Seafood Fridays – Lobster Ravioli

Market price.

It’s enough to scare away all but the very wealthiest of diners. Usually, when lobster is offered on a restaurant’s menu, it’s accompanied by these two intimidating words.

Lobster RavioliThey essentially say, “If you have to ask how much the lobster is, you can’t afford it.”

Occasionally, however, lobster will show up in the local supermarket at much more reasonable price. This was the case this week, when our local mega-chain grocery store advertised whole lobsters for only $4.99/each.

Granted, they turned out to be tiny farm-raised, previously cooked and frozen. Each whole lobster weighed less than a pound, so that meant they would yield only about 8 oz of lobster meat or less.

Still, it was enough of a bargain to get me thinking of how to turn very little lobster into a very flavorful dish.

“I’ve got it!” I thought. “Lobster ravioli!”

Lobster ravioli — or any ravioli for that matter — allows you to infuse the flavor of the main ingredient into the dish without having to spend a lot of money on food cost. This is especially helpful when it comes to high-cost items, such as truffles, foie gras and, yes, lobsters.

In restaurants, we used to use the claw meat from whole lobsters for ravioli — and lobster bisque — while the meatier tails were steamed and served with drawn butter for, you guessed it, market price, which was usually about $24.99 and up.

Of course, we used live, wild-caught lobsters that weighed at least two pounds each.

Lobster GlutApparently, even the cost of wild-caught lobsters is coming down thanks to a lobster glut. Lobstermen in Maine reportedly have been opting to keep their boats in port rather than harvesting lobsters that sell for less in the open market.

Lobster ravioli is a way of having your lobster and eating it, too. That’s because it only requires a very small amount of lobster meat that gets mixed with other ingredients — in this case ricotta cheese, sauteed onions, garlic and parsley — to give you a much higher yield.

I used homemade raviolis, but you could just as easily buy fresh or frozen wonton wrappers. Even pierogi dough would work pretty well.

I served mine with a spicy tomato cream sauce and garnished it with some fresh chopped parsley.

Lobster Ravioli

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 White Onion, small dice

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 TBS Fresh Parsley, chopped (Plus more for garnish)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

4 to 6 oz Lobster Meat, cooked

3/4 cup Fresh Low-Fat Ricotta Cheese (or cottage cheese)

Dash Worchestershire Sauce

Dash Hot Sauce

1 lb Fresh Pasta Dough (or fresh or frozen Wonton Wrappers or Pierogi dough)

1. Place a medium cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onioin and cook until slightly carmelized, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about one minute. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Lobster Ravioli Filling

Lobster Ravioli Filling

2. Place onion mixture, lobster, ricotta and parsley in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper, Worchestershire and hot sauce and pulse until a chunky paste. Tranfser to a mixing bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Use a pasta machine to roll pasta dough out into thin sheets. Place on a ravioli mold, use plastic peice to make indentations, then fill each with about 1 tsp of the lobster mixture. Place a second pasta sheet over the top and roll a rolling pin over to cut into individual raviolis. Lay out on a floured sheet pan, refrigerate and let air dry for one hour. Then flip each ravioli over and dry the other side for another hour. At this point, the ravioli can be frozen for later use.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add ravioli one at a time, return to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 8 minutes. Remove ravioli, drain and toss lightly with butter, salt and pepper. Serve immediately with either a storebought tomato sauce, browned butter or simply olive oil.

For my tomato cream sauce, I simply sauteed some onions, green pepper and mushrooms until soft, hit it with about 1 cup of canned chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp sugar, S&P, 1/2 tsp fennel seed and a pinch of red pepper flake.

I let it cook down until the sugars started to carmelize a little then transferred the mixture to the food processor, pureed it, passed it through a sieve back into a sauce pan and put it back on the fire.

Finally, I whisked in about 1/4 cup fat-free half and half and balanced it with S&P. Just before serving, I finished it by whisking in about 1 TBS whole butter, then drizzled it over the ravioli.

