Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fresh Pasta Throwdown: 7 options, 3 contestants, 1 winner

I can't think of a single person I know who has never tasted pasta. If you are out there, please come forward! In the United States, pasta is as much a staple as bread or eggs; it is the 6th most consumed food per capita in this country. In fact, the average American eats 20 lbs of pasta every year! But who can blame us? It is quick, easy, filling, and cheap. It goes with almost anything, and it can be altered to a widening variety of cuisines and flavor profiles. It comes in fresh, dry, whole wheat, and flavored varieties in a million shapes with fun-to-pronounce names. Making pasta at home has become a favorite pastime of mine, but I have never made it without referencing a recipe. This week I memorized three recipes for fresh pasta after taking a good, hard look at ten options. While the dinner guests liked all of the options, I had a clear winner, that took me from easy shopping to user-friendly preparation to delicious pairing with fresh spring vegetables for a wonderful entree.



About Pasta
Rumor has long has it that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from his travels in China, but the PBS History Kitchen has found evidence of pasta being made in parts of Italy long before Marco Polo made his way over with the Chinese noodles. Nomadic arabs are credited with the pasta migration westward from Asia to Europe. Regardless of the location, pasta (or noodles of some variety) have maintained a consistent presence throughout history because of the availability of the ingredients: flour and eggs, for the most part. Thomas Jefferson was an advocate for the increased use of pasta in America after he tried it in France, carting multiple cases of it back with him in 1789. Of course, we cannot forget the essential characters in this culinary story: Italian immigrants. During the 1800s, the influx of Italian immigrants to the United States gave pasta more exposure and availability, securing it a place in the diverse history of American cuisine.

Choosing the Recipe
For a recipe as simple as flour and eggs, people sure get fancy with it. I compiled a table of fresh pasta dough recipes from 7 reputable sources (most of whom are known for either Italian cuisine or precision cooking), charting the quantity of key ingredients, any additional ingredients called for, kneading time and style, rest time, and cook time for each recipe. Then I took a broad look at the choices and picked three that I would make, prepare, and compare at dinner this week. It did not take me long to find my top three contestants:
  • Lidia Bastianich: Lidia's pasta was chosen because she is an Italian cooking icon, but I also chose it because the amount of extra oil and water shocked me. Not being used to these extra ingredients, I wanted to see what they would add.
  • Scott Conant: Scott's pasta was picked because of its similarity to the ATK recipe (see below) but the shocking quadrupled kneading time.
  • America's Test Kitchen: The ATK recipe was so bare bones that I could not help but choose it to see how the simplest 2-ingredient pasta would turn out.

Memorizing the Recipe
The ease of memorization depended solely on each recipe's ingredients, since most of the variation came from the ingredient list. Obviously, the ATK recipe was the easiest to memorize, with a 2:3 ratio of flour (in cups) to eggs (in units). Scott's had the same amount of flour but much more egg, and Lidia had some olive oil and water involved. I set out all my ingredients at once and got started with the process for each.

The Verdict
My opinions of each pasta fluctuated depending on the part of the process I was completing, but ultimately I was able to narrow down my favorite based on ease, flavor, and texture.

1st Place: America's Test Kitchen

  • In the processor: The dough did not come together as a ball. Instead it made a moist bed of pasta dough flakes (kind of like barely-wet sand on the beach). When I took it out of the machine, it came out with no problem and stuck nicely together when I began to knead it.
  • Hand kneading: Once the dough flakes had become a ball, the dough was firm and fairly dry (compared to the other two recipes, especially). I was worried that the pasta would crack or taste dry and bland because it wasn't very easy to knead, but I was wrong.
  • Rolling and cutting: The dough went through the pasta maker beautifully-- no cracks or tears, no sticking or pulling. I began at level 7, then went to 5, then settled at 4. It also went through the fettuccine cutter easily.
  • Boiling and tasting notes: The drier nature of this dough helped the long strands of pasta stay separate from one another while they were waiting to be boiled. They remained separate through the entire cooking process, and they were easy to serve with a pasta spoon, pulling apart easily. The pasta was tender and light, making it great for the lighter toppings we put on it.
ATK dough: ingredients, before rolling, after rolling, cut and ready to boil  
2nd Place: Lidia's

