Rachael Ray turned 50 last year, and she celebrated in a truly Rachael Ray kind of way — by writing a cookbook with vignettes from her life.
Ray has been a prolific cookbook writer and TV host since her debut on the Food Network in the early 2000s. She's hosted travel shows and cooking shows and, since 2006, a daily talk show. She founded a dog food company, a line of cookware and a nonprofit. She has lobbied for school lunch and, in 2008, started an annual South by Southwest party that continues to thrive at Stubb's.
That's a lot of life to pack into a memoir, so rather than writing a traditional recap of her life, Ray decided to tell this lifelong adventure through smaller stories and recipes in her new book, "Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals From a Sweet and Savory Life: A Cookbook" (Ballantine Books, $32).
In the book, Ray addresses her fans, her critics, her ancestors, her friends and the many roads she’s taken to get to this station of life, where she’s still creating as much content as ever and juggles just as many plates. "30 Minute Meals" is back on the Food Network. Her SXSW party is almost a teenager; her daytime TV show still feels energetic.
Ray is on a big media push for this book, which includes a stop in Austin on Nov. 6, when I'll interview her on stage at the Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Eighth St., at 7 p.m. (Tickets to this event, $32, are still available through bookpeople.com.)
To promote this new book, her 26th, she's embarking on yet another first: a virtual restaurant.
In partnership with Uber Eats, Ray's "restaurant" doesn't have a brick-and-mortar location, but customers can order dishes, most of which are featured in the cookbook, that are delivered through the meal delivery company.
Austin is one of 13 cities where this virtual restaurant will be open, starting this month through the end of December. Menu items include buffalo chicken chili, fettuccine alla vodka, tahini Caesar salad, garlic ricotta cauliflower mash and a fried chicken sandwich.
You can browse the full menu and order food through the Uber Eats app. I ordered a handful of these items on the first day of the launch that were quickly delivered to the office from the commercial kitchen space the Rachael Ray team is working out of close to downtown. Although the sweet and spicy chicken wings were overfried and the cauliflower mash a little too mash-y, the tagliatelle with Bolognese was solid, the fried chicken sandwich spectacular, and the tahini Caesar salad was so full of umami — without the anchovies — that it’s a recipe I’ll flag in the book to make at home.
That’s what is so interesting to me about this concept: Ray has always been in the cooking business, working to demystify basic techniques and ingredients that can make you a better home cook. Selling hot food isn’t exactly part of that brand, but it’s an attempt to connect with a new customer or to connect with an established fan in a new way.
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I’ve been watching Ray on TV since the first season she joined the Food Network, so I guess I’m in the established fan camp, and it was fun to try food inspired by her recipes and, in the case of that salad, think about making it at home. (That fried chicken sandwich with thin piles of pickles, however, was too delicious for me to even think about making at home.)
Ultimately, it’s good promotion for the book and for her brand, especially among people who are less inclined to cook one of her recipes, but it’s also good for exploring what virtual restaurants can be used for and why. I don’t foresee Ray opening a restaurant chain any time soon, but we’ll likely see more types of these virtual restaurants as chefs (and cookbook writers and food startups and food brands) look for ways to stand out.
From what she’s written in "Rachael Ray 50," you can tell she’s very much at ease commanding this kind of a life and taking these kinds of risks, but she’s also happy to spend nights at home with her husband, John, and their dog. They’ve been married for nearly 15 years, but she can remember this brown butter ravioli they made together on one of their first dates like it was yesterday.
This isn’t one of the recipes you can get delivered through that virtual restaurant, but it might inspire a pasta-making date night, even if you don’t have a pasta machine. As she suggests, you could also use store-bought ravioli and still make the brown butter-balsamic sauce.
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Brown Butter–Balsamic Ravioli
I am way into making my own pasta these days, but store-bought ravioli works great, too. And if you want to swap a tomato-basil sauce for the brown butter, go for it. Whatever parts of this you make, do it together! That’s what date night’s all about. For tagliatelle or other long, flat pasta, roll the sheets of pasta gently but fairly tightly from short end to short end, then slice ribbons between 1/4 and 1 1/2 inches wide. Separate the bundles into nests and cook in boiling water about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, and then remove from water with a spider skimmer.
