Thursday, September 29, 2011

Le Calandre Restaurant, Gruyere-fondue Ravioli and Beet Sauce.

This month, the challenge is cooking with wine.  My first thoughts were all about low and slow with blood red bottles of wine.  Then I changed course.

I had just made that remarkable fois gras ravioli that I’d read a description of online.  That made me think of one of my favorite dishes –– inspired by a Food & Wine description –– Gruyere-fondue Ravioli with Beet Sauce and a shower of lovely flowers and greens. It is soooo good that I’ve been making for years.  What can be bad about pasta pillows filled with molten cheese, wine and Kirsch??

It had been on my mind since I recently noticed that the Italian restaurant that inspired it was in the Pelligrino Top50 Restaurants of the World list (the one that put Noma at #1).

# 32, Le Calandre, Padua, Italy. (#20 last year)

Padua  (or more properly Padova) is one of the oldest cities in Northern Italy and positively oozing ancient charm.

Thing is, you won’t find Le Calandre there.

Gattamelato, Donatello, 1453 

Instead, Le Calandre ended up in Sarmeola di Rubano, 4 miles or so away from the magnificent Prato della Valle of Padua in an area better known for strip malls than cathedrals, palazzos or Donatello  statues in the piazza.

Don’t let this keep you away.  If you go to Venice… try to make it here.  It’s only an hour’s drive away from Venice and only a few miles outside of Padua.  The restaurant was begun 20 years ago by the current chef’s parents  (that may have something to do with the location).  I know I’m dying to go one of these days, even if the dinner would set me back $300 or so before the wine (for a lighter tariff, they are open for lunch).

That chef, Massimilliano Alajmo, got his 2nd Michelin star at 22, the youngest chef ever to win that honor.  Then, another record was broken when he got his 3rd star at 28 –– the first 3 star accolade awarded to a chef under 30.

Massimilliano  Alajmo (Photo Calandre)

Although he studied with Veyrat and Guerard as a teen, his food is his own.  He has been called ‘il Mozart dei fornelli’ (Mozart of the stoves) and a Food & Wine article on Massimiliano revealed Mario Batali is a huge fan who believes that his original approach to flavors …”evoke grandma’s palate but also a sorcerers tool kit, to create harmony on the plate between taste tradition and presentation innovation.”  Many feel his is the best restaurant in Italy (menu HERE).

Le Calandre dining room (Photo Le Calandre)

180 year old ash tables  (Photo Le Calandre)

Last year, La Calandre became a 3 star restaurant without white tablecloths… very bold indeed. They let the beautiful wood of the tables act as a frame for the food.  I love the idea.

The dining room is beautifully austere, isn’t it?  The attention to detail is everywhere.  Some of the glasses and tableware are handmade by local artisans, their food is locally sourced and Alajmo tries to meet with suppliers on their own turf to know everything about their products… going to farms to see how animals are fed and vegetables are grown.  He says it helps him understand the food and develop dishes to use the ingredients to their best advantage.

This drawing 

 becomes cappuccino de seppie al nero on the menu.

His vibrant imagination is everywhere. He makes a custardy tofu out of fava beans –– combining it with grilled shrimp, apples and Damascus rose-scented radicchio.  One of my favorite inventions is a carrot zabaione with fried vegetables and balsamic –– turns ketchup and fries on its ear –– is that a great idea or what?

He also makes a renowned saffron risotto with licorice dust.  He gave some of the secrets to his risottos at a demonstration he gave in NYC, Food & Wine reported.  To begin with, he cooks his risotto for a shorter cooking time after toasting the rice gently for 2-3 minutes in oil, only then adding the already sautéed onions that have been cooked separately. He also pours the boiling broth down the side of the pan to collect any starch there and saves one ladle of broth to toss in when the risotto is removed from the stove.  He adds a little lemon at the end to balance the creaminess and starch. Some of his other risottos are made with rose petal and peach or a caper coffee risotto inspired by a sense memory.

