Chef man­ages to keep his cool in meet­ing our chal­lenge

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - BONNIE S. BENWICK

Our in­ten­tion on pre­sent­ing Ryan Ratino with a no-cook chal­lenge seemed wor­thy: chefs are com­fort­able with flames and heat, so he might have to work hard at cre­at­ing a three-course menu that mere-mor­tal cooks could re­pro­duce at home.

So much for that. The 27-yearold ex­ec­u­tive chef who ran the kitchen for Rip­ple’s last eight months and is open­ing a new restau­rant along the 14th Street cor­ri­dor in Wash­ing­ton has long been fas­ci­nated with cold foods and raw pro­teins.

Garde-manger, the French­named sta­tion that han­dles those com­po­nents in a restau­rant kitchen, “was one of my favourite things at the start of my culi­nary ca­reer,” Ratino says. “You don’t have to worry about a hot dish cool­ing off be­fore it gets to the ta­ble. I was able to be the most artis­tic, I think, be­cause I could take the time to make a plate look beau­ti­ful.”

The chef ’s at­ten­tion to de­tail is ev­i­dent in the dishes he cre­ated here. For an ap­pe­tizer that could also serve as a veg­e­tar­ian en­trée, Ratino used the same chunky kale, cashew and av­o­cado pesto that din­ers loved at Rip­ple to top slices of cia­batta. The bright sweet­ness of mar­i­nated toma­toes com­ple­ments and cuts through the creamy fat­ti­ness, he says.

The prepa­ra­tion for his crudo main dish em­ploys a few smart pro­fes­sional tech­niques. A quick “cure” adds flavour and tight­ens up the tex­ture of the fish, mak­ing

it eas­ier to slice thin. The rib­bons of mar­i­nated veg­eta­bles on top pro­vide an acidic coun­ter­point to the fish and olive oil used.

“The dish tastes clean and fresh,” Ratino says.

We agree — and it makes a pretty plate.

For dessert, we al­lowed a mi­crowave; even though this was a no­cook chal­lenge, the im­pe­tus be­hind it is to keep from heat­ing up the kitchen, and 40 sec­onds on full power won’t prompt the AC to kick in. Plus, it’s just a fun recipe you might want to wait and pre­pare with an au­di­ence.

With knife work and spe­cial tools kept to a min­i­mum, we think the chef met our chal­lenge, and then some.

Kale and Cashew Pesto with Cia­batta and Heir­loom Toma­toes

This is br­uschetta so savoury and sat­is­fy­ing that you could make it a meal.

The pesto can be re­frig­er­ated a day in ad­vance; bring to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore us­ing. As­sem­ble the slices shortly be­fore serv­ing.

MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS

For the pesto ¾ cup packed kale leaves (stemmed) 12 basil leaves ½ cup raw cashews 1 clove gar­lic ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon), or more as needed 3 ta­ble­spoons olive oil ½ to 1 tea­spoon kosher salt, or more as needed Flesh of ½ ripe Hass av­o­cado For the cia­batta 1 pint small heir­loom toma­toes, cut into quar­ters 6 tbsp ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil 6 tbsp white bal­samic vine­gar 2 tbsp honey 1 tea­spoon kosher salt One 8-to-12-ounce por­tion of cia­batta (may sub­sti­tute fo­cac­cia bread) Basil leaves, torn, for gar­nish Cracked black pep­per, for gar­nish

For the pesto: Com­bine the kale and basil leaves, cashews, gar­lic, lemon juice, oil, salt (to taste) and av­o­cado in a food pro­ces­sor; pulse just long enough to cre­ate a loose, pesto­like con­sis­tency with no large chunks. Taste, and add salt and/or lemon juice, as needed.

For the cia­batta: Place the toma­toes in a mix­ing bowl.

Whisk to­gether the oil, vine­gar, honey and salt in a liq­uid mea­sur­ing cup, un­til well in­cor­po­rated, then pour over the toma­toes and toss gen­tly to coat.

Cut the cia­batta cross­wise into ½-inch slices, ar­rang­ing them on a plat­ter. Place a good-size dol­lop of the pesto on top of each one, spread­ing it with a ta­ble knife.

Top with some of the mar­i­nated toma­toes and gar­nish with torn basil leaves and cracked black pep­per.

Floun­der Crudo with Mar­i­nated Sum­mer Veg­eta­bles

This is a pretty plate that’s flex­i­ble, too; you could dou­ble up the amount of mar­i­nated veg­eta­bles and serve to non­meat eaters at your ta­ble. Be sure to use the bestqual­ity, fresh­est fish you can find.

You’ll need a man­do­line to shave the veg­eta­bles to the thick­ness just slightly greater than a sheet of pa­per.

