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Friday, March 23, 2012

3 in 1--A Perfect Combo

3 in 1--A Perfect Combo
By Victoria Challancin

Who doesn't love a versatile recipe with multiple possibilities?  This recipe is just that:  puff pastry "ravioli," Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce, and Mario Batili's popular caponata.  Voilà!  Three in one.

When I spied these gorgeous (and I mean "drop-jaw"gorgeous) ravioli on the popular White on Rice Couple blog, I knew I would riff on them in some way. Todd Porter and Diane Cu, the professional photographers who write this beautiful blog had Dara Michalski of the inspiring Cookin' Canuck blog submit a guest post with wonderful Pancetta, Caramelized Onion Puff Pastry "Ravioli" with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. Perfect.  I borrowed Dara's idea but switched out the parts a bit.  The basic puff pastry raviolis are the same, but I chose to stuff them with an interesting caponata by Chef Mario Batali which is enriched with cocoa, cinnamon, orange juice and zest.  Instead of a red pepper purée, I wanted the Mexican cooks who took this Italian cooking class with me to have Marcella Hazan's classic tomato sauce in their repertoire, so I chose that.  The results were delicious.  And the added bonus is that at the end, you have several recipes to play with.

Puff Pastry "Ravioli" filled with Caponata and Served with Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

 Marcela Hazan's classic three-ingredient tomato sauce

Apparently, Marcella Hazan, the beloved doyenne of Italian cooking, has given us one of the most searched recipes in Google history, Classic Tomato Sauce.  Unctuous and soothing, this recipe is made of only three ingredients:  tomatoes, butter, and onion.  That's it.  It couldn't be simpler--or better.  If you are looking for startlingly tasty comfort food, try this sauce over fresh pasta with just a grating of good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Make it from vine-ripe fresh tomatoes, or even from good-quality canned ones, as I have done here.  And don't cheat on the butter--it is essential to the success of this simple sauce.

Recipe:  Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
(Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan)
Serves 4 people with enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta

Cook's Notes:  You can play with this recipe by adding chopped garlic, fresh basil, and many other ingredients, but you will never, ever improve on it.  It is not without reason that this sauce is so loved and appreciated.  It is perfect.  How could it not be with so much butter, right?  Do use top-grade tomatoes and quality butter though.  

28 oz canned tomatoes with their juices, chopped or whole
5 tablespoons salted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (my addition, because I can't help myself)

Heat a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add all of the ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Lower heat to keep sauce at a steady, gentle simmer.  Cook uncovered for 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes.  Stir occasionally, mashing any chunks of tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.  Discard the onion.  Use an immersion blender to make a rough puree if desired.


Experiment:  I brushed the ravioli in the center with an egg white wash and the other four with an egg yolk wash.

Last year, while visiting my son in Los Angeles, I tried the best caponata ever at the Pitfire Artesan Pizza on Washington Boulevard. Served with roasted vegetables, this recipe really sang.  I kept tasting it and trying to figure out how to duplicate it--I just knew there was something different about this caponata.  Enough whining and pleading with the waitress for the recipe finally elicited a response from the chef:  it contained cocoa.  Yes, unsweetened cocoa.  Delish.

The Pitfire's glorious Roasted Vegetables with Caponata

I started looking around for recipes for caponata that contained cocoa and discovered there were many.  How had I missed this before?  I have certainly made enough of this dish with all sorts of variations over the years--I am half Italian after all.  Of course I know how to make caponata.  Or so I thought.

After vetting quite a few recipes, this is the version I settled on, though Emeril Lagasse's recipe with cocoa nibs looks equally enticing.  But Mario Batali, who certainly knows his stuff, won out in the end.

Recipe:  Eggplant Caponata
(Recipe by Mario Batali, from Food Network)
Serves 8

Cook's Notes:  I substituted raisins for currants.  Also, I rubbed the baguette slices with a cut garlic clove and brushed them with olive oil before toasting in the oven on a baking sheet.  Another recipe by Mario for caponata uses balsamic vinegar instead of orange juice; check it out to compare.

1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons currants or raisins
1 tablespoon hot chile flakes, plus extra for garnish
2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup basic tomato sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 sprigs mint, chopped
1 baguette, sliced on the diagonal into rounds and toasted

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan.  Add the onion, garlic, pine nuts, currants (or raisins), and red-pepper flakes, and sauté gor 4 to 5 minutes over medium heat until the onion is translucent.  Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa powder, and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring often.  ADd the thyme, tomato sauce, orange juice, and orange zest, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let cool and serve at room temperature.  Best made one day ahead, to let the flavors develop.  Will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator.


