Feeding the Ghost of Steve McQueen

Fois gras ravioli with pickled fennel, shimeji mushrooms and marscapone cheese — at Chez McQueen

*   *   *

Here’s the way I like to imagine it:

McQueen is out on the deck drinking his whisky, his khakis rolled up and his feet on the railing, watching the sea crash on the rocks just below. He’s surprised to find a stranger at his stove cooking, but only shrugs. After a bit he comes in to freshen his drink, and asks me what the hell I’m doing in his kitchen.

“You’re dead,” I tell him.

“You’re twisting my melon, man,” he says.

“Nope, 1980. You’ve been dead 32 years.”

“No shit,” he says. “Whatcha makin?”

“Fois gras ravioli with pickled fennel, shimeji mushrooms and marscapone.”

“Screw all that. I’ll take a pork chop.”

You gotta be careful what kind of dinner you offer the ghost of Steve McQueen.

Pardon the colorful verbiage. I’m not much for profanity, myself. But you can’t really invent imaginary scenarios involving Steve McQueen without some barroom language.

In reality, it was my wife and our friend Sue out on the deck, who have much gentler vocabularies. Our friends, Nadine and Andrew, recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. So as we went to stay with them in Nadine’s family’s Malibu beach house — former home of Mr. McQueen — I planned to cook them something special as a sort of belated gift and culinary congratulations.

Sunflowers & sea, Malibu

The house sits on a narrow strand of sand near the end of Broad Beach in Malibu, three houses before a small spit of rock ends one of the most exclusive stretches of homes on earth (a few doors down is a palatial estate formerly owned by Malibu’s favorite anti-Semitic drunk, Mel Gibson, before he had to sell it to give his Russian ex-beloved half of everything he owned). During McQueen’s time it was less prestigious or pretentious, although still a getaway for the famous and infamous (his battles with next-door neighbor Keith Moon are the stuff of legend). And even with renovations his house is one of the more modest. His son, B-actor Chad McQueen, still lives next door, and there are rumors that the famous Mustang from “Bullitt” resides in his garage.

Last time we’d visited, I clamored at low tide through a rock tunnel at the point, looking for interesting creatures in the tide pools, and discovered an attractive cluster of strange barnacles growing from a large boulder that at most times was being battered beneath the waves. I touched them, and noticed a long fleshy tube connecting them to the rock. A sense of familiarity stirred within my culinary subconscious. And then I realized… Percebes! A delicacy in Spain and other various coastal Mediterranean countries. I did considerable research between that visit and this to find out whether ours were edible, but came up empty. So they were not to be part of the menu. Instead, I focused on what I had and what I thought our hosts would enjoy.

Wild percebes

Dinner began with a salad of seared albacore crudo with Japanese microgreens, shaved parmesan and fennel vinegar. A pizza with bufala mozzarella and guanciale was next, followed by fat jumbo asparagus stalks, peeled and wine-poached, served with a fried farm egg and parmesan béchamel. Fois gras-stuffed ravioli made that morning were served with marscapone cheese, pickled fennel and roasted shimeji mushrooms. The closest we got to dessert was a crispy slow-braised Kurobata pork belly served with fava beans and wine butter. After all, it was sort of like pig candy. Plus, there was plenty of sugar in the half dozen or so bottles of wine we shared.

A warm night. The wind off the sea and the waves crashing just beneath the window lulled me like a baby’s sound machine into a milky boozy slumber; nearby, dreams of papillons and great escapes fading in and out of view.

*   *   *

Fois gras ravioli with pickled fennel, shimeji mushrooms and marscapone
serves 4

1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup fois gras pâté (or other pâté, if fois gras is not available)
1/2 cup fennel, thinly sliced or shaved on a mandoline
1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 cup shimeji mushrooms
1/2 cup duck or veal stock (or chicken, in a pinch)
1/4 cup white wine
olive oil
1 tbsp. cold butter
1/2 cup marscapone cheese, brought to room temperature
parmesan Reggiano
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Make your pickled fennel: place thinly sliced fennel in a bowl of water. Swish it around to remove any sand or grit, and drain. Place in a tupperware container with the vinegar, shake well, and set aside at room temperature, shaking every so often, for 2 hours or more.

Make the dough earlier in the day or the day before: Place the flour in a medium mixing bowl in a small mound. Make a well in the center, and crack the raw egg into the well. Mix with a fork, working your way outward from the center, until the egg is integrated into the flour. The dough should be wet, if it seems too dry, add a tablespoon of water. With a rubber spatula, turn the dough out onto a well-floured cutting board or surface. Flour your hands, and knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, for 8-10 minutes, or until silky. Form into a ball, flour again, wrap with plastic and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Place the dough ball on a floured counter or large cutting board. With a floured rolling pin, roll out, flipping over and re-flouring frequently, until you’ve got a very thin sheet of dough (you should be able to detect your hand through the dough when you lift it). It will get thinner than you might think, so keep at it. When it has reached the desired thinness, cut as little of the rounded edges away as possible to create a large, rough square. Cut the square into four rows, and each row into 4-5 squares (depending on how square your original square was). Place about a teaspoon of fois gras pâté in the center of each, evening them out when you’ve used it all. Dipping your finger into a small bowl of water, wet the edges of each and fold over into a triangle, pressing down to seal. As you finish each ravioli, place them on wax paper on a plate. (If you run out of space, cover with a second sheet of wax paper and create a second tier.) Once you’ve sealed all the ravioli, put the plate in the freezer for 1 hour or however long until your dinner.

Prepare the mushrooms: shimeji mushrooms come in a “bun” inside plastic, available in most Asian markets. Cut the mushrooms off the bun near the base of the stem. (If you can’t find these, shiitake will do — just slice thinly.) Take a piece of foil and crimp the edges up. Toss the mushrooms with a little olive oil and salt, and roast in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Drain the fennel from the vinegar. Reserve the fennel-flavored vinegar for salads or other uses.

Bring a pot of salted water (about 2 quarts) to a boil. Drop frozen ravioli into the water and cook for 1 minute, then turn off heat.

Meanwhile, in a skillet on high heat, bring the broth and wine to a boil. Add the mushrooms and cook until reduced by 2/3, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in cold butter to emulsify. Return pan to high heat, and with a slotted spoon or wire strainer, scoop ravioli from water into pan. When the sauce begins to simmer, toss the ravioli a couple times in the sauce and remove from heat.

To plate: Spread a heaping tablespoon of marscapone on each plate. Top with 3 to 4 ravioli per plate. Divide the mushrooms evenly over the pastas, and drizzle with sauce from pan. Top each with a few artfully placed slivers of pickled fennel, and some shavings of parmesan cheese.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 02:08:56

    Very nice!


  2. Cookie
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 02:37:22



  3. Lisa Gaskin
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 01:29:11

    I spent much of my “tween” years on Broad Beach…sure you don’t know that. Spent many a few weeks at a time staying with my mean best friend from childhood, Noel, and her family there. I DO have some fond memories. This is back when it cost very little to own a home on Broad beach and it was no big deal. Hard for anyone to imagine that, I’m sure.


  4. Trackback: Me and the Sea | skinny girls & mayonnaise
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