May 23, 2010

Homemade Orecchiette with rabbit ragu from Puglia (Italy)

Puglia is often known as the heel of Italy occupying the south-eastern part of Italy. Interestingly it is also sometimes called the “California of Italy” according to some sources because of its long stretched shape or because of its comparable climate. Puglia is mainly known for wheat, olive oil and wine. It produces about 40% of all extra virgin olive oil in Italy and about 14% of the entire world’s production. It is also one of the largest wine producing regions of Italy even though most of the wines produced in Puglia aren’t well known outside of the region and are sometimes even shipped to the north to improve the wines of the cooler regions. Beside winegrowing wheat fields are prominent in Puglia especially durum wheat which is milled to semolina. Semolina is one of the most used flours in Italy to make pasta.
The cuisine of Puglia is sometimes described as “La cucina pugliese nasce come cucina povera” – The cuisine of Puglia was born as the cuisine of poverty. This is also noticeable from the region’s most famous pasta – orecchiette. In contrast to many other pasta varieties in Italy orecchiette are made without any eggs.

Pasta is one of these ingredients which you can buy in the supermarket and it will give you good results but if you make it fresh at home it will really bring any dish to the next level. Pasta-making can be quite time consuming and we don’t make it as often as we would like and normally only with dough which includes eggs. When we saw this recipe for eggless orecchiette with rabbit ragu we were intrigued to try it and compare it to our standard dough. It turned out that the eggless dough is easier to work with and creates some outstanding pasta.

Orecchiette with rabbit ragu

In Puglia you will get orecchiette often served either with vegetables or some rabbit. Rabbit is often characterized as tasting like chicken but we think it is oversimplified. Rabbit has a slight gaminess which makes it distinctively different from chicken. This ragu was a good way to accentuate this taste and we really liked how the flavors melded in this dish to give a light but still substantial ragu. But the star of the dish were the orecchiette – perfectly al dente with the right thickness and shape to carry the rabbit ragu. One of the best pasta we made so far.

Homemade orecchiette

Mix semolina flour, flour and salt in bowl and make well in center and add lukewarm water. Slowly stir in flour using a fork until a dough forms. (Not all flour will be incorporated).

Transfer dough to work surface. Sift remaining flour mixture through sieve into another bowl and discard all clumps.

Knead dough for about eight minutes until it becomes smooth.

Divide dough into eight pieces and wrap each piece in plastic wrap and let stand for one hour at room temperature.

Take one unwrapped piece of dough and roll under palms on work surface into a ½ inch thick rope about 2-3 feet long. Cut rope into 1/3 inch pieces. Lightly toss with some of the remaining flour mixture.

Put one piece of dough cut side down on work surface. Dust thumb with flour mixture and press down on dough, pushing away from you and twisting thumb to form a curled shape. Transfer to tray lined with clean kitchen towels, dust with some additional flour.

Repeat previous step with remaining cut pieces and all seven remaining dough balls to get many trays of fresh orecchiette.

Bring pot of well salted water to boil and drop orecchiette carefully into boiling water. Cook until al dente for about 4-5 minutes. Orecchiette will start to float when they start to become al dente.

Recipe adapted from “Gourmet Today”

Serves 4-6

Pasta dough:

350 g (12.5 oz.) semolina flour
280 g (10 oz.) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
240 ml (1 cup) lukewarm water

Season rabbit pieces with salt and black pepper. Heat 4 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat and brown rabbit in two batches for four minutes on each side. Transfer pieces to platter.

Add three more tbsp olive oil and sauté onions, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary and ¼ tsp salt for about 10 minutes until vegetables are starting to brown.

Add wine, bring to a boil and, while scraping off any brown bits, let nearly all liquid evaporate.

Add tomatoes, broth and ½ tsp salt and bring to boil. Return rabbit pieces with all accumulated juices and try to cover the rabbit pieces as good as possible with the cooking liquid. Cook for about 20 minutes and turn occasionally.

