Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gnocchi with pesto and wax beans

We finally rejoined a CSA after I get us kicked out of the very exclusive Be Wise Ranch CSA last year for (accidental) non-payment. This time we are trying out J.R. Organics from Escondido. The first box is interesting, really good lettuce and some other greens, excellent tomatoes, a whole bunch of oranges and a couple apples (weird time of year for both of them, but apparently that's what's growing right now), and among other things some really beautiful green and purple wax beans.

K reminded me of this great simple dish I used to get in Bernal Heights at (the very sadly closed) Valentina, which had spinach fettuccine with potatoes, green beans, and pesto. I decided to give it a try with gnocchi instead of pasta and potatoes, probably because I am obsessed with anything that involves making dough.

After the first batch that I murdered by boiling too long in too-hot water, the rest of the gnocchi came out pretty close to perfect, pillowy, and looking an awful lot like bay scallops. I had a good friend in college whose dad owned an Italian restaurant who pronounced it nacky or sometimes nee-yacky, so feel free to join me in pronouncing it like that, if for no other reason than to honor and make fun of Jim.

Ok actually I'm starting to get a little self-conscious about saying "gnocchi" so much; there needs to be some non-pretentious alternative, something with an s at the end... Potato dumplings maybe? The potato dumplings took about an hour and a half start to finish, which was maybe a little long for a weeknight dinner, unless you are someone who finds cooking relaxing after a long day of work :) Annnd now I need one more sentence here because of the ridiculous formatting of this post. How do those real food bloggers do it??

Here is the recipe for just the gnocchi. We steamed the wax beans with a pinch of salt and topped it with a dollop of pesto. I won't embarrass myself by posting a recipe for pesto. If you want to do it right, I'd predictably look here. If you want to do it like me just put all that stuff in the food processor (and skimp on the olive oil because damn, it is expensive).

Basic Gnocchi
About 1 pound of potatoes (supposed to be russet, yukon gold worked fine)
3/4-1 cup flour (supposed to be AP, bread flour worked fine)
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes whole with skin on for 30-45 minutes in salted water until they're very tender. Drain and let them cool a bit before peeling, which should be very easy with a small knife or your fingers.

Mash the potatoes with some salt and pepper. I used a wooden spoon but one of those wire potato mashers would work better.

Stir in half a cup of flour. Then add a little bit at a time and keep mixing until you can knead it into a smooth round dough. The goal is to add the least amount of flour possible that makes it a cohesive dough. You can pinch off a piece of the dough and place it in some water that is just shy of boiling to make sure it will stay together (if it doesn't, it needs a little more flour).

Roll a small piece of the dough into a snake about 1/2 an inch thick and cut it into small square pieces. Place a batch of the dumplings in almost boiling water. They will be done about a minute after they float to the surface of the water. I found the easiest way to handle the batches was to roll out all the strands first and then cut one strand right before adding it to the water.

They'll be best while they're still warm. Tossing with a little bit of olive oil in the meantime helped keep them from sticking to each other.

Mario Batali says that peeling the potatoes after you boil them is a big deal in Italy. He sounded a little dubious about the benefits of it but unwilling to mess with tradition, and so shall I be.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Carrot-ginger muffins & a digression

This is my first-ever post about muffins. Pretty surprising given the fact that I am a muffin fanatic. Zealot. I'm of the opinion that the most perfect weekday breakfast is baked in a tin. Scones and bagels are fatty enough to be reserved for the occasional weekend indulgence, but I can bake a batch of muffins and eat them all week! I'd settled into this Spiced Carrot muffin routine (super healthy and quite yummy) when I discovered a small bag of wheat bran in our pantry. K had used it in his multi-grain sandwich bread and I decided to claim the leftovers for muffins. These ones are the best yet to emerge from my teeny tiny kitchen, which is why I'm finally posting a muffin recipe.

