You can't make everything from scratch

...but you can sure try!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A good use for smoked salmon

(Not that there's a bad use.)

One of our friends here in town brings us a little gift every time she comes over, even though we've told her she doesn't need to. Most recently, she brought us a package of hot-smoked salmon. When I saw it, my mind immediately went to pasta, because it's one of the things I most love making with smoked salmon. And since it's been quite a few weeks since I last did homemade pasta, I thought it was time for another try.

My interest in learning to make homemade pasta has always been to make filled pasta, like ravioli and tortelli. I have no problem using dried pasta for basic noodles, but I've always wanted to be able to come up with my own fillings, especially since many commercial versions use red meat, which my husband can't eat. So this time, I made smoked salmon-stuffed ravioli with lemon-cream sauce. (And yes, that's "ravioli stuffed with smoked salmon," not "ravioli stuffed with salmon and then smoked," though that could be fun, too.)

For the pasta, I mixed together semolina flour and eggs, added a bit of water to smooth out the texture, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I flaked the smoked salmon, and added a minced shallot and enough ricotta cheese to hold it all together. I also threw in a couple of tablespoons of grated Asiago (although I don't think it ultimately had much effect on the flavour). While the filling chilled in the fridge, I divided the ball of pasta into quarters (halves would probably have worked, too), and rolled them out into thin sheets. I topped one sheet with dollops of filling at regular intervals, used a pastry brush to wet the spaces in between the dollops, and covered it with another sheet. Using my new ravioli wheel, which I picked up the last time I was in Montreal, I cut out the squares. After each batch, I took all the trimmings and recycled them until there wasn't enough dough left to be useful.

For the sauce, I took some heavy cream and white vermouth, grated in some lemon zest, and reduced everything in a frying pan. Once it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, I mixed in some lemon juice, and poured it over the cooked pasta. Voilà! Dinner.

As predicted in my last post on pasta, using semolina instead of all-purpose flour, as well as dividing the ball of dough, made it a lot easier to roll it out nice and thin. Indeed, it worked so well this time that I've decided to forego seeking out a pasta machine any time soon, though it would have been helpful in ensuring uniform dimensions for the sheets, so that they would match up exactly when one is laid on top of the other, and a uniform thickness, so that they would cook more evenly. As it turned out, some of the ravioli were slightly undercooked, so that's something to watch out for.

As for the filling, it was very tasty, and very salmony. If you're feeding a larger group, you could definitely add more ricotta to stretch the salmon further, though you'd end up with a less fish-intensive dish. You could also try adding lots of salmon-friendly seasonings, like fresh dill or capers. The sauce was very tangy, which made a nice counterpoint to the richness of the filling.

And my apologies for not having a photo this time around. There are a number of reasons for this. First, one or more of the ravioli burst while cooking, which meant that the whole batch of pasta ended up decorated with small salmon flakes, detracting from what should have been a pristine white dish. Also, the ravioli themselves were very irregular, a function of the irregular shape of the pasta sheets and my inexperience in cutting perfect squares. But most importantly, the batteries in my camera were dead! I guess I'll have to make sure I charge them before embarking on my next culinary adventure...

Smoked salmon-stuffed ravioli with lemon-cream sauce
For the pasta:
200g semolina (300g might work better, since I ended up with extra filling)
2 large eggs (add another one if you're using 300g of semolina)

For the filling:
1 small shallot
227g fully cooked hot-smoked salmon (you could probably use cold-smoked, or even canned salmon in a pinch)
Ricotta cheese
Asiago or other hard, flavourful cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup white vermouth (I used Noilly Prat)
Zest of half a lemon
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper (use white pepper to keep black specks out of your white sauce)

1. Make the pasta: mix the semolina and eggs until dough comes together. Knead briefly, adding water if necessary to achieve the right texture. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Make the filling: Mince the shallot. Flake the salmon. Grate the Asiago or other cheese. Mix everything together in a medium bowl with enough ricotta to bind, season, and chill in the fridge.

