31 May 2009

Spring Pea Pasta

I went home from work on Wednesday planning to make some pasta with olive oil and garlic for dinner, as I hadn't really been shopping since we'd come back from New York. Usually, the first thing I do when I get home is read the Style section of the The Washington Post. Even though I could read the whole thing online during the day, I really am a bit of luddite and really like to sit on the couch and go through the paper, turning my fingers gray with newsprint. Reading the paper online just isn't the same for me.

On Wednesdays, the Post puts out its Food section so I start there before moving to style. The section, like most in the paper, has clearly lost some staff over the last few months and introduced a new format. Perhaps because of this, not many recipes have made the leap from the page to my kitchen. Last Wednesday though, the butterfly pasta with baby peas immediately caught my attention.

Farfalle is actually one of my least favorite pasta shapes, but the delicate sauce of peas and snap peas sounded really good. The fussy recipe, involving ice water baths, cooling, reheating and a blender, just seemed like too much for a Wednesday night and I thought that I could streamline the recipe and get a similar taste. I put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta and got started by chopping an onion and sweating it in a bit of butter. Then I poured in some vegetable broth and brought it to a boil. When the onion was soft, I poured in all but a handful of a bag of frozen petit peas and cooked them just for a minute or two. Out came the immersion blender and I whirred the sauce together with a few sage leaves, then drained the pasta and tossed it all together. Much easier than the original recipe. Granted, I didn't have the snap peas or shallot but I don't think the recipe was really harmed for the lack of them.

The bright green sauce livened up the mix of pastas (a result of the bare pantry) and a perfect, slightly sweet dinner for a spring night. Since the whole meal came together in the time it takes to boil and cook a pot of pasta, I'm sure this one will be on the menu again.

P.S. I had some extra sauce leftover, which I ate as a cold pea soup for lunch the next day. The original recipe suggests mixing leftovers with some greek yogurt for a dip...

Spring Pea Pasta
Adapted from The Washington Post
Serves 4 for dinner

10 oz. (280g) your favorite short pasta
2 T. (20g) butter
1 medium to large onion
2 C (480ml) vegetable broth (can sub. chicken broth)
1 lb (450g) fresh or frozen baby peas
3-5 fresh sage leaves (or your favorite fresh herb)

- Put a large pot of water on to boil. Chop the onion and add to a smallish saucepan with the butter. Sweat the onion over medium/medium low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil and cook for another 5 minutes.

- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. When the pasta has about 5 minutes left, add all but a large handful of the peas to the veggie broth mix. Boil for 2-3 minutes, until the peas are just tender. Take off the heat, add the fresh herbs and puree very carefully using an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and whir it away.

- Drain the pasta, return to the pot and add sauce to taste. Toss well and serve right away.

27 May 2009

Apple Strudel

This was a last minute challenge if I've ever done one. Zach and I got back from a weekend in New York on Monday night and when I logged in to the Daring Kitchen yesterday, just to check on the ingredients needed for this months challenge, I was startled to see that I had just one night for the challenge. Luckily, this month's apple strudel seemed manageable so I made a grocery list and got to work.

The strudel dough came together so quickly I almost wanted to laugh- really, this easy? I prepped the apples while the dough rested and then met a friend at the gym. When we got back, I spread an old sheet over half of the dining room table and while K* and Zach looked on, proceeded to roll and stretch out the dough. Once I floured both side of the dough, it rolled out easily. I tried to be as delicate as possible when picking it up to stretch out, but I still got a few holes, which I patched up with a little water. The dough didn't quite make it to 2'x3' but it was tissue thin in most parts so I cut off the edges, put in the filling and rolled the whole thing up, using the sheet as a sling.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the strudel came out golden brown and with a buttery, tangy apple smell filling the house. I attempted to wait patiently for the required 30 minutes, then K* and I tried a piece. I was shocked at how well the dough came out- crisp, lightly buttery in contrast to the soft apples and raisins. This one is a definite keeper.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Apple Strudel

(Tips and notes from our hosts at the bottom)

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.
Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

- Ingredients are cheap so we would recommend making a double batch of the dough, that way you can practice the pulling and stretching of the dough with the first batch and if it doesn't come out like it should you can use the second batch to give it another try;
- The tablecloth can be cotton or polyster;
- Before pulling and stretching the dough, remove your jewelry from hands and wrists, and wear short-sleeves;
- To make it easier to pull the dough, you can use your hip to secure the dough against the edge of the table;
- Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.

