Friday, August 29, 2014


I LOVE OKRA...... There is something about this Malvaceae that I really enjoy and, apparently,  I have also turned my family into okra lovers. So much so, that they ask me to prepare it whenever they visit me in the US.  Curiously, this vegetable, also known as “lady-fingers” in many parts of the world, is not grown in Italy. 

The first time I had okra was in Georgia (fried of course). The second time was in an Indian restaurant in London (masala style). The third time was in Tamilnadu, South East India, and it was prepared by my husband’s grandmother, and it was one my favorite dishes that I tried while visiting there. I enjoyed it so much that I tried to make it again after I returned home. I have since prepared a few variations of Achi’s okra, one being this sliced okra with sauteed onions, ginger, garlic tomatoes and a combination of Indian spices, whose recipe will be featured in my upcoming cookbook. 

But all the cutting and slicing can be time consuming, so  when I am pressed for time, I resort to this effortless alternative, simple seasoning and roasting, which requires hardly any preparation, but is still delicious.

What I have learned is that picking the right okra is key to a texturally pleasant dish. I  also recommend purchasing okra at an Indian grocery store, which has a large turnover of this very popular vegetable, and hence, better quality and price. When picking your okra, you should lightly press it with your fingers, and it should be soft. If the okra is hard, it means that it is fibrous inside and no amount of cooking will redeem the trough texture. But if you pick the slightly soft okra, although not overly ripe to the point that it is turning dark, it will turn out great!

All you do is rinse the okra, and pat it dry it with a paper towel. Then in a bowl you toss it with olive oil and then add a few pinches of rasam masala powder and/or curry powder. If you do not have rasam masala, you can substitute with any combination of red chili powder, cumin and paprika and a tiny pinch of turmeric powder.   For extra flavor I also toss in a few cumin seeds (and fenugreek seeds, optional). But do not add too many, as this may compromise the flavor balance.

Then  spread the okra on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Preheat oven at 400F and bake for about 20 minutes, or until soft and slightly roasted, tossing the okra around once about mid-way. Then turn the oven to broil and broil for a few minutes,  being careful not to burn your okra.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with sea-salt and optional ground pepper, and serve.

It makes a great side or snack.

If the okra is tender enough, you can consume it whole, including the caps.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fresh Ricotta Ravioli with Saffron Sage Butter, Zucchini Blossoms and Orange Zest

This dish is absolutely delicious...fresh, delicate, yet flavorful, buttery, earthy, tangy, all packed in one succulent bite. Here are the directions for the butter sauce. For the ravioli, see further down for my recommendations.

Ingredients (serve 4-6)

16 large ravioli
a few sage leaves (rinsed)
1/3-1/2 stick of butter
6 zucchini blossoms, stamen and sepals removed-all you want is the petals.
a tiny pinch of saffron
the zest of one organic orange (making sure you don't grate the white part along with the orange peel)
a pinch of salt


Separate the blossoms into strips by pulling away from the bottom of the flower with your fingers. Set aside.

In a pan, melt the butter and add the sage leaves, allow to bubble without burning the butter,  then add the blossoms strips and cook down for a couple of minutes, again, making sure not to burn the butter. Mix in the orange zest and the saffron, cook for another minute, then set aside on a warm burner.

Boil some salted water in a pot, add the ravioli, one by one, making sure they don't stick together. Cook for a couple of minutes, and then strain by either gently pouring in a colander, or by gently removing the ravioli with a slotted spoon one by one. Toss the ravioli in the pan with the sage butter sauce, then transfer to a serving plate. Enjoy immediately. 

If you want to get fancy, you can do a tempura of whole blossoms and sage leaves, and serve them along with the ravioli.

If you cannot find zucchini flowers, you can also make this dish without, and it will still be delicious.

The Ravioli

There are several options you can choose in making the ravioli, from fully homemade, to store bought.

If you don't have time to prepare your own ravioli, hopefully you will find some that are made with good quality ricotta and that are not doughy or too thick. Otherwise, the next option is semi-homemade with wonton skins. 

And the ones pictured here are those that I always buy, since they are veil thin and yield the most delicate ravioli. On a side note, I also used these squares to make lasagna (lasagne in Italian), and there is no need to boil them first.  

You can find these wonton squares in most Asian groceries. If you choose this option, then all you do is arrange the squares on a flat surface (I do six at a time). Add a dollop of filling, wet all four sides with lukewarm water with the tip of your finger. Lay another wonton skin on top, and seal by gently pressing with your index and thumb finger tips along each side, being careful not to leave any air inside the raviolo. In order to minimize this, gently press the top square from the center out, and when sealing, try to squeeze out any air. If you have too much air inside the raviolo, it will blow during the boiling and it may break. Once sealed, run a ravioli wheel cutter along each side, about 1/8-1/4 of an inch from the edge. Using the ravioli cutter will help further seal your ravioli, and it will also give them that nice serrated appearance.

As you seal your ravioli, place them on a lightly floured surface. I typically cut parchment paper into rectangles which fit inside a pan, and I lay them on lightly floured parchment paper (about 8 per rectangle) and stack them inside the pan, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1-2 days or freeze up to a few weeks.

The final option is to make your own dough, then layer it on a surface and cut it in squares of desired dimensions. Homemade pasta dough recipes are plentiful on the web, but if you need specific directions please leave me a comment and I will be happy to assist. Because a gourmet raviolo has to be thin, and making veil thin pasta dough can be a challenge for the novice cook, if you don't think you can pull it off, go for the wonton skins :o). 

The ricotta filling

For the filling, you also have a few options. You can either buy ricotta, or make your own. The problem with store bought ricotta in the US, it's that the majority of what is sold in stores is not real ricotta, does not taste like real ricotta, and the texture is gritty, so for these reasons it does not make a very attractive filling. Therefore, unless you can find hand-dipped ricotta, which is quite rare, you are better off making your own. 

Making ricotta at home is not that difficult, although I admit, I have had a few blunders. Although the one I made just recently was perfect.  I used Trader Joes organic 2% milk (about 1/4 of a gallon) and a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream. You don't want to add too much cream otherwise the milk will not boil. Also add a pinch of salt.

In a saucer, bring to a boil, without boiling over. As soon as the milk is boiling, add the juice of one lemon, remove from heat, and gently stir with a wooden spoon to allow the citric acid to mix in. Allow the milk to curd up for a few minutes. Then pour it through a fine mesh strainer or a ricotta mold which you have sitting on a bowl. The strainer will catch the curd, while the liquid will be collected in the bowl. If you want, you can pour that liquid back in a saucer and boil again and add more citric acid to obtain additional curd, although the second round you do not get as much, of course. Reserve some of the liquid.  Once you have collected all the curd in the strainer or ricotta mold, transfer to a small bowl in which you will add a bit of the remaining liquid. Then seal with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

You can also make this dish with a squash filling, for which I will have the recipe in my upcoming cookbook.