— Rachael Ray
For the basic egg pasta:
4 cups super-fine Italian flour or 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon kosher salt or fine sea salt
2 large eggs plus 3 large yolks, at room temperature
About 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 3 tablespoons warm water
For the cheese filling:
1 pound sheep’s milk or cow’s milk ricotta, drained
1 cup freshly grated pecorino if using sheep’s-milk ricotta, or Parmigiano-Reggiano if using cow’s-milk ricotta
Salt and finely ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Egg wash of 1 egg beaten with a splash of water, to seal pasta
For the brown butter-balsamic sauce:
6 tablespoons butter
Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or 16 sage leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic drizzle (or reduce 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and 1 packed tablespoon light brown sugar down to 2 tablespoons thickened vinegar)
1 pound ravioli, homemade or store-bought (cheese, pumpkin or mushroom)
Toasted pine nuts, chopped hazelnuts, or walnuts (optional)
Grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
To make the pasta, on a large work surface, mound the flour and season with salt, then use your hands to push the flour away from the center of the mound to form a well at the center. In a bowl, whip up the whole eggs, egg yolks and extra-virgin olive oil and add to the well. Using a fork and working around the perimeter of the well, slowly combine the flour with the eggs and oil until they are incorporated and absorbed. Start to knead the shaggy dough once you get to the outside of the well. If the pasta dough will not come together, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of warm water. When the dough forms, place it in a bowl and then clean the bench or work surface. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface in one direction, away from your body, forming a wave or shell out of the dough. Ball it up, knuckle-knead firmly, then repeat, turning the dough 45 degrees, then starting the knead all over again. Knead the dough for at least 15 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. (It will look shaggy for a while — don’t worry, it will get smooth! Just keep at it!) Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let stand an hour or so, or wrap and chill it overnight, bringing it back to room temperature to prepare.
When you’re ready to make the ravioli, cut the ball of dough into 4 equal pieces with a bench scraper. Keep the dough that you are not working with under a clean towel to keep it from drying out. Place your pasta maker on the widest setting and pass the dough through, then fold the dough over on itself in thirds and pass it through the pasta machine. Fold it in half and repeat three more times in total. Next, pass the dough through one time per notch on the machine until the dough is at the second-to-last setting, 1/16-inch-thick sheet. Cut the long sheet in half and place each sheet on a layer of flour-dusted parchment paper. Repeat this process with each piece of dough. Set aside while you make the cheese filling.
(If you don’t have a pasta machine, form a large pasta dough disc, then roll it out like pie dough, from the center outward, away from your body, on a lightly floured surface, turning the dough and continuing to roll until the pasta is very thin and almost transparent.)
To make the cheese filling: In a mixing bowl, place the ricotta, freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper, nutmeg and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Then place a sheet of pasta on the work surface and brush it with egg wash.
On one of the pasta sheets, place small walnut-size mounds of filling 1 inch apart on the dough sheet and cover it with a second sheet of dough. Press down around each mound to seal the dough. Cut with a furled-edge pasta cutter or sharp paring knife to separate the ravioli.
Place them on flour-dusted parchment paper-lined baking sheets and cook in gently boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, until floating and cooked through. Reserve about 1/2 cup cooking water for the brown butter and balsamic sauce. Ravioli freeze well. Freeze on baking sheets, then gather and place in large freezer bags, removing the air from the bag.
To make the brown butter and balsamic sauce: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter in 1-tablespoon tabs and melt. Add the sage, if using, and cook the butter for 2 to 3 minutes, until nutty and deeply golden. Remove the sage to a paper towel–lined plate. Remove the butter from the heat and add the balsamic drizzle or reduced balsamic. Add the sauce and about 1/2 cup salty cooking water from the pasta to the ravioli to coat evenly. Top with nuts, if using, sage or parsley, and serve. Serves 4.
— From "Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals From a Sweet and Savory Life: A Cookbook" (Ballantine Books, $32)