MAKES 2 TO 4 SERVINGS

For the crudo 1 pound fresh, skin­less floun­der fil­lets ½ cup salt 1/3 cup plus 1 ta­ble­spoon sugar 5 ta­ble­spoons co­rian­der seed, crushed 2 lemons For the veg­eta­bles ½ medium sum­mer squash (cut length­wise) ½ medium zuc­chini (cut length­wise) 1 medium bulb fen­nel, cored 12 cherry toma­toes Leaves from ½ ounce fresh thyme Leaves from ½ ounce fresh basil, finely chopped ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf pars­ley 1/3 cup chopped fresh tar­ragon leaves ½ cup white bal­samic vine­gar 2 ½ ta­ble­spoons honey ¼ cup ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil Kosher salt Flaked sea salt, for gar­nish

For the crudo: Place the fish in a shal­low dish, in a sin­gle layer.

Com­bine the salt, sugar and crushed co­rian­der seed in a medium bowl, then use the mix­ture to cover the floun­der fil­lets. Cover loosely and re­frig­er­ate (to cure) for 25 min­utes, then rinse off the fish and pat it dry with pa­per tow­els.

Use a sharp, thin knife to cut the fil­lets into slices a bit thicker than ¼ inch, lay­ing them out on a plat­ter or di­vid­ing them among in­di­vid­ual plates.

Use a Mi­croplane zester to grate zest of the 2 lemons (no pith) over the fish. Re­serve the lemons.

For the veg­eta­bles: Use the man­do­line to shave the squash, zuc­chini and fen­nel a touch thicker than a sheet of pa­per. Cut the toma­toes into quar­ters. Com­bine all the veg­eta­bles in a mix­ing bowl.

Whisk to­gether the thyme, basil, pars­ley, tar­ragon, vine­gar, honey, oil and a gen­er­ous pinch of salt in a medium bowl, then add the mix­ture to the veg­eta­bles; let them sit at room tem­per­a­ture for 30 min­utes.

Use a slot­ted spoon to dis­trib­ute the mar­i­nated veg­eta­bles over the fish on the plat­ter or plates. Spoon the vinai­grette over both.

Straw­berry Air Cakes with Vanilla Cream

This is the nifti­est way to make a light and airy sponge cake that we’ve come across. Torn pieces get draped with mac­er­ated straw­ber­ries and topped with lightly flavoured whipped cream. You can make it ahead, but it might be even more fun to make it a “per­for­mance art” kind of dessert at the end of the meal — with some plat­ing help from a guest or two.

You’ll need a car­tridge-charged ISI foam-whip can­is­ter (avail­able at kitchen stores and some hard­ware stores) and six 16-ounce mi­crowave-safe plas­tic or pa­per cups. (The cups can be reused.) The can­is­ter may take one or two charges, depend­ing on its size.

Make ahead: The straw­ber­ries need to mac­er­ate for 35 min­utes. The vanilla cream can be made a day or two in ad­vance.

MAKES 6 TO 12 SERVINGS

For the vanilla cream 1 cup chilled heavy cream 3 ta­ble­spoons con­fec­tion­ers’ sugar 1 tea­spoon vanilla ex­tract For the cakes 1 pint straw­ber­ries, hulled, rinsed and each cut into quar­ters 2 tbsp plus ¾ cup gran­u­lated sugar 8 large egg yolks plus 7 large egg whites 1½ tbsp olive oil Scrap­ings from 1 vanilla bean 18 tbsp flour (1 cup plus 2 tbsp) Small basil leaves, for gar­nish

For the vanilla cream: Beat the chilled heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand­held elec­tric mixer on medium speed, un­til frothy, then add the con­fec­tion­ers’ sugar and vanilla ex­tract. In­crease the speed to medium-high and beat to form soft peaks. Trans­fer to a con­tainer; cover and re­frig­er­ate un­til ready to serve.

For the cakes: Com­bine the straw­ber­ries and 2 ta­ble­spoons of gran­u­lated sugar in a mix­ing bowl, toss­ing to coat. Cover and re­frig­er­ate for 35 min­utes, stir­ring them ev­ery 10 min­utes or so.

Com­bine the egg yolks and egg whites, oil, vanilla bean scrap­ings, flour and the re­main­ing ¾ cup gran­u­lated sugar in a blender; purée to form a smooth bat­ter.

Pour into a fine-mesh strainer set over a large liq­uid mea­sur­ing cup (with a spout), us­ing a spat­ula to push the bat­ter through. Dis­card any solids. Then pour into the ISI foam-whip can­is­ter (you may not use all the bat­ter at once) and then in­sert the nec­es­sary charge (s). Shake the can­is­ter vig­or­ously.

Use scis­sors or a sharp knife to make two small slits cut in the bot­tom of each mi­crowave-safe cup.

Fill each cup (from the can­is­ter) about one-third full. Mi­crowave, one cup at a time, on HIGH for 40 sec­onds; you’ll see the cakes puff up close to or above the rim.

In­vert each cup on a plat­ter or clean workspace, to sit for one minute be­fore re­mov­ing each air cake from its cup (it helps to run a spat­ula around the edges first).

Kale and Cashew Pesto With Cia­batta and Heir­loom Toma­toes.

JEN­NIFER CHASE, FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Floun­der Crudo With Mar­i­nated Sum­mer Veg­eta­bles.

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