Ricotta and Bacon-filled Kale Ravioli

Another year, another triumph.

My beloved and I have developed a bit of a Valentine’s Day tradition. Either on the day, but typically a weekend day shortly before, we forego the usual formalities of a hard-to-get dinner reservation (which are also often crowded and disappointing) and plan and prepare our own elaborate meal. And there is one course that appears every year – ravioli. With a few years under our belts, experience and creativity are on our sides, so the ravioli course while a constant, is also constantly changing from year to year.

ready for their bath

ready for their bath

Accompanying this year’s ravioli were a first course of La Tur – a soft, buttery mixed-milk cheese – with homemade quince paste and crusty no-knead bread. Next was a mussel and winter root vegetable soup enriched with bacon fat. Dessert was fudgy, from scratch brownies with raspberry frozen custard from our our neighborhood scoop-shop, the Dairy Godmother.

But, ok, the real reason we’re here is to talk about ravioli. For the last several years, we’ve been using various round, square, and of-course, heart-shaped cookie cutters to form our ravioli. And the results, while really good and satisfying, have been, well, maybe a little amateurish, admittedly. So, in an attempt to up the ante, we splurged for a ravioli maker to add a little legitimacy to this operation.

ravioli all in a row

ravioli all in a row

In the weeks leading up to the dinner, ideas are thrown out regarding what we’ll do this year. I wanted to try a flavored pasta, so I proposed using kale as a base. Then, as we contemplated a sauce, we naturally tended toward something smokey and porky. And then, as if it were staring us right in the face, we thought, “what if we put bacon on the inside of the ravs?” And so it was decided. And this was no ordinary bacon. This was Benton’s bacon, one of the best bacons around from Tennessee  that we smuggled back from a recent trip to New York City. Seriously, this stuff is just about the pinnacle of all bacon, but that’s another story.

The operation was pretty simple and along with our new fangled ravioli press, we also employed a food processor for the first time in our dough making. It all just came together relatively quickly. The only laborious part being the rolling of the dough. The end result was by far our finest performance. Not just uniformly shaped and filled, but the filling was simple, but fluffy and exquisitely bacon-y.

we couldn't forget a couple of heart-shaped ones

we couldn't forget a couple of heart-shaped ones

After they were filled and boiled, we sauced them with some rich tomato sauce that was leftover from the summer that reduced on the stove slowly for several hours.

ravioli and tomato sauce

ravioli and tomato sauce

Ricotta and Bacon-filled Kale ravioli

makes about 36 ravioli, about 4-6 servings

the dough

  • 2-3 c. uncooked kale
  • 9 oz. AP flour (more as needed, also keep more on hand for dusting)
  • 3 eggs
  1. Remove and discard the stems of the kale, and cook the leaves in a about 1/4 c. of water in a covered pot until they’re tender – about 20-30 minutes.
  2. Squeeze all of the liquid from the kale and let it cool. You’ll end up with about a cup.
  3. In a food processor, chop the kale and add the eggs and give it a spin for about 20 seconds.
  4. Add most of the flour and process. The dough should start to come together after a minute or so. Continue to add more flour until the dough comes together in a ball but is still the slightest bit sticky.
  5. When the dough is formed, dump it out and pat it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least an hour.

the filling

  • 16 oz. ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 3-5 strips of cooked bacon, crumbled
  1. Put the ricotta and bacon in a bowl.
  2. Beat the egg separately and then add to ricotta.
  3. Mix to combine, then whip vigorously with your spoon for about 30 seconds till the filling fluffs a little bit.

the ravioli

  1. Cut your dough into 6 equal portions and roll out sheets in a pasta machine. They should be as thin as you can get them without tearing. Set each aside in a floured towel.
  2. Fill your ravioli. If going free-form, lay out one sheet of pasta and spoon about a teaspoon of filling equally spaced on your sheet and then lay another pasta sheet over, pressing out the air around the filling and cut out ravioli with a knife or cookie cutters, pressing on the edges of each ravioli to be sure they’re sealed. If using ravioli maker, just follow the instructions provided (like we did.)
  3. Flour the ravioli and return to the floured towels.
  4. Repeat 2. and 3. till you’ve used all of your pasta sheets and filling. You can roll out any scraps of pasta you accumulate along the way to extend your production.
  5. Cook as many ravioli as you plan on serving in gently boiling salted water for about 5 minutes till the pasta is cooked through.
  6. Freeze any leftover, uncooked ravioli.
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about a year’s worth of mustard

