My Nana’s ravioli (spinach and ricotta)

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While my family was not too happy about this, I spent this past holiday at home making ravioli for my partner and I. No travel, no visitors, just quiet, cozy cooking.

My first memory of ravioli is from my Nana, and I have never had any that taste quite like them. Any homemade ravioli are usually pretty dreamy, but these have the added bonus of nostalgia for me. The flavor difference between these and other spinach-ricotta ravioli is a tablespoon or two of grated, glassed onion. I always use fresh ricotta and spinach, and that makes a difference in terms of texture and flavor for sure.

I used the same pasta recipe as I normally do, so I’ll just include the filling recipe here.

1 1/2 cup fresh ricotta, drained for at least one hour in cheese cloth and colander
1 cup cooked spinach, chopped fine and squeezed completely dry
2 tablespoons grated onion, glassed in a bit of olive oil (cooked until translucent but not browned at all)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
1 small egg

Mix all ingredients together, except for egg, and season to taste. Add egg and mix to combine. Once you fill the pasta sheets, let dry for a bit before cooking in slowly boiling water. They only need to cook for about a minute, or until they float to the surface.

 

Lentil Walnut Burgers

My mom used to make these for us growing up, and when she put together a family cookbook for my brother and I, I was delighted to find this recipe. I (of course) have changed it slightly to suit my tastes.

Ingredients:
– 1.5 cups dried brown lentils
– 1/4 pound fresh mushroom (button, crimini, shitake, or other type), finely diced
– 1 cup of walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
– 1 small carrot, peeled, finely diced
– 1 small onion, peeled, finely diced
– 1 stalk celery, finely diced
– 2 eggs, beaten
– 1/4 cup raw rolled oats (or more if needed)
– 5 tablespoons tomato paste
– 4 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
– 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 teaspoon chili powder
– 1 teaspoon curry powder or garam masala
– 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Soak lentils overnight. Drain, cover with fresh water, add a pinch of salt, and cook in a medium pot over medium-low heat until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain excess water and set lentils aside in a large mixing bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms, carrot, onion, celery, and garlic until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add in spices, including chili powder, curry powder or garam masala, black pepper and dry mustard. Mix through veggies. Add tomato paste and mix to combine.

Scrape veggie mixture into bowl with lentils. Stir to combine, mashing slightly. Add walnuts, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and eggs. Stir to combine. Add oatmeal and stir again, adding more oatmeal by tablespoonful if the mixture is too wet.

Form mixture into patties, using about 1/2 cup of mixture per patty. Place on a platter, cover and chill for 1 hour or more.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Fry lentil burgers until brown and crisp and heated through, about 8 minutes on each side. Melt slices of cheddar cheese over each patty if desired. Serve lentil burgers on buns or in pita pockets with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles, or plain over some salad greens.

Butter Mochi

Butter-Mochi, a favorite childhood treat growing up in Maui, Hawaii, is made from mochiko (rice flour), coconut milk, and of course butter.  Baked in the oven, the result is a crispy-edged, chewy centered, custardy topped confection that is comforting and addictive.  The texture, like most types of mochi, is strange at first – so chewy, almost gluey – but you’ll find yourself standing over the pan, having just one more bite….again.

My favorite recipe is below, but I will admit to a secret trick that not only saves money, but makes it better (in my opinion).  I realized I was out of coconut milk once while making butter mochi, so I used regular skim milk and some coconut flavoring.  I’m not one for imitation flavorings, and I usually avoid them at all costs, but somehow, it worked.  The coconut flavor is more intense (which I like) than when using coconut milk, the recipe is lower in fat and calories (which can be a plus when you eat half the batch yourself), and it is way cheaper than coconut milk (unless you live where coconuts grow wild and you can make it yourself…but even then, sometimes you need a break).

I am all for twisting recipes to use what you have on hand, to save money, to make it healthier, etc.  I am also, however, very honest when the result is compromised in the process.  Sometimes, it’s worth it.  I make low-fat banana bread that, admittedly, isn’t as good as the “real” butter-filled kind, but it’s still pretty good.  As a healthy treat, it’s worth skipping the butter.

Sometimes, there is no trade off, and I believe this is one of those cases.  I don’t think substituting skim milk makes the mochi any less rich and delicious.  Even when I have coconut milk on hand, I prefer to use milk plus flavoring.

Butter Mochi

  • 3 cups mochiko (sweet rice flour – look for this in Asian markets)
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar (you could easily use less, depending on your tastes)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (14-oz) cans unsweetened coconut milk/ Or 3 ½ cups milk (skim or whole, doesn’t matter)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • If using dairy milk instead of coconut milk – also add 1 teaspoon coconut flavoring

Make sure your rack is in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350°F. Whisk mochiko, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  You may want to put your baking powder through a mesh strainer first, or just make sure there are no little clumps of it in the mixture.  If they don’t get incorporated, there will be little bitter lumps in your mochi. Whisk together coconut milk or regular milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, and coconut flavoring (if using) in another bowl. Combine coconut and flour mixtures and mix very well. Pour batter into an ungreased 13- by 9-inch baking pan (I like to use glass so I can see when the sides and bottom are nice and brown), and bake until top is golden and edges are brown and crispy, about 1 1/2 hours.  You may want to check on the mochi near the end, sometimes big bubbles form, and it is good to puncture them with a knife to let the air out – otherwise the top of the bubble burns and gets hard. Let the mochi cool (if you can), but it is best while still warm.  You can cool it completely and refrigerate, but the lovely crispy edges will not remain.  Straight from the fridge, the mochi will be hard and not very good, but a couple of turns in the microwave will bring back the nice chewiness.  Because it is just so good the first day, I will often make the batter ahead of time, for a potluck or party, and then bake it just before the event.  Just be sure to stir it up really well before pouring into the baking pan, as the rice flour will settle to the bottom.