Transfer saddle pieces to platter and cook remaining rabbit pieces for ten more minutes before also transferring to platter. Remove cooking pot from heat. Remove all meat from bones and cut into small pieces.

Return meat with all juices to pot, bring carefully to boil and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Discard bay leaves. When orecchiette are al dente combine ragu with pasta. Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano.

Rabbit ragu

1.5 kg (3 lbs) rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
7 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery ribs, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes in juice, drained and chopped
240 ml (1 cup) chicken broth
Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated

May 22, 2010

Chef Celebration Dinner at Cowboy Star (San Diego)

It is interesting to look over the list of former recipients of the Chef Celebration scholarships and trying to find out what became of these chefs in the culinary world. Some of them stayed in San Diego and are working in different restaurants like Mike Englund (Firehouse American Eatery), Damaso Lee (Trattoria Aqua), Hanis Cavin (Kensington Grill). Some chefs decided to advance their careers in other cities like Michelle Mah (San Francisco, Midi Restaurant), Collin Wehner (Dickinson/ND, Brickhouse Grille) or as private chef (Jeff Heavey). Others moved from the kitchen to the supply side of the business (Josh McGinnis), towards catering (Jeffrey Thomas, Dana Hangauer) or contract foodservice (Polly Sang, Andrew Bard). It is good to see that the Chef Celebration scholarship had a positive impact on the careers of many chefs.

The recent Chef Celebration dinner at Cowboy Star not only included several well established chefs like Christian Graves (JSix), Colin MacLaggan (Avenue 5), Brian Freerksen (La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club), Victor Jimenez (Cowboy Star) and Chris Idso (Pacifica) but also Gabriel Bonis who works at Cowboy Star and is a current Chef Celebration scholarship recipient. So in some ways this year’s Chef Celebration dinner series goes a full cycle by including established chefs which used many years ago the scholarships to move their career forward to chefs who are just starting their careers with the help of such scholarships.

Cowboy Star is located on 10th Ave about two blocks from Cafe Chloe in an interesting red brick building with the prominent “C*” logo.

The interior has - not surprisingly - a rustic western theme with a service staff dressed in “cowboy” style cloths.

We had a nice table close to the open kitchen.

New Fashioned: Jim Beam rye, orange bitters, Monin ginger syrup, brown sugar and finished with ginger ale and served on the rocks. We started the night with a good variation on an “old fashioned” which had a nice balance between the sweetness of the sugar and the bitterness from the orange bitter and the ginger ale but with enough punch from the whiskey

Amuse Bouche: Chilled spring pea soup, crème fraiche garnish (Gabriel Bonis). Fresh tasting amuse bouche which captured the essence of spring. Chilled soups sometimes tend to be served too cold but this one had the right temperature.

1st Course: Grilled asparagus, brown butter hollandaise, marcona almonds, watercress, speck (Christian Graves). We recently had a very good tasting menu at his restaurant which already showed his great ability to use seasonal ingredients without overpowering them. Very tender asparagus with a slight smoky taste from the grilling is accompanied by classical hollandaise sauce. The inclusion of speck and some greens make this a classical spring dish eaten throughout northern Europe during the asparagus season.

2nd Course: Black sesame crusted scallop, cipollini puree, Peruvian potatoes, pea shoots, blood orange and toasted cumin (Colin MacLaggan). Tender scallops which had some crunch from the use of sesame. We also really liked the use of the cipollini puree which added some subtle sweetness to the dish. The orange gave the dish a helpful bitter counterpoint.

3rd Course: Seared salmon, butternut squash ravioli, tomato-tarragon butter, wilted spinach (Brian Freerksen). Again a dish which focused on a few ingredients and let them shine – tender, moist salmon with a nice crust, perfect ravioli with a simple but satisfying filling of butternut squash and fresh tasting sauce, reminiscent of Bearnaise, which had the unique tarragon flavor.

