MasterChef Guest Post – Matt Orsini’s Spinach Pine Nut Ravioli in Brown Butter Sauce

Today’s post is the third in a series of MasterChef guest posts. (See Carrie Peterson’s Whoopie Pies, and Ben Starr’s AMAZING post on watching the premiere here!).

Matt Orsini was another of my favourite people from the show. It bugs me to no end that his time in LA was cut down to about 2 seconds on screen (if that- it was a flash across the screen, at best!). He was one of the most friendly, passionate cooks there, and I was NOT alone in just assuming that he’d make it through the first round.

Whoops. Coming back from my forced grocery trip to find that he had gotten eliminated – not even being able to say goodbye! – was rough.

A few months after we went home, though, Matt was able to come visit me in Minneapolis, and we spent a fun day cooking, videotaping the cooking, drinking wine, and generally catching up. It was great – and the video we made of him making this dish is embedded at the end of this post!

Be sure to follow Matt on his blog, Italy to Dallas, and on Twitter: @ItalyToDallas.

Here’s Matt!

Ravioli is a dish that I cook quite regularly. It brings me back to the flavors and aromas of Italy that I love so much. My great grandparents are from Italy and I just love what the Italian family is all about, food.

While making pasta from scratch may seem daunting at first it is actually very simple, and here is a little secret you don’t need any equipment to make it from scratch. All you need are your hands and the mind to really get in there. Don’t be afraid to get dirty.

Spinach Pine Nut Ravioli in Brown Butter Sauce

¼ cup of whole milk ricotta cheese strained in a cheese cloth (will explain later)
Olive oil
One onion finely chopped
Olive oil
Black pepper
One clove crushed garlic
Either 1/4- ½ tsp of ground nutmeg or one half of a nutmeg finely grated
One bag of fresh spinach, washed and drained
Juice of two lemons
Salt
Zest of one lemon
One small bag of pine nuts
¼ cup grated Parmesan

1/4 cup of semolina flour
1 ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
Three eggs, beaten

One egg beaten

One stick of butter
Honey
8 sage leaves finally chopped

About a 1/3 cup of fresh grated Parmesan

The first thing I always do is have all my ingredients separated out.

Take the ¼ cup of ricotta cheese and wrap it in a cheese cloth. Tie it over the sink and let strain.

Once you have all these ingredients separated out you will want to go ahead and turn the heat up to medium on one pan lightly coated in olive oil. Once it has heated a bit, add the chopped onion. You will want to make sure the onions are fully caramelized before you pull them.

Go ahead and heat up another pan on the side. Check your onions and stir. The onions should be caramelized by now, so you will want to pull them and set aside.

Add a little olive oil, black pepper, the crushed garlic, and grated nutmeg to the other heated up pan. Once the garlic begins to caramelize add in the spinach and half of the squeezed lemon juice Grind some fresh salt over and stir to incorporate.

Sautee the spinach fully and add a little more nutmeg, the lemon zest, and black pepper on top of the spinach. Remember the most important thing is to TASTE AND TASTE! Always adjust as needed. If it needs salt add more. Go ahead and remove the spinach from the pan and fully strain. Set aside to cool.

Toast your pine nuts in a small pan until they have reached a golden light brown color. Pine nuts overcook easily so remember to keep an eye on them. Pull them and set aside.

Finely chop your cooled spinach and add in your onions and pine nuts. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Set aside to cool. Place in a bowl, cover and cool in the refrigerator until ready for use.

I love to use a kitchen aid for the next step, however it is not necessary. You will want to mix about 2 teaspoons of salt with the flours in the bowl of your stand mixer – or just a regular mixing bowl, if not using a stand mixer.

If using a kitchen aid with the paddle attachment, set the speed to a two and add in your beaten eggs slowly. If you are doing this by hand create a well and work the eggs with a fork from the inside out, until the ready to work with your hands. Wait until the flour and eggs have fully incorporated. If it is too dry add a little warm water and on the other end if it is too wet add more flour. You will want it to be just wet enough that you can knead it and roll it into a ball.

Once you are done mixing the dough place it on a floured cutting board to bring together by hand. Pasta does not like cold surfaces and a cutting board works great. Knead the dough out using the palm of your hand working it from inward/out. Work into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready for use. Go ahead and set up the pasta attachment on the kitchen aid, if that’s what you’re using.

Remove the ricotta cheese from the cheese cloth and add in the 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese to it. Incorporate the spinach mix and stir and taste. Cover and set back in fridge.

To assemble the pasta:

Remove the dough from the fridge, working it out by hand until it’s soft enough to place through the pasta machine. Starting on the thickest setting, roll it, fold it; roll it again, etc…, until it gets as thin as possible. Right now you are activating the gluten.