Just like downtown!

Wine on Wednesdays – Rigatoni Red

When I worked at my Uncle Tony’s liquor store in high school, I was often approached by customers asking me to recommend a wine to go with a particular dish.

Rigatoni Red

Rigatoni Red

Aside from the fact that they were asking a 16-year-old for wine advice, I did my best to accomodate them. Yet since my wine knowledge was rather limited at the time, some of the pairings were questionable.

Pork chops with apricot sauce? You might try this Mogen David made from Concord grapes. Cashew chicken? How about Richard’s Wild Irish Rose? Traditional Thanksgiving dinner? I suggest Riuniti on ice. It’s nice!

Well, a couple of wine importers from New York are offering a solution to the problem of which wine to serve with a particular entree. Cousins Darren and Ben Restivo, owners of Biagio Cru & Estate Wines, have launched the Food & Wine Collection, which pairs particular foods wines the company develops with selected vintners.

The wine I tried is called “Rigatoni Red” and it is made with a blend of varietals grown in Puglia, Italy, which is traditionally thought to be the place pasta was invented.

The wine was affordable, priced at $9.99/bottle. I paid $8.49 with the 15% discount I get at my wine store for buying 6 bottles or more at once.

I actually tried it twice, once without pasta and once with rigatoni and red sauce.The first time I enjoyed its smooth flavor on its own. It sort of had a Merlot-like mellowness going for it, with a little bit of a cherry tang. Definitely not a fruit bomb.

I wondered how it would stand up to a rich tomato-and-garlic pasta sauce. The answer is surprisingly well. The flavors of the wine and the pasta complemented each other so  that both ended up tasting even better than they would by themselves, which is the way successful food and wine pairings are supposed to work.

The company also offers Bar-B-Que Red, made with grapes from France’s Rhone Valley; Fresh Catch White, a blend of Sicilian varietals; and Ribeye Red, which is composed of a blend of grapes from Argentina’s Fanatina Valley.

I haven’t seen those wines yet, but I’m looking forward to trying them. Especially if they pair as well with those dishes as Rigatoni Red did with the pasta.

 

Seafood Fridays – Shrimp Diablo

Shrimp Diablo is one of those dishes that takes a lot of different forms, depending where you get it.

Some versions are Italian-inluenced, served with a tomato sauce over heavy pastas. Some are Mexican style, served with Spanish rice. There are even French variations, with a tomato cream sauce spiked with white wine. Others are more mainstream American, with the spiced garlic shrimp served by themselves in a small broiler plate.

The common denominator are that they are all spicy, usually via either red pepper flake or cayenne pepper. That’s where the “diablo”, Spanish for “devil”, comes into play.

For this recipe, I took the best elements of each. While keeping the spicy shrimp, I threw out all the heavier ingredients — the cream and tomato sauce — and replaced them with lighter ingredients, namely chunky tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

The result was a refreshing pasta dish that is appropriate even during the warmest summer months. As I stated a few days ago, with all the hot weather this summer, it has been a challenge to come up with fresh dishes that are light and delicious without repeating the same themes over and over again, like big salads and grilled foods.

This dish definitely fits into that category. By using angel hair pasta — rather than a denser pasta like spaghetti, vermicelli or linguini — and reducing portion size, it’s an entree with bold flavors that won’t weight you down. And the spiciness and acidity of the marinade balance the sweetness of shrimp.

Marina City as seen from the Chicago River

It could have been even lighter had I made my own pasta using my favorite new toy, but my daughter, Maggie, and I spent the afternoon on Chicago’s wonderful architectural boat tour and I simply ran out of time, opting for store-bought angel hair instead.