4th Course: Grilled “natural” strip loin, baby carrots, bourbon garlic puree, duck-fat roasted potatoes, sauce bordelaise (Victor Jimenez). Beautiful piece of meat with a classical sauce bordelaise. The bourbon garlic puree was a nice addition to the meat but they unfortunately only included a very small dollop. The carrots could have been a bit more tender and the potatoes very nicely roasted but the duck fat wasn’t really noticeable.

5th Course: Chino Farm strawberry “shortcake”, citrus biscuit, whipped crème fraiche, aged balsamic, basil sprouts (Chris Idso). Tasting these strawberries it is obvious why so many people speak so highly of Chino Farm – outstanding strawberries. The citrus biscuit was good but together with the slightly sour whipped crème fraiche the dish was overall too sour – it would have been better to use whipped cream instead of the whipped crème fraiche.

We had an enjoyable night at Cowboy Star and it was again interesting to see that each Chef Celebration dinner seems to have unifying theme. Whereas the last dinner at Kitchen 1540 was a more playful look at the techniques and ingredients this dinner had a more focused and direct approach on the ingredients. All chefs tried not to overburden the few key ingredients of each dish and instead let them shine by focusing on their quality and natural taste. It was also interesting to see that all dishes had different classical sauces which helped to elevate the dishes without overpowering them.

The service at the beginning of the evening was very rushing – amuse bouche was served before we even ordered our drinks and they even wanted to bring out the first course within minutes without having our beverages. After we complained in a friendly way they acted very professional and made sure that the pacing was perfect throughout the remainder of the night.

640 10th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 450-5880

May 6, 2010

Chef Celebration Dinner at Kitchen 1540 (San Diego)

It was interesting to see that after three visits to this year’s Chefs Celebration dinner series each restaurant seems to have its specific patronage and that even though all participating chefs come from very different restaurants and backgrounds they all seem to review their dishes beforehand trying to cater to each restaurant’s clientele. The dinner at Pamplemousse Grille was overall good but the dishes were a bit on the safe side. Nine-Ten in La Jolla has a reputation of a well established restaurant with dishes which often have an emphasis on seasonal products. And Kitchen 1540 seems to attract a younger and “hipper” clientele which was reflected in the use of more unusual ingredients (e.g. lamb bacon, chocolate miso, and black garlic) and techniques (e.g. spherification, and liquid nitrogen).

The Chef Celebration dinner at Kitchen 1540 had a wide range of prominent chefs – Chris Kurth (Grant Grill), Anthony Sinsay (Harney Sushi), Amy DiBiase (The Glass Door, formerly at Roseville), Jim Phillips (Barona), Stefan Vukotich (Barona) and Paul McCabe (Kitchen 1540).

Kitchen 1540 is located in the newly renovated L’Auberge del Mar.

The dining room has a modern and sophisticated style with light-colored interior and overall a busy but at the same time relaxed ambience which we both enjoy very much already on our first visit to Kitchen 1540 for the Cooks Confab dinner last year.

We got a nice place close to the open kitchen which gave us a good opportunity to watch the kitchen operation. It looked very crowded with so many chefs working simultaneously in the kitchen but at the same very organized.

Kitchen 1540 has a nice bread service with many different options including foccacia with grapes but some of the breads tasted a bit stale.

Amuse Bouche: Dungeness crab, green almonds, asparagus, warm tomato citrus vinaigrette (Chris Kurth)
Good bite of Dungeness crab with a very intense tasting tomato citrus vinaigrette which would also be nice on a salad. Wine Pairing – 2008 Pinot Gris, Lucien Albrecht, Alsace (France) - had a good balance between sweet- and tartness with taste of lemon and apple.

Course 1a: Things to do in spring….types, textures, temperatures (Anthony Sinsay)
This dish had no ingredients listed on the menu and we were very curious what to expect. It was a very interesting and playful interpretation of seasonal spring ingredients, e.g. fava beans, peas, asparagus, orange, and lemon covering unusual temperatures (e.g. liquid nitrogen frozen pea foam) and textures (e.g. fava bean sponge cake). An unusual but successful dish.