After you have repeated this step about 7 times on a setting one you will send it through each other setting once time through until you have rolled it out at the thinnest.

Halfway through the stretching process you will probably want to cut it in half since your sheet of pasta will be extremely long. You are looking to have nice clean silky sheets. Cut each sheet in half.

Place the ricotta mix in a pastry bag and squeeze a little bit of the mix about an inch apart on a pasta sheet. Take a pastry brush and brush your other beaten egg lightly around the ricotta mix. Fold the other half of the sheet over and press all the air out. This is very important as you will want to make sure there is no possibility the ravioli can explode in the water. Cut your ravioli and set on a floured surface.

Start a pot of salted water to boil, and make your brown butter sauce:

Heat the butter and a little olive oil over medium high heat, in a separate pan. Once it starts to brown add in the other half of the lemon juice for acidity and a little honey for sweetness. Toss in your sage leaves to crisp up. Once you hear that popping sound your sauce has fully browned. Turn the heat slightly down.

Once your pot of water reaches a boil, carefully add in your ravioli. These will cook in about 1 ½ to 2 minutes as they are fresh. Remove the ravioli, drain well, and place in your sauce to sauté. The ravioli will start to brown a little so remove once fully sautéed.

This dish is amazing. You will get that crispy outside texture on the ravioli with the creamy burst of flavors on the inside. The honey adds a little sweetness to a normally savory dish. Enjoy and Ciao!

Now, remember when Matt visited me a couple months ago? When we got on the wine and made a couple cooking videos?

Here is the first one from that day – I only watched and edited it yesterday. DAMN. We had some fun there!

What the Hell am I Doing, Drinking in LA?

“I know that life is for the taking, so I better wise up, and take it quick.” – Bran Van 3000

I have had some pretty wild adventures, done some crazy things in my lifetime.

– I had my own custom wedding gowns featured in a major regional wedding show at the age of 18.

– I packed up my car and moved across the country (to a province I knew NOTHING about) on a whim at the age of 18.

– I proved doctors wrong (“You’ll never walk properly again”) after a car accident wrecked me, eventually going on to figure skate again.

– I’ve been snuggled up with a Playgirl model, keeping his half naked body warm under my cloak on a cold, rainy March swimwear shoot in a broken down old barn. (On another occasion, I’ve waded barefoot into a VERY cold, partially frozen lake Ontario to fish a photographer’s reflector out during an early february photoshoot for my ready to SWIMWEAR line!)

– I picked up and moved to a foreign country and married a guy I’d only known a few months (5 before the move, 6 before the marriage!)

– I created a product with the specific intent of having it sold on ThinkGeek … and they picked it up! (Since discontinued).

– I’ve watched Klingons cut one of my cakes – a 4′ Bird of Prey – with Batleths, and I’ve made a TARDIS cake for Wil Wheaton.

– I convinced my husband that we should buy the first house that caught my eye in an ad… and then we battled massive stress and repairs after it was destroyed by a tornado just a few short months later!

– I designed and created a gorgeous Neopets inspired gown in just 4 days as a gift to someone I’d never met, on the other end of the country. This brought together almost 30 other people, who donated cash (to buy fabric) and goods to make Homecoming VERY special for one teenage Aspie.

… the list goes on. Yep, life has taken me on some pretty weird paths.

This spring, the list grew. I did the wildest, most ridiculous, LEAST “me” thing ever – I went and competed a major reality TV show.

Those of you who know me well, go ahead and pick yourselves up off the floor now.

Yes, I am one of the 100 people presenting our signature dishes to Gordon Ramsay when MasterChef Season 4 debuts on May 22. It was a completely bizarre and traumatizing experience, and I came out of it with ton of VERY diverse new friends! More about friends and trauma in coming posts.

Anyway. You’re probably wondering “WTF?!” … and I have to admit, so am I – still! – to a degree. So, let me explain.

Money has been awfully tight since the tornado. We hemorrhagged money over the repairs – we blew past our insurance coverage by over $60,000 instantly, and we’re *STILL* working to fix everything. We took out a mortgage, have a disaster loan, and are generally overextended in every direction – definitely NOT the debt load we had anticipated when we bought the house just a few months before the tornado.

When you’re that over extended, it forces you to take a good hard look at what you’re doing.

Now, my cookbooks are great – you should totally buy them! – but the cookbook market is super saturated. I’m not getting rich off them by any means. I certainly don’t have any advertising budget to help that along, so I have to rely on social media and word of mouth, for the most part – doesn’t exactly pay the bills. The sewing manuals bring in a bit more money, but again… no advertising budget, PLUS we’re talking about extremely small, niche markets – I’m not even making minimum wage, at this point. Couple all of that, with the fact that I’m completely unemployable? Ugh.

