Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recipe: Caramelized Onion, Shiitake, & Goat Cheese Ravioli

I grew up in a strict no-onion household. My dad has harbored a lifelong aversion to onions, aided first by my grandmother, who routinely makes a small "Scott-only" version of every dish she prepares, and then by my mother, who was never a big fan of onions anyway and was quite happy to ban them from her kitchen.

For years, I followed the party line, routinely picking onions out of everything I ate and complaining right along with dad if a restaurant ignored my "no onions" request. I couldn't stand the way that the tang of raw onions lingered in my mouth for hours after I ate them, and I could see no benefit to including them in anything I made.

As I've gotten more and more into cooking, I've slowly realized that onions are one of the easiest ingredients to transform. Simply by preparing them a certain way, they can take on a completely different character. For me, this realization started with risotto; slow-cooking onions with Arborio rice in broth causes them to lose their acidity and take on the flavor of butter and broth instead. I came to realize that cooked onions were vastly different than raw onions; just a little time on the stove transforms them completely.

The first time I caramelized onions was for Julia Child's french onion soup. Following Julia's "low and slow" dictum left me with onions that were sweet, buttery, brown, and tasted nothing like their raw counterparts. I've been a fan ever since, though to date I've been unable to convince my skeptical parents that onions really can be sweet and delicious.

As for me, I still hate raw onions. I still pick them off hamburger buns, out of pizza, and off of any other dish where they aren't fully cooked. But caramelized onions? I could eat them every day of the week. 

Last week, I was looking to break in my new pasta maker. I've always wanted to put together a stuffed pasta with my own filling, and it seemed like cutting squares out of pasta sheets would be an easy first attempt. I had an onion on hand just waiting to be caramelized and some dried shiitake mushrooms that I'd picked up at the farmer's market; this seemed like a terrific way to use them up. I added goat cheese to round the ingredients out and serve as a tangy counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramelized onions. The result? A pretty great first attempt at homemade pasta.

Caramelized Onion, Shiitake, and Goat Cheese Ravioli
1 recipe homemade pasta, divided into sheets
2.5 oz dried shiitake mushrooms (You could easily substitute 1 pint fresh mushrooms)
1 large yellow onion, diced
5 tbsp butter, divided
3-4 tbsp goat cheese
Small handful fresh sage leaves, roughly torn
Fresh pecorino romano cheese for grating

If you're using dried mushrooms, you'll need to rehydrate them first. Of course, skip this step if you have fresh mushrooms.

Immerse mushrooms in a few cups of boiling water for at least ten minutes. For shiitake mushrooms with tough stems, you can soak them longer; use a bowl or other weight to keep them from floating to the top. Remove mushrooms and pat dry; reserve the liquid. Strain any remaining solids out of the liquid and set aside - you'll use this as a mushroom stock later.

Warm a large pan over medium heat, then add the diced onions. Saute, stirring often, for five minutes. Once they have started to soften and sweat out their moisture, stir in a tablespoon of butter and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and sweet - at least 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, chop mushrooms into thin slices and finely mince garlic. When onions are uniformly golden brown, stir in the garlic and mushrooms. Add 1/2 cup of mushroom stock. Cook at least fifteen minutes more to allow the flavors to meld, adding another 1/2 cup mushroom stock whenever the mixture dries out. Once the second round of mushroom stock has been soaked up, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Using a pastry cutter or pasta bike, cut four-inch strips out of the pasta dough, then cut strips into four-inch squares.

Mound a generous 1/2 tablespoon of mushroom-onion filling onto the center of half your squares. Top with 1/2 teaspoon of goat cheese. 

Wet the outer edges of the filled squares with a little water, then layer another square on top, pinching closed around the edges with your fingers.

Transfer the rest of the reserved mushroom stock to a large pot, filling the rest of the way with water. Bring to a boil and salt generously. Add ravioli a few at a time and cook just until they float to the surface. Remove from water and place on a plate while finishing the rest of the dish. 

For sauce, warm four tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir until the foam subsides and the butter turns brown.

Swirl the pan, then remove from heat and toss in sage leaves. The butter will bubble around the sage leaves and hiss; toss quickly as soon as the fizzing subsides. Add any remaining mushroom-onion mixture and season with salt and pepper. Add ravioli to the skillet; return pan to low heat and mix everything together just until ravioli are rewarmed and fully coated in brown butter.

Transfer to plates; serve with fresh grated pecorino romano.