  • In the processor: The dough came together nicely but stuck quite a bit to the sides of the machine, making it hard to remove from the processor.
  • Hand kneading: This dough was moist and fluffy without being sticky. It was the most luxurious of all doughs to knead.
  • Rolling and cutting: Rolling Lidia's dough through the pasta maker was a challenge. A third hand would have been very helpful, because feeding the dough through, removing it before it bunched, and cranking the machine all needed to happen at the same time. I had to make Lidia's rolled dough thicker (setting 5) in order for it to be cut by the machine.
  • Boiling and tasting notes: The pasta stuck together as we were preparing it to be boiled, and I felt like no amount of flour would help the situation. As soft and supple as the dough was while kneading it, it was equally uncooperative while cutting it and laying it out to be boiled. It clumped together a bit in the water but was hearty, had nice firmness, and it had a lovely olive oil flavor.
Lidia's dough: ingredients, before rolling, after rolling, cut and ready to boil

3rd Place: Scott's

  • In the processor: The dough became a big messy clump that banged around in the processor after the first 40 seconds, but I had to leave this one in for two whole minutes. It also stuck to the sides of the machine... and my fingers.
  • Hand kneading: I had to coat my hands with flour before even taking a crack at this dough. It was soft, but it was very liquidy and difficult to manage.
  • Rolling and cutting: After trying to feed the dough through the machine six times with nothing to show for it but a sticky mess, I ended up dumping flour all over the machine in a frustrated attempt to release some of the stuck-on dough. That didn't help either, so I got out the rolling pin and hand rolled and cut each piece of dough. That's not what I signed up for!
  • Boiling and tasting notes: While the handcut noodles were aggravating, they had a decent texture. They were much heartier than the other noodles due to all the protein from the egg yolks. The greater width of the pasta would probably be good for a bold dish that would dominate normal thin noodles, but it was not worth the work and aggravation.
Scott's dough: ingredients, before rolling, after rolling, cut and ready to boil
The Recipes

Weighing the Options
Below is a chart of the different pasta recipes I considered, in no particular order:


The Winner: Fresh Pasta Dough
Yield: 1 lb. (4 servings)
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen Online Cooking School
*These steps are much simpler than the detailed steps given in the link above. If you already have a vague idea of how to make pasta, follow my steps. Otherwise follow the link.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs

Preparation:

  • Pulse flour in a food processor a few times to break up the clumps. 
  • Add the eggs and process for 30 seconds.
  • Remove from the food processor and place on a dry work surface.
  • Knead dough for 1-2 minutes until smooth and elastic.
  • Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Cut 1/6 of the dough and replace the plastic wrap on the remaining dough. Flatten the dough piece into a flat disk. Roll through the widest setting on a pasta roller.
  • Fold the sides of the dough into the center (burrito or business letter style) and flatten. Run through the pasta roller again.
  • Reduce the width on the pasta roller and place the same sheet of pasta through the machine.
  • Continue gradually reducing the width until you reach your desired width and the pasta dough is thin, satiny, and you can see the outline of your hand through it.
  • Lay the pasta sheet in a damp towel while you prepare the rest of the dough into sheets.
  • Once the dough is all in sheets, run each sheet through the pasta cutter to make the type of pasta you want. You can also hand cut them into creative shapes.
  • When you are ready to boil the pasta, make sure the water is salty (some say as salty as chicken noodle soup) and only leave the pasta in for 2-3 minutes. Drain, don't rinse, and add to a pan of hot sauce.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Vegetarian Chili and North-Meets-South Skillet Cornbread

Some people are obsessed with Chili... I am not. I am, however, obsessed with food and with language (shocker!), and if a dish is going to be called Chili, it must contain chiles. I am shocked and saddened by the quantity of Chili recipes I found in the world that did not have the word "chile" or "pepper" anywhere in them. The Chili I made this week may be controversial in some circles... there are beans and there is no meat. Some would say it's not even a real Chili. To that I say, "Change the name of the dish to Meati and I will put meat in it." I feel confident that I have some form of Chili based on the three different types of chiles in the dish.