Shrimp Diablo

1 lb 21/25 Shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper, or more if you like it spicier

Juice of one Lime

1 box Angel Hair Pasta

1 medium White Onion, small dice

1/2 Green Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1/2 cup Dry White Wine

28 oz can Diced Tomatoes

6 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1/2 cup Black Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

Sea salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated plus more for garnish

Parsley sprigs for garnish

1. In a small bowl, combine shrimp, 1 TBS EVOO, 1 TBS of the crushed garlic, cayenne and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, toss, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to marinate

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, about 4 minutes. Strain and return to pot. Toss with 2 TBS EVOO and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Put a sauce pot over a medium heat. When hot, add 2 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in remaining garlic, cook another minute, then stir in the white wine. Reduce heat and cook uncovered until wine is reduced by about half. Add tomatoes and olives, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and cook over a low heat until tomatoes begin to break down, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Put a saute pan over a high heat. When very hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add shrimp and all the marinade. Use a wooden spoon to arrange the shrimp into an even layer and cook until shrimp begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Toss and cook until the other side is browned.

5. To plate, use a tongs to arrange the pasta in a tall pile in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a kitchen spoon to ladle the sauce over the pasta. Arrange the shrimp artfully around the pasta. Sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese and garnish with parsley sprigs.

This is one of those dishes that creates a lot of dirty pots and dishes, but it’s light and refreshing summertime flavor makes it all worthwhile.

Meat Free Mondays – Pasta Primavera

It’s been an extremely hot summer here in Chicago.

When it gets this warm, about the last thing anybody wants is a heavy pasta dish. Pasta salads are okay, but they won’t cut it for dinner.

Here’s a light and delicious entree pasta dish that can be enjoyed even in the warmest of weather. The secret is to use homemade pasta, which is lighter and far less dense than commercial pastas. I used this amazing sweet potato pasta, which I made last week.

Also, since heavy sauces simply won’t do once the temperature gets higher than 75F, it’s time to use something lighter, such as a simple roasted garlic-infused olive oil.

You can flavor olive oil with just about anything. For some powerful flavors, such as rosemary or black peppercorn, you simply soak the ingredients in the oil for a few hours and the flavors will be absorbed.

Making roasted garlic-infused olive oil is great because it’s a two-fer. Not only do you get a smooth, slightly nutty tasting roasted garlic flavored olive oil, but as a side benefit you get roasted garlic, which is wonderful when spread on freshly baked bread, or used in sauces or stuffings.

All you do is to take about six cloves of garlic, put them in a small pan with half-cup of extra virgin olive oil, and heat them over a low heat until they begin to turn brown, about 12 minutes. Then you turn off the heat and let the whole thing cool as the garlic flavor leaches into the oil.

When it’s completely cool, remove the garlic cloves and save them in the refrigerator for another time. I used mine a few nights later for a roasted garlic butter sauce I served over scallops. The oil will stay fresh unrefrigerated in an airtight container for a week or longer.

Finally, for a summer pasta entree, there can be no heavy meats, such as meatballs or Italian sausage, to weigh down the meal. Instead, a simple light and delicious medley of freshly steamed carrots, broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash will do.

Top it all off with a little freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese and you have a mouth-watering delightful summertime pasta entree that won’t fill you up.

Pasta Primavera

1 lb Fresh Pasta

3 Carrots, peeled and sliced

1 cup Broccoli florets

1 medium Zucchini, cut into half moons

1 medium Yellow Squash, cut into half moons

3 TBS Roasted Garlic-Infused Olive Oil

2 TBS Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 TBS Freshly Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the pasta. Cook until done, about 6 minutes. Strain and return to the pot. Add 1 TBS of the olive oil and mix together so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water to a boil. Add the carrots, return to a boil and cook until soft, about five minutes. Then add the broccoli and cook until soft, about another 3 minutes. Then add zucchini and yellow squash and cook until soft, about another 2 minutes. Strain vegetables and add to pasta. Add remaining olive oil to the pot, along with the parmesan cheese. Toss together, being careful to keep the vegetables intact.

