Tuesday, December 26, 2006
beef and porcini tomato sauce (holiday raviolis part 1)
I love christmas. I love the excuse to make decadant things, you know stuff that takes FOREVER to make or involves multiple days and layers of creation to arrive at mouth bliss. Raviolis definately qualify for satisfying these criteria, and prior to the cookie crunch of last week I managed to take two days creating a new version of them. Three cheers to the reason for the season!
Day one involved a ton of stuff. It started with a run to the local market that houses our new source of good beef. When I discovered that Baron's of Alameda was now in Star Grocery, within about a mile of my house, I thought "Marin Sun available in the hood, I just gotta make ravs!" Grandma's version calls for at least two different types of meat to be included in the ravioli (chicken, pork, veal, usually the first and last but I just can't do it), and beef in the sauce. I thought about it a while and concluded that I would venture into new territory by sticking to some form of fresh cheese with herbs in the filling this time. The sauce would remain beef, being as though I've been feeling good about supporting Marin Sun Farms, and didn't want to stray too far from what I've made in the past.
The butcher gave me some bones from a prime rib to start my stock. I roasted these in the oven for a darker stock (but in retrospect should have started off with more bones). After these were done, I put the veggies in the pot to saute a bit, then added the bones, boiling water, and my own little bouquet garni (I've been wanting to say that one for a while now). This concoction was boiled together for about five hours, strained, and then reduced in volume by half.
With the stock complete it was time to start the red sauce. The beef chunks get sauteed in olive oil with garlic cloves after being dredged in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. While this happens, the dried porcini need to be soaked in the stock. I chop the dried shrooms somewhat finely and add to a few cups of hot stock. When the beef reaches a nice dark brown, the bowl of soaked porcini and stock gets dumped in with the beef. Cover and turn this way down to a slight simmer and allow to cook until the beef is starting to fall apart. This usually takes at least two hours and gives plenty of time for the rest of the vegetable ingredients to be put into a large pot (8 quart) and boiled together to make a nice red sauce.
With the beef all tender and the red sauce ready, I married the two so they could cook together for at least another hour while I made some ricotta. I started with using a half gallon of whole Straus and two cups of Berkeley buttermilk, heating together over a medium high burner. Stirring the mixture until it reaches somewhere around 140-150 degrees (I no longer check it with a thermometer, but it seems to be steaming nicely at this point) I stop, and begin scraping the bottom of the pot gently, trying to stir it as little as possible in order to free the curds that form without breaking them. These will float to the top and the milk will look like it has cottage cheese floating in it. When the milk gets to the high 170's it will suddenly separate into easily distinguishable curds and whey. There is no mistaking it. One moment you have milk with lumps, the next you have water and cheese curds. At this point the ricotta is done.
Remove the pot from the stove and using a ladle, begin pouring the whey through the cheesecloth lining a strainer. It is not critical, but saving the whey by having another bowl under the strainer will enable you to use this nutritious by-product for something else, like watering some plants, as they apparently like the stuff. With most of the whey removed from the pot, start gently ladling the curds into the strainer. When complete gather the edges of the cloth into a knot and tie around something which it can hang from (the kitchen faucet is handy) and let it drip. After a half hour or so, depending on ambient conditions, the ricotta should be ready for your recipe.
At the very least, the cheese should be ready to sample. But with so much sauce cooling on the counter, and spaghetti in the cupboard, I just had to try out the combo to gain some sort of perspective on how they should come together the next day. After this bowl I was thinking ricotta, spinach and parsley with sage ravioli. Yeah, that's the ticket. Yeah.......and that, would be part 2.