I may have just gotten this blog banned in Texas. Maybe not Austin...

This week I made a big batch of Vegetarian Chili and paired it with a Skillet Cornbread. Both were memorized from the best recipes I could find and added to my Walking Cookbook index. Read on for myth, fact, history, and epic battles over these two famous dishes.



About Chili & Cornbread
Chili and Cornbread are tricky subjects to touch for a Californian-- I have no real geographic claim on either of these in modern sense. However, if we look back to the roots of the ingredients, we will find that they were part of American cooking long before America was called America. 

Chili seems to be Texas's baby, but according to the International Chili Society it has been in existence ever since Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs cooked meat, beans, and chiles together long before the Americas were conquered/settled/invaded. At some point it became a competition, and the rest is history. I won't attempt to summarize public opinion on Chili in this short section, but if you are curious, here is a trick: Next time you're at a group gathering, toss out the question, "What makes the perfect Chili?" I have a feeling you won't have trouble gathering people's thoughts.

As for Cornbread, we have Native Americans to thank as well. Corn (maize, maíz, etc.) has been grown and eaten in America for ages, and it has been dried and ground into flour for just as long. I remember going to summer camp in inland Southern California and seeing big rocks with holes ground in them. These grinding stones, my counselors told me, were how Native Americans would turn corn into cornmeal. I still love to close my eyes and imagine someone centuries ago making dinner for their family on a rock outside. It's a wonderful reminder that our food has an origin that we don't always get to see but should always appreciate. 



More modern Cornbread wars take place between the North and the South. Mark Twain, in fact, is quoted as saying: "Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern cornbread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite so bad as the Northern imitation of it." The main differences, as I have been able to sort out, are the following:

Northern Cornbread:

  • yellow cornmeal
  • 50:50 flour-to-cornmeal ratio
  • plenty of sugar
  • a cake-like consistency
  • ideal for eating plain

Southern Cornbread:

  • white cornmeal
  • little to no added flour
  • little to no added sugar
  • a flat, dense, crumbly consistency
  • ideal for eating with soup (or chili!)

While I do love a nice, sweet cornbread that tastes like a muffin, I knew what had to be done for this particular meal-- Southern style it would be.


Choosing the Recipes
My requirements for a vegetarian Chili were pretty straightforward: no meat substitutes, real chiles, and something extra that I wouldn't have thought of on my own. The Serious Eats recipe combined all of these, mimicking the effect of meat in a Chili without trying to replace the flavor. The chunky chickpea puree had the course texture of ground meat, giving the Chili something more than just broth and beans. The recipe also included vegemite and soy sauce, two umami-building ingredients that I would not have considered adding on my own. They upped the savory nature of the Chili without standing out as individual flavors. The combination of chiles, while not readily available and requiring some substitutions, meant that chili powder didn't come anywhere near the pot. It also bulked up the consistency of the broth.

As for the Cornbread, I had a few requirements as well. Since I am always giddy about buying a new kitchen gadget, I was sure to choose a Cornbread recipe that needed a cast-iron skillet. How could I resist? There are plenty of skillet Cornbread recipes, but the America's Test Kitchen recipe helped me fuse together the best of the North and the South. It used yellow cornmeal and a little bit of sugar, but it remained not too sweet and without added flour.


Memorizing the Recipes
Memorizing the Chili was mainly a matter of knowing what to puree (chiles and chickpeas), what spices/herbs to use (cumin and oregano), and tossing it all together. Bourbon and cornmeal at the end thickened it, and the rest was all common sense.

As with all baked goods, the Cornbread recipe was harder to memorize. The nice trick that I saw in the ingredient list is that the measurements of all the "extra" (but completely necessary) dry ingredients had  half-life-esque quantities: 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda. Keeping them organized in this way helped a lot.


The Verdict
I would have no qualms about bringing this Chili to a cook-off and setting it up next to beefy, meaty, non-beany ones. It may not be traditional, but it is a force to be reckoned with. With heat, umami, a varied texture, and the right amount of spices, it was a definite winner. My roommate couldn't stop talking about how spicy it was while she simultaneously scraped every last drop of it from her bowl. The lifesaver for those of us who can't take much heat was definitely the combination of toppings-- sour cream and lime took the spice level down a couple of notches.