The Food & Wine article talked about a magical sounding dish with porcini, mango and chanterelles topped with candied juniper and raspberry dust as well as a pasta made with smoked dough, smoked broth and smoked butter.  This man knows how to play in the kitchen!

He also loves to play with essences, as do I.  He has a line of sprays called Le Essenze created by master perfumer Lorenzo Dante Ferro  ––scents like lemon bergamot and ginger that you can buy for 19.50 at their online store.  Massimiliano thinks; “We eat with our nose… Smelling goes straight to the brain’s center of long-term memory, it connects us to past emotions.”  I so agree and can attest to the wonderful things that happen to my food when I use Aftelier chef's essences here in the US.

I think you will agree when you taste the flavors in this dish that they are spectacular and a really creative combination of ingredients from a superb chef.  I just love the way the tangy beet sauce and the wine in the fondue work together… it shows what wine can do when it steps out from its supporting role into a bit of the limelight.  This is really one of those “close-your-eyes-and-absorb-the-wonder” dishes.

Gruyere Ravioli with Beet Cream inspired by Calandre serves 4

½ pound gruyere, grated
2 T Kirshwasser
1T cornstarch
1 clove garlic, smashed
2/3 c white wine
1 t. lemon juice
pinch nutmeg

3 m beets
¼ c ww
1 large shallot, minced
3 T elderflower vinegar (or verjus or cider vinegar)
¼ - 1/3 c cream

recipe for pasta to make ravioli or fresh pasta or gyoza wrappers ***

poppy seeds
1 T elderflower vinegar
2 T hazelnut oil
pinch of salt

 a few handfuls of arugula
mixed fresh herbs ( marjoram is excellent, thyme, savory, chervil, edible flowers)

Bake the beets in foil at 400º for about an hour or until soft.  Heat the vinegar, wine and shallots till they are softened and the liquid is reduced to a syrup.  Peel the beets and put in the blender with the shallot mix.  Add the some of the cream and blend… add more if you need it to blend.  Reserve.

Add the kirshwasser and cornstarch together.  Warm the white wine, then add the garlic.  Stir in the kirshwasser blend and add the cheese in handfuls keeping the temperature low.  Stir till blended, remove garlic and then use an immersion blender to blend to a smooth, creamy consistency. Freeze it for a while –– this makes it easier to make the ravioli while still keeping the luxurious loose texture

Roll out the pasta into sheets and cut into circles.  Wet each one and put a spoon of the cheese mixture into it.  Close and seal with a fork.  Put back in the fridge for a few hours to dry.  You will have some cheese mixture left over and around 16 ravioli.

When you are ready, heat a wide deep pan with water a splash of oil and salt.  Keep it on medium heat as a fast boil can open the ravioli. Place them gently in the pan.  Boil gently for a few minutes after they rise.  Drain.

Put the beet mixture on a plate (this can be warm or room temperature).  Heat the remaining cheese mixture.

Plate the ravioli (4 per person) and drizzle with warm cheese.

Toss on some arugula and herbs, sprinkle with poppy seed dressing and serve.

*You can make this very easy by skipping the ravioli idea and using fresh pasta like linguini... then just toss with the cheese sauce.

Pasta Dough 

1 cup all-purpose flour  plus 2 T semolina 
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon milk

Mix together and knead for 5 minutes till elastic… you may need more flour to do this.   Let rest for 1 hour then put through the pasta machine in 3 parts.  You will only need one for this recipe.  

** If you have any problems with alcohol, this is not the dish for you… it has a good hefty alcohol content!!


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
We have been totally absorbed by this post. Clearly this is a magician of a chef and the austere, even monastic, interior of the restaurant shows, we feel, a boldness and confidence that the food will certainly win the day. No tablecloth necessary!

Your 'pasta pillows' in their flowery bower look absolutely delicious and so very, very pretty. A triumph. No tablecloth necessary, we are sure!!!

Diane said...

