First, I want to apologize for the plating and photography in this post – not my best work – and it doesn’t do the dish justice. But…
I’m excited to introduce what will be a fun feature on this site – ‘The Dinner Party Chronicles’ – where I will recap the successes AND failures of dinner party menus and recipes. Each posting of the ‘Chronicles’ will highlight one particular dish or course (i.e. appetizer, special, soup, cocktails) -with subsequent postings featuring other dishes of the same meal. Sometimes the dishes will turn out well and other times, it probably would have been best if I had just ordered a pizza and called it a day. Either way, I’ll chart the good, bad and the ugly.
My objective is twofold. First, to just share things I learned in putting the meal together. And secondly, provide a place for readers to share their thoughts and recommendations on doing it better.
With all of that said, let’s get started with Volume One: June 22, 2009, Chapter One: The Appetizers.
First, let me say, that this was a fun party – which is to be expected when you blend, booze, designated drivers and my looney group of friends. It’s always a good time.
Here’s what we had:
Pre-Dinner Cocktails: Lemongrass Caipirinhas
Appetizer: Duo of Lamb (Ravioli & Seared Loin) with Garden Scapes
Soup: Cream of Leek & Parsnip Soup with Lardons
Main Coarse: Port/Orange Sauce Braised Duck Breast & Asparagus Salad
Dessert: Fennel Ice Cream on Sugared Puff Pastry with Caramel Sauce
First up, the appetizer: Duo of Lamb (Ravioli and Seared Loin).
A very good friend of mine, Roderick (who happens to be an amazing chef) offered to bring me some fresh scapes from his garden. I immediately said, “Yes! I’ll take them!” Upon hanging up the phone, I logged on to Google and typed, “What in the hell are scapes.” Yikes. Unlike me, many of you probably know that scapes are the top portion of the garlic plant – the bud part of the plant before it blooms. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I had no idea that people actually ate this. What a strange world we live in.”
So with doubt swirling around in my head, I used the scapes as the jumping off for the dish. Here’s how my train of thought went, “scapes…OK, a mild garlicky flavor…what goes with garlic…lamb…what about a lamb ravioli…good, but that’s not enough for an entire course…I’ll pair the ravioli with a lamb chop, I can do a sweet-savory balancing act I’ll make the ravioli rich (braised lamb shank), creamy (mild goat cheese) and slightly sweet (a tad of honey) and balance that with a simple salt and pepper crusted loin from the chop…it can also be a play on textures, soft ravioli and the crunch of the seared salt and pepper crust on the loin…I can serve them both on top of the scapes…maybe, thinly slice some garlic to make chips and sprinkle them on top as a final layer and play on the scapes.”
And that’s roughly how this course came together.
In my opinion, this dish was pretty damned good. There was this beautiful marriage of flavors and textures that worked well together.
The trick in pulling this dish together is all in the timing. The portions of ravioli should be assembled well ahead of time, covered and stored in the refrigerator and ready to cook just before serving. Likewise, the scapes should be pre-boiled, shocked with ice water to lock in the color and stored in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. Fifteen minutes before you want to start the meal, start boiling a large pot of salted water. Directly, before serving, I, suggest sautéing the lamb loins and setting them aside. Cook ravioli in boiling water and remove. Drop scapes in the water to heat through and remove. This entire process should only keep you away from your guests for no more than seven minutes. They won’t even know you’re gone.
I make pasta a lot. Often, I will make seven-yolk pasta (sometimes with beets some times without). But not this time – the menu was a very involved one already. So, I went with my easy ‘3-2-1 pasta dough’ recipe – three eggs, two cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. This dough is not as silky as the 7-yolk version but it’s relatively fast and easy.
- 12 garlic scapes
- One tsp kosher salt
Using a sharp knife, trim off the bottom of the scapes to just below 2” of the flower bud. Cut each scape into cross-sectioned halves.
Bring about 4 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add kosher salt. Boil scapes until they are cooked through and their color turns bright green, about 3-4mintes. Remove scapes from water and immediately plunge them into an ice bath to stop cooking and preserve their color. Set aside until ready to use.
- Eight lamb chops
- 4 tbs canola oil
- Kosher salt and fresh and roughly cracked pepper, to taste
Using a sharp knife, cut the round lamb meat away from the bone. Salt and pepper each side. Set aside the bone and its attached fat for another use (perfect for making lamb stock).
