Several years ago I was in a small restaurant in Bologna where I had Ragu Bolognese. The restaurant looked old enough that Galileo may have frequented it. The ragu was a revelation. I was pretty sure they were practicing witchcraft in the kitchen. How else could something so simple and humble be so good? As a result ragu is something I am always returning to at home and at restaurants though the latter usually meets with disappointment compared to the memory. Because of my fondness for this dish I decided it had to be part of the party. I wanted something a bit more elegant so I thought I would wrap it inside a ravioli. Of course I couldn’t do a regular ragu so I made duck confit and then used the confit in place of pork/beef and substituted fennel for celery because it just sounded like a superior match to duck and looked so good at the farmers’ market.
The pasta dough was parsley, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano from The Glorious Pasta of Italy cookbook by Domenica Marchetti. I admit it took a lot longer to fill these than I had anticipated! I made a duck consommé to serve them in, an homage to another Emilia-Romagna classic: tortellini en brodo. I topped the ravioli with a little Parmigiano and a splash of special 50 year old balsamic purchased on that same trip to Italy. I clearly need to figure out how to make this kind of dish look a little better but the flavor was everything I was hoping for and I don’t think I saw a bowl with a drop of leftover consomme. I paired this with the 2009 La Pommeraie Benovia Chardonnay because when I made a test ravioli the week before I was struck by the sweetness of the duck and I wanted to complement it.
A year ago we were lucky enough to dine at The French Laundry near my birthday. This is Thomas Keller’s three Michelin star restaurant in Napa wine country. It was white truffle season and we had two courses that included this very special ingredient. It was the first time I ever had white truffles and I was blown away. It is simply like nothing else in this world and I can still close my eyes and return to that revelatory moment. Because I enjoyed the truffle courses so much I very much wanted to share this experience with my guests to whatever ability I had. Through a very special contact I was able to procure the truffle pictured above. I let the table take a whiff of this special ingredient that had traveled so far before serving, a step I recommend.
Yet another photo of yours truly (surely a record), truffle in hand, adding as much truffle slices as I could before people stopped me.
I’m somewhat proud to say that this recipe was the only one actually taken straight from a cookbook. In this case The French Laundry Cookbook. The nice thing is the directions call for par-cooking the risotto and then finishing it quickly right before serving which is great because risotto typically takes so long to prepare. I paired this with a 2006 Hirsch Vineyard William Selyem Pinot Noir. A sublime match to a sublime dish. Truly everyone should experience white truffle risotto once in their lives. Please add this to your list or, as a good friend at work said, get me to invite you over for me to make it for you ;).
For the final savory course I opted for braised short ribs. Braised short ribs are something I look forward to making when the weather turns “cold” in California. I wanted to serve braised ribs but I wanted to do them in a special way. Enter a sous vide. I’ve been torturing myself over getting or not getting a sous vide for at least a year. Turning old was as good an excuse as I was going to get to take the plunge so I did. David Chang calls for braising short ribs for 48 hours sous vide in his Momofuku cookbook. The trick is that you can braise them at a medium-rare temperature (60-61 C). The long cooking tenderizes the meat but rather than melting into tiny pieces as braises usually does it has the “firmness” of a ribeye steak. At least that was the theory though I felt like I was rolling the dice trying this for the first time for the big dinner.
I usually use a recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques so I took the flavors from that recipe and paired it with the new technique. I decided to sous vide the heck out of the plate so I paired the beef with potatoes sous vide in duck fat and young red onions sous vide with herbs and olive oil. All three were browned right before serving and then plated with some horseradish creme fraiche, pickled mustard seeds (these were a surprise hit!) and some peppercress which was assuredly not just for show. It is delicious with a horseradishy bite. This was paired with a 2005 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cabernet. All in all it was a very successful plate. The short ribs are very different than what you are used to but this was the favorite dish of at least one of our guests which, if you don’t mind, is saying something :).
One more entry coming…