do a fair bit of reading between the lines. Anyone’s dining experience is measured first and foremost against the expectations you bring to the table. Diners that were expecting the quiet sophistication of Babbo were doomed to disappointment. This is a pizzeria and wine bar. Those that rated the place well seemed to get that.

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Il Cantuccio

CantuccioThere is a time for fancy-pants high-end restaurants, and there is a time for lowbrow street eats. In between, it is time for the good neighborhood restaurant, the regular haunt, the failsafe. I have a mental rolodex of such places, eateries where we can drop in at a moment’s notice and get a good, solid meal at a reasonable price. For us, in the Italian category, Il Cantuccio has been this place for a number of years. But it was not always so.

For the first few years of its existence, Il Cantuccio was a well-kept secret. It had taken over in the spot that had been a few short-lived restaurants, the kind of space that has the stench of failure on it, and so we paid it little heed at first. At the time, we were loyalists of the now-defunct Caffe Ponte Vecchio (where Bistro Annex sits today) and its occasionally surly proprietor, Corrado. But when Corrado moved to Florida to be closer to his kids, we were left without a neighborhood Italian spot.

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Supplì

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So far some 270 bloggers have posted their list of five things to eat before they die, myself included, but I as yet have not seen evidence of a huge number of people actually actively eating these things. Perhaps I’ve got a bit of the pessimist in me, but life is short. If you woke up tomorrow at the pearly gates (or wherever it is you will end up …), would you regret not eating that perfect slice of key lime pie, that scrumptious panettone, those Latvian pancakes? Well, I’m not waiting.

Ever since I got supplì (that’s soup-PLEE) on the brain, I knew there would be one of two inevitable outcomes: Fly to Rome or make the damn things ourselves. A trip to Rome would be delightful, but improbably expensive and inconvenient at this time. Besides, we had leftover risotto. What a coincidence!

As I mentioned in the meme posting, supplì are one of the few uniquely Roman things that rise above the fray of the culinary landscape there. The first time we went and stayed with my cousins in the Prati district, north of the Vatican, they brought some of these home from their local deli, knowing it would be a special treat. We were immediately hooked. And no trip to Rome is complete without eating some of these.

During that trip, when the family would whisk us around the city from one impressive sight to another at just under the speed of sound, as our energy flagged, DPaul meant to say, "ho fame" — I’m hungry — but accidentally said, "ho fama" — I am famous. DPaul was famous several times during these sightseeing excursions, and my cousin Laura noted, "Ah, hai una buona forchetta." You have a good fork. A charming idiom meaning to have a good appetite.

We always have a good fork for these treats, and I’m pleased to note that they are actually rather easy to make at home. Served while still hot, they are crispy on the outside with a gooey mozzarella center inside a firm risotto casing (edit: this is the root of the dish’s full name, supplì al telefono. Evidently the sight of dangling strings of mozzarella cheese is reminiscent of telephone wires, and so several dishes with molten mozz are dubbed "al telefono."); however, they are also still good at room temperature. Next time around I’ll make them a little bit smaller, and serve them as a first course. Recipe after the jump.

(Photo: DPaul Brown)

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Pseudo-saltimbocca

SaltimboccaSo we’re back from San Diego, where it was armpit-hot and about as muggy. I’d like my temperate Bay Area weather, please.

I didn’t do much cooking last week, and in fact was deliberately letting the larder go empty a bit, in part because we were going out of town (even if only for a couple of days) and in part to kind of clean the slate. So when we got back, we immediately placed a Safeway delivery order for the next day to stock up again.

Since we don’t own a car and do live on the third floor, grocery delivery is a godsend. We were spoiled in the boomy days of the ’90s by Webvan and Kozmo, and my heart still aches from the loss of both of them. (Oh, and anyone remember Cook Express? That was convenience food that actually made me a better cook!) Safeway.com is a pale facsimile of Webvan, but it will have to do. On the whole, it’s great, except when they are conveniently "out" of all the heavy things.

One of the nice things about Safeway.com is a historical view of everything you’ve ever bought via the site. The downside of that is that I tend to buy many of the same things without checking first to see whether we still have some of it. Consequently, we have three jars of peanut butter, three blocks of cream cheese and lots of butter. But the freezer is the real black hole. I think right now we have two pork tenderloins, three pounds of flank steak and god knows how many boneless skinless breasts. It’s a regular barnyard in there. Did I mention I used to be a vegetarian? (Well, I did eat seafood.)

Anyway. As much of a from-scratch kind of guy I am, I am all about convenience food when it comes to meat and poultry. I happen to like the thin-cut boneless skinless breasts very much. I guess that’s good, cuz we’ll be eating on them for months. I find them convenient and well-portioned.

Portioning is key. When I was weaning myself back onto meat after some 15 years of fishetarianism, it was very hard for me to face a big slab of any kind of meat. Even still, I prefer thin, delicate cuts. And this is just one of the reasons why I love, love, love Italy. They are masters of the cutlet. And the equation of thin-cut meat, dredged in flour and fried in butter? Yeah, that cured my vegetarianism fairly handily.

So this chicken-based knockoff of saltimbocca (as opposed to the original veal, though pork works every bit as well) is one of those dishes I pull out now and again. It’s easy, it’s convenient and it’s pretty damn tasty. It’s easy enough to make on a Monday (as I did), yet also elegant enough to serve to company. Pic-a-rific recipe after the jump.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the sage for this dish came from my very own herb garden! It certainly is gratifying to pop out to the back stairs and pluck up some super-fresh herbage, as opposed to spending three bucks at the grocery store for herbs of dubious provenance and age.

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Chilled melon soup with prosciutto and mint

MelonsoupWe had a dinner party last Thursday, and it’s taken me some time to pull together my notes and images to get the recipes up from it. But it was a fairly successful meal all around, and I wanted to document at least a couple of notable items.

For this event, I broke the cardinal rule of dinner parties: Every single dish I made I was making for the very first time. That said, I didn’t make anything all that complicated and so felt pretty confident that each dish would turn out at least well enough to serve to friends, if maybe not droolingly delicious. I am pretty sure I met at least that goal. Of course, it helps that I cheated on dessert and bought a bunch of pots de crème from Miette.

For the first course, I stole an idea from our recent exceptional meal at Acquerello: Chilled melon soup with prosciutto and mint. At Acquerello, they used galia melon, which was a brilliant green and extremely fragrant. I was unable to find galias, purtroppo, as they are my favorites, and had to resort to cantaloupe. But I think this would work well with any melon as long as it is very fresh, very ripe and very sweet and fragrant.

This is obviously a permutation on the classic Italian appetizer prosciutto e melone. But making it into a chilled soup lends a certain elegance, and the addition of mint adds a pleasant dimension of freshness and added complexity.

The recipe is simplicity itself, though it is slightly more than just pureeing melon. You have to bolster the melon with some supporting flavors lest it taste one-dimensional. A dash of sugar, a pinch of salt and some lime juice and Grand Marnier helped to build a more complex flavor and bouquet while still not getting in the way of the beautiful, ripe melon.

As per usual, the recipe follows after the jump, with the one caveat that measurements are extremely approximate. I did everything to taste, and so should you.

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