What a great post, love it. That first photo is stunning.
I have beets in my garden so just guess what I am going to try :) Thanks Diane

helen tilston said...

Will definitely put Le Calandre on my list for when we next visit Padua and Venice.
Such delicious food and it is just breakfast time here in Toronto.

Thank you for an enlightening post
Helen xx

Tasty Trix said...

Wow wow wow. Those three wows are for your photos, first of all - you seem to have harnessed some magical light there, girl, and the dish itself is just stunningly beautiful. Oh I have NO problems with this being such an alcohol heavy dish that's for sure!! Ok, reading about this chef has made me feel like the world's biggest underachiever! Can everyone see the giant "L" on my forehead? lol. But also of course it's incredibly inspiring. Awesome post.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Your ravioli looks absolutely stunning (love beets, too) and now I think I will have to someday taste the food prepared by the Mozart of the Stoves!

Faith said...

A really enamoring post, Deana. And I can appreciate any info on Massimilliano...his work is incredible and he's so adorable. Your ravioli is truly another masterpiece. I've never heard of elderflower vinegar and I am intrigued!

Deana Sidney said...

Hey Guys, elderflower vinegar can be made by putting elderflower tea (available at any healthfood store) into white wine vinegar overnight... then strain when ready to use.

Priscilla - She's Cookin' said...

There is everything good about pasta pillows filled with molten cheese with wine and Kirsch! Absorbing read and stunning photos. Thanks for sharing Alajmo's method of making risotto and descriptions of some of Le Calandre's dishes. I can see why Mario Batali describes him as a master of creating harmony between taste tradition with present innovation. I bookmarking this for a future trip to Venice.

Unknown said...

That cappuccino sounds fantastical, and liquorice dust... it sounds like a magical ingredient like "eye of newt" LOL. What a fabulous thing to cook with.
Beautiful ravioli! I haven't taken out my pasta machine since I did my pasta making challenge... its hiding in the back of my larder. Its in its box. I want it to stay there for a while ;).
*kisses* HH

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

The pictures of your dish look nothing like I had imagined but I think they are stunning and elegant and modern. What a fantastic recipe, wow. And now I really want to eat with Massimilliano lol. Amazing job Deana.

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

This means I have to go back to Italy. Weeeeelll, OK! :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What an amazing chef to have achieved the Michelin stars in such a short period of time! And thanks for sharing his tips on risotto too! :)

Magic of Spice said...

I have not been to Italy, but some day ;) I am In Love with the bare table concept, agree bold and beautiful! As is your post, but this dish is captivating enough on its! Such beauty for all of the senses!

Unknown said...

Such a beautifully executed dish! Everything on your plate looks ethereal, and the colors, textures and flavors seem exquisite and calming. If this was inspired by Le Calandre, I'm flying off to Italy to check out that 3-Michelin Star chef!

mandy said...

Thanks so much for including me in your post! It was very generous & thoughtful of you, and I really appreciate what you said in support of the creativity and playfulness that the essences enable
- Mandy Aftel

Barbara said...

Now I must add Le Calandre to my list for the next trip! Alajmo is brilliant. His going to see how things are grown sounds familiar...Eric Ripert does the same thing. And for the same reasons. Makes perfect sense.
I do love the drawing and the resulting cappuccino. Fascinating.

As for the restaurant, I can just imagine the simple beauty of the glasses on that lovely table...there are so many brilliant artisans in Italy. I wanted to bring home EVERYTHING!

Really Deana, I'm in heaven just thinking about the carrot zabaione with fried vegetables. Ye Gods.

Your dish is presented beautifully; those colors! And I can practically feel that melted gruyere and wine on my tongue. Divine.

Unknown said...

Wow! The dish and the way you captured it in your photos is really stunning. The entire post was very interesting, but the sound of those sprays really caught my eye! How interesting.

Linda Harding said...