I have yet to meet anyone that does not like butter mochi – especially if they are lucky enough to get it straight from the oven.  In Hawaii, you can get it, wrapped in cellophane, in most grocery stores and some gas stations – along with chi chi mochi, peanut mochi, and adzuki bean stuffed mochi, among others – but until I made it homemade, I never knew its true glory – kind of like home-baked chocolate chip cookies vs. store bought.  So, I guess I am glad that I moved away to school in New York where they never heard of butter mochi and was forced to figure out how to make it myself!

Red Sauce

In a family with Italian roots, a good tomato sauce is essential to your reputation and self-respect. Another make-a-giant-batch-and-use-it-for-everything kind of recipe, our family recipe for “Red Sauce” is cheap, easy, versatile and so good you could eat it as a soup (which I have done….just add some sautéed onion and garlic and puree in the blender with salt, pepper, dried chili flakes and a little heavy cream, garnish with chopped basil….best cream of tomato soup you will ever have)

The key to this sauce is the process, not necessarily the ingredients – though it helps if they are good quality. I buy whatever my local bulk foods store happens to stock, but that’s just me. I use one each of the giant cans of tomato puree and diced or crushed tomatoes. My dad will argue that it is best to buy whole peeled tomatoes and cut them up yourself for the exact right consistency, but it just adds too much time in my opinion. If I want a chunkier sauce, I’ll used diced, smoother – crushed. I do agree that the diced tomato chunks are a little too big when using diced, but I’ll live, and with the advent of the immersion blender, you can always make it smoother.

Ingredients:

3 cans tomato paste
1 can tomato puree (not tomato sauce)
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled
Plenty of olive oil
Oregano
Basil
Salt
Extras: red wine, parmesan or romano cheese

Coat a cast iron pan (if you have one….as vegetarians, we cooked a lot in cast iron to get that bit of extra iron in our diets) with olive oil. Place over medium heat and add all the tomato puree. Add some more olive oil and stir to begin to incorporate it. Notice the bright red color of the paste, this is key. Add all the whole, peeled cloves of garlic. You will need to cook the paste, adding olive oil when needed, until it is a dark red color and has a sweet – not acidic – taste. I find that a large wooden spoon works well for this task, as the paste is quite stiff. I smooth the paste out onto the bottom of the pan, to get the most surface area touching the heat source, let it sit for a minute and then give it a good mix. This is the only labor intensive part of the process.

The importance of this is in breaking down the acid in the tomatoes to give the sauce a rich, sweet taste. Many commercial brands of tomato sauce just add sugar to mask the acidity of the tomatoes, instead of doing things the “right way.”

You will see the edges of the paste begin to turn that dark red before the bulk of it does, but that will give you a good idea of what it is supposed to look like. Once the paste is all a nice dark red, you can scrape it into a large stock pot or crock pot. I usually fish out the garlic at this point and eat as a reward for cooking the paste down for so long – it is amazing, sweet and nutty.

Add the can of puree and the can of diced/crushed tomatoes. Stir to incorporate the paste and bring the whole thing up to a simmer. A crock pot makes easy work of keeping a low consistent temperature, and you don’t have to stir as much, but if you are using a pot on the stove, the best thing to do is to move it to a 350 oven, place a splatter screen over it, and leave it for a few hours, stirring occasionally. We used to leave it over night in a low oven and then all day the next day as well. You can eat it the first day, though it will still be more acidic – this is called “green” sauce, since it is not quite to perfection yet.

Once you have cooked the sauce for at least a day, add some salt, oregano, basil, and any other seasonings you like (an “Italian” mix is ok). I don’t like to add too many herbs since I don’t know what I’ll be using the sauce for and if I’ll want to season it differently later.

The “secret” to this sauce, aside from the process, are these last two additions – red wine, about a cup, helps to release flavors from the tomatoes. Apparently, some flavors in tomatoes are only soluble in alcohol (thanks Alton Brown!). A cup or two, depending on taste, of finely grated parmesan or romano cheese (freshly grated of course) will add a richness and tang to your sauce. You will want to add the cheese before the salt though, since it is quite salty itself, and then add salt to taste.

Now you are ready for pasta, pizza, soup, pasta e fagioli, or anything else you can imagine – just a warm piece of bread! My mom used to put cauliflower florets into the sauce and serve it with angel hair pasta – something about the cauliflower works really well with the tomato sauce – of course homemade meatballs do too!

I always freeze a bunch, either in ziplocks, labeled, dated, and laid flat to freeze, or in Tupperware.

One of my favorite incarnations of this red sauce is as a puttanesca sauce, which has many variations, but the basic goes:

Puttanesca Sauce

• 4 cups red sauce
• 2 tblspns red wine vinegar
• 2-3 anchovy filets, minced
• 2-3 tspns red chili flakes
• 4-5 tblspns capers, coarsely chopped
• ½ cup each green and kalamata olives, chopped

Add it all together and heat to let flavors blend, adjust for your taste preference – I like it spicier. It is so addicting, I have to keep myself and my partner from eating it all right out of the pan!