Monday, December 15, 2008

do as I say, and not as I do

I am very bad at following my own rules.

Remember how I said that finals is not the time to go on quests for obscure ingredients, it is not the time to prepare anything you've never tried preparing before, and it is definitely not the time to fuss with multi-step, multi-day recipes?

Well, I'm only two-thirds of the way done with finals, and I think I'm already zero for three. I went on a hunt for a goose, I'm going to roast a duck later this week, and, um... I made more ravioli.*

I have a good excuse, I swear. There were lamb shanks from locally raised animals at stake.

You see, Bella joined the Stillman's Meat CSA, and she was out of town when last month's pick-up was scheduled. She offered me some of the meat in exchange for doing the pick-up, and last month, the share included two lamb shanks. Bella isn't big on lamb, so I kept the shanks, and they stayed in my freezer until I could come up with some interesting way of cooking them.

The usual way of preparing lamb shanks is to braise them until they're falling off the bone, and then serve them in their braising liquid over mashed potatoes or polenta or something similarly starchy. The only problem with this method is that a lamb shank is a fairly hefty piece of meat, more than I'd really want to eat in one sitting.

Which is why I shamelessly nicked a recipe idea from the Mad Italian Chef instead.

I know I have yet to give the backstory on the Mad Italian Chef (just as I still have yet to explain my food fairy godfather), but for now, all you need to know is that the Mad Italian Chef ran the Italian restaurant I worked at for a summer a few years ago. The Mad Italian Chef did a lot of recipe development, and among the recipes he dreamt up was a ravioli made with mint pasta, stuffed with lamb ragu.

Chopping the mint for the pasta was as close as I ever got to preparing that dish, but the Mad Italian Chef did let me taste the finished product. I was struck by the way the cool, clean flavor of the mint pasta tempered the rich, almost gamey quality of the lamb filling. An attempt to replicate those ravioli seemed like a good use to which I could put the lamb shanks.

The Mad Italian Chef gave me many recipes during my time in his kitchen, but the ravioli recipe wasn't one of them. So I improvised, braising the lamb shanks in red wine, shredding the meat, and stuffing it into pasta made with freshly chopped mint. I couldn't remember what kind of sauce the Mad Italian Chef used, so I served the ravioli in a tomato sauce enriched with a few spoonfuls of porcini powder (dried porcini mushrooms). Of course, working out all the details gave me a lovely excuse to avoid studying.

Should I really have embarked on a multi-step, multi-day recipe and devoted hours to braising lamb and stuffing ravioli when I could have been keeping company with the Chevron doctrine and focusing on the intricacies of poison pill plans?

Maybe not. But the ravioli came out really well. Even Bella liked them.

Braised Lamb Mint Ravioli in Porcini Tomato Sauce

Two lamb shanks will make enough filling for one batch of dough, with a little leftover that can go in the sauce.

(Serves one, with plenty to freeze.)

This, like all ravioli recipes, is fairly straightforward but very time-consuming, and is best done over at least two days, unless you want to start at seven in the morning and do nothing else for the entire day.

Start with the lamb filling: Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan with lid. Add one chopped onion, two diced carrots, and two diced stalks of celery. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Toss in a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Turn off the heat.

If you bought your lamb shanks from a real butcher, you can probably go ahead and add them to the pot with the vegetables. However, if they came from a CSA or the supermarket, you'll probably need to trim off the silverskin (the thin membrane that covers the meat) first. To do this, take a small, sharp knife and make one long cut lengthwise through the membrane, then use your fingers to pull it away from the meat. Make extra cuts as necessary if it doesn't come off cleanly in one piece.

Once the lamb shanks are in the pot, turn up the heat to medium and pour in enough cheap red wine to fully cover the shanks. Bring to a boil, and skim off any scum that forms on the top. Turn the heat down to a steady simmer (lots of small bubbles breaking the surface) and cook until you can no longer smell alcohol when you stick your head over the pot.

When all the alcohol has burned off, turn the heat down to a bare simmer (occasional bubble breaking the surface) and put the lid on the pot. Cook, skimming off any scum once an hour, for four to five hours, or until the meat falls off the bones.

Remove the bones from the pot (watch out for the little ones), bring the heat up to a steady simmer, and let the liquid reduce until the meat is bathed in a rich, dark sauce. Turn off the heat.

Take two forks and shred the meat into tiny pieces, fishing out the thyme stems as you go. (This is also the time to double-check that you didn't miss any stray pieces of bone.) Season to taste with salt. Allow to cool. Put the mixture in the fridge and forget about it until tomorrow.