Another in my series of simple recipes with lots of variation  – a basic spicy, grainy, beer-based mustard that is versatile in all sorts of ways. Hot dogs and sausages, corned beefs sandwiches, encrusted fish, soft pretzels, salad dressing. You name it. Play with the seasonings and alter to your tastes or the final application.

the sum of its parts - a whole lot of mustard

the sum of its parts - a whole lot of mustard

The gist of the recipe is this – put everything in a jar, let it sit for 2 days to soften the mustard seeds, then blend for several minutes to the desired consistency.

This recipe’s going to make about 3 cups of mustard, so consider making a 1/2 or 1/3 batch. But, this stuff survives the passage of time quite nicely. Keep in mind, in the first couple of days, this will be pretty intensely spicy and, well, mustardy. After a couple of days it’ll mellow out.

hibernating for a couple of days

hibernating for a couple of days

My variation for this batch were an old bottle of Bell’s HopSlam – an intense imperial IPA that comes around only once a year, smoked salt, and a few dashes of cayenne. I used about 2/3 brown mustard seeds, and 1/3 yellow. And half the vinegar was cider vinegar for some sweetness and the other half was red wine.

Spicy Mustard

  • 12 oz. beer (whatever you’ve got, dark is good but not a necessity)
  • 1 c. vinegar (red wine, white wine, cider, again, whatever, just not balsamic)
  • 1 1/2 c. mustard seeds (brown and/or yellow)
  • 1 1/4 tbsp. salt
  • up to 2 tsp. of any other seasonings (think spicy like clove, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper)
  1. place all ingredients in a quart-sized jar, cover, and leave to sit on counter for at least a couple of days to soften mustard seeds
  2. after 2 days, blend with hand bender or food processor for several minutes till you achieve the consistency you want – go smooth or leave it grainy

makes 3c. of mustard

My Fakesgiving

Thanksgiving’s always been my favorite holiday, when the foci are food, football, family, and friends. Because of some good planning, some years I get to celebrate Thanksgiving multiple times, as is the case this year. Sunday would be the first for the season – a Fakesgiving, as it were, joined by some of our best friends (and some of the best cooks we know.) I give you a story rife with challenges, but long on success.

the impressive spread (and chefs)

the impressive spread (and chefs)

Not one to shy away from cooking challenges, I took it upon myself, as one of the hosts for this year’s Fakesgiving, to my first whole turkey. No practice run. No nets. Do or die. Obviously, I would smoke it. As I am oft to do, I consulted by main smoking resources – Charcuterie and the Virtual Weber Bullet for the best approach. After some runs around town – including a short-term relationship with a cheap-o self-basting bird from the local Giant, I ended up with fresh, free range turkey from the local Whole Foods.

this 15 pounder barely fit in the smoker

this 15 pounder barely fit in the smoker

Next up was putting this bird in a salty brine. After struggling to fit this 15 pounder into a 2 ½ gallon Ziploc, there was only one remaining option for vessels large enough to hold the bird. So, it was into the cooler with 2 gallons of brine  and 8 pounds (equal to another gallon of water.) The brine was pretty much as Ruhlman prescribed, except I tuned down the salt since most of the other brine recipes I read had about ⅓ less salt than his. And so she sat in the basement, in water and ice for about 30 hours, from Friday night to Saturday night.

the long soak

the long soak

One more important lesson to learn. Trying to find charcoal when it’s not summer is a challenge. Sure, you could be 4 pound bag of lighter fluid injected briquettes for 10 bucks, but I was not going to settle. After visiting 4 or 5 different supermarkets, I ended up driving to my nearest Lowe’s where they had a near endless supply of 16 pounds of the old standby, Kingsford, for 8 dollars a bag. I got two, just in case the smoking itch arose during the dead of winter.

