Friday, April 18, 2008
I’ve been wanting to try making my own pasta for a while now, but am basically too lazy/scared, so I use my lack of hardware as an excuse (I’m still waiting for Santa to bring me that KitchenAid pasta roller attachment). Gnocchi seems slightly more manageable, but it’s still a lot of work to boil and mash all those potatoes, and my few early attempts, back when I was just beginning to cook for myself on a regular basis, were less than inspiring (granted, I think I could do a lot better now, armed with slightly improved kitchen skillz and a perfect recipe). But when I saw this recipe for ricotta gnocchi at Steamy Kitchen and realized I’m out of excuses. The fact that the gnocchi were pan-fried all crispy and brown, instead of the pale soggy lumpen things gnocchi can sometimes be, was the final nail in the coffin. I had some extra ricotta in the fridge anyway, so I chalked it up to destiny.
I suppose that coffin metaphor might become all too apt if I start eating too much ricotta gnocchi. It occurred to me as I was cooking that it’s just basically lemon-flavored cheese fried in butter. Then I took my first bite and I didn’t care. This is fantastic stuff, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Eat a small bowl every now and then, with a gigantic salad (or in our case, a big pile of roasted aspararagus) on the side and you will live a happy life. What’s more, the recipe takes hardly any time and requires zero special skills. (Can you mix things in a bowl? Mush them around with your fingers? Cut dough into pieces? Bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan? Oops, sorry, I started singing for a minute there.) Rolling the dough into ropes was about as hard as it got, and certainly that didn’t even require much precision; it was mostly cosmetic anyway. I’m sure you could cook this in ugly dollops and it would taste just as good. You’ll notice my gnocchi got somewhat big and square, and I still loved them. I don’t judge a book by its cover, or a lemony cheese ball by its shape or lack thereof.
I’d be interested in trying to actually serve the gnocchi mixed up with some vegetables, as seen on the Smitten Kitchen with pan-fried potato gnocchi (drool...it’s that photo of the gnocchi with the tomatoes and green beans and white beans in a warm pasta-saladlike treatment that made me want to make my own gnocchi in the first place). Not only would it taste great, but it would diminish the classy-version-of-State-Fair-cheese-curds guilty undertone I kept feeling while I ate this. But seriously, it's truly a magical recipe, the kind you (yes, you!) should try right away. Because mostly, I was too busy thinking (even though I can’t take credit for the recipe) “This is awesome! I’m a genius!” as I ate to really worry about anything except getting the next forkful to my mouth. And that is always a nice feeling.
Also, did you notice that my lemon obsession is continuing unabated?
P.S. June 2008: I cemented my genius reputation by making this again, this time tossing the gnocchi and its buttery sauce with blanched asparagus between steps 3 and 4 of the recipe. Bingo! The asparagus adds a new dimension of flavor (greenness!), while acting as a natural complement to the cheese and lemon. If possible, it was even more delicious than last time, and erased the I'm-eating-a-big-bowl-of-fried-cheese feeling. And it was really pretty. See, look!
1 cup whole-milk ricotta (if you use skim-milk ricotta, you may have to use more flour because the ricotta will be more watery)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnishing)
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon zest (plus extra for garnishing)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon regular salt)
1 tablespoon minced parsley (plus extra for garnishing)
¾ cup all-purpose flour (spooned in and leveled)
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper to taste
1. Combine ricotta, ½ cup Parmesan, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, salt, and 1 tablespoon parsley in a large bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half of the flour over the mixture and gently turn a few times with a spatula to incorporate it. Dump the mixture on a clean, lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the mixture and gently knead with your fingertips, just bringing the dough together until the flour is incorporated. (This should only take a minute or two; any longer and you will be overkneading.)
2. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Take each part and roll it into a long log, 1 inch in diameter. Cut each log into 1-inch-long pieces.
3. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When butter is just lightly browned, add gnocchi in a single layer. Fry for 2 minutes, then flip them over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and fry for another 2 minutes. Taste one to see if it’s done—if you taste the flour, it needs to cook longer.
4. Serve with a sprinkling of lemon zest, Parmesan, parsley, and black pepper.
Time: 30 minutes
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I’m on a roll in more ways than one—not only do I have a really great string of new recipes to share with you this week, but I’m well on my way to my goal of being able to eat a different kind of pizza every day of the week. Let’s see, in addition to my normal traditional tomato-sauce pizza, which I’ve honed to near-perfection after much practice, we’ve got the asparagus pizza, the butternut squash pizza, and a great improvisational pizza I occasionally throw together with pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella, and maybe some sausage. And now we can add…the bacon pizza.