Course 1b: Smoked lamb carpaccio with confit baby artichoke, preserved blood orange, Persian watercress, pine nut brittle and pecorino (Amy DiBiase).
Interesting variation on the classical beef carpaccio with light gaminess from the lamb. The artichokes which sometimes can be too woody were very tender. This dish had many different tastes and textures (crunchy pine nut brittle) and everything worked beautifully together – very strong dish. Wine pairing – 2008 Riesling Kabinett, Karl Molitor, Rheingau (Germany) - some sweetness but still good acidity.

Course 2a: Bacon & egg’s fried poached egg, lamb bacon, morel mushrooms, field mizuna, spring garlic, asparagus (Chris Kurth).
The different ingredients of the dish were well executed and it was interesting to taste lamb bacon with a very intense lamb flavor which would dominate most dishes if used more widely. But overall the different ingredients didn’t really work together and the dish felt somehow incomplete.

Course 2b: Grey pheasant leg and thigh stuffed with the breast, blazei mushrooms, spring peas, fava beans and white asparagus, fortified jus, cider vinegar pearls (Jim Phillips).
Very tender meat which got a lot of flavor from the filling of breast meat and different vegetables. The different spring vegetables supported the lightness of the dish. We had blazei mushrooms also known as almond mushrooms for the first time and they indeed had a slightly sweet and almondy taste. A very unusual twist were the small pearls of cider vinegar which were not only a spherification gimmick but added a sour contrast to the dish. The puff on top of the dish didn’t add much. Wine pairing – 2008 Pinot Noir, Jezebel, Oregon - quite fruity with tastes of cherry and strawberry and some light tannins.

Course 3a: Snake River Farms wagyu tri tip birch, fiddlehead ferns, morels, black garlic, foie gras hollandaise (Paul McCabe)
Wonderful tender meat which had a nice smoky flavor from smoking over birch. One highlight of the dish was the foie gras hollandaise which had a spread-like consistency topped with seared foie gras. Spreading some of the foie gras hollandaise over the wagyu beef created a very addictive combination. We wished we could have ordered more of it.

Course 3b: Brandied Eden farm pork tenderloin with plum glazed pork belly, broccoli spigarello, English breakfast radish and whole grain mustard (Amy DiBiase)
Good combination of pork tenderloin which paired nicely with the whole grain mustard and very tender pork belly which was accompanied by not too sweet plum. The broccoli spigarello is an interesting variation on broccoli with a more dominant broccoli flavor without the acidity of the regular broccoli. Wine pairing – 2008 Shiraz/Viognier, Angove “Nine Vines”, Australia - some spicyness at the beginning and finishes with fruit flavor and not too much tannins.

Pre Dessert: Lemon ravioli, thyme and milk foam
Interesting pre-dessert which could have had a little bit more of the lemon filling. Wine pairing - 2008 Silvaner, Dr. Heyden, Rheinhessen (Germany) which had some fruits and body but not too much acidity.

Course 4: Chocolate espresso fondant, macerated raspberries, strawberry cake, passion fruit mousse, vanilla roasted strawberries (Stefan Vukotich)
Surprisingly light and airy dessert with a strawberry jam layer between the strawberry cake and the passion fruit mousse. Wine pairing – Sparkling Red, Il Conte D’Alba “Stella Rosa” NV, Piedmont (Italy) – some strawberry flavors but not overly sweet. Good match for the dessert.

Espresso and Capuccino – we ended the night with a nice espresso and cappuccino with good microfoam.

We had a wonderful night at the Chef Celebration Dinner at Kitchen 1540. You could see in the open kitchen that the chefs had fun doing this tasting menu but you could also taste it with the dishes. It was enjoyable to experience such a great variety of very creative dishes which for us really characterize what such a culinary fundraiser should stand for – cooking without limits and only good taste matters. The dinner was made perfect by a good and affordable wine pairing which even covered amuse bouche and pre-dessert and a very professional service. It was good to see that similar to the dinner at Pamplemousse this night was very well attended.

1540 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014
(858) 793-6460