Love the info about Le Calandre - had heard about it, but not nearly in this much detail. Wish I could read Italian, as that menu is so extensive and I'd love to know what all the dishes are! Congratulations on such a beautiful dish for this month's challenge - looks so inviting with all that colour!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

You are brilliant.

Mixing wine, MOZART of the STOVES...ART all in the same pot, well, that is what a FOODIE such as yourself would do. My goodness dearest, please get yourself published, QUICKLY, for your expertise and style are of a Renaissance Woman genre. Thank you for visiting me. Yes, Blogger gobbled up my attempts to juggle my WANNABEE tendency to write in poetic form during a BUSY week of school. Life is so darn crazy...but I won't go there. I will leave you with sincere gratitude and accolades for yet again, a delicious post of all dimensions....CHEERS TO YOU DEAR FRIEND!!! Anita

Lazaro Cooks said...

Fantastic dish. The flavor profile is excellent and the plating is gorgeous. Love the use of vibrant colors to enhance a striking photo.

This dish was the Lawyer's favorite from the round-up.

Two thumbs way up!

Pam said...

Anything with Kirsch has got my attention and this all sounds magnificent. We toured through so many countries in Europe, near Italian borders, but sadly never visited there. I need to go to Venice, now!!!

Ken Albala said...

Whoa! And it turns out we're on the same wavelength again today. I've been making pasta from various odd flours today. But this is just incredible. Ken

DavidS said...

You always have perfect photos, but this dish may take the cake as my favorite. It's just stunningly simple and natural. I have to bet that it's amazing tasting too.

Daily Spud said...

Wow Deana, that is just stunning. I had been thinking about doing something fondue-based for this month's makeover (before I went the trifle route) - and while I'd find it hard to resist fondue-filled pasta pillows any day, this dish I would travel far and wide for. Needless to remark, if I should ever get to Padua and if budget allowed, I'd seriously consider paying Le Calandre a visit...

Jessica said...

Deana I must be in heaven right now!! What a stunning dish!! The colors, the combination, the photo, the flavors... everything is so perfect. Well done, as usual!

Sarah said...

Your food looks absolutely amazing. I can only dream of making a meal like this until the Farmer's Market is over. I am craving creative cookery at the moment. Love the risotto ideas.

tasteofbeirut said...

First of all, want to try your pasta recipe; sounds exquisite. This chef looks great and his achievements are very impressive, why a French name for an italian restaurant I wonder. The austere decor is too austere, albeit tasteful, for my tastes, but I am sure the food is spectacular, that smoked pasta thing sounds surreal.

Unknown said...

What gorgeous photo's of the dish, I love the flower and your choice of plate too! Beautiful

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ said...

stunning dish and great intro to the chef. that risotto reminds me one decadent one I had in Monaco 2 years ago where it was topped with gold leaf. one of the most beautiful things i've seen! and it was that much better that I was in Monoco being served by the Executive Chef! ;)

indieperfumes said...

This is like a dream!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I am in love with your opening photo, Deana! What a gorgeous place. It would be wonderful it must be to dine at such a wonderful restaurant in those surroundings.

It would be wonderful to dine at your home too :) The ravioli sound delicious!

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

The ravioli look delicious!

I only looked at the first La Calandre tasting menu and it opened with Scallops with Crabapples and Celery Meringue - yum! The play of flavors is so special.

Somewhere around Pigeon with Wild Blackberries I had to stop reading - I just couldn't bear it anymore.

I will go back though.

Thanks for sharing.


Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana -

I love how you call the cooking group a "society."
And that Massimilliano is a Mozart of the Stoves. Thanks for the introduction!

I need to come to your site when I have time, you always offer so much to savor.
Your dish is just delightful.

La Table De Nana said...

Can I say how gorgeous?

The colors..the ingredients..

I feel like making it now..
And I'd love to go back to Venice and drive an hour out of the way..
Look at the presentations:)

S Lloyd said...

Had a great meal there (savouries were so so, but wow..the rest was fantastic). My photo & text review:

Karina A. Fogliani-Ahmed said...

What is ww?