Of course, bacon isn’t the focus of this dish (the recipe is from Cooking Light, after all), but that’s how I sold it to A: bacon pizza! With arugula and mushrooms and ricotta. And boy, those flavors go together just perfectly: creamy cheese, sweet onions and mushrooms (I really let those suckers get melty and caramelized on the stove, semi-accidentally but it was a stroke of genius I tell you), bitter greens, salty bacony bacon. I threw in some garlic, too, and it was a wise choice.
I just used Trader Joe’s pizza dough, so I haven’t replicated the crust recipe, but you can find the original instructions here. I was also a bit less fussy than Cooking Light about healthiness: I may have used three strips of bacon instead of two (they were sort of oddly stuck together, so I can’t be sure), and didn’t pause to make sure I was cooking the mushrooms and onion in just two teaspoons of bacon drippings, and I may have used just a tiny bit more cheese, and I did not slice my pizza into twelfths, and I damn well ate more than just one piece. Still, there were a fair amount of vegetables involved, enough to make a balanced meal out of a couple slices with maybe a small salad on the side. And it was easy and it was delicious.
Dough for one pizza crust (1 lb)
2 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup thinly sliced white onion
½ pound whole white button mushrooms, quartered
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup ricotta cheese
2 cups baby arugula
⅓ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. To prepare topping, cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
3. Add garlic, onion, and mushrooms to bacon drippings in pan; cook until tender and browned and moisture evaporates, stirring occasionally, about 10–15 minutes. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper, and remove from heat.
4. Roll out dough and place on an oiled pizza pan or baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Place pan on lowest oven rack and bake for 10 minutes.
5. Remove pan from oven; spread ricotta as evenly as possible over crust, leaving a ½-inch rim around the edges. Arrange onion-mushroom mixture and arugula evenly over ricotta. Sprinkle with bacon, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Bake for 10 more minutes, or until crust is lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Time: 45 minutes
This is one of the easiest and best improvisational dishes I’ve tried in a while. I just wish I’d thought of it first, but the credit goes to Not Eating Out in New York. So simple, yet so genius! I’ve often roasted a similar assortment of vegetables alongside a chicken, but it had never occurred to me that another, quicker-cooking meat like sausage would be an even easier way to round out the meal. (Plus, sausage and potatoes are a classic combination.) This versatile recipe is a great way to use whatever vegetables are in season at the market, especially in this early springtime when the asparagus and peas are slow in coming and the same root vegetables we’ve been eating all winter are still staring us in the face week after week. This meal bridges the gap: kind of wintery (hearty and roasty) but kind of springy (simple and colorful). And it’s incredibly versatile. I used a rainbow of different small potatoes, yams, carrots, and parsnips; I also had a pound of tricolor pearl onions getting old in my pantry, so I threw those in. The original recipe recommends adding grape tomatoes, which weren’t in season yet, so I skipped them, but I bet they would be great. I could also envision adding asparagus, green beans, zucchini, or squash to the mix, depending on the time of year.
I used chicken sausage—a kind from Trader Joe’s I hadn’t tried before, “spicy Italian with red wine and quattro formaggio.” The spiciness level was perfect—not overwhelming, but enough to balance out the sweetness of the vegetables—and the flavor was good, but the cheesy smell of the sausage was a little off-putting to me. I think I’d try a different kind next time, since there are so many out there to choose from, and each would impart a different quality to the dish.
The original recipe offers more precise timing directions, but I played fast and loose, just dumping everything in the pan and roasting until it looked like the right level of doneness to me. I’m rarely so devil-may-care with my cooking, but that’s the magic of this recipe, I guess. This is a keeper with a capital K. I think the best part was that it’s fun to eat, because each bite presented a different combination of flavors. I highly recommend eating a piece of sausage with a piece of sweet potato, and for the next forkful, a piece of potato with a big clove of garlic. Heaven!