The Cornbread that went with it was perfect as an accompaniment. While I wouldn't eat this Cornbread plain (it was a little salty and ended up in chunks on top of my Chili), I was thrilled with the crumbly, toasty component that it gave the overall meal. The crust was awesome to crunch into, making my cast-iron skillet purchase a wonderful investment already!

The Recipes
Vegetarian Chili
adapted from Serious Eats
Yield: 8 servings
This Chili packs a punch, so serve with sour cream and lime to temper the spice.
Ingredients:
  • 2 whole Poblano peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 small hot chile (Serrano), stems and seeds removed
  • 3 whole rich fruity dried chiles (Ancho Mulato, Negro, or Pasilla), stems and seeds removed
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 whole chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (canned) and 2 tbsp sauce
  • 2 14-oz cans chickpeas
  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes packed in juice
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp marmite or vegemite
  • 2 14-oz cans dark red kidney beans, drained and liquid reserved
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 2-3 tbsp cornmeal



A cutting board story
Preparation:
  • Soak Poblano, Serrano, and dried peppers in the water, covered, for 15 minutes.
  • Drain the liquid from the peppers into a separate bowl and set aside. Place soaked peppers, chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce in a food processor and blend until a smooth puree is formed, about 15 seconds.
  • Drain the liquid from the chickpeas and add to the bowl of chile soaking liquid.
  • Pulse the chickpeas in the food processor until they have a chunky, thick consistency (5-7 pulses).


A food processor story
  • Drain the tomato juice into the bowl of liquids. Chop the tomatoes and add to the bowl of liquids as well.
  • In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the cumin and oregano. Stir for 30 seconds.
  • Turn the stove to low heat. Add the chile puree and stir for 30 seconds.
  • Add the chickpeas, vegemite, and soy sauce and stir for 1 minute.
  • Drain the kidney beans, keeping the liquid separate. Add the beans to the pot.
  • Cover the kidney beans with the chile/chickpea/tomato liquids and add kidney bean liquid if the beans are not yet covered by liquid.
  • Give the pot a stir and cook, uncovered, at medium-low heat for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.




A stovetop story
  • Add the bourbon and stir for a minute. Turn off the heat and add in the cornmeal until the chili is your desired thickness.
North-Meets-South Skillet Cornbread
adapted from America's Test Kitchen
Yield: 8 servings
The crispy outside comes from the scalding hot buttered skillet
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp melted butter and 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal, stone ground if possible
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup rapidly boiling water
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or make your own)
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly
Preparation:
  • Spread the melted butter and oil around the inside of an 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Place the skillet in a 450°F oven on the bottom rack. Let it preheat for 15 minutes or more.
  • In a small mixing bowl, combine 2/3 cup cornmeal with the sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir together.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1/3 cup cornmeal with the boiling water. Whisk it together to make a mush.
  • Pour the buttermilk over the cornmeal mush and whisk out lumps. Add the egg and whisk together.
  • Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients and mix until just moistened.
Dry ingredients and their ratios: just cut each one in half
(2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda)

The cast-iron skillet needs a dose of melted butter before it goes in the oven to heat up.
  • Remove the skillet from the oven. It should be outrageously hot, so be careful. Pour any excess butter/oil from the skillet into the cornbread batter. Then, pour the batter into the skillet. It will make a loud hissing noise because of the hot fat touching the cool liquids in the batter.
  • Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, immediately turn the bread out onto a cooling rack, and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Double up on oven mitts and towels-- this skillet is hot!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Enlightened Gnocchi