Sunday morning, I fired up the bullet and took it to places I never took it before. Usually, “smoking”  (or barbecue) happens around 200°-250° Fahrenheit. All recipes I looked out suggested getting your smoker up to the 325°-350° range. Sounds simple enough, but it turned out not to be. The first difference was to not put water in the water pan (water in the pan helps hold the lower temperature.) Instead I lined the empty pan with foil (which would then catch any drippings that would go into the gravy.) The rest of the next 2 or so hours was spent regulating temperature. And it wasn’t easy to keep that thing so hot. I was seemingly constantly feeding it with fresh briquettes, wood (cherry, maple, and pecan), and opening vents to get it hot enough. I actually never it got it to hold at 350°. It spent most of the time closer to 300°. I was nervous this would dry out the bird (lower temp, meaning longer cooking time) but hopefully the brine would save me. After about 2 hours, I decided to check it’s internal temperatures for the first time. And wouldn’t you know it? It was only about 10 degrees from done. In the next 30 minutes, it coasted right up to 160° in the breast, 175° in the thigh.

perfect

perfect

When I pulled it out, it was a thing of beauty. Just perfect looking. It took maybe an hour for me to give in and say, “F’ it, I’m carving this up,” using the excuse that it would heat up more easily for our guests, if I cut it up beforehand. And, you know what? I nailed it. This turkey was seasoned, cooked, and tasted just perfect. Tasty, smokey, and moist. Despite the uphill battle, in the end, it all seemed so easy and so rewarding.

The rest of the items I prepared for the meal were cider vinegar braised mustard greens with speck and prosciutto (recipe below,) smoked almonds (that had to be enriched with some smoked salt to actually get any smoke flavor in them), and smoke-roasted potatoes (that kind of just tasted like potatoes from a campfire.) Lastly, was the gravy.

The gravy started a couple days earlier when I made a makeshift stock comprised of the neck and butt of the turkey and some vegetable scraps (leeks, carrots, and parsnips) from the bag of scraps in the freezer for just this purpose. Again, with some help from Ruhlman, I started with a roux of some of the turkey fat from the stock, some butter, some onion, and 5 tablespoons of flour. Then whisked in a quart of my stock and added a handful of quartered mushrooms. When the turkey was done, I poured some of the drippings from the smoker, and the gravy was complete.

As expected, our dinner guests rounded out the rest of the meal just as boldly as I had. Our table literally could not accommodate everything we had, which meant the coffee table had to double as a buffet station for the things that wouldn’t fit. A killer Thai-influenced sweet potato soup, a from-scratch green bean casserole, buttery and cheesy mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts with grapes, sausage prune and kale stuffing, pumpkin cheesecake, pecan pie, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

And because I waited too long to find a cheap plane ticket to see my family, I’ll find solace in the leftovers that crowd the fridge and will feed me for at least the next week.

In addition to all of the leftovers, I’ve also now got a large ziploc (yes, the same bags the whole bird wouldn’t fit in) full of bones and assorted scraps – the makings of what I can only imagine will be some amazing smoked turkey stock.

A couple of basic recipes, so you can try to throw some of this together for your Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Basic Smoked Turkey

(lovingly adapted from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie)

2 gallons water
3 cups kosher salt
3 oz pink salt (curing salt with nitrite)
¾ cup sugar
5-10 garlic cloves
2-3 bay leaves
4 tbsp black peppercorns
large handful of assorted herbs (I used tarragon, thyme, and rosemary)

1 gallon (about 8#) ice
15# turkey

  1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large pot and heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Let chill overnight.
  2. Put turkey in a cooler and pour over the brine and add the ice. Let the turkey soak in the brine for 24-48 hours. (If you’ve got another large vessel and space in the refrigerator, feel free to replace the 1 gallon of ice with water and you can brine in the fridge.)
  3. Remove turkey from brine and leave uncovered in the refrigerator for 6-12 hours.
  4. Remove turkey from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
  5. Get your smoker up to 350°
  6. Smoke / roast for 2-3 hours until internal temperature of the breast hits 160° and the thigh 175°
  7. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Cider vinegar braised mustard greens

2-3 oz of smoked or cured pork product, diced (prosciutto, speck, bacon all work)
3-5 cloves of garlic
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of mustard greens, chopped (substitute kale or collards)
¼ c. cider vinegar
¼ c. water

