Our intent on presenting Ryan Ratino with a no-cook challenge seemed worthy: Chefs are comfortable with flames and heat, so he might have to work hard at creating a three-course menu that mere-mortal cooks could reproduce at home.
So much for that. The 27-year-old executive chef who ran the kitchen for Ripple’s last eight months and is opening a new restaurant along the 14th Street corridor in the Washington has long been fascinated with cold foods and raw proteins.
Garde-manger (guard mohn-ZHAY), the French-named station that handles those components in a restaurant kitchen, “was one of my favorite things at the start of my culinary career,” Ratino says. “You don’t have to worry about a hot dish cooling off before it gets to the table. I was able to be the most artistic, I think, because I could take the time to make a plate look beautiful.”
The chef’s attention to detail is evident in the dishes he created here. For an appetizer that could also serve as a vegetarian entree, Ratino used the same chunky kale, cashew and avocado pesto that diners loved at Ripple to top slices of ciabatta. The bright sweetness of marinated tomatoes complements and cuts through the creamy fattiness, he says.
The preparation for his crudo main dish employs a few smart professional techniques. A quick “cure” adds flavor and tightens up the texture of the fish, making it easier to slice thin. The ribbons of marinated vegetables on top provide an acidic counterpoint to the fish and olive oil used. “The dish tastes clean and fresh,” Ratino says. We agree – and it makes a pretty plate.
For dessert, we allowed a microwave; even though this was a no-cook challenge, the impetus behind it is to keep from heating up the kitchen, and 40 seconds on full power won’t prompt the AC to kick in. Plus, it’s just a fun recipe you might want to wait and prepare with an audience.
Ratino remembered an old José Andrés brioche dough dispensed via a foam-whip canister that puffed almost instantly in the microwave. So our chef tweaked the idea, with a batter that is less fatty and a bit sweeter. It comes together in a blender and puffs to the tenderest sponge in less than a minute. Then you simply tear it into a few craggy pieces and pair it with sweetened strawberries, vanilla whipped cream and small, aromatic basil leaves.
“It’s fun. It’s casual,” he says. “You could macerate any fruit you like. I guess this one’s a play on strawberry shortcake – without the baking hassle.”
With knife work and special tools kept to a minimum, we think the chef met our challenge, and then some.
Kale and cashew pesto with ciabatta and heirloom tomatoes
Serves 4 to 6
This is bruschetta so savory and satisfying that you could make it a meal. Make ahead: The pesto can be refrigerated a day in advance; bring to room temperature before using. Assemble the slices shortly before serving. From chef Ryan Ratino, executive chef of the upcoming Bresca restaurant in the District.
For the pesto:
3/4 cup packed kale leaves (stemmed)
12 basil leaves
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon), or more as needed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
Flesh of 1/2 ripe Hass avocado
For the ciabatta:
1 pint small heirloom tomatoes, cut into quarters
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
One 8-to-12-ounce portion of ciabatta (may substitute focaccia bread)
Basil leaves, torn, for garnish
Cracked black pepper, for garnish
For the pesto: Combine the kale and basil leaves, cashews, garlic, lemon juice, oil, salt (to taste) and avocado in a food processor; pulse just long enough to create a loose, pesto-like consistency with no large chunks. Taste, and add salt and/or lemon juice, as needed.
For the ciabatta: Place the tomatoes in a mixing bowl.
Whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey and salt in a liquid measuring cup, until well incorporated, then pour over the tomatoes and toss gently to coat.
Cut the ciabatta crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, arranging them on a platter. Place a good-size dollop of the pesto on top of each one, spreading it with a table knife.
Top with some of the marinated tomatoes and garnish with torn basil leaves and cracked black pepper.
Per serving (based on 6, with 1 teaspoon salt in the pesto): 400 calories, 7 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 29 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 11 g sugar.
Flounder crudo with marinated summer vegetables
Serves 2 to 4
This is a pretty plate that’s flexible, too; you could double up the amount of marinated vegetables and serve to non-meat eaters at your table. Be sure to use the best-quality, freshest fish you can find. You’ll need a mandoline to shave the vegetables to the thickness just slightly greater than a sheet of paper. Make ahead: The crudo needs to cure for 25 minutes. The vegetables need to marinate for 30 minutes. From chef Ryan Ratino.
