Pumpkin ravioli

Two Fridays ago, with no transition at all, fall began in New York City. By the next Monday, the autumn smell was undeniable. Hooray! 

Fall is my favorite time of the year (besides Christmas of course). I love the crisp, mild weather, the sweater and boot attire, and, most obviously, the food. Rich, warm flavors, often involving lots of butter. The kind of food that you just associate to good memories. Think Thanksgiving.

Anywho, when I began to sense autumn’s presence, my thoughts naturally drifted to none other but pumpkin. I’m certainly not onto to something new, as evident with Starbucks pumpkin latte phenomenon. In fact, my friends just made delicious pumpkin whoopie pies this past weekend. I am, I suppose, a big cooking-with-pumpkin proponent. There are lots of recipes I have in mind for this fall season, but the one I decided to try first was pumpkin ravioli. I should clarify that I did not in fact handcraft the ravioli; the main ingredient was store bought. But hey, I am coming to grips with the fact that its often more sensible and enjoyable to save time with premade ingredients.

I took the recipe from Giada: ravioli with balsamic brown butter sauce. The recipe suggests cheese, mushroom or squash ravioli. I’m still confused as to whether pumpkin is considered a type of squash, but I decided regardless that it would be delicious. And I was right. The balsamic vinegar added some pizazz to the foamy butter. I’m not sure if it sounds a bit strange to some, but with such earthy flavors from the walnuts and the cheese, the tangy hint from the vinegar is actually quite nice.

The dish was not an immediate success. Lesson learned: taste test. I didn’t use exact measurements, and I served myself before trying the sauce. Mistake. I had to add more cheese and more salt. While in most cases you have to be careful not to make a dish taste salty, salt is very important to enhance and highlight different flavors. Do not underestimate its power. (Example: every Food Network star will tell you to be generous in adding salt to cook pasta)

Giada knows her stuff. This recipe is as simple as melting butter and grating cheese, and is a perfect after-work meal. I enjoyed this dinner with a nice cold beer and the season premiere of Glee. It was a day when all I could think was my dad’s favorite saying: life is good.

(Photo from Food Network website)

 Ravioli with Balsamic Brown Butter
Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

18 to 20 oz store-bought ravioli (cheese, mushroom, or squash)
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c toasted, chopped walnuts *
1/4 c grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook 4 to 5 minutes, until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain ravioli onto a large serving platter.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan cook the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the foam subsides, and the butter begins to turn a golden brown, about 3 minutes, turn off the heat. Let cool for about 1 minute. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Transfer the ravioli to the saucepan with the balsamic brown butter. Sprinkle walnuts and Parmesan over the top. Serve immediately.

* To toast the walnuts, you can heat them in a skillet over medium-heat for 3-4 minutes. The walnuts have plenty of natural oils, so no need to add anything else. Stir often and heat until they become fragrant.


Truffled mushroom quesadilla

A little bit of truffle salt goes a long way. The black truffle salt from Dean and Deluca is amazing. If you ever wander into the store, you must try it. My sister Maria surprised me with a jar, and its one of my favorite gifts because its not something I would have splurged for myself.

Anywho.. I’ll give myself a nice pat on the back for this quesadilla. On a very ordinary night, with no special occasion, I casually whipped together a dinner that me very content. I mentioned in my last post that the truffle salt was not meant for the pizza I made. It should really be used in something where you are able to notice the depth of flavor it adds. A quesadilla is one option! I had a similar quesadilla a few months ago at a Bier International in Harlem. The service was terrible, the fries nothing special, but the quesadilla was pretty yummy. So I decided to create my own version.
What made this whole dinner even better, is that it didn’t cost anything extra for me to make. I made use of the ingredients I already had. Typical me had gotten too many mushrooms in preparation for the pizza. I heated some olive oil in a cast iron skillet and sautéed them with truffle salt. At this point, they already began to smell marvelous and I was becoming more hungry, excited, and proud of myself by the minute. In the same skillet, I heated the tortillas and layered it with MONTEREY JACK cheese and some left over manchego cheese (I am not a fan of yellow cheese in quesadillas). Unfortunately, I didn’t have any fresh herbs on hand, but I sprinkled a pinch of dried oregano on top of the cheese.
The combination of the cheeses and the mushrooms with the truffle salt has a rich, earthy flavor, making this the ultimate comfort food.  The quesadillas soaked up some of the oil from cooking the mushrooms, giving the tortilla a nice outside crisp and even more flavor. Obviously this does not avoid extra calories, but the added flavor was well worth it.

Truffled mushroom quesadilla 
makes 1 large quesadilla (8 small slices)

1/2 c sliced baby bella mushrooms
pinch of black truffle salt, to taste
tbsp olive oil
2 flour tortillas
1/2 c monterey jack cheese
1/8 c manchego cheese (optional)
1/8 tsp dried oregano

Heat olive oil in large pan. Sauté mushrooms with truffle salt until golden brown and tender. Transfer to plate. Place tortilla on same skillet. Add cheese with even layer on top and add mushrooms. Sprinkle with oregano. Place second tortilla on top. Heat until cheese begins to melt and flip. Remove when cheese is fully melted and to desired crispiness for tortilla. 

A Healthy Alternative: Quinoa

Baby spinach is my enemy right now. I usually love the leafy green, but after packing it everyday for lunch, it has become the opposite of appetizing. I’m sure that I will crave it again soon enough, but for the time being, I am seeking healthy lunch alternatives. Last week, I decided to make quinoa.

I love quinoa. (Pronounced keen-wah) If you’ve never tried it, you should. Its a nutritious grain, high in fiber, iron, and amino acids. Plus its gluten-free! I’m also going to say it tastes healthy, but not in a bad way. I promise. It has a very mild, almost nutty flavor, giving it wide potential for different flavor pairings. My favorite thing about the grain is the texture. It has a bit of a crunch and won’t get soggy easily. I’ve made burnt quinoa before, but I’ve never overcooked it to the point of mush. 
Anywho. Hopefully at this point I’ve sold you on the cute little grain. This recipe is from Gourmet  and is definite keeper. Its filled with black beans and tomatoes, making it very filling and even more nutritious. Lime zest, lime juice, and a bit of cilantro brighten the flavor, making the dish very summery and very yummy. The only change I would make for next time would be to substitute olive oil for butter. I will also add more zest and juice. (Although I didn’t measure my add-ins, so the recipe may actually be spot-on) Enjoy!

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Gourmet, July 2007 

  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
Rinse quinoa with cold water, draining in sieve. 
Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, then set sieve in same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don’t worry if lid doesn’t fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Let stand, still covered with towel, 5 minutes. **
Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. 
**This can be a bit time consuming. I have found it fine to follow the directions on the back of the quinoa package, usually requiring you to cook for 10-15 minutes straight