For a while after returning from my summer internship I found myself struggling with creativity in the kitchen. Though I didn't do much cooking while Upstate, I didn't feel the need to dive back into it full-force once home. I put so much of myself and my creative energy into everything I did there that I needed a break to rest and allow my brain molecules to start firing on their own again, without guidelines laid out in front of me by someone else.
With the passing weeks after the event I slowly started shedding the layers of spice notes crammed in every nook and cranny of the brain and media lessons piled at the top of my mind, as Jonas looses the memories as he leaves the known world behind in The Giver. It felt like lightening the load. The things I learned are still present, but they are now settling in among my other thoughts, allowing me to find focus elsewhere.
Finally I feel inspired and invigorated when I circle the greenmarket or step into my kitchen to prepare the evening meal. I have fancy dinner party menus circling my mind, I flip through cookbooks and bookmark pages that set off a spark, I wander specialty stores and pick up ingredients that I've never seen before to try something new. It feels invigorating being behind the stove again.
This meal stemmed from that thrill filling me up. I made an appetizer of bruschetta topped with a roasted eggplant puree, creme fraiche, and pomegranate seeds. I spent 2 days on the ravioli, braising on one and making the pasta on the other. I served it alongside simply sauteed mustard greens for added bite. I lit candles, put on the fireplace video on the tv, and played some dinner music to set the mood. It felt special, a welcome home to my long absent chef soul.
On a side note, I have a few friends who are new to the blogging world and would like to give them a shout-out. Trina and Tina are sisters who get together to cook once a week and dicsuss their joint-family culinary adventures at Sister Sweetly. Sophie, Susannah, Stephanie, and Remy are all wonderfully talented writers and food lovers with whom I had the pleasure of working with at LongHouse. I know these ladies are going somewhere big, so be sure to follow them at the beginning of the journey so you can say "you knew them when." Their blogs are (respectively): The Daily Compote, The Storied Spoon, StephanieCarlson.com, and RemyRobert.com.
Pork Cheek Ravioli
This recipe was inspired by Emiko Davies. After reading of her pork dinner party for Food52 I couldn't get the recipe off of my mind. I searched all over for pork cheeks, even asking the pork farmers at the market, to no avail. Then, a couple of weeks ago at the market at Grand Army Plaza, I was purchasing meat from Arcadian Pastures and the vendor gave me his card to call if there was ever anything in particular I was looking for. Thinking it couldn't hurt to ask, I implored once again for the pork cheeks. I was thrilled when he told me he should be able to get them in for me the next week. As I waited for the next week's market to roll around, I dreamed of what this ravioli would taste like. Patience paid off with a lovely dinner as reward.
2 pork cheeks, skinned with fat left on
salt and pepper
2 TB olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 c. red wine
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
for the pasta (recipe from Emiko Davies):
200 grams all purpose flour
200 grams semolina flour
3 TB butter
Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, for garnish
Sprinkle the pork cheeks generously with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat, then add the pork and brown on all sides. Remove the pork to a plate.
Add the onion, garlic, and carrots to the pan. Cook until slightly tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the wine and the seared pork back to the pan, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Let the meat braise slowly until it is tender and shreds easily, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
Strain out the solids and the pork, reserving the cooking liquid. Finely chop the pork and vegetables, then mix in the Parmesan cheese. Set aside to cool while making the pasta dough.
Form the flour into a volcano-shaped peak on your counter top. Make a deep well in the center and crack in the eggs. Use a fork to slowly start beating the eggs, ever so slowly incorporating the flour from the sides while being careful not to "crack" the sides, which will create a lava-like flow of eggs all over the counter (I have yet to successfully complete this task, but I have high hopes that one day I will form pasta like a pro). Once enough flour has become incorporated that it is difficult to mix with the fork, begin working the dough with your hands, incorporating more flour until it is no longer sticky, then knead until the dough is elastic, about 5 minutes. Form into a ball, cover, and rest for 30 minutes.
Now it is time to roll out the dough. I find I can never get my pasta thin enough when I roll it by hand, so I highly recommend a pasta roller. Divide the dough into 4 parts and roll until it is very thin (#7 on the Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachment) and about 4" wide. Drop a rounded teaspoon of pork onto the pasta sheets about every 2 1/2 inches, in the middle of the bottom half of the sheet. Brush water or an egg wash around all sides, then fold the pasta sheet in half over top of the filling and press firmly all around to keep out air bubbles. Use a pasta cutter to separate out the ravioli.
Once the ravioli are prepared, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large saute pan, heat the cooking liquids from the braised pork. Once the braising liquid comes to a boil, stir in the butter until it melts. Taste and salt and pepper as necessary, then turn the heat to low. Add the ravioli to the boiling water and cook about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place directly into the sauce (a bit of starchy pasta cooking water will help the sauce coat the noodles). Gently toss to coat the ravioli, then plate on a large serving platter. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley to serve.