The puff pastry ravioli themselves come directly from the White on Rice Couple blog.  I simply changed the filling and sauce.

Recipe:  Puff Pastry "Ravioli"
(The concept for this recipe comes from the beautiful recipe created by guest blogger Dara Michalski of Cookin' Canuck blog for White on Rice Couple for their beautiful food, travel, and photography blog; although it has been adapted beyond recognition the credit is all theirs.)
Cook's Notes: I made an egg wash from egg yolk instead of egg white and substituted feta cheese, because I had it on hand, for the goat's cheese.  I changed the egg wash as well, choosing to use the yolk instead of the white (see below for photo).  I used a beautiful buttery-rich puff pastry from a local San Miguel bakery.  My baking sheets are old and well-seasoned, and thus did not need the parchment paper.

500g (or 1lb) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water
4 teaspoons crumbled goat's cheese or feta

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the egg yolk and water in a small bowl and beat with a fork until frothy.  Set aside.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour.  Cut the puff pastry into four equal squares.  Roll two of the squares into a square approximately 9 inches x 9 inches and 1/4-inch thick.  On one of the pieces of rolled pastry, spoon a heaping teaspoon of filling for each ravioli. You should have about 9 mounds.  Brush the edges and in between each mound with the egg wash.  Cover with the other rolled sheet of puff pastry.  Gently press around each mound to seal the two sheets together.

Cut around each "ravioli" with a hand-held ravioli cutter, sharp knife, fluted wheel, cookie cutter, or a pizza cutter (as I did).  Carefully place each ravioli onto a baking sheet, leaving a few inches in between each ravioli.With a sharp knife,  cut two small slits into the top of each ravioli so that steam can escape while cooking.  Brush the tops of the ravioli with egg wash.

Repeat process with remaining puff pastry pieces.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until puffed and golden-brown, rotating sheet pans halfway through cooking.  Place on cooling rack for 5 to 10 minutes.  

Assemble:  On each serving plate, spoon a small pool of tomato sauce and top each with two ravioli.  Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs and/or red chile flakes.  Serve immediately.


Variations:  My mind soars with possibilities of variations on Dara's basic theme.  Why not fill them with sherried mushrooms and float them on a Basque sauce?  Indian keema with a curried tomato sauce?  Brie or camembert with a creamy wine sauce with basil?  Mozzarella or Italian sausage with an Italian salsa verde?  Mexican picadillo any one of a number of Mexican salsas?  Middle Eastern minced kabob atop a puddle of muhammara? Chinese dumpling filling of your choice over perhaps sweet and sour sauce?  Pick a cuisine, choose a flavor principle, and let your imagination go wild.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.


Ben said...

That first picture is making me hungry! I love the idea of puff pastry ravioli :)

Eha said...

The wonderful simplicity of the sauce has already made me grab a pile of Marcella Hazan's cookery books off my kitchen shelf for a bedtime reread. But then, all her recipes have always had that simple elegance :) !

Hotly Spiced said...

Yes, that is a stunning looking meal but how gorgeous is that plate! I just love it. What beautiful china and it sets off a wonderful, tasty dish perfectly. Have a great weekend Victoria xx

Sarah said...

Wow, this looks so stylish. I have Marcella Hazan's book (I'm a big fan)but never made the onion sauce yet. Love the interesting combinations of flavors and the fact that puff pastry ravioli are so much easier to make. Great idea.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Three great recipes and wonderful photos to make me want to go buy puff pastry.

FOODalogue said...

I just recently tried a little butter to finish off a pasta sauce for the first time. I didn't know Marcella's recipe used so much and added it from the beginning. I'll have to try it one day.

And, as for caponata, I too am half-Italian and have been making caponata forever but never heard of adding cocoa or cinnamon. I'm surprised that came from Mario -- it sounds more Mexican or Mideastern to me. This, too, I'll have to try.

P.S. Yolk egg wash looks more appetizing to me.

Lynne Daley said...

A great and simple tomato sauce-Wow! the puff pastry packets look delicious as does the puff pastry ravioli.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I've always wanted to know how to make the perfect Italian tomato sauce and thanks to you and Marcella Hazan I now know! :D

The Harried Cook said...

Love this recipe... never heard of a puff pastry ravioli before, but it sounds great! and I just love that beautiful plate in the first picture!

Grandma Kat @ Easy Recipes Land said...

This looks amazing and I'm going to give it a try later this week for sure.

Thanks for the recipe,

Grandma Kat