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Posts Tagged ‘Pasta’

Pillow-y potatoes

We have a favorite gnocchi place in New York — Max Soha in Harlem. This is quite an exceptional restaurant overall with extremely good pasta at very affordable prices (and not just for Manhattan). They have an excellent black linguine with seafood, and the lamb ragu also comes highly recommended. But the gnocchi at this place is truly phenomenal, beautiful puffy pillows of potato, dressed simply with tomato, basil, and some homemade mozzarella. Delicious. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, do stop by. But take note, it’s cash only.

The first time we made gnocchi was one step short of a smashing success.  That step, of course, was to stop while we were ahead.  This was one of our more ambitious evenings, in which we decided to make regular potato gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and ricotta gnocchi.  The first item was easy to make, quick, and delicious.  Sweet potatoes, however, are much wetter than their less-sweet cousin, and so our gnocchi recipe ended up requiring about four times as much flour–which is about four times as much as the recipe called for!  So after spending an hour kneading spoonful after spoonful of flour into sweet potato mush, all the while terrified that we would still need more flour, we finally quit when our dough had formed into a dense, chewy hockey puck.  Worth mentioning now that the key to good gnocchi is to go easy on the flour.  So, dejected, we postponed the ricotta for another time–which ended up being another spectacular failure.  This time, not enough flour, and our cute little ricotta balls instantly dissolved in the boiling water.

Two years later, revisiting potato gnocchi proved yet again successful.  So until we get a better sweet potato or ricotta gnocchi recipe, we’re sticking to this one.

Gnocchi with Herb-Infused Olive Oil

1 lb Idaho potatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten
up to 1 cup flour
drizzle of herb-infused olive oil*

Peel the potatoes before cooking. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork or knife to release steam as they cook. Microwave the potatoes on high for 15 minutes. Let cool. (It’s possible that microwaving is not the best way to cook potatoes for gnocchi. We found they were a bit dry and very potato-ey. Boiling may be a better choice.)

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, grate them using the coarse side of a box grater. (Alternatively, a food mill will also work.) The goal is to flake the potatoes so there is enough air between potato flakes for a fluffier gnocchi.

Stir the egg into the potatoes. Add the flour a spoonful at a time, kneading in between each addition until the dough is dry enough to handle. Roll the dough out into one-inch diameter dowels, ensuring even thickness throughout. Cut dowels into half-inch pieces, dimpling/rolling with a fork.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook gnocchi in batches for two-three minutes at a time, until gnocchi float to the top. Remove and set aside. Drizzle with herb-infused olive oil and serve. And enjoy.

*Heidi calls this “magic sauce“, “as versatile as a little black dress”. It is a garlic-herb infused olive oil, delicious drizzled on top of a plate full of fresh gnocchi.

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Greetings, friends, family, and cyber-stalkers! We’re about to head out for a celebratory weekend away in the Catskills for our one-year anniversary, but realized it’s been nearly three weeks since our last post, and we couldn’t leave the world of computers and cell phones and the like without one final update. (Confidential revelation: we may actually have all such devices of modernity available where we’ll be staying in the Catskills, but we have plans to strictly limit our use to Netflix-streamed episodes of Pushing Daisies and no email!)

Before we head out, here’s a shot of our pre-departure lunch — whole wheat penne, grilled leeks, sauteed mushrooms, ricotta. It’s a cinch to make — boil pasta, grill leeks on a Foreman grill or a panini press or an actual grill (which we’re to acquire soon thanks to the tremendous generosity of a certain friend’s parents), saute up some chopped mushrooms, and stir in ricotta.

And in honor of our anniversary, we leave you with this: “Murder, certainly; but divorce, never!!”

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Eggplant is back!

This winter gave us many things: record snowfall; our first set of heating bills; reason to put insulating plastic sheets on the windows; a stronger-than-usual longing for short sleeves, flowers, and sunshine; and some very pricey eggplant.  Winter gave and took away, and perhaps most notably this year it took away eggplant from our diet.

Cooking eggplant requires one to remember two things: salt heavily, cook thoroughly.  Do that and you can put eggplant in anything, from salad to sandwiches to sauce for pasta, which is what this post is about.  Well, I guess for us cooking eggplant also requires that summer be around the corner, because nobody should pay more than $1.50/lb for eggplant.

In our continuing theme of cooking pasta with little more than a few vegetables and olive oil (we’re not sure when we decided that, with the exception of fresh basil, pasta doesn’t need herbs), this pasta dish is simple, short on ingredients, and quick enough that you can do the whole thing while the water boils.