Next, make the pasta dough: Dump two cups of flour on a clean counter. Make a well in the middle, crack in four egg yolks, pour in a glug of olive oil, add one-third of a cup of finely chopped mint. Stick your fingers into the well and stir so that the flour gets pulled in little by little. When the mixture starts to pull away from the counter, knead in the rest of the flour by hand. If the mixture is too dry, add a little water. Knead until you have smooth, stiff dough. (More detailed instructions can be found here.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and chill for at least one hour.

To assemble, remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Roll it out to the second-thinnest setting on your pasta maker. Cut the dough into rough squares, about one-and-a-half inches wide. Take one square of dough, put a heaped teaspoon of filling on it, and lay a second square on top. Push down firmly with your thumbs around the filling to create a tight seal between the two layers of dough. Use a ravioli stamp or trim the edges as necessary. Set your finished ravioli on baking trays, and either cook immediately, or freeze for later use.

To cook, start by making the sauce: Heat a small quantity of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add one finely chopped onion, and cook until translucent. Add a splash of cheap red wine, and cook until the alcohol burns off. Add any remaining lamb filling, followed by a sixteen-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, cut into rough dice. Stir in two or three teaspoons of porcini powder, and cook until the mixture becomes thick and fragrant. Salt to taste.

Now cook the ravioli: Put a big pot of salted water on to boil, and drop the ravioli in. When they float to the surface, they're cooked through. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, and place them gently in the sauce. Allow to simmer for a minute or two, then serve immediately.

*More details of the goose and the duck to come. The short explanation is that I'm cooking for Novel Food.


Googie Baba said...

I know where to get duck. There are a whole bunch of them that fly around Jamaica Pond.

adele said...

Oh, I got the duck without too much difficulty. Whole Foods, Super 88, and Shaw's all carry duck.

No, it was trying to find a goose that was impossible. Or impracticable. Savenor's had them, but my budget doesn't stretch as far as the butcher's quoted price.

There's a gaggle of geese that live on the banks of the Charles, near the bridge. I admit, I did briefly consider heading out there with a bow and arrow. (Can you imagine trying to explain that arrest when applying to the bar?)

Carl said...

"I was hungry!"

Philosofya said...

Dude. I'm so glad someone is eating well. I'm 7 for 0 on Mexican and Chinese takeout. I fucking hate finals. :(

Solomon said...

Funny you should mention ravioli. The girlfriend unit decided that she needed to convince her family to actually act like a family and get together for Christmas. The only way to do this was to volunteer to do all the cooking. So, long story short, the last two days have been an adventure in pumpkin ravioli, with more to come tomorrow. I don't suppose you know of any way to evaluate pasta dough recipes to determine which will end up so dry that the pasta machine will be unable to roll them without looking like the dough has run through a shredder...

Virgin In The Volcano said...

If I hear of any goosed geese, I'll know who to blame.

adele said...

Carl - That kind of explains it...

Philosofya - This just happens to be my way of coping with stress. A few years ago, it would have been Flash games, and I'd be living on takeout too.

Solomon - Are you letting the dough rest before you run it through the pasta maker?

Virgin - Okay. Just don't tell the examiners when they're trying to decide if they should let me practise law.

Julie said...

This is an interesting way to deal with the stress of finals. (Or perhaps you're not feeling stressed at all by finals?)

Anyway, if this is your way of dealing with stress, I'm worried you're going to have all those around you trying to keep you in a state of perpetual stress in order to be the possible recipient of a meal like this.

adele said...

Julie - I'm stressed more by the expectation that I'm supposed to be stressed than any inherent stress, if that makes any sense. Finals are a nuisance, but they're not measuring my self-worth.

Admittedly, my friends have been eating pretty well lately. :)

Solomon said...

We tried two different kinds of dough; and, each was let rest for about two hours. The plain dough was far too dry to roll well; but, the green spinach dough work just fine.

adele said...

If the dough seems ridiculously stiff, work in a little more water or olive oil.

~~louise~~ said...

I adore lamb, what a stimulating marriage with the mint. Is that a tang of rosemary I smell?

Hold on, Adele, it's almost over or just beginning...Thank you so much for sharing...

adele said...

Louise - Good point about the rosemary. It might work better than thyme in the braising mixture.

One more exam to go.

~~louise~~ said...

I think the recipe is perfect the way it is. I like the addition of thyme. I just have rosemary on the brain and for some reason associate lamb with rosemary which isn't really fair. I'm saving this recipe so I give thyme a chance...

Hang on...

Yulinka said...

Re: Geese. Just a few weeks ago, there was a giant flock on a pond near our condo. I'm talking hundreds of geese. Surely it would be okay to hunt and eat one? I'd be curious to try it (from the butcher would be fine, too).

adele said...

Yulinka - I suspect you might get in trouble for hunting geese in a residential area. Butcher is probably a safer bet. :)