  1. In a large pot on medium low, render the pork (about 8-10 minutes)
  2. Add the garlic and red pepper and saute for about a minute
  3. Add the greens, vinegar, and water.
  4. Cover the pot and braised the greens until they tender (about 45-60 minutes)

… with smoked brisket and smoked trout

When life gives you lemons, make smoked trout, or something like that. With a forecast of just-a-chance-of-rain, I decided to risk it and plan a whole day of smoking for Sunday. Saturday, I picked up a small brisket, some trout fillets, and prepared a brine for the fish. Come morning, I’d planned on waking really early and firing up the smoker, since the brisket could take 8-12 hours.

Brisket gets a rub-down in Pork Barrel BBQ rub

Brisket gets a rub-down in Pork Barrel BBQ rub

Alas, I awoke to a light, but steady rain. Plan B, start the brisket in the oven, and wait for the rain to clear. After rubbing the brisket in my favorite rub, Alexandria-locals Pork Barrel BBQ, I wrapped it in foil and threw it in a 300° oven. Meanwhile, I set the trout fillets in the brine I made the night before according to Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie to sit for a couple of hours.

Trout fillets in their brine

Trout fillets in their brine

After a couple of hours, I figured I’d brave it and fire up the smoker even though the rain was still coming down. I followed my usual routine of dumping in some unlit charcoal and applewood into the fire ring of my Weber Bullet and starting up the chimney. When the coals in the chimney got white-hot, I dumped them on top of the unlit coals and setup the smoker. After an hour, the smoker still hadn’t come up to temperature with the wind and rain still blowing. So, continuing on with Plan B, I ended up leaving the brisket in the oven for a little over 4 hours until it hit 205°. I left it wrapped in the foil on the stove to rest. Meanwhile, I had removed the trout from the brine after a couple of hours and left them to air-dry for another 2 hours.

Mini-smoker

Mini-smoker

I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with the trout since the smoker was not cooperating. I was actually considering battering and frying them. Then I had the bright idea to remove the middle section of the smoker and put the fillets on a grill right over the smoldering coals. Sure enough, the temperature ended up being just right going this route. 45 minutes or so later, the fillets hit 140°, and I had two pretty tasty smoked trout fillets, pretty much just as I imagined them when I first unwrapped this smoker last Hanukah. One of these will be breakfast on a bagel for the next couple of days. The other is vacuum-sealed in the freezer, awaiting a Sunday brunch.

Brisket gets a touch up in the smoker

Brisket gets a touch up in the smoker

I reassembled the smoker just to see if the whole thing could come up to temperature, so that I might add some smoke to my already cooked brisket. Sure enough, it took just a few minutes to bring the whole thing up to the optimal smoking range. So about 5 hours later, I finally throw that brisket on. It’s time in the oven and subsequent resting produced a very moist and tender brisket, but I wanted to see if I could a add little bit of a bark on it by smoking it for a little while. Indeed, 2 hours later, the crust of the brisket crisped up quite a bit, and while the smoke flavor was not very predominant, I still ended up with a delicious, tender barbecued brisket.

Wind and rain be damned. (And wouldn’t you know it? Some 8 hours later, the rain has cleared, the sun has emerged, and I’m struggling to get the smoker temp back down!)

2 little smoked trout fillets

2 little smoked trout fillets

Smoked trout

  • 1/2 pound of trout fillets (in this case, that was 2)
  • 4 cups water
  • 56 grams kosher salt
  • 31 grams sugar
  • 2 grams pink salt (curing salt, Insta Cure #1)
  • 10 peppercorns
  1. Mix everything but the trout in a pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let cool and put in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Clean off the trout and submerge in the brine for no more than 2 hours.
  3. Remove the trout from the brine, rinse, and let air dry in the refrigerator for another 2 hours.
  4. Hot-smoke (200-225°) the fillets until they hit an internal temperature of 140°.

Barbecued Brisket

I won’t bother providing much of a recipe, since today’s go wasn’t quite the way I would normally do it. Basically, rub that brisket down in your favorite rub, and hot-smoke it for 8-12 hours until it hits an internal temp of 205°.