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Dinner Party Menu: October

Warm Camembert with Cranberry Compote
Shaved Fennel, Celery and Pear Salad
Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ricotta Gnocchi
Tarte Tatin

This October menu celebrates the Fall season, with locally grown ingredients: fresh cranberries, pears, wild mushrooms and apples. For me, this month marks the beginning of the cooler season, when we welcome warm and comforting dishes. Most recipes can be made ahead of time.

To begin, there is a very simple appetizer, served warm and using fresh cranberry compote left over from Thanksgiving. The salad features complementary flavours and textures, salty and sweet, crunchy and smooth. The main course is a celebration of mushroom season, with wild mushrooms providing an earthy and rich dish that needs no added protein. Dessert is a comforting warm apple tarte tatin.

Warm Camembert with Cranberry Compote

Cranberry Compote
½ cup sugar
½ cup orange juice (no sugar added or freshly squeezed)
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch Kosher salt
One 12-ounce bag cranberries

Combine the sugar, juice, water, cinnamon, salt and cranberries in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool completely.  Mixture will thicken as it cools. Compote keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Remove the lid and wrapping of a 4-5” round of Camembert and place the cheese in the bottom part of the container on an oven-proof baking sheet. Place in oven and bake until the cheese starts to warm and soften. Remove it from the oven and spoon some cranberry sauce over the top. Put back in the oven and cook until hot. Transfer cheese to a serving tray and serve with bread or crackers.


Shaved Fennel, Celery and Pear Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
This recipe is from Franny’s Simple, Seasonal, Italian by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens and Melissa Clark. Franny’s is a pizza restaurant in Brooklyn.

¾ cup walnuts
2 small or 1 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
2-3 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias
1 large pear, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons celery leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz. shaved Pecorino cheese

Toast the walnuts in a 350ºF oven for about 8 minutes. Cool and roughly chop. Toss fennel, celery, pear, walnuts and celery leaves together in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil and toss lightly together. Plate salad and top with shaved Pecorino. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and ground pepper.
Serves 6

In advance: Walnuts can be toasted early in the day or even the day before serving. The rest of the ingredients are best prepared and assembled just before plating.

Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ricotta Gnocchi

wild-mushroomsPhoto shows types of mushrooms I used: shitake, pine and chanterelle.

1 oz. dried wild mushrooms (chanterelle or porcini)
½ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¾ pound fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelle, pine, shitake, crimini mixture)
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
¼ cup white wine
liquid from soaking dried mushrooms, strained
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
salt and pepper
finely grated Parmesan, chives, parsley or thyme, to garnish

Cover dried wild mushrooms with the boiling water in a small bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain, strain and reserve the soaking liquid and chop the mushrooms.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Add the fresh mushrooms in batches, cooking and stirring until the mushrooms are brown, removing to a plate as they cook.

Heat remaining butter and oil in the same pan over moderate heat and then add the shallot, garlic, thyme, parsley and reserved reconstituted dried mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the white wine and cook until it is almost all reduced. Add the reserved soaking liquid and return the mushrooms to the pan. Bring mixture to a light boil and add whipping cream, reducing slightly to thicken the sauce. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the gnocchi as instructed below. Spoon onto warm dinner plates, top with the mushroom ragout and garnish with Parmesan and fresh herbs.
Serves 6

In advance: Mushroom ragout can be made one day in advance, but add the cream when reheating.


Ricotta Gnocchi
1 lb. fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted

Mix ricotta, egg and olive oil in a large bowl. Add cheese and nutmeg and mix well. Gradually add sifted flour, stirring until the dough starts to come together. Place on a floured surface and knead gently just until the dough is no longer sticky. Cut slices of the dough with a sharp knife, then roll each slice into a long rope, about ¾″ thick. Cut into 1″ pieces, place on a lightly floured baking sheet and put them in the freezer until ready to cook.

If you are making them ahead of time, put them into a plastic freezer bag as soon as they have frozen. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the gnocchi. When they rise to the top, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or strainer, shake off excess water, and place in a serving bowl or directly onto warmed dinner plates.
Serves 6

In advance: Gnocchi can be made a few days in advance and kept frozen until ready to cook.

Tarte Tatin
This dessert is an all time favourite of mine and I am inserting the link to a 2011 posting with the recipe here. I have found that it works well to cook the apples, cool them, top with the pastry and refrigerate up to one day in advance. Bake it later in the day that you plan to serve it, as it is best served warm.



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