18 May 2009

Tomato Mozzarella and Spinach Pasta Salad

I ordered a tomato and mozzarella salad to have at a work lunch last week and, as I hate to see food go to waste, brought the leftovers home. With recent family visits and graduation to go to I haven't been cooking very often at all lately. I knew there wasn't much in the fridge but two bunches of baby spinach leaves. Once I got home, I found a box of penne in the back of the cupboard and decided everything could go together to make a warm pasta salad. As I heated the water for the pasta, I washed and spun the spinach, then put it in my big salad bowl along with the tomato mozzarella salad. I cooked the penne then drained it and tossed it together with the veggies and cheese. The pasta salad was summery and delicious. It was good warm and as cold leftovers and would make a great picnic or pot luck addition.

Tomato, Mozzarella and Spinach Pasta Salad
Serves 4-6 as a main course

2 cups tomato mozzarella salad OR 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes plus 1 cup tiny fresh mozzarella balls and 1/2 C. of your favorite red wine vinagrette
2 small bunches baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
10 oz. whole wheat penne

- Set a pot of water on to boil. Clean and dry the spinach and put in in your serving bowl. Add the tomato mozzarella salad and toss to combine.

- When the water comes to the boil, add the pasta and cook until all dente. Reserve 1/2 C. pasta cooking water then drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta tot the serving bowl and toss to combine. The spinach should wilt slightly. If it looks too dry add some pasta cooking water. Serve immediately or save for later.

14 May 2009

Daring Cooks: Ricotta Gnocchi

For the launching of Daring Cooks, Lis and Ivonne chose a ricotta gnocchi recipe from the Zuni Cafe. The recipe looked easy enough, especially after watching this helpful demo from the cooks at the Zuni Cafe, so I planned on making the gnocchi as a light Sunday night dinner. Since ricotta is the star ingredient of these gnocchi, I made a special trip to Whole Foods to get an artisanal one, instead of the usually grocery store variety. Both the recipe and the video advised straining the ricotta overnight to ensure that the gnocchi wouldn't be too liquidy so I did. When it was finally time to make the gnocchi, my ricotta has firmed up a bit but it didn't look like the video as it was still very soft. What is a daring cook to do but press on with the recipe in the face of possible failure?

I followed the rest of the recipe exactly yet the gnocchi mixture looked more like soup than anything that could be scooped into quenelles. I poured a bit of the soup onto a plate of flour and attempted to jiggle it into some sort of shape and when that didn't work, I used a spoon to scoop it up and into a waiting pot. My test gnocchi promptly disintigrated and I didn't think that one egg white would do much to help it. I poured it back into the strainer and decided to try to drain some additional water out of it. One visit from my aunt and uncle and two days later, I remebered the gnocchi at approximately 10am.

I ran down to the kitchen, certain that the batter would be a solid mass, to find a that it really hadn't firmed up much at all. I prepared a test gnocchi though, determined to salvage something from it, and it held together all right so I had the batch and put them straight into the freezer.

A few days later I made the gnocchi for lunch. The gnocchi held together when cooking but didn't fare so well coming out of the pan. The ones that survived were light and fluffy, if a bit salty, probably from concentrating everything by extracting the water. I served them with a brown butter sage sauce, which was mild enough not to overwhelm the ricotta but still added a bit of flavor.

Even though my my gnocchi fell apart the recipe was easy to make, so I'd like to try them again with a different ricotta in the future.

Note: These gnocchi are gluten free except for a dusting of flour as a very last step. I think that you could easily use an alternative flour and keep them totally gluten free.

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels or coffee filters
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1
(the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2
(the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.
Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.
Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.
Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.
In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.
With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.
Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.
Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4:
Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously (mine ended up too salty, so you might want to go light on the salt.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).
When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.