Let's say it all together: Nyoh---kee. Nyoh---kee. Nyoh---kee. It's Italian, yes, but if we can say linguini and lasagna, why is gnocchi so difficult for English-speaking Americans? I am a language teacher, and despite the fact that I teach Spanish (not Italian), I have a deep love for language and an inability to not teach people things. So here is the phonetic breakdown of gnocchi in a layperson's terms:
  • In Italian, the gn is like a Spanish ñ or the ny in the English word canyon. Same in French, actually. Think about lasagna or cognac and you'll get it.
  • The letter combination ch is always pronounced like a hard k sound. Think of Pinocchio or Chianti.
  • The appearance of a double c simply means that we linger on the sound of that letter for an extra beat. This lingering or lack thereof can make a difference in the meaning of a word, though, so speak carefully. When you are in the mood for pasta, for instance, I highly recommend ordering penne and not pene (look it up).
So there we have it: gno=nyoh and cchi=kee. Nyoh-kee. If you stuck with me, you earned an A+! There is a lot to know about Gnocchi. I memorized a master recipe for Gnocchi this week and will present it to you here along with a million little things that you never knew you never knew about potatoes, flour, and the Italian delight that they produce.




About Gnocchi
I bet you feel so much better reading this now that you can pronounce the word, huh? Aside from the pronunciation, there is a good amount to know about Gnocchi. Gnocchi (the plural form of gnocco) are dumplings most commonly made of potato, flour, and salt. The dish originated as a peasant food in Italy due to its hearty and inexpensive ingredients. Variations have arisen to include vegetables, cheese, alternative flours, and other goodies in the dough. Some recipes, like American's Test Kitchen, even add egg into the dough for light fluffiness. Gnocchi can be found on menus in soups, as a primi (first) course, or as a main pasta dish. In Rome, Thursday is traditionally Gnocchi day, but I didn't let that stop me from making them a day early (I just made extra so I could enjoy leftovers on Thursday).


Choosing the Recipe
Gnocchi should be fairly small (like the top of your thumb) and extremely fluffy. Dense Gnocchi are not properly made, so my test this week was to ensure that my Gnocchi were perfect baby clouds. To do that, each part of the recipe had to be perfect. I did my research and found a few experts to guide me. The most concise set of instructions came from Paula Wolfert's contribution to Food & Wine: "Six Steps to Reaching Gnocchi Nirvana." I don't know a ton about Buddhism, but I do know that nirvana is the enlightenment that comes (to some) after much trial and error (aka: life). I trusted Wolfert to lead me there. Since there are so few ingredients in Gnocchi, perfection had to come in three different forms: potatoes, flour, and mixing them together.

Perfect Gnocchi Potatoes

  • Use mealy or all-purpose potatoes, not waxy ones. The same potatoes that make excellent baked and mashed potatoes lead to beautiful Gnocchi. This is because when a potato is going to lose its form, a mealy potato (less water content, more starch) is ideal. The most common mealy potato is a Russet or Idaho potato. Yukon Golds are moderate, and Wolfert recommends them for their nutty flavor. Trying to fight against the firmness of a waxy potato (more water, less starch) like a Red Potato will lead to splitting the potato's cells and releasing a starchy gel that makes the potato gummy and gross. Jeffrey Steingarten has an essay in his book, The Man Who Ate Everything, dedicated to preventing potato gumminess. He suggests testing potatoes for mealiness or waxiness by making a brine at home (9.5 cups water to 1 cup salt) and placing your potatoes in it. Those that sink are mealy (higher in starch) and those that float (lower in starch) are waxy. This is a great trick if the potatoes at your store aren't on this list.
  • Bake the potatoes instead of boiling them, and peel while hot. As Wolfert says, "Water is the enemy of good gnocchi dough." While Wolfert recommends investing 1.5 hours to bake the potatoes, I took a tip from America's Test Kitchen and parcooked them in the microwave before baking them in the oven on a thick bed of salt. That saved me an hour of prep time. Peeling the potatoes while hot (using a towel to protect your hand and a paring knife to remove the skin) helps facilitate steam escaping from the potato.
 
 
  • Use a ricer or a tamis to break up the potatoes, not a masher. Remember, we want light, fluffy, airy Gnocchi. Mashing will push out all the air from the potato, making it dense and tough to incorporate into the flour. Also, the little potato pieces from the ricer have more surface area, therefore allowing more water to evaporate from them. America's Test Kitchen's Gadget Review highly recommends the RSVP International Potato Ricer, which also happens to be one of the cheapest ones out there.