1 pound small potatoes (red, Yukon Gold, fingerling, or a mix)
2 pounds assorted root vegetables (such as yams, carrots, parsnips, turnips, or beets)
1 onion, peeled and cut into wedges, or a handful of peeled pearl onions
4–5 whole fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4–5 fresh sausages (any kind)
A handful of grape tomatoes (optional)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut vegetables down to 1-to-2-inch pieces of equal size. Mix potatoes, root vegetables, onion, garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste in a large baking dish. Coat with a drizzle of olive oil, cover with tin foil or a lid, and bake until tender, about 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, brown sausages on all sides in a pan or on a grill. Blot excess grease with paper towels and slice into 1-inch pieces. Remove baking dish from oven and arrange sausages and grape tomatoes (if using) atop the vegetables. Return to the oven for another 10–15 minutes, or until vegetables are browned. Toss with parsley and serve.
Time: 1 hour
I don’t know what’s up with me lately—I’m craving lemons like crazy. I’ve always been a lemon fan (reverent pause here to contemplate lemon drops, lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon bars, and lemon curd), but lately it’s kicked into overdrive. Even coming into possession of an entire grocery bag full of Meyer lemons last month (because yes, I’m one of those obnoxious Californians with coworkers who have trees dripping with unwanted Meyer lemons in their backyards) only further fanned the flames of lemon-lust. This means that either (a) I’m turning into my mother, who is renowned for eating whole lemon wedges without blinking; or (b) it’s spring and there’s nothing springier than lemons, in flavor or color. (Also, they go great with asparagus, which is just coming into season.)
So when I paged through the March issue of Bon Appetit and saw this recipe for lemon-marinated salmon topped with a lemon-dressed salad and a lemon-pepper crème fraiche sauce, my eyes may have briefly bugged out of my head. I already had crème fraiche in my refrigerator, having made lemon chicken just a few nights before (see, I told you I’m lemon-obsessed), so it seemed like destiny. And indeed, this was a perfect recipe for spring—light, easy, prettily pink and green. It wasn’t quite the earth-shattering burst of awesome I’d hoped for (I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as the lemon chicken, for instance), but I’d definitely make it again, especially since I didn’t follow the (somewhat awkwardly written) recipe 100% perfectly the first time: I remembered to buy shallots, but then completely forgot to include them in the marinade, which made me sad. And I couldn’t find watercress or fresh tarragon, so I just used spring-mix salad greens with the dill. That part tasted just dandy to me, but I still would be curious to try it with the watercress. (Tarragon I can take or leave.)
I do have to admit that while I was eating, I kept thinking, “This isn’t nearly lemony enough.” Meanwhile, A kept making a pucker face. I took a bite of his food and realized I’d given him all the salad from the bottom of the bowl, where the oil and lemon juice had pooled. Next time, I’ll take that part!
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice, divided
1 teaspoon lemon zest, divided
1 cup crème fraiche
6 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
1½ cups (lightly packed) watercress leaves and small sprigs
¼ cup small fresh dill sprigs
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves
Fleur de sal or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 lemon wedges
1. Whisk honey, 1 tablespoon olive oil, shallot, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon lemon zest in a glass baking dish large enough to hold all the salmon fillets in a single layer. Add salmon fillets and turn to coat them with the marinade. Cover and chill 15 minutes to 1 hour, turning salmon occasionally.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and brush it with olive oil. Transfer the salmon fillets, with some marinade still clinging to them, to the baking sheet. Roast until salmon is just opaque in the center, about 14 minutes.
3. While salmon bakes, whisk crème fraiche, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon lemon zest in a small bowl. Season with salt and a generous amount of pepper.
4. Meanwhile, toss watercress leaves and sprigs, dill sprigs, tarragon leaves, remaining 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium bowl. Season with fleur de sal (or sea salt) and pepper.
5. Place 1 salmon fillet on each of six plates. Top with watercress salad. Drizzle with lemon-pepper sauce and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve with additional sauce on the side.
Time: 45 minutes to 1½ hours, depending on how long you marinate
Friday, April 04, 2008
I know I’m too late for Easter, but didn’t Easter take everyone by surprise this year? According to my uncle the pastor, this year was the earliest that Easter will occur in our lifetimes—the next March 23 Easter will be in 2180—so if you were feeling harried about it, you had good reason. Just do yourself a favor and put these on your list to make next year. Or, heck, just make them now, because these spiced, raisiny, gently sweet buns really should be eaten more than once a year.
