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Monday, September 18, 2006

Flavors 

Evelin and I have a long running kitchen debate about flavors. When I have time and energy, I enjoy making dishes with a fairly complex range of flavors. I love simpler fare too (what could be better than fresh okra simmered in tomatoes with onion and corn and a dash of Aleppo pepper?), but sometimes I like to layer and expand the mix of flavors in a dish. After about four strong flavors, in one dish, Evelin has reached and sometimes surpassed her limit.

When we went to Monument Grill in Massachusetts on Friday, they had a pumpkin-ricotta ravioli on the menu that looked good to Evelin, but she didn't order it because she's avoiding dairy for the near- to mid-term future (Quinn reacts poorly to the milk proteins when they're filtered through breastmilk).

Sunday, Evelin decided she wanted to make pumpkin ravioli, which lead me to thinking about what could go with/on/in it. In an autumnal frame of mind, I thought of walnuts and eventually we decided to Google around for a walnut-parsley pesto (sans cheese). I was thinking we could blend the pumpkin with the pesto to make the filling, could roll some chopped sage into the dough, and then serve the ravioli with some caramelized onions and olive oil.

After I found a walnut pesto recipe at Waitrose.com that looked promising, Quinn and I ran to the grocery store to pick up some walnut oil, parsley (ours died back during the heatwave; actually, it might have regenerated some over the past few weeks, but I dinnae check), and other missing ingredients. While the girls napped, I made the pesto. I liked the strong hint of lemon that came out of it and then faded into a bit of walnut and a hint of mint and other flavors. I put a little pesto on a spoon with a little pumpkin (we just used Libby's canned pumpkin), and Evelin felt the pesto's flavors totally overwhelmed the pumpkin. Plus she thought it was too lemony.

After a little back and forth, we came up a new plan: Use the pesto as a sauce and add chopped shallots and sage to the pumpkin. It was too late to take the lemon zest out of the pesto, but I added some more walnut oil and salt and that helped the flavor in Evelin's esteem.

The shallots, I sautéed on medium heat in a bit of olive oil, and added a heaping tablespoon or more of fresh minced sage and some salt and pepper once they were wilted. I then let it all cook for a bit longer. I only had three shallots on hand, and they weren't very big ones, so next time we'll need to cook more so that we can make more ravioli (Evelin liked having a greater shallot:pumpkin ratio than I originally envisioned.

The walnut pesto was bit thick, so it clumped a bit on the ravioli, but the flavors went together well nicely, I though. Evelin thought it was okay, but liked them better without a sauce. I think less lemon zest and maybe some olive oil or more walnut oil (or even a little of the cooking water) to thin the pesto and it would have been perfect.

With the leftover pasta, Evelin made a few ricotta-parmesan ravioli for me, and used some Trader Joe's tapenade to fill another bunch of ravioli. By the way, Evelin felt the olive ones held up better to the flavors of the pesto.

Walnut Pesto
(modified from Waitrose.com)Pack all ingredients into a food processor and blend until reasonably smooth.

Skipping from the foodie side of blogging to the family side, while Evelin was assembling the ravioli, I was watching both girls. Quinn was tired and grumpy, but not wanting to sleep, and Celeste kept wanting me to read Brush (or at least, she wanted me to keep reading page of Brush). After the Maine trip, I was just beat and at that point, it all started crashing around me. As soon as Evelin finished in the kitchen, I am ashamed to say, I had to head down to the basement to hide for about 45 minutes.
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