Monday, December 13, 2010

Short Rib Ravioli in a Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce

There are a lot of foods that can be considered decadent, I think, but slow braised beef short ribs have to be near the top of the list. Beefy, hearty and oh so delicious, these unassuming looking slabs of meat cannot be overstated. I don’t know why I don’t make them more often but 3 or 4 times a year they find their way into my crock pot with a bottle of merlot and a few other things. About 6 hours later, I’ve got fall of the bone primal looking pieces of steaming beef ready to be paired with almost anything and the residual jus from the pot is like liquid gold. As perfect as they are simply accompanied by some creamy mashed potatoes, I recently was inspired to step up my game.

There’s always a story…

It all starts with Harry Potter. We’re fans. No, we’re not the robe wearing, wand wielding “Potheads” (as I’ve heard them called). We just like the books and have seen the movies. I also made it a point to check out the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote a portion of the first book while I visited Edinburgh a few years ago. That’s probably the extent of my fan-hood. Lisa, on the other hand, takes it a step further. She’s listened to the audio books over and over. She knows the minutest characters and how each has woven his or her way into and out of the story. A few weeks ago, on the cusp of the release of the latest Potter installment, Lisa suggested we head over to Orlando on the release weekend. She wanted to check out the new Harry Potter exhibit that recently opened at Universal Studios then top it off by seeing the movie. The most interesting part is that she suggested we go without our 6-year-old daughter, Olivia. I was all in.

When we travel we usually try to get a reasonable hotel or use my travel points. It’s a real savings. On this trip, however, I wanted to stay somewhere special since we haven’t had an adult weekend away since Olivia’s birth. So I booked a room at the Loews Portofino Bay on the Universal Studios property. If you’re looking for an economical way to stay in the Orlando resort area –and there are great savings out there –this is not your hotel. Designed to replicate an experience on the Italian Riviera in its namesake’s fishing village, Loews has spared no expense in creating this magnificent property. From the multicolored fishing boats in the bay, to the exquisite Italian architecture, to the imported furniture, to the peaceful, elegant gardens, this place takes its northern Italian roots seriously. Even the staff has been imported –the valet provides the first of the many “buongiorno’s” you will receive.

I’d love to detail our experiences of the day but suffice to say: Butter Beer is worth tasting, the movie was good and the Harry Potter ride is a must.

Butter Beer with the Hogwarts Express Conductor

The village of Hogsmead is really cool too. The pinnacle of my weekend, though, was Bice Ristorante at the Loews. What began in 1926 as a small cucina in Milan has erupted into an empire of fine dining restaurants that can be found in exclusive enclaves on six continents. Beatrice Ruggeri, or Bice (pronounced “Bee-Shay”), began making fresh pastas and northern Italian cuisine in a small trattoria and the rest is history. The Orlando version adds the magic that can only be found in the resorts of this tourist Mecca. Elegant architecture, exquisite attention to detail and, of course, the imported Italian staff all combines to enhance the already perfect food. Only in Orlando can folks get away with flip flops and shorts in a place like this. In any other city, a dinner jacket would be a must.
My meal was an exploration in beef. A simple but perfect tenderloin carpaccio with truffle Dijon dressing, artichoke and arugula salad was a mouthwatering starter. I will almost always order this paper-thin sliced raw beef appetizer. It simply melts in your mouth and that is always a good thing. I had a difficult time choosing the entrée, though. I came very close to ordering the double-cut veal chop but with all the pastas being made fresh daily, I had to go the pasta route. I chose the ravioli stuffed with beef short rib and spinach in a creamy mushroom, Marsala wine sauce. I’ve wondered for years what I’d like my last meal to be and I may have found it. Of course, I should have been able to put it together all along. Fresh made pasta combined with the rich decadent short rib filling and a sauce of creamy, earthy yet not too heavy sauce should have been a no brainer. But until now, I just didn’t make the connection. If there is a heaven, this is on the menu.

Stepping down off the cloud, we returned home but I was obsessed with recreating this dish or at least some version of it. I’ll admit, I forgot the spinach and rather than Marsala, I chose the jus from the braised short ribs. That’s because the jus was a combination of the beef juices and the entire bottle of wine I braised the short ribs in for 6 hours. This is not a simple dish to make. I did it in 2 days although each trip to the kitchen was quite brief. Fresh Won Ton wrappers are an excellent substitute for making your own pasta but eating this dish stepped up my time table for ordering my pasta maker –it should be here any day now. I’ll detail my version in the recipe below but the basics are: braise the ribs, let them cool, stuff the pasta, make the sauce and serve.

If a good meal makes you happy, this will make you giddy. It is worth the time you put in. Thank you J.K. Rowling and Thank You Harry Potter!!

Short Rib Ravioli in a Creamy Mushroom Sauce

5 large short ribs
2 carrots peeled and chopped
1 onion sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
A few sprigs of Thyme
1 bottle of Merlot
32 Wonton wrappers
Fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cups wild mushrooms (such as Cremini and Oyster)
1½ - 2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

In a crock pot combine the short ribs, onion, carrot, garlic and thyme with the wine. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Cover and cook for 6 hours. Remove ribs to a plate and allow to cool until you can easily handle. Shred the meat by hand taking care to discard any remaining large pieces of fat. Set aside. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Put the jus in the refrigerator. Once the jus has chilled (a couple of hours at least), a layer of solid fat will have formed on the top. Using a spoon, remove this fat and discard, retaining just the liquid. Rewarm the short rib meat in a skillet over low heat with a few tablespoons of the jus.

To assemble the ravioli:
Place a teaspoon of the meat in a won ton wrapper and just a light shaving of parmesan atop. Take a second wonton wrapper and wet the outer edge with water. Seal the ravioli taking care to expel the air and not tearing the wrapper. This took me a little practice to get right. Repeat to finish the ravioli. Place in a pot of very lightly boiling water for no more than 1-2 minutes. Do this in small batches of 3-4 ravioli so they do not stick. Drain and set aside with ravioli not touching so they do not stick.

For the sauce:
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil. Once heated add the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of the jus and reduce by half. About 15 minutes. Add the cream, reduce heat and again reduce by ½ taking care not to allow the cream to burn.

Putting it all together:
Add the ravioli to the pan with the cream sauce. Allow ravioli to rewarm and be coated by the sauce and serve.

A fresh baguette for that amazing mushroom sauce would be perfect!!