I must be in a nostalgic mood, because pre-Easter I suddenly became obsessed with the need to make hot cross buns, one of the few homemade foods I associate with the holiday besides ham and hard-boiled eggs (I’m mainly a fan of the Easter candies—oh, Cadbury eggs and mini-eggs, and Whoppers Robin Eggs, you complete me!), but one lodged mainly in my childhood—I’m not sure when I last ate one, but it seems at least 5 years ago. I’d thought I had my mom’s recipe tucked away somewhere, but when the day before Easter rolled around, I realized I was mistaken and scrambled online to see if any bloggers had a tried-and-true recipe to offer. It turns out hot cross buns aren’t quite as popular as I had imagined; they seem to be mainly a British (and Australian) phenomenon. Thanks to the awesome Food Blog Search, however, I managed to find a few options and at last settled on this one, from Emeril Lagasse via A Mingling of Tastes. This is where food blogs come in handy, because the original recipe is slightly insane. As most of the Food Network site commenters note, it calls for way too little flour in the dough (resulting in sticky goo that’s impossible to roll and manipulate as described) and way too much milk in the icing, and yields far more than the 12 rolls it claims to. Thanks to A Mingling of Tastes, I was amply forewarned about these problems (though I panicked and overcompensated with too much flour, probably 4½ cups, and my dough was a bit too stiff, and instead of getting 1 or even 1½ dozen, I got something like 30 rolls out of it, which I hastily had to pawn off on A’s and my coworkers before they got too stale). A Mingling of Tastes also suggested a heaping ½ teaspoon cardamom, which I happily embraced, because I adore cardamom and find it wildly underused; and adding ginger, allspice, and cinnamon to the mix, which I’m so glad I did. I also recalled reading that traditional hot cross bun recipes often involve candied citrus peel (yuck), and another recipe I’d seen on some other site had added orange zest instead, which sounded tasty, so I went for it and I’m so glad I did. Basically, despite the many weirdnesses of the recipe and my possible screw-ups (besides the extra flour thing, I got lazy and didn’t follow Emeril’s detailed instructions for rolling the dough into buns, and my frosting was a little runny, making my crosses more like squiggles), these hot cross buns were (sorry, mom) the best I’ve had—with the citrus and the spice, the flavor was just so delicious and they weren’t too sweet. The better to eat more Easter candy!
P.S. Also, I got to use my new silicon pastry brush, an early birthday gift, to brush on the beaten egg wash. It was so simple and easy to clean—I joyfully threw away my clumpy, oily, real-bristle one.
1 envelope (¼ ounce, or 2¼ teaspoons) dry yeast
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups warm milk (about 110 degrees F)
1 stick (½ cup) of butter, melted
½ cup raisins
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest
3½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup powdered sugar
1–3 tablespoons milk
1. Combine the yeast, sugar, and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Beat on low speed for 1 minute. Add the butter, egg, and raisins. Mix for 1 minute. Add the salt, spices, orange zest, and 3½ cups flour. Beat on low speed until all the flour is incorporated, about 1 minute. Then, beat at medium speed until the mixture forms a ball, leaves the sides of the bowl, and climbs up the dough hook. If the dough seems too wet and sticky, add up to another ½ cup of flour (or as needed).
2. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large bowl with the vegetable oil, place the dough in the bowl, and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and invert it onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough into a rectangle about ¾ inch thick. Roll up the dough, beginning with the long side and stopping after each full turn to press the edge of the roll firmly into the flat sheet of dough to seal. Tuck and roll so that any seams disappear into the dough. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces and roll each piece into a smooth, round ball. (If you’re really lazy like me, you can just remove the dough from the bowl, pinch off 1-inch pieces, and roll them into balls.)
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the rolls on the baking sheet, ½ inch apart. With a pastry brush, spread the beaten egg evenly over the rolls. Cover rolls with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until they double in size, about 1 hour.
5. While rolls are rising for the second time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When oven is hot, bake rolls until lightly brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly on a rack.
6. In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix until smooth. Add additional milk as needed until icing reaches desired consistency (but remember, if you want to pipe it in a cross shape, it will need to be fairly thick—otherwise it’ll turn into more of a glaze). Ice rolls with frosting in the shape of a cross. Serve warm (leftover rolls can be reheated for 20 seconds in the microwave).
Yields: 1 to 2 dozen
Time: 3½ hours