To plate, use a tongs to create a large pile of pasta in the center of a pasta bowl, then arrange the vegetables around the pasta. Garnish with the Pecorino Romano Cheese.

Summer can be a tricky season for cooking. Even though we fire up our grill an averge of four or five times per week, it is sometimes hard to come up with other ideas for light meals that can be enjoyed in hot weather. We make salads a lot, topping them with grilled chicken and fish or shrimp.

What type of summer meals do you make to give your family a break from salads and grilled foods? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Sweet Potato Pasta

Ever since I got my new pasta maker, I’ve been thinking about different kinds of pastas I could make. One that I’ve always wanted to try is sweet potato pasta.

Having never made it before, I needed to find a basic recipe. Unfortunately, my library of cookbooks offered no help.

My next step was the internet. My search for “sweet potato pasta recipe” yielded hundreds of recipes for pasta with sweet potatoes, but I was able to find only one for pasta made from sweet potatoes, and it looked wildly inaccurate.

Still, I copied it down and headed for the kitchen.

After roasting off three sweet potatoes for about an hour at 375F and letting them cool, I mashed them with my potato masher.

Then I separated two eggs and used the whisk attachment to my Kitchen Aid to whip the egg whites to soft peaks, about two minutes on high.

Next I folded in about one cup of the mashed sweet potato into the egg whites, a little at a time.

Normally, I just use all-purpose flour when I make pasta. And the sweet potato pasta recipe I found called for whole wheat flour. But I found this semolina flour, which is what commercial pastas normally are made from, so I used that instead. Semolina flour has a much coarser grind than AP flour. The grains are sort of halfway between AP flour and the grind used for corn meal.

I switched my Kitchen Aid to the dough hook attachment and added about 2-1/2 cups of flour until the dough started to form. It took about five minutes.

Then I kneaded it by hand for a few minutes, adding more flour as necessary. It took probably about another 1/2 cup of flour, as the sweet potatoes made the dough quite wet.

After letting it rest for a few minutes, I used a chef’s knife to cut it into four peices.

Then I set up my new pasta maker, which is my new favorite toy.

Starting with the rollers set at the widest setting, I rolled each peice of dough through the pasta makers several times, narrowing the rollers a little as I went along. All the while, I was throwing more flour on the dough to keep it from sticking to itself and to the pasta machine.

Finally, I attached the pasta cutter attachment to the pasta maker and cut the dough into fettucini.

After the pasta is cut, it needs to dry out for about 30 minutes because it’s still too damp. If I threw it into boiling water right  away, it would clump up.

After the pasta has dried, it can be placed in an airtight bag and refrigerated or even frozen until you are ready to use it. But I brought a big pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cooked the pasta for about six minutes.

There’s such a huge flavor and texture difference between freshly made and commercial pasta. This sweet potato pasta turned out exactly as I had hoped.

Sweet Potato Pasta

1 cup Sweet Potato, cooked, cooled and mashed

2 egg whites

3 cups Semolina Flour, plus additional flour to prevent dough from sticking

Pinch of Sea Salt

1. Whip egg whites to soft peaks, then fold in sweet potato a little at a time. Add salt.

2. Using dough hook attachment, add flour a little at a time and mix on medium until dough begins to form. Remove from bowl, knead by hand, adding additional flour as needed. Let rest under a clean kitchen towel for at least 10 minutes.

3. Cut dough into four peices. Starting with the rollers at the widest setting, feed the pasta through the machine several times, progressively narrowing the rollers. Sprinkle rolled sheets with flour and store under a towel while rolling the remaining pasta.

4. Add pasta cutter attachment to machine and cut into desired pasta type. Lay out on racks to dry for at least 30 minutes. Cook immediately or store in an airtight bag in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

What types of unusual pastas do you like to make. I can’t wait to try squid ink, but I have to source it first. Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Greek Chicken

In a past life, I must have lived in Greece because I love anything Greek.

