Archive for March, 2012

Homemade Sea Salt

Warning: this is a kitchen project I got a little overexcited about. Kind of like rendering our own lard.

We made sea salt.

I’d never have thought of it, but Ashley walked us through the process recently, and the idea stuck. It turned out to be a perfect indoor project when the sideways rain forced us to come in and dry off. I’m on my fourth batch now; fifth if you count our first one, which we forgot about as it neared its final stages and we turned on a movie. You can go about your business as you make salt, but as you get used to how quickly it cooks down, particularly toward the end, you’ll get a sense of when to stick around.

I’ve become preoccupied with bringing my water jar to the beach and have soaked myself a couple times attempting to get the very best sample from an incoming wave. And it has quickly become the norm these past couple mornings to get up and put on the coffee and the salt. As long as we’re puttering around the house, I have a pan of ocean simmering. To save energy and relax my attention, I’ve been bringing it to a boil, then turning off the heat and letting it steam away with the residual heat of the flat stovetop. When I know I’ll be in the kitchen, I finish it off.

To make sea salt: get yourself some seawater, pour it through a sieve lined with a paper coffee filter (Ashely used a few layers of cheesecloth, but I had coffee filters – and I actually like that it for sure gets rid of any iota of grit) and you’ll very easily have a vessel full of crystal clear water. I barely noticed any residue on the filter, even, but it probably depends on your source.

Bring it to a boil and cook it until the water evaporates and you’re left with salt. Lovely, damp, fine-grained sea salt. It’s really that simple. I used a large stainless skillet instead of a pot: more surface area = faster evaporation.

It will start like any other pot of enthusiastically boiling water. After awhile it will be a little less rollicking; the bubbles more clustered together and smaller. When it gets really low, a stir will produce a flurry of fine bubbles.

Toward the end it will look sludgy and opaque, but still you may not be convinced that there is a good quantity of salt in there. I wasn’t. Until the very end, when it turns into a sort of sandy paste, at which point I give it a stir to break up the clumps and take it off the heat to finish drying out with the residual heat of the pan.

A completely awesome science project-slash-culinary experiment-slash-totally spring break thing to do. Except that now W wants us to make our own pepper.

It took an hour or so to cook down about 1 1/2 L of water, which produced about 1/4 cup of salt. Enough to fill a small bowl and plant on your kitchen counter to pinch from, each time taking great joy in the fact that I was eating pure salt from the ocean outside our window. I’m now making extra to bring back home and send to some of my favourite food/Tofino lovers.

Also? It tastes awesome. So far we’ve sprinkled it on poached eggs, asparagus and popcorn. I’m a little distracted by the idea of poaching an egg in filtered sea water, or cooking pasta. I’ll report back.

March 31 2012 | preserves | 38 Comments »

Roasted Butternut Squash & Ricotta Ravioli

So here’s the thing. We’re in Tofino, having decided to take off and find some green over spring break. We found it – lots of it – but also found that construction crews somehow severed the wire that was our internet connection, and the oven is broken. First world problems, I know. But that’s how it came to be that I’m sitting in my car in the rain, having trolled the town with my laptop, looking for an internet connection so I could answer some emails, send some files and post this, what with all the wireless access coffee shops being closed in the evenings. I found a lovely strong signal behind The Shelter – thanks guys! – which means I have a perfectly valid excuse for going for breakfast lunch and dinner while we’re here so that I may check my email.

Mike is no doubt wondering what happened to me. Then again not, as he does know me quite well.

As always we arrived with a carload of groceries, and plans to eat out at the many fine eateries here (they really do have a disproportionate number of fantastic restaurants and food trucks for such a small town). But still, I like cooking out here, looking out over the stormy ocean and occasional bald eagle. I found a bag of these roasted butternut squash and ricotta ravioli in the freezer – something I had made last time, and froze, I suppose. If you’re tiring of winter veg and thick-skinned squash, these might ease the burden a bit. Wonton wrappers are essentially small square pasta sheets, and make it easy to make ravioli from scratch. To make enormous tortellini, dampen the two bottom corners and bring them together, as if they were holding hands, and pinch them closed.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Ricotta Ravioli

wonton wrappers, thawed
1 butternut squash
canola or olive oil, for cooking
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup ricotta or soft goat cheese
1 tsp. – 1 Tbsp. maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Split the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake on a rimmed sheet or in a baking dish for 40 minutes, or until soft.

Scoop out the cooled roasted squash (you can do this in advance if you like while you’re cooking something else, and stash the squash in the fridge for a few days) and mash it with ricotta, a wee drizzle of maple syrup (and some of flax oil if you want to boost omega 3s) and some salt and pepper. Assemble them one or two at a time, placing a small spoonful in the middle of a wrapper, dipping your finger in water and running it along two edges, then fold over and press to seal, squishing out any air bubbles in the process.

Once the ravioli are assembled they can be frozen in a single layer and then transferred to freezer bags, or dropped into boiling water (don’t crowd the pot) for 3-5 minutes, until they float to the surface and the pasta is tender. Drain well and serve with butter – browned butter, if at all possible.

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March 27 2012 | pasta and vegetarian | 12 Comments »

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