Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pappardelle with Lamb Ragù, Ricotta & Mint

The World Cup came to a screeching halt last Saturday when the U.S. lost against Ghana in overtime. We were at Bill’s Off Broadway watching with a packed house of hardcore fans, including one dressed as George Washington in an American flag cape. It was close, and I do think we got screwed, but in the end, the tragic truth was that the U.S. was out.

We left Bill’s with hung heads, teary eyes and hoarse voices. What a way to start a Saturday.

But we had rapidly approaching dinner plans and needed to buck up, fast. We had no idea what we were making and immediately started brainstorming quick menus that were just a notch or two above the ordinary. This particular lamb ragù fit the bill perfectly.

It’s adapted from a Food & Wine recipe that has been in my “must cook” pile for quite some time. What goes better with flavorful lamb than reduced wine, stock, a handful of savory spices, ricotta cheese and fresh mint? Not much.

I was able to get the ragù simmering away in less than 30 minutes, plus the fresh pasta only took about 3. It tastes decadent and complex but it’s simple enough to throw together at the eleventh hour… even if you are nursing some fresh wounds.

Pappardelle with Lamb Ragù, Ricotta and Mint 
This has even deeper flavors the next day. Adapted from an Andrew Carmellini recipe in Food & Wine. 

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (you don’t have to but I added an extra 14 ounce can as well)
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
3/4 pound pappardelle
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons chopped mint

In a large heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ground lamb, coriander, fennel, cumin, rosemary and thyme. Season with a hearty pinch of salt and a few fresh grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir well, allowing some of that raw taste to cook out of it, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 5 minutes. Next, add the diced tomatoes and their juices (and a little extra if you’re like me) along with the stock; bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and cook over moderately low heat until the liquid is slightly reduced and slightly thickened, 25-30 minutes.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until it’s al dente (if you’re using fresh pasta, this should only take about 3 minutes). Drain, return to the pot and add the butter; toss well.

Divide pasta among plates and top with a ladel of hot ragu. Place a scoop of ricotta cheese on top of each with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper and some fresh mint.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My New Addiction

I’d like to take a moment and bend your ear about one of my favorite new products: Liberté Méditerranée yogurt. I wouldn’t have even discovered it had it not been for their coconut flavor (I’m an absolute sucker for anything coconut and was powerless to resist grabbing one). ‘Twas a lucky day for them since they scored a returning customer. 

I would describe it as a cross between whole milk yogurt and Greek yogurt: thick, creamy and just sweet enough. The venerable Montreal-based company uses hormone-free Vermont milk to make a velvety yogurt with 8.5% fat. It reminds me of the good stuff from Europe made with minimal ingredients (and no cornstarch in sight). I’ve been religiously pairing the coconut with freshly cut pineapple or mango but recently discovered that quartered strawberries taste so much better topped with a dollop of lemon
Méditerranée, as would a warm slice of gingerbread. 

My dessert repertoire has happily landed in a delicious rut.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The 36th Annual Duck Dinner

The Duck Dinner has been taking place every year, without fail, for the past 36 years, and last weekend I had the privilege of attending my third. In over three and a half decades, the multi-course feast has never repeated themes (rumor has it that a large binder containing every menu since its inception exists), although they tend to have a strong French influence.

Last year was very Julia Child -- fig and pate spread, mussels with minted Greek yogurt, duck breasts with roasted endive tarts -- while the previous year was upscale rustic. The location had been moved to Sid and Michelle's gorgeous cabin in the Adirondacks and the menu aptly reflected its surroundings: duck burgers on homemade brioche buns with heirloom tomato ketchup, roasted fingerlings with crème fraiche and caviar, deviled eggs with salmon roe, and s'mores made with entirely homemade elements.

Finding a way to blow everyone's socks off each year seems like a daunting task but, once again, Eric managed just that. The theme of 2010, South of the Border, was fresh and exciting. And the inventive menu, we later figured out, contained some sort of pepper in every course, save the margarita sorbet palate cleanser. ¡Muy delicioso!

So without further ado, I give you the 2010 Duck Dinner.

Little peppers stuffed with herbed white beans

Sweet potato chips with guacamole

  Raw oysters with mignonette sauce

 Green corn soup
Empanadillas 3 ways: BBQ pork, fish and fruit


Sombreros: fresh pasta sheets with truffled mushrooms, truffle cream and two pepper sauces

Lime margarita ice

Sliced duck with chipotle sauce and polenta

Local lettuces with sherry vinaigrette and edible flowers; homemade potato rolls

Mexican sundae with 2 types of homemade vanilla bean ice cream, caramelized plantains with rum glaze, sweet mole sauce, whipped cream and roasted pecans

Chocolate espresso torta with cinnamon