For the crudo:
1 pound fresh, skinless flounder fillets
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons coriander seed, crushed
For the vegetables:
1/2 medium summer squash (cut lengthwise)
1/2 medium zucchini (cut lengthwise)
1 medium bulb fennel, cored
12 cherry tomatoes
Leaves from 1/2 ounce fresh thyme
Leaves from 1/2 ounce fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Flaked sea salt, for garnish
For the crudo: Place the fish in a shallow dish, in a single layer.
Combine the salt, sugar and crushed coriander seed in a medium bowl, then use the mixture to cover the flounder fillets. Cover loosely and refrigerate (to cure) for 25 minutes, then rinse off the fish and pat it dry with paper towels.
Use a sharp, thin knife to cut the fillets into slices a bit thicker than 1/4 inch, laying them out on a platter or dividing them among individual plates.
Use a Microplane zester to grate zest of the 2 lemons (no pith) over the fish. Reserve the lemons.
For the vegetables: Use the mandoline to shave the squash, zucchini and fennel a touch thicker than a sheet of paper. Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Combine all the vegetables in a mixing bowl.
Whisk together the thyme, basil, parsley, tarragon, vinegar, honey, oil and a generous pinch of salt in a medium bowl, then add the mixture to the vegetables; let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to distribute the marinated vegetables over the fish on the platter or plates. Spoon the vinaigrette over both.
Finishing touches for the plate: Drizzle over any of the vinaigrette that is left in the bowl. Cut the zested lemons into wedges; squeeze their juice over the crudo, and add a pinch of flaked sea salt or any finishing salt.
Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.
Strawberry air cakes with vanilla cream
Serves 6 to 12
This is the niftiest way to make a light and airy spongecake that we’ve come across. Torn pieces get draped with macerated strawberries and topped with lightly flavored whipped cream. You can make it ahead, but it might be even more fun to make it a “performance art” kind of dessert at the end of the meal – with some plating help from a guest or two.
You’ll need a cartridge-charged ISI foam-whip canister (available at kitchen stores and some hardware stores) and six 16-ounce microwave-safe plastic or paper cups. (The cups can be reused.) The canister may take 1 or 2 charges, depending on its size.
Make ahead: The strawberries need to macerate for 35 minutes. The vanilla cream can be made a day or two in advance.
From chef Ryan Ratino, executive chef of the upcoming Bresca restaurant in the Washington.
For the vanilla cream:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cakes:
1 pint strawberries, hulled, rinsed and each cut into quarters
2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks plus 7 large egg whites
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Scrapings from 1 vanilla bean
18 tablespoons flour (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
Small basil leaves, for garnish
For the vanilla cream: Beat the chilled heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer on medium speed, until frothy, then add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat to form soft peaks. Transfer to a container; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the cakes: Combine the strawberries and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar in a mixing bowl, tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 35 minutes, stirring them every 10 minutes or so.
Combine the egg yolks and egg whites, oil, vanilla bean scrapings, flour and the remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a blender; puree to form a smooth batter.
Pour into a fine-mesh strainer set over a large liquid measuring cup (with a spout), using a spatula to push the batter through. Discard any solids. Then pour into the ISI foam-whip canister (you may not use all the batter at once) and then insert the necessary charge(s). Shake the canister vigorously.
Use scissors or a sharp knife to make two small slits cut in the bottom of each microwave-safe cup.
Fill each cup (from the canister) about one-third full. Microwave, one cup at a time, on HIGH for 40 seconds; you’ll see the cakes puff up close to or above the rim. The cakes will fall slightly after you remove them from the microwave.
Invert each cup on a platter or clean workspace, to sit for 1 minute before removing each air cake from its cup (it helps to run an offset spatula or knife around the edges first). Repeat with the remaining batter (you can reuse the cups), refilling the canister and using another charge if necessary.
Assemble this dessert as you please. The chef recommends tearing or cutting each cake into pieces, then spooning over strawberries and finishing with dollops or spooned portions of the vanilla cream. Garnish with the basil leaves.
Per serving (based on 12): 250 calories, 6 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 19 g sugar