In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.
This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!
Before it vanished.
Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.
The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.
There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.
Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.
The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.
While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.
Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.
There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.
Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.
Elusive no more.
PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish
Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.
Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.
Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.
In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.
Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.
Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course
Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.
Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.
Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!
Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.
Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.
Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!
After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.
Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.
Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.
I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)
The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.
A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.
In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.
I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.
HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces
Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.
Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
Makes 8-10 servings
WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.
Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.
Makes 8 servings
How has your summer been?
It’s hard for me to accept that September is almost here, and the moments of leisure, like dips in the pool, are vanishing.
As August wanes, I’m reminded that soon we will be transitioning. Daylight hours will visibly shorten; leaves will begin to turn; sweaters will be pulled out from the back of the closet; and heartier foods will be prepared in the kitchen.
Already, the bounty of the garden is shifting, as heirloom tomatoes dwindle, and winter squashes–acorn, butternut–appear ready to harvest.
You might find, as I did, a handful of summer stragglers. An ear of corn or two, a big red bell pepper, a few squashes, a fistful of green beans.
Each, on its own, is not enough to make much of a meal.
But combined, have the ability to make something great.
Inspired by the summer stragglers, this vegetarian pot pie fits right into this time of transition. Pot pies–in their best form–embody comfort and offer one-dish ease. We often think of chicken or beef as being the central ingredient, but roasted vegetables can make a rich and satisfying filling on their own.
Roasting, of course, brings out all the caramel sweetness of the veggies. The other key is making a rich veloute for the filling. For a vegetarian version, I started with a saute of onions and garlic, and made a simple roux. Lightly browning the flour-butter mixture helps to bring a deeper layer of flavor to the sauce. Vegetable stock (store-bought is fine) heightened with a splash of white wine makes a fine base, especially enhanced with the onion-garlic roux. I finish the sauce with some fresh thyme leaves.
The other important element is the pot pie topping. Crust or biscuits–which do you prefer? I like both, but the biscuit topped pie ( made with chicken) that I saw in the September issue of Cooking Light really appealed this time.
In the time it takes for the veggies to roast, you can put together the biscuit dough. Here’s a couple of biscuit-making tips:
Start with very cold butter, cut into small cubes, to blend into the flour-soda mixture. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives. You can also rub the butter into the flour by hand. It should resemble coarse meal.
After you add the buttermilk, work quickly. The dough will start out being sticky, but soon will come together into a ball.
You want a light touch, rolling out the dough, and cutting out the biscuit shapes. Overworked dough toughens–beware!
The buttermilk biscuit recipe is very easy to put together, roll out and shape.
The biscuits puff and brown beautifully, encasing the savory vegetable filling. As you scoop up a serving, you’ll notice how the veloute has baked into the bottoms of the biscuits. Mercy.
SUMMER VEGETABLE POT PIE
2 yellow squashes, diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, large dice
1 jalapeno or cayenne pepper, small dice
1/2 pound green snap beans or pole beans, cut into 1/2 pieces
1-2 ears corn, cut off the cob
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chopped vegetables on a baking sheet and toss in olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and place in the oven to roast for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven.
In a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to saute for 2 more minutes.
Stir in the flour, coating the onions and garlic. Continue stirring, cooking the flour to make a light roux. Pour in the vegetable broth and wine, stirring all the while. The mixture will begin to thicken. When it looks like it has nice sheen, remove from heat.
Coat a 2 quart casserole round with butter or pan spray. Add the roasted vegetables, and then pour the sauce over them. Stir to coat all the vegetables.
Make the biscuits (recipe follows).
Arrange the biscuits over the top of the casserole. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika, if you like.
Place into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes–until the biscuit tops are browned and the filling is bubbly.
BISCUITS FOR POT PIE TOPPING from Cooking Light
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup buttermilk
Place a level cup of flour (4.5 ounces, by weight) into a medium bowl. Mix in the baking soda and salt.
Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal.
Stir in the buttermilk.
Form a doughball and gently knead 5-6 times. It is important to NOT overwork the dough.
Roll into a circle–about 9 inches round. Use a 2 inch biscuit cutter, ( or a flour-dusted glass of approximate size) and cut the biscuits.
Arrange them over the top of the pot pie.
We are blissfully in the thick, luscious thick of tomato season in Tennessee.
At the farmers’ market, I am agog at the array of bushel baskets, heaped with Bradleys and Brandywines, Lemon Boys and Purple Cherokees. I’m tempted by Mortgage Lifters, if for nothing but cunning name alone, and those crazy striped Green Zebras that don’t taste green at all.
