Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sweet Potato Ravioli

One of the best things about travel is how it changes your perspective on home.  I've learned through travel how lucky Chicagoans are to live in a relatively affordable city with world-class culinary options.  While getting a phenomenal meal in Paris will really cost you, Chicago offers a truly fine dining experience at pretty much every popular corner in the city.  In fact, after finishing an impressive meal at Les Créations de Narisawa, Tokyo's contribution to one of the top 30 restaurants in the world, I couldn't help but think that I could have had a meal of that caliber right here in Wicker Park (and for a lot less).
Les Créations de Narisawa, Tokyo, Summer 2010
Yes, I think every city in the world has those delicious dives and street vendors that make them all equally travel-worthy, but when it comes to fine dining I've never been to a city like Chicago.  A few years back, Garrett and I went on a stint of visiting all these newer fine dining establishments (Blackbird being my favorite), because we figured one's twenties were really the best time to look back on and say "remember when we ate there?"  What we've realized since is that you hardly need a reservation weeks in advance at these places to enjoy an amazing meal.  Usually just walking in and asking for a seat at the bar will give you access to a full menu with better service since a bartender or server is always around to chat with you.  This last Saturday was an excellent case-in-point.

I can't rave enough about Storefront Company, a year-old restaurant that's right down the street from my apartment.  Saturday was our fourth visit.  We always stopped in for the drinks - which are designed with as much care and attention to flavor pairings as the menu - and to watch the pastry chefs work with furrowed brows in their open laboratory of delicious.  That always convinced us to order a dessert and call it a night.  So when we went to order some small plates, dessert, and drinks on Saturday we were left in love with the food and the staff.
The open kitchen at Storefront Company, 3/23/13
Go to Storefront Company and sit at the bar for some awesome dinner theater as you watch the kitchen execute artfully designed plates.  Order anything, because its going to be their awesome interpretation of whatever you expected in your head.  Best of all, talk to them and ask them what they're doing with all their little tweezers.  On our first visit we couldn't help but pull aside the pastry chef and say, "Excuse me, but we're just wondering what you're doing."   She's so charming, she laughed and said, "I don't know!"  One gets a sense that the owners appreciate the hours of experimentation that goes in to finding the best flavors for their dishes.  Not only did we get to speak to her again about an incredible chocolate dessert she crafted (below, right), but in the course of the evening we had meaningful banter with the bartender, a sous chef, and the executive chef about what they were creating and their process of design, preparation, and execution.
In the course of the meal I turned to Garrett and said things like: "Do they treat everyone this well?" and "I think this is as good as Blackbird" (particularly in reference to the rabbit/ravioli dish).  Garrett's favorite was the beet-cured salmon on brioche cups filled with fennel jam (above, center).

So, I'd like to thank the staff at Storefront Company for treating us so well - and for the drink on the house because it didn't come perfectly timed with dessert, and that extra plate of salted caramels and macarons post dessert (slipped to us by the pastry chef with a wink and "shhh").  And, of course, thanks for inspiring me to dust off the old pasta maker for this post.  About a foot in front of us the chef rolled out fresh pasta and filled it to make ravioli in a matter of minutes, all the while carrying on hospitable conversation about their days-long process to make their delicious beet-cured salmon.  It was impressive.

This recipe is a bit more involved than a typical post, but definitely worth it if you have the time or the occasion.
Ingredients: Sweet Potato Pasta Dough:
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 egg 
  • egg wash (1 egg whisked with a little water)
Tofu "Ricotta" Filling:
  • 1/2 package (or 7 oz.) extra firm tofu
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil
  • 1/2 tbsp. fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, caramelized
  • 1/2 head of garlic, roasted
Shitake Sauce:
  • 1 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I used yellow)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, caramelized
  • 1/2 head of garlic, roasted
  • 1/2 cup stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and boil a large pot of water on the stove.  Heat a large pan with a little olive oil or butter and over low heat begin to cook the entire sliced yellow onion.  It will take at least a half hour to caramelize on low heat, stirring occasionally.   Then, slice the top off a head of garlic, rub with a little olive oil, and wrap in aluminum to roast in the oven until golden brown and soft.
Peel and dice the sweet potato, and when the pot of water is at a boil add the pieces and cook until very soft.  When done, remove, salt, and set aside to cool.
While the potato cooks, prepare the tofu filling by slicing the tofu into slabs and setting them on paper towel to dry out a bit.  Meanwhile, put the basil, pine nuts, spinach, oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth.  In a large bowl, crumble the tofu with a fork and mix it with the pesto.
Mash the cooled sweet potato to make the pasta dough.  Combine 1 cup of flour with a little salt.  In a mixer or by hand, incorporate the sweet potato, olive oil, and egg.  Continue to add the second cup of flour in small amounts until it is no longer sticky.  Use additional flour if needed.  Knead the dough for at least five minutes on a floured surface.
If your onions and garlic are ready, place the onion and softened garlic cloves into a food processor and blend until smooth.  You can also use a spoon.  Add half to the ricotta filling and mix.
Use a pasta machine or rolling pin to roll out sheets of pasta, just a handful at a time, keeping them well-floured.  When two sheets have been rolled out, create a row of filling (about 1/2 tbsp. balls) and surround each with egg wash.  Lay the second sheet of pasta on top, press firmly, and use a cookie cutter or small glass to cut out the ravioli.  Place on a floured surface.  Repeat until all your ravioli are ready.
As you wait for water to boil for your pasta, make the sauce.  Add 1 tbsp. of butter and the remaining garlic/caramelized onion to a hot pan.  Add the scallions and shitake mushrooms and cook until softened.  Add the stock and white wine and cook down to thicken (add a sprinkle of flour, if needed to help thicken).  Add the tomatoes last. 
The ravioli will take just a few minutes to cook and float to the surface.  When done, transfer them with a little pasta water to the pan of sauce.  Toss and serve.

4 comments:

  1. Just charming. Now if only we had room for a pasta press!

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    Replies
    1. I'm not as much worried about a rolling pin as I am the time it takes to make the dish! How many spoons do you think Ada will pull from the dishwasher waiting to eat!? Btw, looks delicious!

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  2. I am so sad to say someone got us a KitchenAid stand mixer for our wedding 2 years ago, and I haven't used it once thanks to my fear of flour, measuring, and baking. Fresh pasta is so delicious but the thought of kneading and making those pretty pasta sheets makes me afraid to try it. This looks absolutely delicious and I love all the pictures!

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