Its food, its wine, its culture are all among my favorites. Its economy? Okay, maybe not so much.

I even love that movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “If you give me any word, any word at all, I … will show you … how its root … is Greek!” That scene still cracks me up!

In cooking, some of my favorite ingredients that I use the most are from Greece. I’m always willing to pay a little more for authentic Greek extra virgin olive oil, or for the creamy Feta cheese imported from the Thousand Islands. And I’ve already made my feelings clear about imported kalamata olives.

This recipe for Greek chicken pretty much includes them all, as well as fresh lemons and Greek oregano, which continues to grow robustly in my herb garden. This is also a great meal for late Spring, early Summer because it’s light and super easy and fast to throw together.

I served this chicken over some homemade tomato pasta, which I made with my new pasta maker. I just used the standard pasta dough recipe (cup of flour, 1 egg, dash of salt) and added about a tablespoon of tomato paste to it. It turned out terrific.

Greek Chicken

1 Chicken, cut up into eight peices

3 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 TBS Fresh Greek Oregano, chopped fine

1/2 cup Black Olives, sliced

1 tsp Lemon zest

Juice of 1 Lemon

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/2 cup Fresh Imported Feta Cheese

1. Drizzle olive oil onto bottom of baking dish. Add garlic, oregano, lemon zest and olives and use a spatula (or just your hands if no one is looking) to spread it all around. Place the chicken peices skin side down onto the mixture, then turn them over. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top of the chicken the season with salt and pepper. At this point you can either let it marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours, or put it right into the oven.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Bake chicken uncovered for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Feta and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest a few minutes before serving.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go watch that movie again!

Chicken Salad

The other day, Sandi and I were eating at our favorite neighborhood diner, Les Brothers, when a waiter walked past with a plate of chicken salad.

It was served old-school style inside a cut-up tomato. I don’t think I’ve seen chicken salad presented like that since the Reagan administration. I instantly knew I had to try it.

Serving compound salads — chicken, tuna, ham, egg, etc. — in hollowed out tomatoes used to be pretty common. But I suppose it had been done to death so people stopped doing it.

Well, I’m bringing it back! It not only is visually appealing, but it fits with my efforts to reduce the amount of white flour and white sugar I eat. Plus, now it’s nostalgiac. Bonus!

I served it with an Israeli cous cous salad. I wanted to make a macaroni salad, but Sandi wrinkled her nose at that, so I made this instead. But the joke’s on her because cous cous is simply a small, granular shaped pasta, so it’s exactly the same thing!

So much for my avoiding white flour, however.

Finally, I added one of my homemade dill pickles and garnished the plate with a few black, seedless grapes. I think it looks pretty elegant and wouldn’t be out of place on a posh lunch menu.

Chicken Salad

1 lb Chicken, cooked (I used half a baked chicken from dinner the night before), diced

1/2 cup Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise

1/2 cup Fat-Free Sour Cream

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 stalks celery, small dice

1/2 Red Onion, small dice

1/3  cup Dried Cranberries

1/4 cup Walnuts, chopped

1/4 tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 Large Tomato

1. Combine chicken, celery, onion, cranberries and walnuts in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and garlic. Mix a little of the dressing at a time to the chicken mixture until you get the proper chicken salad consistency, holds together but not too soggy. Season with seasoned salt. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld together.

2. Use a paring knife to make alternate zig-zag cuts around the perimeter of a tomato. Pull it apart then use the knife to remove some of the core from each half. Lay flat on the plate and use an ice cream scoop to place a large dollop of chicken salad in the center of the tomato half.

To plate the cous cous salad, I simply spooned the salad into a ramekin and patted it down. Then I placed the serving plate on top of the ramekin, turned the whole thing upside down and removed the ramekin. The salad will then hold the shape of the ramekin.

What kind of old school foods would you like to see come back into fashion? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!