Have you ever tried the red and yellow variegated ones, sometimes called Candystripers? How about those delicate peach tomatoes with the fuzzy skins?
It makes me not mind the thick heat around here—as long as I can include these gorgeous heirlooms in our summertime dining.
So many tomatoes, so many ways to enjoy them, and a few glorious weeks to indulge in the bounty. Salsas, soups, panzanellas, pastas, deep dish pies and napoleons…like you, I’m ever on the lookout for another tomato-centric recipe.
Lately I’ve been in a building mode, constructions! inspired by this stack I found on Cooking Light’s website.
Artful towers of tomatoes get vitality (and height!) from myriad ingredients sandwiched between their slices. These structures require almost no cooking: a few strips of bacon fried crisp in the skillet, a half cup of balsamic vinegar reduced in a pot to a syrup.
That minimal stovetop time is a real boon in summer. Eaten with a fork and knife, the tomato towers have a meatiness that satisfies greedy appetites, while being cool and refreshing. They can be elegant. They are fun.
I’ve taken two different approaches in assembling my towers. The first is a natural–a vertical caprese, brandishing the colors of the Italian flag in tomato-fresh mozzarella-basil. Layer in a sliver of red onion, to give a little bite. I like to use balsamic vinegar reduction–the syrup is deeply sweet-tart and makes beautiful striping over the stack and plate. Use your best olive oil; this is what is was made for!
Going forward, you can get creative; change it up. Maybe add a layer of cucumber or zucchini. Substitute the mozzarella with a slather of ricotta or mascapone. Tuck in a ripple of prosciutto. No basil on hand? Try oregano or thyme.
Tower Two takes a Southern stance, layering elements of my favorite sandwich, the BLT, (actually, the BLTCA: bacon-lettuce-tomato-cheddar-avocado!) under a pour of chive-laced buttermilk dressing. How can you go wrong with that? It could only be improved with some grilled corn, cut off the cob, and strewn over the stack.
Remember–don’t refrigerate tomatoes! Chilling them changes their structure and makes them mealy.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 ” slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ inch rounds
handful of fresh basil leaves
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup balsamic syrup
1/4 cup favorite extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper
Start with large flat tomato slices as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a basil leaf (or two) on top, then a little bit of red onion. Cover each with a piece of mozzarella. Dot with good olive oil and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Repeat the layering, topping with cherry or grape tomato halves and more basil. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Pour olive oil over each tower, along with a zig-zag of balsamic syrup. Serve.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″ slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp
1/2 avocado, sliced
4-6 slices sharp white cheddar (you may crumble or shred the cheese)
buttermilk dressing (recipe below)
salt and black pepper
Start with a large flat tomato slice as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a slice or two of avocado, followed by bacon strip and cheddar. Spoon a little buttermilk dressing over the top. Repeat layers, spooning a generous amount of buttermilk dressing. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Make as many towers as you would like, allowing one per person. Pass a few grinds of black pepper over the lot and serve.
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 heaping tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
Pour buttermilk into a non-reactive bowl. Stir in lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit and thicken for ten minutes. If it clabbers, don’t worry. It will become smooth again when stirred or whisked.
Add granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and chives. Stir well. Cover and refrigerate. The dressing will continue to thicken and its tangy flavors will develop. (If you want it thicker, (and richer) whisk in a dollop or two of mayo. Whoa.
Makes one cup.
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream
Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice
Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.
That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.
This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.
For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.
My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.
Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.
The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.
While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.
Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).
I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.
The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.
To round out the plate:
I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.
We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.
MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks
Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.
Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.
Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.
Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream
Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.
Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.
Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Makes 6 individual ramekins.
*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.
Who wants to lick the spoon?
Overseas flights haven’t gotten any easier over time and experience. On our overnight to Rome I slept a little. But I was ill-prepared for the shock of day as we emerged out of straight-jacket seats, stumbling bleary-eyed through the terminal, baggage and customs, and into a van that carted us off to our friends’ home in the north part of the city.
What I remember about those first few hours:
Poppies. So many poppies. Hosts of bright red growing wild along shoulders of highways, dotting fields, saturating hillside patches in scarlet brilliance.
Cooler springtime air. Blue sky jockeyed by dark clouds and a rumble of thunder, spit of rain.
