The Not Black Friday

The sun is shining, it’s warm for November, and I’m just back from taking the dog for her favorite walk through the downtown.  A young man is sitting on the wall outside the bookstore, strumming a guitar and singing to no one in particular but everyone who passes by.  Roofers are hard at work replacing shingles on the fire station.  The library and town hall are closed for a long weekend but most stores are open; the banks are.  People pop in and out of storefronts and restaurants with ease.  There’s not a line or a mad crush to get in anywhere, no traffic jams or elbowing through crowds.  Here, it’s a Friday pretty much like any other Friday.

This morning at four I was exactly where I am every morning at four – on my couch, sipping coffee, catching up on reading and thinking and note-taking – and not in a line in front of a big box store or shopping mall.  Following the day spent cooking and serving and eating, I love the return to normal.  Although we went around the dinner table yesterday and declared what we were most thankful for, the import of the meaning behind the spoken words was probably temporarily drowned out by the clatter of so many dishes and the happy noises made by those relishing a good dinner.  For me, anyway, this is the case.  Of course I meant what I said, was moved by what was said by others, but was also quick to transition from those thoughts to the plate in front of me.  A low key Friday after the hectic holiday Thursday provides for me the necessary time and space to appreciate exactly what I meant when I professed my thankfulness.

Before we ate yesterday, I told the family I was thankful for the gathering.  Given the major changes of the year – the permanent loss of my mother and the intermittent (but no less life changing) loss of my son from the daily routine – I simply appreciated gathering.

And today, over the morning coffee in the quiet and warmth of my home, and again during the walk with my dog out in the day’s sunshine, and then some more as I cleaned up the kitchen and started some bread for the week ahead, I finally had the time to think about what I had said, what I had meant, and finally about the words “gather” and “gathering” and alternate meanings that may not have been intended but are apt nonetheless.

I am thankful for the people gathered around my table, whether every day or even every so often.

I am thankful for those of you who choose to gather around me and my words and my virtual food a few times each week.

And I am thankful for the people who spend their days gathering the food we are fortunate enough to eat.

I was lucky enough to meet two such food gatherers a couple of weeks ago at the Harvard Square Farmers’ Market held on Fridays on the plaza outside the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.  Shady Oaks Organics grows four kinds of oyster mushrooms in our neighbor town of Newburyport, and Valicenti Organico makes fresh pasta in nearby Hollis, New Hampshire.  Normally I’d be a bit sheepish about admitting I had to make a 45-minute drive to discover purveyors that are practically in my back yard, but here, the joy of discovery outweighs any embarrassment.

At the Harvard Square Market, the two vendors are set up across from each other, perfect placement for the shopper who is looking for something to cook that night, as I was on that Friday two weeks ago.  In addition to the mixture of oyster mushrooms and herbed tagliatelle that would become supper, I also bought a package of duck confit and ginger ravioli to put away in the freezer.  The combination made for an unusual but delicious-sounding ravioli filling that I thought would make an excellent starter course en brodo (in a broth) for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Over the next week, as I thought about the slightly Asian-inspired broth I thought might best highlight the duck and ginger filling, I decided that a few Shady Oaks oyster mushrooms would be a great addition to the dish.  I emailed the company and found out that they sell locally at Colby Farm and also at the Newburyport Farmers’ Market, where they have a stall through April as part of the bimonthly winter market.

Not quite soup, not quite pasta course, this flavorful ravioli en brodo makes a fabulous starter for a holiday or dinner party meal.  Intensely savory yet sparkling bright and fresh tasting, it whets the appetite for the courses that follow without filling you up.  It is also super easy to put together, a plus when entertaining.

If using oyster mushrooms, trim them down to the tender parts of the stems, discarding the large fungi cluster that the individual stems adhere to; that part will be very chewy.

If you can’t find the same ravioli used here, try one filled with chicken.  Or mushrooms.  Or a tortellini/tortelloni filled with either.

First Course Ravioli en Brodo

  • 12 fresh duck, chicken or mushroom ravioli or 16 tortellini
  • 1 good sized carrot, cut into thirds, each third cut into julienne strips
  • 1 good size “finger” cut from a hand of ginger, peeled and cut into julienne strips
  • 5 scallions, cut into thirds, each third cut into julienne strips
  • 1 cluster oyster mushrooms (about 3 ounces), trimmed into individual caps and stems, larger mushrooms cut in halves
  • 2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 2 Tbsp. good sherry
  • 2 cups good rich chicken stock, yours or purchased
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 3-4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for cooking the pasta.  Prepare all your vegetables and the mushrooms.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.  When hot but not smoking, add the julienne of carrots and ginger to the pan.  Stir frequently until the vegetables begin to soften but do not brown, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the scallions to this and stir, sautéeing for about one more minute.  Taste test a carrot.  They should be crisp-tender, not hard, not mushy.  Once you reach the desired texture, add the sherry and stir until the sherry reduces and concentrates, coating the vegetables.  Do not scorch.  Over medium-high heat, reducing should take only about 30 seconds.

Next, add the mushrooms and stir the vegetables together.

Immediately after add the broth and soy sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and heat the stock through.

Once heated through, remove from the heat as you cook the pasta.

Cook the ravioli or tortellini according to instructions. Fresh will take only a few minutes, frozen a couple of minutes more.

As you drain the pasta, reheat the broth to just barely a simmer.  Divide the pasta between four bowls and ladle a half cup of hot broth over the pasta in each bowl.

Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley if desired and serve immediately.

©2011  Jane A. Ward