Take one large eggplant and cut into small cubes, maybe 1/2 inch.  In deep saute pan, heat oil, add eggplant, salt heavily, and cook covered on medium heat.  Add chopped garlic to taste (we use 4-5 cloves).  When eggplant is definitely done, add diced tomatoes (we used a can), and let simmer until pasta is done.  Add 1/4-1/2 cup of pasta water to sauce, stir in pasta, that’s it.  Add herbs if you so desire, especially if fresh basil is in season.  Also good would be to stir in some fresh spinach or arugula at the last minute.  As always, we used bucatini, but anything would do.

And speaking of summer being right around the corner, you may notice some changes around here. That new header picture was taken from our first-of-the-season trip out to Lyman Orchards last weekends. None of the fruit was ready for harvesting yet, but the apple trees, pear trees, and peach trees were in full bloom. We spent the afternoon sunbathing under the fragrant, flowering trees. Magical.

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Fresh pasta, of the rustic variety

Tonight was a big threshold, like crossing the Rubicon.  Never would we have considered making our own fresh pasta–from scratch!–but after seeing Mark Bittman’s recipe we couldn’t contain ourselves.  There were three other contenders on the menu for dinner tonight, but I don’t even remember what they were any more.  It’s hard not to be inspired by fresh pasta that takes active time of …about as long as dry pasta takes to boil.

A big part of the appeal of making our own pasta was the ability to replicate the shapes we ate on our honeymoon in Amalfi.  One of the local pastas is scialatielli, which is like a short, thicker, chewier linguini.  Our best meal of the entire trip was definitely at Meme where we had Scialatielle alla Scoglio, which was said pasta in a fresh tomato sauce with fresh shellfish.  We went back twice. And ordered the same thing twice. We brought home with us two 500g bags of scialatielli, but those are long gone.  (Note: I’ve often opined that I would gladly exchange half of the gelato we consumed in Italy for a bag of pasta each time; my partner does not agree.)

Now, I’m sure there are pasta purists out there who are going to scoff at what we did.  We didn’t use semolina flour, and we used a food processor.  Maybe in a few years I’ll grow out of this recipe (doubtful), but in the meantime it’s so simple I’m seriously considering making pasta again tonight.  Fresh pasta, unlike dry pasta, is loaded with eggs, which gives it a chewier texture and better flavor.  The ingredients are: lots of eggs, flour, a little water.  Vroom vroom in the food processor, squeeze together and let sit.  Roll out and shape.

We, of course, used half whole-wheat flour.  I suspect that you could also add lots of different flavorings to the dough, like herbs or maybe spinach, for example.  I think you could probably use a stand mixer for the vroom vroom part, and you could certainly mix by hand using the classic “well in the middle” approach.  We’re just not going to.  And you really do not need a fancy pasta-shape-maker or roller.  A rolling pin did just fine, and a pizza cutter did, too.  In fact, we are strongly of the opinion that the more “rustic” shaped the pasta, the better the texture.

We paired our quasi-scialatielli simply: with roasted garlic and grape tomatoes, romano cheese, cracked black pepper, and olive oil (if we had only had wine!).  When the meal ended we both agreed that the only appropriate thing to do next was to drink a glass of limoncello.  More than anything we’ve cooked since, this meal really took us back to many evenings of delicious pasta and fresh seafood, and sipping limoncello from our balcony, and looking out over the Mediterranean and the night-lights of the Amalfi coast.

So here’s to many new shapes, textures, and flavor combinations as we all make our own fresh pasta for years to come.  And may we forge new memories to go with each dish.

Fresh Pasta

3 egg yolks*
2 eggs
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350F.  Toss garlic (5 cloves? more?) and tomatoes with olive oil and salt and roast in oven until tomatoes blister–but do not burn–about 30 minutes.

Into food processor put flour and all eggs.  Pulse until mealy.  Add water, slowly (maybe 1/4 cup?) until dough begins to form.  Empty onto cutting board, squeeze together, and dust with flour to keep from sticking.  Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit 30 minutes.  Cut into quarters, flour some more, roll out with rolling pin, and cut into whatever shape your heart desires (consistency might be a good plan, though).  Cook in boiling water until tender, about 1 minute.

* Note from the gelato-insistent-partner — With all the leftover egg whites, you can make coconut macaroons! Post (and recipe) to follow shortly.

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Green Food Galore!

One interesting fact I’ve learned from my holiday literature lately is the danger of diversity: When presented with ten colors of M&Ms versus seven colors, research subjects tend to consume ~40 extra M&Ms. I conducted a similar experiment with myself as the research subject when a co-worker recently brought in a package of sour patch kids in red, orange, yellow, and green. I ate four of each color just to determine which was my favorite, then went back for more of my favorite for a total of way more than enough.