So one day I was trying to think my way out of this financial pickle, and I noticed a tweet about how that Snooki person is a TWO TIME New York Times BESTSELLING AUTHOR. Can’t find any reference to it now, but at the time… man, it broke me. I really, truly weep for humanity.

Anyway, within minutes of THAT, someone forwarded me a link to a casting announcement for MasterChef, telling me that I should try out. I’d never heard of it (I can’t stand reality TV, and don’t watch cooking shows!), but it was going to be casting here in Minneapolis. I looked at my finances, I looked at my unemployability, and I looked at that stupid tweet about stupid Snooki, and in that moment, I sighed and resigned myself to “if you can’t beat them, join them”.


My audition video… kinda dorky, I know!

I put on a brave (and somewhat social!) face, and sailed through the initial audition. In the months that followed, there were many more interviews, requirements to be filled, dozens upon dozens of contract pages to be read and signed… and SO much preparations to be made.


Can you find me in this screen cap?

All the while, I looked at this as being a last ditch effort at making a go of the cookbooks. That maybe I could build enough of a name for myself – that when people see what I can do – that I’d be able to compete against the massively flooded cookbook market and earn a living at it. That if that didn’t come to pass, I’d face the facts and move on to some other line of work, rather than continue to tread water.

So, you see… this was a business decision, and a matter of “desperate times call for desperate measures”. I still think that “reality” TV is the bane of society, and I know that a lot of you guys feel the same way. I just really hope that I haven’t disappointed you by going down this path!

For what it’s worth, I conducted myself with honor the entire time. I did not have drama with anyone at all while I was out there, and told the producers from day one that I would NOT be engaging in such antics. Hell, I even had a plan – before I even arrived in LA – on how I’d deal with the inevitable “who do you think will be next to get eliminated?” drama induction questioning.

…. I’d look around for someone dressed appropriately, and single them out. When asked for clarification, I’d say they’d be next to go, as they were wearing a red shirt! LOL! I was VERY determined to not embarrass myself, the autism community, or my homeland – Canada!


New Friends!

Anyway.

In the months leading up to the show, I went from being resigned to doing this as a huge personal sacrifice (I was dreading it!) that needed to be done, to kind of looking forward to it. At some point along the wait, I actually started being excited for it, and couldn’t wait to leave for LA. I started to look at it as a chance to… how do I put this?

When I was in my teens, I took up speed skating as a way to cross train for figure and roller skating. I enjoyed it, and it was good to finally have a use for my massive quads. Anyway, I had the opportunity to represent my province at the Canada Winter Games – kind of a mini Olympics experience for youth back home. You get team uniforms, live in an “Olympic Village” type setup, and compete. Would have been awesome, but I missed it by ONE SPOT.

(To add insult to injury, I’d slipped, fell, and got passed by the figure skater that *I* had encouraged to join me in speed skating… and had to listen to her stories from the games forEVER after she got back!)

So, to me, this was going to be like having a second chance at that… I’d be flying to somewhere I’d never been, given a roomie, and be holed up in a sequestered situation with a bunch of strangers that I’d be “competing” with. I LOOOOOOVE competing. Love it!

So, I started to look at it less like “I’m selling my soul and going on ‘REALITY’ TV!” , and more like I was getting ready for a competition. It awakened that part of me that’s been dormant since I had to stop skating, and … I liked it. I really missed competing, and I prepared for and trained for going to compete on MasterChef like I was training for the actual Olympics. It became a full time job for me.

I could go off on a million tangents, at this point – SO much has happened since the day that I decided to try out. It feels like a lifetime ago…

Anyway, for the next while, there’s going to be a fairly heavy amount of MasterChef content on here, so I’m sure I’ll cover everything eventually. I may not be able to say how I – or anyone else – fared on the show, but I can share this: I’m happy to say that I finally did fulfill a minor “bucket list” item I’ve had for a long time!

As soon as I was told that I was going to LA, I automatically adopted “Drinking in LA” as my theme song for the whole adventure. I’m Canadian. You say “LA” to a Canadian of my age, there’s a good chance they’re going to get it as an earworm. You couple “LA” with some pretty heavy feelings of “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!”, and… yep. Perfect theme song.

I am proud to say that I finally had the chance to drink in LA. I even designed a cocktail named for it … will blog it eventually! I may not have been 26 when it happened, but hey… it was a once in a lifetime adventure.

More later!

In the meantime, now that Fox has finally released the cast list… Click here to view my MasterChef USA Season 4 cast directory. It includes the 5 names left off the Fox release (???), plus a ton of blog, website, and social media links!