Ancient pines trimmed and sculpted to make towering umbrellas. The surprise of tropicals: palms, lemon and orange trees.
Lush jasmine-like honeysuckle vines, tiny white blooms in thick patches of green that climbed up buildings, tumbled over balconies, made elegant trails from large stone urns.
Espresso. Dark with airy crema top, the sign of a proper pull. Smooth, with a slight bitter edge.
Taralli. ring-shaped fennel crackers from Puglia. Our friend Heather kept bags of these distinctive, delicious crisps around for snacking.
And, pasta. Oh, my. Our first lunch. Plates of fat rigatoni. Tagliatelle. Spaghetti. Bucatini. All fresh made egg pastas that were impossibly, deeply yellow in color. The type of flour, no doubt, and rich golden egg yolks must be the reason.
Over two weeks time, we ate a lot of pasta.
There are the Roman classics, such as
Cacio e Pepe–strands tumbled and coated in a generous shower of piquant Roman cacio cheese and black pepper–seductive and complex in its simplicity.
Spaghetti Carbonara–laced with guanciale and egg beaten so creamy that it both sauces and binds.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana—guanciale and tomato, (pork and tomato–wow) sparked with peppercino, and pecorino
Tonnarelli alle Vedure–a squared-off Roman spaghetti tossed in green: both light sauce and an array of springtime vegetables. (Artichokes, if you are lucky!)
I tried the tonnarelli with green at three different eateries over my two week adventure. The first was at De Cesare on Via del Casaletto, where I met Rachel and Luca for lunch. The Vignarola had braised spring onions, fava beans, artichokes, and peas. You could order it with guanciale or senza–without. It was divine.
Subsequent samplings yielded different but no less delicious results.
When I returned home, I vowed that I would try to replicate that deep yellow egg pasta and the fennel-flecked rings from Puglia. A little research–and I’ll get back with you on those projects.
In the meantime, I got a hold of an early June treat: Garlic Scapes.
You can find these fabulous loops at the farmers markets now. Tally May of Fresh Harvest Co-op is offering them now. They have a vibrant–but not sharp—garlicky taste. Think green garlic. The stem makes a marvelous pesto for dipping crudite, or swirling into a batch of hot pasta and spring vegetables.
The recipe has some other elements to boost its green nature, give it texture and body–and increased nutrition. I used a mix of arugula and spinach leaves, (but you may use one or the other) toasted walnuts, and cannellini beans. It’s a thick pesto, creamy and luscious.
As a dip or a green “vedure” like sauce, we have loved it both ways.
GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
8-10 scapes, bloom cut off and discarded, cut into 2″ pieces
1 cup arugula leaves or baby spinach leaves, packed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup cooked cannellini beans
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place scapes, walnuts, arugula, and cannellinis into a food processor bowl, fitted with the swivel blade. Pulse, chopping the scapes together with the other ingredients. Add lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you continue pulsing. The pesto will become a lush creamy green, with nice texture from the walnuts. Taste for salt.
Scrape pesto into a clean lidded jar and refrigerate. Flavors will develop and intensify over a few hours. Makes about 2 cups.
PASTA WITH SPRING VEGETABLES AND GARLIC SCAPE PESTO (inspired by numerous “tonnarelli alle vedure” dishes dined on in Roma)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 green onions, chopped
4 young carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces
1 bundle asparagus spears, cut into 2″ diagonal pieces
1/3 lb. sugar snap peas, strung
1/2 lb. paparadelle or linguine
1 + cup reserved pasta water
Recipe garlic scape pesto (1 1/2 cups at least)
Warm olive oil in a large deep skillet. Saute green onions, carrots, asparagus pieces and sugar snaps, cooking each vegetable for a couple of minutes as it becomes “tender-crisp” yet retains a bright color. Remove each successive saute from the pan.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, but set aside at least 1 cup of pasta water.
Add pasta water and garlic scape pesto to the skillet. Add all the vegetables and toss to coat. Add the pasta and continue tossing to coat all the strands. Add more pesto if you like.
Mound into warm bowls. Dollop with more pesto and serve. Makes 2 large or 4 regular servings.
The view from Heather’s kitchen window–honeysuckle vines, palm tree…
The Colosseum, one moment stormy, one moment blue.
Cauliflower Cauliflower Cauliflower
Lately this cruciferous vegetable, a beautiful mind, a compact head of rumbled white curd, has been The Thing
The Veggie King !
Raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, sauteed,
it has turned up in all kinds of dishes that I have eaten at restaurants, or read about in blogs, or cooked at home.
What was once commonly boiled into oblivion and buttered, or chopped into florets and tossed onto a tray with other crudites and dip, has taken on new respect and new dimension.
At Etch, a forward restaurant in our downtown area, chef Deb Paquette makes magic with that vegetable. A recent lunch special featured a riff on an egg salad sandwich–using blanched cauliflower. The components–aioli, mustard, capers, onions, celery, and olives–all cloaked the “curd” in what had the feel and flavor of egg salad,
but no eggs.
Trust me, it was an improvement over an egg salad sandwich.
She also serves raw cauliflower curds broken into granules and folded with creamy feta to spread on a crostini. Incredible.
Our food blogging friends have made terrific contributions of late, as well.
Check ‘em out:
Rachel made a lush casserole, “cauli-cheese” where the florets melt under a blanket of perfectly made bechamel.
Faith roasted a head generously doused in her “bloomin” Indian spices.
Over at Food 52, the editors highlighted slabs of cauliflower, grilled like steaks.
It’s a testament to good change, creativity,
And the versatile meaty nature of this vegetable.
I have one to toss into the fray: roasted cauliflower with sweet red pepper sauce over vegetarian brown rice, dusted with buttery Marcona almonds, and chopped scallions.
The recipe is simple–and points more to technique than ingredients. But it yields a delicious main-dish meal that satisfies many dietary concerns.
Not only vegetarian, it is vegan AND gluten-free.
But “meaty” enough to make us omnivores happy too.
The recipe is in three parts, but easily accomplished in about the same time. (it won’t challenge your multi-tasking too much!)
While you’re roasting the grand florets, simply brushed with good olive oil and sea salt, you can also roast red bell peppers, onions, and garlic on a separate tray. As the nubbed edges of curd get that compelling brown crisp, red bells and company get charred and candied.
Caramel sweetness all around.
Meanwhile, make the brown rice.
I admit; I have shunned brown rice, and wrongly so. It stuck in my mind that it takes too long to cook. I also believe that I had one too many dishes of it, improperly prepared. You’ve probably experienced it too–either undercooked and waaaaay too chewy, or underseasoned and overcooked: gummy and insipid.
This recipe is more about technique. When you soak and rinse the brown rice and “scrub” the grains between your fingers, it helps to soften the outer husk. Cooking in vegetable broth helps infuse more flavor. I discovered that it takes less liquid and less time to cook, and yields savory rice, not clumpy, but plump nutlike grains.
This rice, which we know is better for you, is now a pleasure to eat.
CAULIFLOWER WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER PUREE, BROWN RICE, MARCONA ALMONDS
1 large head cauliflower, cleaned, and cut into large florets
olive oil, to brush over florets
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over florets
to garnish later:
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/4 cup chopped scallions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place cauliflower pieces onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil.
Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the pieces.
Roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Keep cauliflower warm in the oven (set on 200) until time to assemble the dish.
ROASTED SWEET RED BELL PEPPER SAUCE
2 red bell peppers, cut in half, seeded
½ medium onion, cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic
salt and black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Brush red pepper halves with olive oil and place on baking sheet.
Brush onion chunks with olive oil and place next to pepper halves.
Coat garlic cloves with olive oil and place underneath pepper halves.
Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Roast until the pepper skins get blackened and blistered—about 15 minutes.
Cool and remove skins.
Place roasted peppers, onions, garlic, and any residual oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade.
Add ¼ teaspoon (or less) of cayenne, if desired.
Process until smooth.
Keep sauce warm in a saucepan on the stovetop.
SAVORY BROWN RICE IN VEGETABLE BROTH
1 1/4 cups brown rice
2 cups vegetable stock
Place rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes.
Stir the grains around in the bowl—you’ll notice that the water has become cloudy.
Return the rice to the bowl and cover with fresh water.
Dip your hand into the bowl, and rub the grains between your thumb and fingers, “scrubbing” the grains. Drain.
Place rice in a large saucepan. Stir in vegetable stock. Bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit and steam for another 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and serve.
Makes 2 1/2 cups cooked rice
Place a layer of cooked brown rice on the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Nap a layer of roasted red pepper sauce over the rice, and nestle the roasted cauliflower pieces into the sauce. Dot remaining sauce over the cauliflower, garnish with marcona almonds and cilantro.