Carrot-ginger muffins
Makes 8 muffins
  • 3/4 c white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c wheat bran
  • 1/4 c raw sugar
  • 1/4 c agave nectar (or honey)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp  freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 c applesauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c (packed) shredded carrots
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
Preheat the oven to 375F. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk the egg, applesauce, butter, and coconut oil in another bowl. Add the carrots and fresh ginger to the wet mixture. Combine the wet & dry ingredients and fill 8 muffin cups. Bake for 22-25 min.

Want more hardly-addicting muffins (proof of my obsession)? Here they come!

Doughnut muffins to cheer you up on bad days
Savory roasted red pepper and goat cheese muffins
Healthy lemon poppy seed muffins
Tart walnut yogurt muffins
Baked egg muffins (inspired by bouchons au thon)
Chocolate chip banana muffins (based on these from Supernatural Cooking)
Blueberry corn muffins from The Bread Bible

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chickpea Red Curry from VeganDad

Quick post on dinner last night... This thai-style curry made a really great, super quick weeknight meal. Starting with cooked chickpeas and with a frozen stir fry vegetable mix, it took all of about ten minutes and I should mention that I reduced the sugar to a heaping tablespoon and it was still just a little too sweet honestly. Judging by the color and spice level, I probably should've added a good bit more red curry paste.

I'm a little embarrassed that I like this blog about cooking for kids so much, although this guy's kids have much more sophisticated palates than I ever did (my favorite thing to eat as a kid was strawberry pop tarts crushed up with milk; I think it was a Paula Poundstone joke that I took literally)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sourdough: First contact

Now this has been a fun one... I started cultivating a wild starter about three weeks ago, right when we got home from Oregon. This is actually my second attempt at making bread with it and I'm relatively happy with the result -- the crust is beautiful, the crumb a little bit too tight, and it's only just a little bit sour. The addiction center of my brain is fickle and usually gives up when something gets difficult but I'm hoping I stick with this long enough to make a truly face-twistingly sour loaf of bread.

So then, a wild starter is different from a regular starter in that it contains ... surprise, wild yeast. This is as opposed to commercial baker's yeast (also brewer's yeast) in other types of bread. It is apparently widely misconceived that wild yeast comes right out of the air -- I say apparently because I didn't even know that wild yeast was a thing, let alone a thing to be misconceived, until a few weeks ago. The yeast actually lives right there on the flour (particularly rye flour, particularly organic rye flour) and given some time to grow and ferment with regular feedings (i.e., adding more flour) it will turn itself into a little self-sustaining ball of bread-rising power. The really cool implication is that this bread is literally made from flour, salt, and water only (although the complete truth is that the starter began life in half a cup of pineapple juice to stave of leuconostoc bacteria that can sometimes, and on my first attempt did, delay the starter a few days)

All credit to Bread Baker's Apprentice by the way for this information. So another interesting thing is that it's actually bacteria and not the wild yeast that makes the bread sour. San Francisco sourdough is so distinctive because it contains a type of bacteria that lives only in that hallowed city (Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis believe it or not). The reason the wild yeast is important is that it can live in the acidic environment that the bacterias thrive in, and live long enough for the bacteria to grow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Zucchini pasta with watercress pesto

There is a special place in my heart for watercress on account of The Man Who Cooked for Himself (a children's story about ... well a shut-in who is out of food and goes foraging in the woods for himself and his cat, or an early introduction for children to the benefits of pescetarianism). Whatever your feelings about watercress, you must agree that it has the most appetizing name for a bitter lettuce ever!
Kristen found this clever recipe for zucchini "pasta" on Claudia Pearson's blog (you should click on that link, the recipe is very beautiful) -- shaved raw zucchini is tossed with a little salt and left to soften until it can be treated sort of like cooked pasta. I went for parmesan instead of blue cheese -- I'm sure blue cheese would have been good, but that's one of the few foods that I really never came to terms with... I can tell objectively that it should taste good, but if I'm honest with myself, blech.

We had a little white bean salad (with cilantro, red onions, and red wine vinegar) and a homemade baguette on the side