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Chef speak/Recipe
Suzzette Metcalfe/Owner and Chef - The Pasta Tree, Milwaukee

By PAM PERCY

November 2010

Suzzette Metcalfe fell in love with The Pasta Tree more than 25 years ago when she and her family visited the iconic East Side restaurant to celebrate her sister Tonia’s birthday.

Metcalfe was charmed by the food, the ambiance and then-owners the late Robert Fontecchio and Steven Gustafson. The feeling was mutual, and she was hired immediately as a part-time prep cook.

In the decades that followed, Metcalfe worked to acquire the skills of running her own successful restaurant. After graduating from WCTC in 1987, she worked briefly for notable chef Steven Wade in New Berlin before heading off for a six-year stint in Chicago. Her jobs in the Windy City included Trio, where Metcalfe was brought on as the "poissonnière," or fish expert; then on to Brassiere T, Feast and Marché.

Her love of food was in her genetic makeup. She joined her father, Jerome Metcalfe, in Kaanapali, Maui, to help him run his Rusty Harpoon Restaurant & Tavern. Although the restaurant is now closed, she still has a home on the island, and visits there frequently. Her dad and mom, Sharon, also owned Sentry Foods grocery stores in Butler, Monona and Racine. Jerome was an avid hunter; her mother a fantastic cook. The family grew and canned their own vegetables. Saturday night dinner was a ritual, with extended family and friends gathering around the table.

Both sets of grandparents were also inspirations. The Hungarian Metcalfes introduced her to goulash and paprikash and, on her mother’s side, the French Canadian Fullers made authentic coq au vin, as well as delicious French toast with beignets. Her grandfather Fuller was a fisherman who had his own smokehouse.

In 2006, the stars aligned and Metcalfe purchased The Pasta Tree. It runs smoothly with the help of sous chef Ben Barger, who is also an engineering student at UW-Milwaukee, and a great staff including server Bob Walsch — the recent winner of a Sante Award, the only peer-judged restaurant and hospitality competition in North America.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Metcalfe has plans for her charming Italian eatery. She recently worked with Bill Gardner from Left Bank to fine tune the wine menu, which now offers an impressive array of Italian vintages including a Brunello di Montalcino 2002, Castello Banfi Tuscany 2008 and a selection of Barolo wines. Metcalfe plans to expand her menu by adding exciting new veal dishes and a giant meatball offering, one of her grandmother’s specialties. She’ll soon offer wine tastings, food and wine pairings and eventually be open for lunch.

In the meantime, Metcalfe is committed to a standard of culinary excellence. The Pasta Tree is part of an RSA (Restaurant Supported Agriculture) program using local produce. Excluding the smoked salmon and an Italian tortellini, everything is made in-house; even the pasta, sauces, desserts and bread are from scratch.

Metcalfe’s grandparents and parents would be proud.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Warm Brown Butter Sage Sauce

1 3-pound sugar pumpkin or butternut squash
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup grated smoked mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons Ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon shallots, minced
Pinch of nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
 fresh pasta sheets
Semolina flour for sprinkling
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly picked whole sage leaves
2 tablespoons chopped macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds; discard.

Transfer to a baking sheet. Rub olive oil evenly over insides of pumpkin halves; rub brown sugar into each. Bake until pumpkin is tender and easily pierced with a fork, about one hour. Let cool.

When cool, scoop out pumpkin with a spoon. Place flesh in the bowl of a food processor, along with egg, Ricotta, shallot and a pinch of nutmeg; process until smooth. Add smoked mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Lay one pasta sheet on work surface. Place one tablespoon filling every 3 inches. Brush egg wash around filling. Place another sheet on top, pressing around filling to seal. Using a fluted pastry wheel or round cutter, cut each ravioli into a 3-by-3-inch square or circle. Repeat with remaining pasta sheets and filling. Transfer ravioli to a parchment-lined baking sheet sprinkled with semolina; freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; season with salt. Add ravioli; cook until it just floats, three to four minutes.

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over high heat. Cook until butter begins to brown and sizzle, add sage leaves. Be careful, as the butter may splatter. Toss in Macadamia nuts. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to pan, tossing to combine. Serve immediately with fresh cracked pepper and grated Parmesan. Serves four to six. scallops.

Boil a small, slightly salted pot of water with a capful of champagne vinegar. Drain the potato pearls sitting in water and add the potatoes to the boiling water. When you can cut into the potato pearls cleanly with a slight give, the potatoes are done cooking (roughly six to seven minutes).

Strain the potatoes and transfer them to a plate in a single layer. Drizzle some champagne vinegar onto the potatoes and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Heat a cast iron pan large enough to cook all four scallops without touching each other. If the scallops are crowded, they will not caramelize correctly.

Once the cast iron is hot, drizzle vegetable oil into the pan to coat the bottom. The pan is too hot if the oil smokes.

Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper (sea salt and milled pepper is preferred).

Carefully place the scallops into the hot pan. Once the scallops are in the pan, do not move them. When they start browning on the edge, carefully flip them and caramelize the other side.

Once the scallops are perfectly caramelized on both sides, remove them from the pan and allow them to rest on a napkin-lined plate.

During the scallop’s resting time, prepare your plates: In a straight line, shingle the sliced cucumbers down the middle of the plate. Season the cucumber slices. Carefully lay the marinated fennel on top of the cucumbers. Cut the scallops in half (horizontally, so you have two caramelized medallions). Place the two scallop halves on top of the fennel, in the middle of the plate. Place three potato pearls strategically around the scallop. Place three orange segments strategically around the scallop. Lay three marinated sliced radishes on top of the scallop. Lay a slice of jalape-o in the middle of the scallop. Drizzle a little brown butter on top of the scallop, just to glisten the surface. With a spoon, carefully drizzle chive oil on the outside perimeter of the scallop. Carefully lay fresh arugula leaves over the scallop and cucumber slices. Serves four.

 


This story ran in the November 2010 issue of: