First Time For Everything

My Number 1 Rule when I go out to a restaurant is to order something I don’t frequently make at home.  I have found, though, that there are fewer and fewer options I choose from, as I am willing to tackle almost anything in my own kitchen.  There has been one thing I haven’t tried yet…for the first time ever, I decided to tackle those shifty little potato pillows otherwise known as gnocchi.  “Gnocchi” means “dumplings” in Italian, and this girl is always up for a good dumpling.

I had some leftover broccolini in the fridge, so I decided to chop that up super tiny and make broccolini-potato gnocchi.  What could be better combination, right?!  I followed the recipe from Making Artisan Pasta, with the exception of adding the broccoli.  I was really concerned about adding too much flour, and having a tough, play-dough-tasting gnocchi, so I added just what the recipe called for, and worked it until just combined, as recommended.  I think I maybe should have added a little more, because they ended up incredibly delicate.

Simple ingredients:  potatoes, 1 egg yolk, finely chopped broccolini heads, flour, salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t have a potato ricer, so I googled “How to make gnocchi without a potato ricer”, and the best suggestion that worked for me was using the fine side of the grater.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 1

gnocchi collage 1

Evenly divide the dough into six portions, then roll each one into little “snakes” and have your little sous chef cut up those little snakes into little squares.  He was a pretty happy sous chef.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 10

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 11

gnocchi collage 2

I cooked up a fresh-made portion for dinner that night, and they cooked within 60 seconds tops, and were incredibly fragile and tender, maybe a little too tender.  The extra gnocchi got to sleep overnight in the freezer, to be homemade gnocchi at my fingertips for a lunch or dinner.  The next day I tried cooking up a portion, and became googly-eyed and nearly swallowed my tongue when the frozen gnocchi pretty much dissolved into a mushy potato blob the second they hit the boiling water.  Looking back, I wish I’d have taken a photo of that, because I can laugh about it now.  I decided to try cooking the next frozen portion like I would pan-fry a shu mai dumpling, and it worked pretty well, albeit a MUCH shorter cooking time.  I quickly threw together a yellow pepper ragú for the sauce, and sprinkled with sunflower seeds, and it was pretty much AH-MAZING.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 13{frozen gnocchi}

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 15

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 14


POTATO-BROCCOLINI GNOCCHI

  • Servings: makes 70-80 gnocchi
  • Time: about 1 hour to make the gnocchi, minutes to cook
  • Difficulty: medium-difficult
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Recipe directly from Making Artisan Pasta, with the addition of 3/4 cup finely chopped broccolini.  This book also explains which potatoes are better for making gnocchi and why.  I had Russets on hand, so that’s what I used; the book says Russets have denser flesh that requires less flour to thicken.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound (450g) large yellow potatoes (I used 2 large Russets)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons (6g) thinly sliced chives (optional)*
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Ground white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 pound (115g) unbleached all-purpose flour, Italian 00flour, or Korean flour (if using 00 or Korean flour, increase the amount to 5 ounces, or 140g), plus extra for rolling
  • *I omitted the chives and added 3/4 cup cooked, drained, and very finely chopped broccolini heads

DIRECTIONS

  1. Steam the potatoes in their skins, or boil them in salted water until tender but not mushy, about 40 minutes.  (Don’t peel the potatoes before boiling, as they will absorb too much water).  Drain well and cool them just long enough to be able to handle them, then peel the potatoes and put them through a potato ricer or food mill while still hot.  Chill the potatoes in the refrigerator.  (By chilling the potatoes, you will need less flour to make a dough firm enough to hold its shape when cooked.)
  2. In a large bowl or on a wooden work surface as shown, combine the potatoes with the egg yolk, chives (or finely chopped broccolini), salt, and white pepper.
  3. Form the potato mixture into a ring and place the flour in the middle.  Gently, using only your fingertips while patting and pinching, mix the flour into the potato mix to make a fairly firm mass that doesn’t stick to your fingers.
  4. Work until just combined, as if you were making a pastry dough.  The object here is to use the minimum amount of flour and to develop its gluten only enough to stick the whole thing together.  Rough handling will result in touch, gluey gnocchi.
  5. TIP:  Before shaping all the gnocchi, it’s a good idea to test 1 or 2 to make sure the dough is firm enough to hold its shape when cooked.  Try cooking a couple in salted boiling water.  if they fall apart, which usually happens toward the end of the cooking time, gently pat in an ounce or so (30g or so) of flour.
  6. Throw a little flour onto your work surface and gently roll the dough into a thick sausage shape.  using a bench scraper, or a knife with a flat blade, divide the dough into 6 portions.  Start rolling 1 portion at a time into a “snake,” starting from the center.  Use an up-and-down motion while moving your hands toward the outside.
  7. Roll each snake until it is about the thickness of your index finger and relatively uniform in diameter.  Dust each rope with flour and then roll again to even out the snakes.  Cut the dough into pillow-shaped pieces 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2 cm) long to make individual gnocchi.
  8. To cook, bring salted water to a boil in a wide, shallow pot.  Add the gnocchi, reduce heat to a light rolling boil, and cook he gnocchi until they float the the top.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer, or until the gnocchi are cooked through but still firm.  Skim them from the water using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon.  These gnocchi are too fragile to drain in a colander.  Toss gently with melted butter and grated cheese or other sauce, such as fresh tomato ad shredded basil with small cubes of fresh mozzarella, and serve immediately.
  9. NOTES: If desired, dust each piece lightly with flour and roll up from the cut edge in a C shape along the outside tines of a dinner fork to form ridged gnocchi.  Or, roll up on a ridged wooden gnocchi or garganelli board.  Set aside on a board dusted lightly with semolina or cornmeal without touching.  It is best to cook the gnocchi as soon as they are formed, as they will become sticky and soft as the flour is absorbed into the dough.  Alternatively, freeze the gnocchi.  Do not defrost before cooking.

YELLOW PEPPER RAGÚ

  • Servings: makes 1/2 cup sauce
  • Time: a super fast 5-10 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 carrot, diced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable stock (or cooking water from the gnocchi)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add the yellow pepper, onion, and carrot to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until just tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Pour into a blender and add the parsley and start with 1/4 cup stock/water.  Pulse until you have the desired consistency and texture.  A chunkier sauce will require less liquid; a smoother sauce needs more liquid while blending.

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The Mighty Cruciferous

I know we’re always told to “Eat Our Rainbows”, and that usually white foods lack nutrients.  Usually.  Cauliflower is white, but one cup has tons of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, the B Vitamins, Fiber–in short, it’s a fantastic nutrient-dense choice to add to your dinner plate.

In combination with Potassium, Vitamin C, Magnesium, and Protein from Cannellini Beans, Potassium and Vitamin C from Yellow Onions, and Potassium from Garlic, your dinner plate will make for one happy and healthy meal.

cauliflower noodles ingredientsThis is a two-pot meal; one for the pasta, and a large sauté pan for everything else.  I love grating garlic on a medium-ribbon grater–it’s a quick and easy addition to your pot or skillet.

cauliflower noodles garlicStir together the pasta and cauliflower, add some julienned basil, and you have a big bowl of healthy happiness for your dinner table.

cauliflower noodles basilcauliflower noodles basil 2cauliflower noodles finished


PASTA AND PAN-ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

  • Servings: 4 large bowls
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut in florets
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, julienned

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. While pasta is cooking, coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium-high.  Sauté onion, cauliflower, and minced garlic with salt and pepper to taste.  Add 1/2 cup water while sautéing to help the cauliflower soften.
  3. When cauliflower is tender-crisp and the pasta is done cooking, drain the pasta and stir everything together, including the drained Cannellini beans in a large bowl.  To serve, sprinkle with basil and, if desired, grated parmesan cheese.

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New Years Resolutions Schmesolutions

I’ve never been one for New Years Resolutions.  If I am going to do something, I am going to do something, regardless of any given arbitrary calendar day.  And you bet I’m going to stick with it.  I was so excited the first time I registered for a sprint distance triathlon–in the middle of spring, not January 1st.  I found the triathlon through some website and after reading up on it, decided right then and there it was something I could do.  At the time I was more a swimmer than runner, and as for biking…when I got home from work and excitedly told my husband what I’d registered for, he raised an eyebrow and said, “But Michal, you need a bike for a triathlon.”  Didn’t phase me one bit–I started training and ended up placing third in my age category.  {Let’s be honest, though…I think there was a total of three women competing in my category.}

So as far as making January 1st the super big end-all-pizza-eating-start-all-salad-eating-and-burning-1,000-calories-a-day deadline…I’m not a huge fan.  Habits are lifestyle choices and your lifestyle is chosen by your habits; in other words, if you aren’t a huge salad fan before January 1st, why would you be after?  And if you’re already a big salad fan, you’re going to be eating them year-round, not just in January.