POST SCRIPT: Several of you have been very kind to check on me, in my blogging absence. I’m happy to report that I am making excellent progress on the cookbook, which has taken so much of my attention. I’m seeing an end point–and ahead of my May deadline. So, with luck, I’ll be around here a bit more. Nancy
What started out in the summer of 2009 as an experiment to foster community and share good food has continued to bring together 25 or so folks and their delectable contributions—- now going on 4 years. In fact, we’ll be gathering at Gigi’s next week, making it our 40th feast, since inception.
Our group has been fairly fluid. We have the stalwarts, potluckers who would never miss coming, unless some dire circumstance arose. Others attend multiple times a year, and there are a few whose smiling faces we see only now and then. People have rotated in and out; big change, be it marriage, divorce, job transfer, graduate school, health issues, new baby—Life—is mirrored in that rotation.
And, new people, enthusiastic about cooking and sharing, continue to join in the fun.
Over the years, we’ve made many friends and had terrific meals. We kept a loose journal, a place where each month, guests would sign in and write down the name of their dish. It didn’t take long for us to see what was happening. So many fresh, creative, seasonal contributions, running the gamut of salads, soups, entrees, hors d’oeuvres, casseroles, desserts, and cocktails showed up at the table. In the quest for good food and community, I think we achieved Gigi’s intention.
And, an unintended result: a cookbook deal.
I am happy to report that The Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook is slated to be published by Thomas Nelson in Spring 2014. (Thomas Nelson is a local publishing house acquired last summer by Harper Collins.) It will have a collection of stories and recipes that elevate the potluck dinner from ordinary to extraordinary.
I am the cookbook’s author. I am ecstatic.
For quite some time now, I have been busy collecting the recipes, testing and editing them, and writing the accompanying headnotes, tips, and stories. My deadline is May 21st–just a little over 4 months to complete and deliver the manuscript.
I’m making good, steady progress. I am not panicked. Yet.
However, those demands have placed some restraints on the time that I have to spend with you here.
No worries, I’ll still be around, checking in, reading your posts and giving you updates on my cooking world, be it in or outside the cookbook.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recipe that I recently recreated for the book.
I say “recreated” because the person who conceived the dish and brought it to potluck doesn’t remember exactly how she made it. She just relayed the ingredient list and general instructions to me. What I remembered was that it was a delicious dish using three types of sweet potato. Like many of our potluck offerings, it was a little step up and away from the usual–always welcome—and therefore worth pursuing.
There are so many kinds of sweet potatoes available at the market these days, sporting peels and flesh of different hues, with names like Jewel, Garnet, Boniato, Star Leaf, or Beauregard. While they all cook in about the same amount of time, they vary in taste and texture.
The orange Beaureguard from Louisiana tastes a little sweeter than the creamy white Star Leaf. The Star Leaf and Boniato have firmer, drier texture, reminiscent of regular potatoes. The Garnet has a beautiful deep red exterior.
It’s fun and flavorful to use a trio in a dish.
Roasted together they make a simple, savory ensemble, appealing both to eye and palate. And, this glaze melding dried apricots, leeks, and balsamic vinegar painted over the planks brings a bit more excitement: that step up and away from the usual we all relish.
SWEET POTATO TRIO WITH DRIED APRICOT-LEEK-BALSAMIC GLAZE
2 each: Garnet, Jewel, Boniato sweet potatoes (about 5 lbs.)
½ cup dried apricots, cut into slivers
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and cut into ½ “ pieces
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped, plus some for garnishing
coarse ground black pepper
Scrub and rinse the sweet potatoes. Cut into planks or wedges, like steak fries. Toss in olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until tender with crispy browned edges—about 25 minutes.
Heat balsamic vinegar and pour over slivered apricots in a bowl.
Heat a skillet on medium and add olive oil. Put in leeks and sauté until softened and somewhat translucent—about 4 minutes. Stir in ½ cup parsley, and then apricots in balsamic. Remove from heat.
Arrange roasted sweet potato planks in layered circular fashion, mandala-like, in a round baking dish. Spoon apricot-leek-balsamic glaze over the layers and top. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm or room temperature.
On fleet and chilly foot, this year is surely making its exit. I trust that your holidays have been full of joy and camaraderie, and good food shared with those you love. Ours have been exceptional, heralded by the birth of my first grandchild, Zachary James. He was due to arrive on the first of December, but he chose—wisely, no doubt– to wait until the 12th to make his wondrous entrance. For parents who married on 10-10-10, his 12-12-12 birthdate is all the more auspicious.
