Meat Free Mondays – Spinach Ravioli with Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Cream Sauce

I’ve been thinking about getting a pasta maker again.

I bought one when I was in culinary school (in other words, during the first Clinton administration) but rarely used it. Eventually, it rusted out sitting under my sink.

But now I want one again. They are not very expensive, at least not for the hand-cranked version, and I think I would get a lot of use out of it.

I love making my own ravioli because they are fun to make and you can fill them with anything you want. Ravioli for me always evokes childhood memories of Chef Boyardee ravioli, the sugary tomato concoction that came out of a can. It was one of the first meals I learned to “cook” by myself (open can, pour into pot, heat and serve).

But real ravioli — any pasta, really — is one of those foods that is about 1000 percent better when its made fresh. Plus it’s really simple to make, as long as you have a pasta machine.

For this recipe, I bought freshly made ravioli at the store. They tasted fine, but were a little bland. I definitely would have added more garlic and feta to the spinach to give it more punch.

Unlike Chef Boyardee’s, this sauce — which I adapted from this recipe I found on the wonderful Lesley Eats vegetarian cookig blog — was mostly fat- and sugar-free, but still had the silky, delicious flavor which perfectly complemented the texture of the fresh spinach ravioli.

Spinach Ravioli with Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Cream Sauce

2 Sweet potatoes

3 cloves Garlic, peeled

1/2 tsp Extra  virgin olive oil

1 cup Soy milk

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp Sea salt

1/2 tsp Cumin

1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper

Fresh cracked black pepper

12 oz Fresh spinach ravioli

1/4 cup Hard Parmesan, hand grated

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lay the sweet potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle a little EVOO over, then use your hands to rub the oil all over the surface of the potatoes. Bake for one hour. Meanwhile, put  the garlic cloves in a small square of aluminum foil and drizzle with the 1/4 tsp of EVOO. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the garlic to the sheet pan with the potatoes. Remove from oven and let both the sweet potatoes and the garlic cool at least 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Use a paring knife to remove the sweet potato skins. It should slip right off. Cut each potato into about 3 or 4 large peices and place in food processor or blender. Add garlic, soy milk, Italian seasoning, cumin, cayenne and a few grinds of fresh cracked black pepper. Pulse and then puree until smooth. Transfer to a small sauce pot.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add ravioli, reduce to simmer and cook about five minutes. Drain, return to pot and toss with whole butter, salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

5. To plate, gently reheat sauce. Carefully arrange ravioli in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a cooing spoon to drape the ravioli with the sauce. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off long slices of hard parmesan and sprinkle over pasta.

Now, if you will excuse me I need to go price out pasta makers on Amazon!

My, Oh, My! Sweet Potato Pie!

For your next holiday party, I want you to try an experiment.

Instead of pumpkin pie, bring a sweet potato pie. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the reaction you get.

Here in the Midwest, sweet potato pie is not nearly as popular as its pumpkin cousin. Sweet potato pie is more of a Southern thing. When I tried this experiment recently, I found that most people had heard of sweet potato pie, but had never tried one.

I’m here to tell you: They are a revelation. And they are just as good if not better than pumpkin pie because they are just the slightest bit sweeter.

Plus, they are inexpensive and easy to make. It’s a win/win!

I like to introduce people to new foods, especially when it’s something I know they will love. Try this experiment and you will see how rewarding sweet potato pie can be.

Now, before we get into the recipe, I want to address the Crust Question: Make or Buy?

This time of year, I do a lot of baking. So I prefer the convenience of keeping a couple of frozen pie shells in the freezer.

Sure, they are super easy to make — just flour, fat, salt and water. But unless you are going for a particular flavor component in the crust itself — almond, pecan, or something else — standard pie crusts are pretty flavor neutral and don’t add a lot to pie except structure. So why not just skip that time-consuming step and buy some inexpensive pie shells at the Aldi’s? That’s my attitude.

So here’s a recipe for traditional sweet potato pie. Like the old TV commercial says: Try it, you’ll like it!

Sweet Potato Pie

4 oz butter, room temperature

2 cups sweet potato, cooked and mashed

2 cups granulated sugar

5 oz can evaporated milk (or 1/2 cup plus 2 TBS)

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs, beaten

1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 prepared pie shells, unbaked

1. Cook sweet potatos in 375F oven until done, about 1 hour. Cool, peel and mash. This can be done a day or two ahead of time.

2. Mix butter, potatoes, sugar and evaporated milk until well blended. Add vanilla, eggs and cinnamon and mix well.

3. About 20 minutes before baking, remove pie shells from freezer and allow to soften slightly. Preheat oven to 350F. Pour batter into shells and cook until set, about 1 hour. Jiggle it just a little bit to see if it is ready.

I served this with just a dollop of dessert topping and it was heaven. Give it a try, you’ll see!

What are some of the recipes you love to make for holiday get togethers? Why not share them in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!

Roasted Root Vegetables

Recently, my mom was planning a dinner party at which she wanted serve Chicken Oscar, a dish she loves to order at the excellent Carraba’s restaurant chain.

Mom asked me how much of it she could make ahead of time because she wanted to spend time with her guests when they arrived, rather than working in the kitchen.

Grilled Double Cut Pork Chops with Roasted Root Vegetables and Braised Mustard Greens

Grilled Double Cut Pork Chops with Roasted Root Vegetables and Braised Mustard Greens

I told her: All of it.

As a restaurant chef and banquet chef, I learned that almost none of the food on the plate placed in front of you was cooked to order from a raw state. Almost all of it was pre-cooked, par-cooked, or at least pre-marked, then heated and assembled when your order came in. It’s the most efficient way — really the only way — to fill hundreds of different orders over an hours-long dinner rush.

That brings me to roasted root vegetables.

Roasted root vegetables are my favorite fall and winter go-to vegetable side. They can be a combination of any kind of root vegetable — carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, turnip, rutabaga.

They are super easy to make and feature really great flavor contrasts between the different kinds of vegetables — from the sugary sweetness of the roasted carrots to the cabbagey tartness of the rutabaga.

But I also like them because of their shape. You can do all kinds of fun architectural plating with roasted root vegetables. Check out this Chinese pagoda thing I made the other night:

There I go playing with my food again!

Anyway, roasted root vegetables can totally be made way ahead of time — up to a couple of days if you handle them correctly. If I had a big banquet on Saturday night, for example, I would make sure the veggies were cooked and layed out on sheet pans in the cooler by Friday morning. Ten minutes before plate-up, just roll them into the roll-in oven and you’re golden.

When entertaining at home, I often set my oven at 200F to improve efficiency. For example, I recently made a pre-Thanksgiving feast with roast turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc. Although dinner was at 5:30 p.m., I had everything in the 200F oven by 4 p.m. so I could focus on my guests when they arrived.

So next time you entertain, think about what can made ahead of time and kept warm. I think you’ll be surprised that the answer is just about everything.

Roasted Root Vegetables

1 sweet potato

1 rutabaga

1 turnip

3 carrots

2 TBS EVOO

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Peel vegetables and cut into Lincoln Log shaped peices about 3″ long. Try to keep everything about the same size. Place in mixing bowl. Drizzle with EVOO, season with salt and pepper and toss until seasoned evenly.

2. Lay out onto two sheet pans, making sure there is plenty of room between each piece. Roast until done, about 45 minutes, turning once if you remember. Cool completely and refrigerate for later use, or hold in 200F oven until ready to serve.

What winter vegetables do you like to use when the weather turns cold? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!