I’m a big salad fan.  I especially love winter salads–they are warm and colorful and have such a deep flavor from roasting squash or potatoes, adding lentils, toasted seeds, a splash of citrus.  My Golden Winter Salad is a sweet ray of roasted vegetable sunshine that is sure to hit the spot for you on a grey January day.  Just look at it!

golden salad 1

First roast golden beets, carrots, yellow onions, and sweet potatoes.  They get so sweet, and a crispy on the outside, velvety on the inside texture.

golden salad ingredients

Peel and slice the beets–circles, triangles, squares, whatever shape you like in your salad.

golden salad beets

And just artfully arrange all the ingredients on a log slab from your backyard and dig in!  Couldn’t be easier to summon a ray of golden sunshine.  I guarantee you’ll be eating this more often than just the month of January!

golden salad 2


GOLDEN WINTER SALAD

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 45-60 minutes for roasting, minutes for assembly
  • Difficulty: an Easy New Year's Resolution
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INGREDIENTS FOR THE SALAD

  • 3 small golden beets, washed and trimmed
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut in thirds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thickly sliced (leave the slices whole, don’t pull them apart or they will burn while roasting)
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch slices and then quartered
  • handful of walnuts per salad
  • sprinkling of feta cheese per salad (optional–vegan option would be to sprinkle Nutritional Yeast Flakes over the salad)
  • handful of mixed greens per salad

INGREDIENTS FOR THE LEMON VINAIGRETTE

  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • roughly 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Place the beets (left whole after washing and trimming the greens/stems), carrots, onion, and sweet potato in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and stir until all the vegetables are coated.  Pour onto a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes.
  3. At the 20 minute mark, “stir” the vegetables on the pan–Because the beets are whole and the other salad components are sliced, there will be varying degrees of doneness.  Keep an eye on the onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots so they don’t burn.  If need be, flip them over with a spatula, remove them from the pan sooner than the beets, etc.  Roast the vegetables for another 20-40 minutes.  Done:  The onions will be melted and sweet, the carrots will be soft but not mushy, the sweet potatoes will have some caramelization and a velvety texture, and the beets will be soft when poked with a fork or knife.
  4. Let the beets cool, then peel and slice.  Place the beets, the rest of the roasted vegetables, walnuts, feta, and mixed greens in a large bowl.
  5. To make the vinaigrette, add the lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper to a small mixing bowl.  Whisk in just enough olive oil until the mixture is emulsified.  Pour over the salad and gently toss.  Serve with toasted crusty bread and olive oil for dipping for an extra dash of sunshine.

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Brazilian Feast Part III: Recommendations

brazilian feast 1

I’m calling this “Recommendations” because I don’t think you’ll need a recipe.  Just recommendations for the salad, collard greens, mango, and goiabada “substitute”.

The salad is super simple and surprisingly delicious.  Just thinly slice a cucumber, tomato, and half of a medium onion.  Place in a bowl and squirt with the juice from one lime.  It’s bright, crunchy, fresh, and zippy.

The collards have a tough spine down the middle.  Cut around it (it’ll end up looking spear-like), pull it out, and roll up the leaf and slice to get thin julienned strips.  Just saute it up with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  If you wish to add a little more flavor, finely dice up carrot, celery, and onion to add while sautéing.  You’re going to saute it pretty quickly; no one wants mushy collards.

brazilian collards 1

brazilian collards 2

It’s hard to find tropical fruits {pineapple, mango, kiwi, etc.} that haven’t been picked way before their prime to ship here for US consumption.  I remember eating mangos and avocados the size of footballs when I was in Brazil.  I found slightly-larger-than-softball “Green Mangos” on sale at the grocery store, and thought I’d maybe make a green mango Thai salad or something, and then life got in the way and those poor mangos sat on my counter for a good week or more.  When I decided to make this Brazilian Feast, the mangos had ripened to these beautiful, golden orange, perfectly juicy, sweet mangos.  My one recommendation picking out fruit at the store:  smell them.  If they don’t smell like the fruit is supposed to smell like, I don’t get it.

And, finally, the best Brazilian dessert:  Goiabada.  This is kind of like guava jam and cheese on crackers, only the guava is a super thick, cuttable paste.  The cheese should be a soft, white, creamy cheese {traditionally a cheese from Minas Gerais is used}.  My American substitute?  Quince paste and Havarti cheese.  The Quince paste ended up being suuuuuuper sweet, way too sweet for me, but was a fun substitute nonetheless.  Next time I’m definitely going to have to find a specialty “South-of-the-Border” Grocery Store and try again for that traditional Goiabada taste!

brazilian feast 2