I was privileged to be a part of the birth team, and witness his entry. I was thrilled to be one of the first to caress his pink cheeks and welcome him into this strange new world.
A week after his arrival, I returned to my own home after a month-long absence to put Christmas together. A hectic pace, but the tree got trimmed, presents got wrapped, the beef got roasted, and the chocolate mousse trifle got mounded high in the bowl.
But what I’d like to share with you today veers away from the indulgences of the season.
It is a healthy, hearty dish using Escarole.
This great green bouquet resembles lettuce in appearance, but belongs to the Endive family. (The sprawling head made me think of the old wives tale imparted to children about where babies come from…) Also known as broadleaf endive, Bavarian endive, or scarola, it is one of its less bitter members. Escarole can be eaten raw in salads, but it is really luscious when braised into soups or stews.
I’ve never prepared these greens in any form before now. But the forces aligned. Friend and farmer Tally May of Fresh Harvest Coop had grown splendid rows of escarole, market ready on my return. A vivid description of this recipe from my cousin Cathy and her husband John (given as they drove me to the airport!) left no doubt that a pot of escarole with fusilli and cannellinis would be simmering on my stovetop soon.
It is a traditional Italian dish, which, depending on the amount of liquid that you choose to add, becomes either a stewy pasta or a robust soup. Either way, you’ll want to serve it in a bowl, with a spoon and hunk of bread to sop up all the sumptuous broth.
It’s a garlic-friendly dish, too. Don’t be timid with those cloves!
Highly seasoned cannellini beans are also key. I used Rancho Gordos mega-meaty, super creamy beans, which I prepared the day before. If you use canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them before simmering them in good olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf.
Cathy also insists–and rightfully so–on using DeCecco brand fusilli. It’s an excellent pasta: full-flavored, with terrific texture. Those tight curls capture the broth while remaining resilient in the sauce.
Here’s a trick I used to add more body to the broth. I reserved a cup of cooked beans and pureed them before stirring them into the pot. The sauce becomes almost silken. And the greens themselves maintain integrity in the braise–toothsome, juicy, with a pleasant hint of bitterness.
In the waning days of 2012, we’ve been enjoying our bowls of beans, pasta, and escarole. Bill calls this peasant food, and he means it in the best possible way. Simple. Soothing. Nutritious. Satisfying. You really couldn’t want for anything more.
Wishing you all the benefits of peasant food in the coming year–
Many thanks for your continued visits to Good Food Matters.
ESCAROLE WITH FUSILLI AND CANNELLINI BEANS
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head escarole, cored, washed, and chopped into ribbons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups vegetable broth (you may use chicken broth if you prefer)
3 cups cooked cannellini beans (recipe below)
1/2 lb. dried fusilli (De Cecco is a preferred brand)
1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano
In a large stockpot set on medium heat, warm olive oil and saute garlic and onions until translucent.
Add chopped escarole and stir well to coat the leaves.
Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Stir, allowing the heat to collapse the leaves.
Pour vegetable broth over the escarole. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Boil fusilli in lightly salted water until al dente–about 9 minutes. Drain.
Puree one cup of cannellinis, and return to bean pot. (discard bay leaves)
Combine pasta and beans (whole, pureed, and liquid) with the braised escarole. Toss well.
Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread.
Makes 6 generous bowls.
1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for 3 hours (or overnight) and rinsed (Rancho Gordo’s cannellinis are big and meaty!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup diced onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
Heat olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan set on medium. Stir in garlic and onions. Add salt and black pepper, and saute until translucent.
Add cannellinis, stirring well so that the beans are coated with oil.
Pour water over the beans–enough to cover them by two inches.
Stir in bay leaves and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Skim off any scum that may accumulate as the beans cook.
Cook, partially covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed.
Cannellinis will retain their structure, but will creamy to the bite. Discard bay leaves.
Five days old, Zachary in my arms
Sleepy Dreamy Babe
Acorn Squash Rings stuffed with Sorghum Apples and Pecans
Yukon Gold-Sweet Potato Gratin
There’s a thin line to walk at family holiday gatherings, where Traditions and The New intersect. Expectations for the Usual vie for their place at the Thanksgiving table, as does the Desire for Something Different. If you are like me, you would never dream of replacing the roast turkey. Oh, I’ve refined my recipe over the years. And I’ve completely veered away from how I had it prepared, growing up.