Another interesting fact is that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans tend to consume ~600 extra calories per day than during the rest of the year! With this in mind, we decided to make a very-vegetably pesto for dinner last night to make sure we’re incorporating enough leafy greens in amongst these extra calories. This one is loosely adapted from a recent 101cookbooks creation. (loosely adapted meaning the original inspiration for a kale pesto came from there, but one of the cooks in the kitchen exclaimed confidently, “Recipe? Recipe!? No, no, no, I don’t need a recipe.  I can make this up as I go.”  And that’s just what we did.)

Ricotta-Kale Pesto

2 handfuls of kale, stalks removed and washed
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 c ricotta
1/2 c hot pasta water
2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated to serve

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in the kale and cook for 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kale from the water and deposit in food processor. Add garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and ricotta. Puree until smooth. Add hot pasta water to thin out if needed. Season with salt and black pepper.

In the same pot, boil pasta according to package instructions. Drain pasta and plate. Stir in pesto and mix well. Top with Parmesan cheese and a few grinds of black pepper to serve.

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Carbonara

Ahhhhh, Carbonara.  This is one of those dishes that really brings me back to Rome.  Unfortunately I had lived my life thinking that carbonara was “alfredo sauce with bacon”–and I fear that most people have, too.  This is a shame.  The real deal–which has no cream at all–is rich but not heavy, intensely flavorful but not without balance, and probably easier to make than “alfredo sauce with bacon.”  It’s deceptively simple to the core: it’s creamy without using cream, uses a cooking method that requires one to be “careful” which really means “turn off the heat and stir,” and insists on authenticity.  And it’s the authenticity that is the real secret to the simplicity–and the deliciousness–of Carbonara.

Obviously you can’t go wrong when the main ingredients are egg, cheese, and “bacon”–pancetta please.  And pasta, too.  And garlic.  Right?  What’s better than that?

ingredients:

  • half box of pasta (of course we used Bucatini)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2-1 cup grated cheese (we used pecorino romano, but parmagiano would work, of course)
  • ~4 oz pancetta.  Really rough estimate here.  It cooks down a lot, so I’d advise figuring out how much you want at the end (you don’t need much; it’s very flavorful, but also possibly the star of this dish) and double it.
  • 3-5 garlic cloves
  • frozen peas if you desire

Start water boiling for pasta.  Cut pancetta into medium sized “cubes” and cook in deep skillet (you’ll toss pasta in here) on medium-high heat to render the fat and get them crispy, turning down heat when done.  When water boils, add the pasta, and to the pancetta add chopped garlic.  In a separate bowl whisk together eggs and cheese.  When pasta is al dente, drain and toss in skillet with pancetta, coating the noodles with the rendered fat.  Okay, here is the intimidating part, so listen carefully, but don’t fret.  Turn off the heat.  You are going to stir the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta without letting the eggs scramble.  Don’t worry: all this requires is that you stir continuously and quickly with the heat off.  That’s it.  Not hard.  The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs.  Top off with cracked black pepper, and add peas if you’d like (I do; defrost them first, of course).

Um, that’s it.  Cook pancetta.  Cook pasta.  Stir.  Turn off heat.  Stir in eggs and cheese.  Keep stirring.  Done.  True Roman Carbonara.  Don’t worry, I assure you that it is still worth going to Rome.

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Roasted Vegebauble Bucatini

Bucatini: it’s like spaghetti but has a thin hole going all the way through the middle of the noodle, for plenty of slurptastic fun. This is easily our favorite pasta, and we had this served at our wedding, but we’ve found that it’s barely available even in Manhattan though can be bought in bulk on Amazon.

In any case, really any type of pasta and any type of vegetable will do, as this is really quite a versatile pasta dish. The key is to roast the vegetables at a high temperature for long enough that the vegetables take on the caramelly-sweet roasted flavor. You can tell the vegetables are done when the skins start to blister and burst open.

Also, I know mise en place has fallen out of fashion (see NYT Magazine, 9/14/10) but it really is a much better picture.

Roasted Vegebauble Bucatini

1/2 package of bucatini
1 small white eggplant, cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
3 very small yellow squash, cubed
5 (or more) cloves of garlic
lots of cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat oven to 425F. Toss all vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for up to an hour. Peel garlic cloves and chop.

Half an hour before vegetables are done, boil water for pasta. Prepare pasta as directed on package. Drain.

Combine.  You might as well do this in the roasting pan so that you pick up all the yummy vegebabule goodness that might have stuck during roasting.

This dish is also particularly good with grated cheese on top before serving. Insert Costco-sized block of Pecorino Romano (we’ve been using this since July) and one Microplane zester (originally a woodworking tool)!

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