Perfect Gnocchi Flour
  • Use 2/3 all-purpose flour to 1/3 cake flour. Cake flour is lower in protein, meaning the Gnocchi will be less dense. Also, it is finer, so it will mix in better with the potato. Italian 00 flour should work wonderfully also.

Mixing them Together like a Pro
  • Be aware of your measurements. After baking and ricing the potatoes, they will have lost almost half their weight. The ratio is 1 cup flour mixture to 1 lb riced potato. When grocery shopping, this means 1 cup flour to 2 lb uncooked potatoes.
  • Mix the dough with a scraper, not your hands. We have fairly heavy hands, which-- you guessed it-- leads to dense Gnocchi if we knead the dough. Using a bench scraper (aka: pastry scraper) will keep things-- you guessed it again-- nice and airy.

  • Test the Gnocchi. Doing a test run helps ensure that the Gnocchi are not too light (so they fall apart) or too dense (so they taste store-bought). You can always fix the dough after cooking one gnocco.
Memorizing the Recipe
I don't know if it's because of all the research I did or because the ingredients are so simple and the steps are logical, but this ranks among one of the easiest recipes I have memorized. 2 lb potatoes: 1 cup flour: 1 pinch salt and take it from there. Handle with care, and there isn't a huge way to mess it up.

The Verdict
Funny enough, these Gnocchi were so light and fluffy that it actually took me some time to get used to them-- I'm not accustomed to eating clouds! They truly were enlightened in two senses of the word-- they were light, and they had reached a level of nirvana. Tossed in with some pesto and some marinara (separately), they were a great alternative to standard pasta.

As light as the Gnocchi were, the meal could have been heavy if it weren't for the Panzanella Salad I made to go with it. The bright flavors of tomato and cucumber with a little vinaigrette made the whole meal cool and fresh.

While making Gnocchi is time consuming, there is something that everyone can help with-- if you have a family and want to get everybody involved in cooking dinner, I highly recommend this recipe.

The Recipe
Enlightened Gnocchi
adapted from Paula Wolfert's Potato Gnocchi in Food & Wine with help from America's Test Kitchen
Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
  • 2 lb. Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cake flour
  • salt
Preparation:
  • Preheat the oven to 450°F. Pour a 1/2 inch layer of salt into a baking dish just large enough to fit all of the potatoes. Set aside.
  • Prick the potatoes 8 times each with a fork and cook in the microwave for 10 minutes, turning halfway through.
  • Move the potatoes to the salted baking dish and place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a skewer can poke through the potato without resistance. Remove from the oven and split potatoes open lengthwise. Let cool a bit until they can be handled.
  • Line a large baking sheet with paper towels. Carefully scoop the potato flesh into a potato ricer and pass through onto the paper towels. Repeat with all potatoes, making sure you create a single layer of riced potato. Let cool completely.
  • Measure 1 lb. riced potato (about 4 cups, but use a scale) onto a clean, dry work surface.
  • In a medium bowl, sift the flours together with a large pinch of salt and sprinkle over the potato.
  • Using a pastry scraper, incorporate the potato with the flour until thoroughly mixed. Form into a firm ball.
  • Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Remove a 1/2 inch oval of dough (the size of the tip of a woman's thumb) and drop in the water. Boil for 1 minute, until the gnocco starts to float. Remove from the water, let cool, and taste. If the gnocco falls apart, add a little more flour to the dough (1 tbsp at a time) and test again. If it is too dense, cut in a little of the leftover riced potato.
  • Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Divide the dough into fourths. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope 1/2 inch wide and cut into 1/2 inch pieces with a sharp knife or the pastry scraper. Scatter the gnocchi around the baking sheet.
  • Place a fork upside down on your work surface. One at a time, roll the cut side of a gnocchi along the tines of the fork, leaving ridges and creating a soft fold in the back that will help the gnocchi hold onto their sauce. Fast forward to 5:20 in this video for a visual.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add half of the gnocchi at a time and boil fifteen seconds beyond when they rise to the surface (about 60-90 seconds total). Remove with a slotted spoon and add to a skillet containing the warm sauce, or read on for freezing instructions.

