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Monday, January 16, 2012

Spinach Ravioli in Brandy Truffle Cream

So it was my wife's birthday the other day.  Because she claims to love my cooking, she seems to appreciate having a custom-tailored meal made just for her for the special occasion.  This year was no different, and I had a few ideas of what to cook up.


Firstly... pasta.  She loves pasta.


Secondly, mushrooms.  She loves mushrooms... in particular truffle mushrooms (sigh).


Thirdly, brandy cream sauce.  A definite favourite of hers in the past.


Taking these three notions, each of which a successful culinary concoction in its own right, and putting them together to yield a Brandy Truffle Cream pasta, was - in my mind - sure to win her over.





So, as with most of my Franco-Italian based sauces, I began with sauteing some vegetables for a base.  Because  for this sauce I wanted the mushrooms to be the main, dominant textural ingredient, these other veggies got pureed first.

About 5-6 medium cloves of garlic, 4 medium green onions, and about a half of a jalapeno.  Throw in a bit of liquid like olive oil for lubrication.  Brandy worked surprisingly well here.  Just a smidge, as adding alcohol at this stage doesn't really do much... a little flavour, and in this case, some cool emulsification for the veggie puree.


So, once mixed smoothly (don't want these to interfere with the creamy texture is all), I scraped it into a pan of chopped pancetta I had been frying.  



In some butter.  YUP, that's right!  Pancetta in butter.  Tonight's meal was about rich extravagance.  :)

Brought this to a nice quick simmer, and let it all soften for about 10 minutes on medium-low.


Next came the mushrooms.  Firstly, a scooped a generous amount of truffle butter into the pan - this is where much of the flavour is going to come from.  And then, for texture and appearance, I crushed up a few spoonfuls of wood ear mushrooms.


After those got added to the pan to soften (and re-hydrate) a little bit, I added a small carton of light (5%) cream.  So what is one of those - two cups?  Not the tiny cartons which are only 1 cup, but not an entire litre either, but the one in the middle.  I think they're around 500ml.

Anyway, because I'm also a flavour-miser (as you've probably come to notice by now), I'm going to add the cream first to my mixer cup, and stir it around in there.  Just to make certain that I've gotten as much of that garlic, onion, and pepper as can humanly be expected.


So, it's pretty much all downhill from here... add the cream to the pan, whisking often:


Add some thickening agent (I whisked up some corn-starch into a bit of milk), and then just keep whisking and adding a splash of brandy every 5 minutes or so.

I normally use brandy extract (which is available at most grocers, in the baking or spices section... usually right beside the vanilla extract!) for these sauces, but today (again ---> see above 'rich extravagance') I went out and bought a mickey of real french brandy. Just a cheap-o bottle, but still better than extract...


When cooking with alcohol, you have a choice really... if you don't want any of the alcohol to be left in the sauce (which could get you drunk, actually) you should add it a good while before the sauce has finished cooking.  This ensures that the alcohol will boil off before consumption, but it will still leave behind all the wonderful flavour of the spirit.  
Much like any alcoholic reduction sauce, it's kind of the point to boil off much of the liquid in order to concentrate the flavour (the precipitate of the solution).
So, be sure to add the alcohol early enough in the cooking process that it will reduce some, and thus add some concentrated flavour to your sauce.  Then, stop adding alcohol at least 10-15 minutes before taking the sauce off the heat if you want the alcohol to dissipate.

If, however, you want there to be some alcohol in there (like I did here) just keep adding your alcohol right up to serving.  I'll even sometimes put a larger splash in right before serving... depends on the sauce and the alcohol.

For this brandy truffle cream sauce, it stayed on for about 25 minutes from the first addition of the cream and brandy.  I added probably about 6 oz. of brandy over the course of about a half-dozen pourings over the span of this 25 minutes, and the sauce  turned a beautiful golden colour near the end.



I read somewhere once, I don't remember where, that you can tell when your cream sauce is done, by its ability to fully coat a spoon.  So, I like to do that before taking anything off the stove.  For two reasons: one, to check consistency/thickness, and the other is that I get to taste the sauce and perhaps add any finishing touches.




I did add a pinch or two of sel gris, but it was pretty much ready to go.


Poured just a titch on the ravioli (spinach- and ricotta-filled) cracked some freshly ground pepper on top, and served it up.




Here's a gorgeous (in my opinion) close-up for you to enjoy (or make you hungry?) Click and enlarge for maximum effect:





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