Last Friday we gathered at Chow’s place to cook dinner. The menu: homemade pizzas and pasta. The pizzas were a variety of gourmet types based on the menu of Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, which Chow had tried on a recent visit. The pasta was a homemade chorizo and butternut squash ravioli. And to top it off, I made kaffir lime cheesecake.
Friends gather around the large island in the kitchen, helping to prepare ingredients and eat appetizers. The ravioli are already prepared and drying and we were waiting for the oven to preheat for the pizzas.
Every time I cook at a friend’s house, it is a bit of a logistics ordeal. In this case, I needed my KitchenAid mixer so I could roll out the pasta. I was also bringing a case of Oregon beer.
The beer in question is from Rogue, an independent brewer. The most interest beer of the evening: Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. Had a distinct smokiness with a subtle sweetness on the tail end of the flavor.
For the pasta, I made homemade fresh (not dried) chorizo. I bought pork belly and ground it, adding paprika, garlic, and chili powder.
Browned the sausage in a pan, drained it on paper towels to remove the considerable grease, and then blended it with a butternut squash puree made from locally produced organic squash.
Make the pasta from scratch using Thomas Keller’s “Seven Yolk Pasta” with semolina flour. This is the best way to mix pasta dough, using your hands.
Using a creative technique I picked up watching Season 10 of Top Chef, I layered sage leaves between two sheets of pasta dough and then pressed them several more times. Then flattens the leaves, making the pasta pretty and adding some sage flavor.
Completed ravioli. I cut them relatively small so they didn’t have a lot of filling. In hindsight, I would have added more butternut squash and less chorizo as the sausage overpowered the squash flavor. A few more sage leaves would have been nice, too.
After boiling the ravioli, we fried them in a pan with browned butter and sage leaves. Became a bit more crispy than intended but were tasty all the same.
While I made the pizza dough (with Type 00 flour, a finer texture than regular all-purpose flour), I let Chow coordinate the toppings for each pie.
Half mushroom and pepperoni and half Jerusalem artichoke and pesto.
Sliced Brussels sprouts, Boursin cheese, and locally produced pastrami.
Tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and rocket.
For dessert, I once again made the kaffir lime cheesecake that was such a hit on New Year’s Day. It begins by steeping the lime leaves in heavy cream.
The crust is made of graham crackers, toasted pecans, sugar, and butter.
The main ingredients are cream cheese, eggs, the infused cream, kaffir lime zest, and a little lime juice. The juice comes from a regular lime as the kaffir lime juice is much to acidic.
The ingredients are blended together until smooth and light. Truth be told, I add two or three drops of green food coloring just to augment the color. The leaves alone give it only the most pale of greens.
Tap several times to release air bubbles and then cook in a water bath for 40-45 minutes. The key to a cheesecake with a smooth top (no cracks) is to turn the oven off when the edges are set but the center is still very shaky. Then let it complete cooking in the closed (but turned off) oven for another hour. This lets it cool down gradually and prevents the cracks.
The finished product has a mixture of sour cream, kaffir lime zest, and sugar poured over the top. I garnished with a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves. This worked okay the first time but this time the leaves were a bit tough. I need to choose the smaller, more tender leaves and cut them more finely. The taste of the cake was good, though, and won rave reviews.
Most importantly, we had friends gathered together and shared good food, good wine, and good company. After all, that’s what makes the best meals, right? The company with which they are shared.