3. Divide the ball of pasta dough into quarters, and roll each one out very thin. (If you have a pasta machine, there's no better time to break it out!) Take one of the sheets and lay it on a work surface. Place a small amount of filling at regular intervals along the pasta sheet. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, wet the spaces between the filling. (Don't forget about the edges of the dough!) Place a second sheet of pasta on top, press down around the filling, and crimp with a ravioli wheel. Save the scraps.

4. Once all the pasta dough is used up (and hopefully all the filling, too), place the ravioli on a cookie sheet to dry. While they're drying, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, put the pasta in to cook. Cook until al dente, or to taste.

5. In a frying pan, mix the cream, vermouth and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt and freshly ground white pepper.

6. Drain the cooked pasta. Right before serving, mix the lemon juice into the sauce, heat through, and pour over the pasta.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Blueberry season

Has it really been more than 3 weeks since I last updated this blog? I've been extremely busy with for-pay work over the last little while, which has really limited my ability to play around in the kitchen, not to mention my desire to write anything in my spare time. Fortunately, the immediate busy season is nearly over, and my pots and pans are calling...

This is not to say I've completely avoided cooking over the past three weeks. In fact, my husband and I took advantage of the recent blueberry season in Western Nova Scotia to pay a visit to Oxford, the self-proclaimed wild blueberry capital of Canada. Not knowing exactly where to get the best blueberries, we decided to consult the people who would be able to tell us: the Oxford tourist information centre (and wild blueberry and maple museum). The staff member at the desk was exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable: he was able to tell us that the blueberries they were selling, at $10.75 for 5 pounds, were from Amherst, about 20 km closer to home than Oxford. He also explained that the "blueberry capital" distinction is earned on the basis of Oxford's processing/freezing plant, which handles blueberries from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine.

We ended up buying 10 pounds of the berries, learning that this would be enough for about 5 pies. Well, we discovered that 10 pounds of blueberries was a lot more than we thought it would be. Our 10 pounds went into the following recipes:
  • 2 blueberry pies

  • 2 batches of blueberry muffins

  • 1 blueberry-orange loaf

  • 1 blueberry-orange cake

  • 1 blueberry buckle

  • 1 "pouding renversé des bleuets" (blueberry upside-down cake)

  • 1 batch blueberry sorbet

I'm also going to infuse some vodka with the small blue berries, with the ultimate goal of making a liqueur. After that, there will still be a small number of berries left - just enough to go on my yogurt in the morning.

The centre is devoted to both blueberries and maple syrup because Nova Scotia also has a small, but apparently devoted, maple syrup industry, with a lot of cross-over between the blueberry farmers and maple syrup producers. Our friend at the tourist information desk told me that the producer of the maple syrup they sell had had a stroke of bad luck recently, losing their entire sugar shack operation in a fire started by a lightning strike. This was on top of their having lost their mechanical blueberry harvesters last year in a similar accident. But he couldn't say enough good things about the quality of the product, which was still made the old-fashioned way, by boiling the sap over a wood fire, rather than using the reverse osmosis process that many Quebec syrup operations apparently use.

With that kind of a sales pitch, I couldn't help but buy two litres of the sweet stuff. The first item on my to-do list is maple pie, but I'm sure I'll find out that 2 litres of syrup is about as hard to use up as 10 pounds of blueberries. Fortunately, the syrup has a much longer shelf life!

Pouding renversé aux bleuets
Adapted from A Taste of Quebec by Julian Armstrong

2 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the blueberries, 1/4 cup sugar and the lemon rind in an 8-inch square pan. Cream the shortening and remaining sugar in a bowl, then add the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the flour mixture and milk, in alternating additions, to the creamed shortening, forming a smooth batter. Spoon over the prepared blueberries, and bake for 40 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean. Let cool a little and turn out onto a plate. Serve warm or room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.