Off the Beaten Aisle: Ghee

by in Recipes, April 28th, 2011

ravioli with fried sage and asparagus

Why not just use butter?

Fair question, especially since ghee is going to be more trouble to find (it’s hidden in your grocer’s international or natural foods aisles) and you’ll pay way more for it ($5 or more for a 7½-ounce jar).

Despite that, it’s an easy answer: — because ghee is a rich indulgence that is so totally worth the effort and expense.
Ghee is a form of clarified butter. Which means it is butter that was heated until the milk solids separated from the liquid. Then it was heated some more, until the liquid evaporated and the solids began to brown.

The result is a thick yellow-brown paste with a nutty and intensely — Are you ready? — buttery flavor. But it’s true. This is butter on steroids.

And yes, it’s easy to make your own (try Alton Brown’s recipe). And no, most of us won’t.

Ghee originated in India, where the heat spoils conventional butter. Clarifying it prolongs its unrefrigerated life from a couple weeks to many months.

When to use it? Given the price, not every day. But this is the stuff to reach for when you want to be seriously slapped around by buttery goodness.

As in making the very best popcorn. Ever. Here’s why: Not only is the flavor of ghee richer than standard butter, it also has no water. Butter is 15 percent water; that water makes popcorn soggy. Use ghee and you get rich flavor, not wet kernels.

Or use it to make a breathtakingly buttery garlic bread. Whisk a bit of melted ghee (nuke it for 20 seconds or so) into your eggs before scrambling. And just think of the corn and mashed potatoes you can make…

Speaking of corn, grab yourself a tube of prepared polenta. Slice it into ½-inch rounds, then pan fry them in ghee with a bit of fresh thyme, then top them with grated Parmesan, maybe some crumbled crisped prosciutto.

Could you just use regular butter in all these examples? Of course. And most days you will. But on those days you need a little buttery love, go for ghee.

Ravioli With Fried Sage, Asparagus and Walnuts

The asparagus and walnuts pair perfectly with the sage and ghee in this recipe, but don’t hesitate to mix it up. Almonds and cauliflower florets would be great, as would lightly chopped pistachios and baby bella mushrooms.

The pinch of red pepper flakes doesn’t add much heat; it just helps heighten the other flavors. But if you like your dinner with punch, up your pinch.

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4

10-ounce package fresh cheese ravioli
3 tablespoons ghee
Pinch red pepper flakes
5 large fresh sage leaves (left whole)
1 bunch asparagus, bottoms trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
⅓ cup toasted walnuts, lightly chopped
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and cook according to package directions, then drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the ghee. Add the red pepper flakes and sage leaves, then fry until the sage is crisp.

Remove the sage from the pan and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add the asparagus. Sauté until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the walnuts, toss well, then add the drained ravioli and toss again. Crumble the fried sage leaves into the dish, then season with salt and pepper.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 414 calories; 212 calories from fat (51 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (11 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 71 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 13 g protein; 5 g fiber; 431 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, “High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking.” He also blogs at jmhirsch.com.

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