  • To freeze, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and add to a bowl of ice water. Drain on paper towels and pat dry. Coat lightly in olive oil and freeze in a single layer. Once frozen, the gnocchi can be put into an airtight container and frozen for six weeks. Reheat by placing them in boiling water for a minute or so.
About My Sources
While this post may seem like it was sponsored by America's Test Kitchen or that I was given something in exchange, it actually wasn't. I honestly just love their website and all the research that they do for home cooks like me. Don't get me wrong-- I would happily accept bribes from them in exchange for saying how cool they are-- but unfortunately they haven't offered.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Happy Surprises: Shrimp, White Bean, and Spaghetti Squash Soup and Kale Apple Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing

What's a blogger to do when she makes an unassuming dinner that ends up being spectacular and devours it without taking a single picture? Does she photograph leftovers (doesn't do them justice)? Does she make the whole dinner again (or is too much of a good thing a bad thing)? Does she write a photo-free blog post (thoroughly boring)?

This is the situation in which I find myself. I made two dishes tonight that came from an unplanned Whole Foods trip and ended up sprawled on the couch texting everyone I knew about my unexpectedly phenomenal meal: Shrimp, White Bean, and Spaghetti Squash Soup and a Kale Apple Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing. Add a nice glass of wine and a chunk of the softest, chewiest sourdough boule I have ever had, and all I could do was lie on the couch basking in my victory.

Although the purpose of The Walking Cookbook is not to invent my own recipes but rather to memorize master recipes that are must-haves in a cook's repertoire, I can't resist sharing my special creations. So what is my solution to not having any pictures of my food? I figure I will share the most beautiful pictures I can find of the ingredients that went into my meal in a lovely photo collage. Enjoy!

Shrimp, White Bean, and Spaghetti Squash Soup
from The Walking Cookbook
Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash (3 lb), halved and seeded
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5 baby carrots, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh dill
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 box vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 small or one large tomato, skin removed, chopped and juices reserved
  • 1 can cannellini, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 lb uncooked medium shrimp (U 16-20), peeled, deveined, and tails removed 
Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place about 1/2 inch water in a casserole dish and place squash in the water cut side down. Place in the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and scoop out the pulp of the squash. Set aside.
  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery seed, bay leaf, rosemary, dill, and salt. Stir together, turn the burner to low heat, and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the tomatoes and their juices, vegetable broth, and water. Stir and raise heat to medium. Cover with a lid, leaving a 1/2 inch opening, and bring to a near-boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the cannellini and cook, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes.
  • Roughly chop the shrimp (into about 3 pieces each). Turn off the heat on the stove and add the shrimp to the pot. Stir and cover for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the spaghetti squash pulp and stir. Serve the soup hot with fresh bread.


Kale Apple Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing
From The Walking Cookbook
Yield: 4 servings

Salad Ingredients:

  • 4 leaves kale
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 1 avocado 

Dressing Ingredients:

  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt 
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 shallot, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

Salad Preparation:

  • Wash and dry the kale. Lay flat on a cutting board and trace around the stems with a sharp knife to separate the leaf from the stem. Discard stems, cut kale leaves the long way, then finely chop. Massage the kale for two minutes to increase its tenderness.
  • Cut and core the apple. Slice as thinly as possible, then cut each slice in half to make them bite-sized.
  • Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and skin, and slice thin.
  • Toss the kale, apple, and avocado together in a bowl.
  • Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until the liquids have emulsified. Toss with the salad, beginning with half the dressing and adding more to suit your taste.
Photo Credits:
Spaghetti Squash: steamykitchen.com
Onion/Garlic: itweetfacts.com
Carrots: worldcommunitycookbook.org
Rosemary: t-a-d-a.com
Broth: savvyhousekeeping.com
Tomato: exclusivelyfood.com.au
Cannellini: cathythomascooks.com
Shrimp: shrimpnews.com

Kale: plantsondeck.com
Apple:  healthyeating.sfgate.com
Avocado: splendidtable.org
Lemon: thekitchn.com
Yogurt: womenshealthmag.com
Olive Oil: blog.fairwaymarket.com
Mustard Seed: ameliaisland.com
Shallot: bluestatebbq.wordpress.com
Dill: feastingathome.com