Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jen W: Iron Chef Blogger Challenge Mushrooms

Note: Jen W. is an old friend from of mine from University of Arizona Desert Yearbook staff days, and she is one of the funniest writers I've ever read. She's also an excellent cook and one of our fearless Iron Chef Guest Bloggers. Enjoy!

Hello fellow cook-type people! Due to a stint of out-of-town-ness, followed by a stint of illness (Disneyland = thousands of small children = festering haven of disease), this is my first entry in the Iron Chef Blogging Challenge. My name is Jen, I am here now, and I am duly humbled in the presence of your collective culinary greatness.

Before we begin here, I should forewarn you that I am a bit of a Twilight nut. So much so that, when I heard that this week’s Secret Ingredient™ was mushrooms, I could immediately think of nothing but mushroom ravioli. If you a) don’t understand what in God’s name Twilight could possibly have to do with mushrooms, ravioli, or this challenge; or b) DO understand and think I’m really fucking lame…you should probably just give up on this post altogether. Clearly our friendship is not in the cards.

ANYway, now that the haters have left, let us continue. ;) I have become quite the ardent fan of mushroom ravioli, so the idea of making my own was pretty tempting. I thought I might even go so far as to make my own pasta. I thought that might be pretty damn Martha Stewart of me—in fact, I could already feel my smugness level rising to unprecedented heights, and I hadn’t even made my shopping list yet.

So consumed in this fantasy was I, that I even Googled a recipe for homemade fresh pasta—and who popped up first but Martha herself, staring at me from within my monitor with her trademark look of pride mixed with pity. I read the recipe. Eggs, flour, oil…so far, so good. Mixing, kneading, etc. Yep. And then, “using a pasta machine, roll through the widest opening.” Come again, Martha? I could almost see the fine print beneath the line: “You do HAVE a pasta machine, don’t you?” Hahaha. Ha.

But that’s ok, right? I mean, I can just use a rolling pin, can’t I? My fantasy of myself as a homemade-Italian-food-making domestic goddess abruptly shifted to one of me as my grad-school-drop-out self, with flour in my hair and malformed pasta dough sticking like a giant oily barnacle to my rolling pin, with which I would later brain myself in frustration.

Right, then. Fuck it. If it’s too much work for Martha Stewart, it’s too much work for me. Moving on.

My solution presented itself in the pasta aisle of the grocery store: shells! I would get giant shell-shaped pasta, and stuff them with my ravioli filling! Now, I can hear the haters out there saying, “But Jen—aren’t you just making stuffed shells now, and NOT ravioli at all [you stupid whore]?” To you I say: Firstly, didn’t I tell y’all to leave, like four paragraphs ago? Second, blow it out your ass. It’s MY fucking recipe, and if I say it’s ravioli, then it’s still ravioli. Capisce?

The filling was my next hurdle. My brief research into the subject of ravioli filling indicated that it should contain, at the bare minimum, some form of soft cheese and mushrooms. The mushrooms apparently, are the tricky part—most recipes I encountered called for no fewer than five different varieties of ‘shroom, many of them with names I neither recognized nor could pronounce. Because I am myself, and because I shop at Fry’s (as opposed to the local We’re Better, Thinner, And Smarter Than You Grocer’s Cult), I went for the good old-fashioned standard fungus, pre-packaged in that jaunty blue foam container. For kicks, I threw in some pre-sliced portabella caps—and I knew if I needed more, I had some canned mushroom on my shelf at home. Now, THAT’s gourmet, y’all.

While the pasta was boiling away on the stove, I started making my filling (hooray for multi-tasking!). I cut up the mushrooms, but I removed the stem parts first, because they looked pretty disgusting. I mean, let’s not forget what mushrooms ARE people, and where they…grow…ugh. Moving on!

This is the part where I pretty much started flying by the seat of my pants, so to speak. I decided to cook the mushrooms down, because it made good sense. I threw the cut-up chunks into a pot on the stove, with a generous dousing of olive oil and any myriad seasonings I found that I thought smelled good. Cardamom? Why not? I threw in some fresh spinach, too—for color, and to give everything a little more substance.

When that cooked itself to the correct state (and by “correct state”, I mean “well, it looks all brown and hot and stuff, so it’s probably done”), I added everything to my Big-Ass Food Processor (I may not have a pasta machine, but I have this, and it is un-fucking-believable) with some ricotta cheese. [And when I say “ricotta”, I mean it like the proud ignorant American I am: Rick. COT. Uh. Screw you, Giada De Laurentiis.]

I am pleased to say that from here, the dish worked itself out pretty easily. I ground up the ‘shrooms, spinach and cheese into a pretty paste, and put about a teaspoon of it into each cooked shell. I layered the shells in a basic square brownie pan with more ricotta, some pasta sauce I dumped out of a jar (what? You thought I made my own sauce? After I wouldn’t even make my own pasta? We are quite the little comic, now, aren’t we?), and—all importantly—still more cheese. I realize at this point that the dish now looks more like lasagna. Go with it. Just stick the bastard in the oven for 15 minutes, and call it what you want.

As for me, I still called it mushroom ravioli, and I served it to my boyfriend with some frozen green beans and crescent rolls-from-a-can. It was no Port Angeles, and he’s no Edward Cullen (which, all things considered, is to our mutual benefit), but he thought it was tasty, and so did I. So all y’all haters can kiss my fat ass. The end.

Here’s the recipe, of sorts:

Mushroom Ravioli-Type Lasagna Love-Child Thing

-a bunch of mushrooms, whatever type you want.
-some fresh spinach, however much you want
-a box of jumbo pasta shells
-a 14-oz container of ricotta cheese
-a standard jar of whatever pasta sauce you feel like
-a bag of shredded cheese, of likely dubious Italian heritage
-olive oil, oregano, garlic, and whatever other spices you feel like

1)Cook the pasta to al dente firmness (whatever the hell that means—just boil it for like ten minutes or so in salted water.)
2)Drain the pasta and set aside on some wax paper, separating the shells so they don’t all stick together. Butter helps.
3)Sauté the cut-up mushrooms in a pot with some olive oil and garlic (if you like that sort of thing). Add some spices and shit. Cook on medium until the mushrooms are soft, adding more olive oil if they get too dry.
4)Add a handful or two of fresh baby spinach to the mushrooms. Continue to cook on medium-low until the spinach is wilted.
5)Dump the mushroom mixture into a food processor. Add about half to three quarters of the ricotta. Pulse the mixture until it forms a fluid paste.
6)At this point, it’s probably safe to preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
7)Fill the cooked shells with roughly a teaspoon each of the mushroom paste.
8)Line the bottom of an ungreased baking pan with some of the pasta sauce. Begin layering the filled shells, opening up, in the sauce.
9)When you run out of room, drop bits of the leftover ricotta strategically over the first layer of shells (I like to make a pretty pattern, but I’m easily amused like that) and then dump another layer of sauce over them. Layer the rest of the shells over this.
10) Top the shells with more ricotta, more sauce, and then enough shredded cheese to choke a horse. Stick the pan in the oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is all melty and awesome-looking. Serve immediately, and congratulate yourself like the smug little Martha-wannabe that you are.

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