Back in the day, my dad was in charge of cooking the turkey. He would cover the entire bird with bacon strips, which would essentially baste it as it roasted. When done, the bacon was practically annealed onto the golden brown skin. He’d cook it early in the day, let it rest before carving, and saunter off to the den to watch a football game.
Crazed with hunger, we kids would sneak into the kitchen, and greedily pick off the bacon strips, which couldn’t help but tear things up. With a piece of bacon came a piece of skin, oops, and then a hunk of meat. By the time the poor turkey reached the table, it was a rather ravaged looking carcass.
Much as we all loved the bacon, no one missed the “bacon-turkey” when I took over the helm of holiday hosting. My replacement, a garlic-sage-butter baste (slathered under the turkey skin) is much-loved, and arrives like a showpiece on the table.
But, no turkey? Unthinkable! There would upheaval, shouts of betrayal, dejection.
However, times change; diets and tastes change.
When you want to introduce something really new, that’s where the side dishes come in.
When our Third Thursday Community Potluck meets in November, it is a serendipitous convenience that it is held exactly one week before Thanksgiving. (always the fourth Thursday!) Our guests come bearing a bounty of intriguing dishes, ideal for holiday serving. I’m sharing two favorites with you today, for your consideration. Both are vegetarian and gluten-free, one is suitable for vegans. Bearing in mind shifting dietary needs, these are sure to please everyone.
The first dish combines Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, and layered in a gratin. I love the random look of the overlapping orange and yellow discs. And, grating fresh nutmeg over each layer imparts a subtle spicy note.
The liquid in which these potatoes cook is half-and-half infused with shallots, chives, and flat leaf parsley. Shredded Gruyere cheese enrichens the dish, beautifully melting throughout the layers. If you can locate Comte, an artisanal French cheese that is possibly better than Gruyere, I recommend it.
The layers meld as they bake, but the naturally (and barely) sweet tastes of both potatoes shine through.
YUKON GOLD-SWEET POTATO-GRATIN
4-5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 shallots, diced
2 cups half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
whole nutmeg—for finely grating
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmegianno-Regianno
13”x9” deep baking dish
Using one tablespoon of the butter, coat the baking dish.
In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté the shallots in three tablespoons butter until translucent. Add the half-and-half, parsley, chives, salt, and white pepper. Stir well until warmed. Remove from heat.
Peel Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Slice very thin (1/8’) and layer the bottom of the baking dish in overlapping circles. It’s fine to layer them randomly—a few slices of one potatoes, followed by the other. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the slices.
Stir and cover with a thin layer of seasoned half-and half. Sprinkle with ½ cup Gruyere. Repeat with another layer of sliced potatoes, arranged in similar fashion. Follow with grated nutmeg. Cover again with more liquid, followed by Gruyere. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure the liquid seeping through all the overlapping slices.
Finish with final of sliced potatoes, half-and-half, remaining cheeses. Dot the top with remaining butter.
Cover with aluminum foil and baking in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes, until casserole is browned, and potatoes feel tender when pierced.
The acorn squash rings make a pretty presentation, and couldn’t be simpler to make. Here in the South, we love sorghum, which adds a mineral sweetness to the apple stuffing. But other syrups would work just as readily. Maple syrup would be a terrific choice.
Apples and winter squashes always pair well. Choose a firm, tart apple, like Granny Smith or Jonathan or Ginger Gold. Pecan pieces and diced shallots are folded with apples, the pecans become toasted in the bake.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.
If you are traveling, travel safely. Enjoy one another’s company, and dine well.
We are headed for DC to be with my daughter and son-in-law, and I plan to stay until my grandbaby is born! Stay tuned. We are full of excitement and gratitude.
ACORN SQUASH RINGS STUFFED WITH SORGHUM APPLES AND PECANS (vegan)
2 large acorn squashes
2 large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gingergold
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2/3 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup sorghum
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
olive oil—for brushing squash rings
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice squashes into rings, almost an inch in thickness. Depending on the size of the squash, you can get 5-6 rings from each one. Scoop out the seeds, and lay the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the rings with olive oil.
Wash, core and dice apples into ½” chunks. Place into a bowl. Add shallots, pecan pieces, sorghum, salt and black pepper. Toss, so that all the pieces are coated with the sorghum.
Mound sorghum apple mixture into the center of each ring.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Makes 10-12 rings