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Pour in canola oil and heat until it shimmers (before reaching its smoking point). Sear each side of the lamb meat until desired doneness – about 2.5 minutes per side.
Remove lamb from pan and cover until ready to use.
For the Pasta:
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp olive oil
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- For the ravioli filling:
- 3 tbl extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lamb shanks, pat dry and salt & peppered
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 celery stock, large diced
- 1 carrot, large dice
- 2 garlic cloves, diced
- 2 cups chicken stock, low sodium if using canned
- 1 cup red wine
- 1tsp thyme, dried
- 1tsp Sichuan pepper corns
- Three tsp kosher salt divided
- Goat cheese, plus more to taste
- 1tbl honey, plus more to taste
- One tsp ground pepper, plus more to taste
- For the filling: Preheat oven to 240˚.
- In an ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm olive oil until shimmering. Sear lambs shanks, occasionally turning until all sides have caramelized, about 7 minutes. Remove shanks and set aside. Add and sauté onion, celery and carrots until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Pour in stock and red wine. Deglaze pan by stirring up any lamb or vegetable bits that may have been seared to the bottom of the pan. Add thyme, peppercorns and one teaspoon of salt. Return shanks to the pan (if shanks are not completely covered, add water). Bring to a boil. And place in oven. Braise shanks for 3 hours – until they are fork tender and the meat easily pulls away from the bone.
- Removed cooked shanks from the pan and place them in a medium bowl until they are cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, strain the vegetables and peppercorns out of the braising liquid and pour back into the original braising pan. Over medium-high heat, bring the liquid to a simmer and let reduce to about a quarter of its original volume, about 25 minutes. Set reduced sauce aside.
- When shanks are cool enough to handle, pull meat from the bones with fingers. Stir the meat, goat cheese, salt, and pepper. Ideally, you want the filling to have a slightly sweet flavor but add more of filling ingredients to suit your taste. Set filling aside.
For the pasta:
- In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, olive oil, and salt.
- Mound the flour on the countertop creating a well in the center large enough to hold the egg mixture. Pour egg mixture into the flour well.
- Using your finger or fork, begin making a circular motion in the egg mixture to start slowly incorporating into the flour. If needed, occasionally push a little of the flour into the well. Continue until the egg mixture becomes incorporated with the flour. Once the dough begins to form, mold it together into a rough ball.
- Knead the dough on a clean, lightly floured area of the countertop. The dough will be sticky at first, but will be come smoother as you continue kneading. Sprinkle with a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky to work with. Knead the dough by pushing down and away from you with the palm of your hands and turning the dough onto itself. Knead dough for no less than 10 minutes. After kneading, the dough should have a smooth texture. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 1 hour.
Assembling the ravioli:
- Cut dough into four equal parts. Starting at the widest setting, run each piece through the pasta press attachment of KitchenAid mixer. Gradually, push the dough through smaller and smaller settings until you get about 1/8″ thick (setting “4″ on the KitchenAid pasta press). Work pressing only two pasta strips at a time.
- (Alternatively, you can roll out the pieces of dough with a rolling pin on a lightly floured counter top until you reach the desired thickness.)
- On a lightly floured countertop layout the first press strip. Mound about 1 ½ tablespoons of filling on the pasta pieces. Continue, mounding the filling about 3” apart in a row down the pasta. Dipping your fingers into a small bowl of water, wet all around each mound of filling. Place second strip of pasta on top of the one containing the filling. Carefully press the top sheet of pasta around the mounds making sure to press out any air bubbles and creating a tight seal around each mound.
- Using a lightly floured, 2” ravioli or cookie cutter, separate and remove each ravioli. Place the ravioli on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper that has been lightly covered with cornmeal. Repeat process for remaining two pasta pieces. If not immediately, using, drape the raviolis with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. This should yield about ten extremely plump ravioli.
PLATING THE DISH:
- Cooking Ravioli: In a saucepan of rapidly boiling water, cook portions of ravioli until the pasta is cooked through and the filling has been reheated. About 4-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Scapes: Plunge scapes into boiling pasta water to reheat, about 30 seconds. Remove and place on paper towels. Pat dry.
- Sauce: Warm reserved and reduced braising liquid.
- Plating: Put one lamb loin in the center of each plate. Place three scapes around the lamb. Set one cooked ravioli on top of the loin. Dress plate with braising liquid. Serve.
- Serves 8