22 February 2009

Making use of leftovers -- Pan-fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi

I bought a big tub of ricotta cheese to use in my winter greens lasagna last week, and had a good amount left over. Somewhat by chance, I stumbled upon this recipe over at Steamy Kitchen for pan-fried lemon ricotta gnocchi with a brown butter sauce, and had to try. And hell, it helped clean out my fridge.

The end result were light lemony gnocchis sauteed in a garlic oil and tossed very lightly with wilted spinach, garlic, a few spoonfuls of crushed tomatoes and some grated cheese. Perfection.

I'm a huge fan of making unconventional gnocchi (aka not white potato based), although I love those as well, having worked my high-school years in an Italian restaurant. In the past I've spent a few hours making roasted butternut squash gnochhi and sweet potato gnocchi, livening it up a bit ... and boy, are those killer with a brown butter sauce with a bit of fresh orange juice, some zest and a little bit of brown sugar. Oh man.

Anyways, these were phenomenal, and from pulling the flour out of my cupboard to sitting down eating only took 45 minutes ... which is astonishing for homemade gnocchi. I highly recommend you give them a whirl.

Pan-Fried Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi
Compliments of Steamy Kitchen, with a few minor tweaks

a cup of ricotta
1/2 cup of parmesan
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1 TB chopped parsley (I used dry ... not the same, but still good)
3 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
extra virgin olive oil
a good pinch of hot pepper flakes

Mix the ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest, salt, hot pepper flakes, parsley, and egg yolk in a large bowl. Mix in half of the flour, then gradually a bit more, saving about 1/8 of a cup. Once the dough has come together, flour your hands and work into a bowl, and put on a floured surface. Mix in the remaining flour but be careful not to overknead ... it shouldn't take much. Cut into 4 sections, rolling each out into long strands.

Flour your knife, and cut these into little inch long pieces. Some choose to roll on a fork to give a different texture, but since these are pan fried, I kept mine looking like pillows.

Heat a skillet with about 2 TB of olive oil. Put the chopped garlic in the skillet, stirring until fragrant, but not browned ... about 45 seconds. Remove the garlic. You can use it for a sauce later (which I did). Add the gnocchi, shaking the pan after they're in to make sure there's enough oil underneath to keep residual flour from sticking. You want these to have a nice brown on both sides. Make sure they're cooked thru, taste test too. Does it taste too wet in the middle? Does it need a little more color? You be the judge.

Right before they come out of the pan, I squeezed some fresh lemon juice over them, then finished cooking the second batch. And, you're done. Steamy Kitchen made a brown butter sauce to accompany, but be creative. I had spinach to use, so I took that route, wilting it with a bit of lemon juice, some crushed tomatoes, and browning up the garlic - just enough to complement the gnocchi, but not overpower -- they're flavorful enough to stand alone. :)

Happy carnivore, if I do say so myself

The majority of the meals I've been making ahead lately have been vegetarian -- chock full of beans and other forms of protein, but lacking any form of meat. I don't know why I've neglected this section of the grocery store lately, it's bizarre.

So this past Saturday I woke up from a delightful afternoon nap with a sudden get-out-of-bed-and-run-to-the-store kind of craving. The options: salmon or steak.

Steak won this battle, calling the salmon fillets at Whole Foods wimpy contenders and reigning supreme in this decision. I picked up a 1.34 lb (to be precise) fresh cut sirloin, grabbed a triangle of bleu cheese and skipped home with a gleeful smile on my face just thinking of the meal I was about to make.

The result, sirloin with a bleu cheese crust and a little bit of garlic compound butter (the rest of the compound butter used on my baked potato) and some greens. Oh, happy Kay.

I cooked the steak on the stove, in a Julia Child amount of butter, bathing it with the butter after it got a good sear. It was barely a medium rare when I spread a little bit of the leftover compound garlic butter on top, sprinkled it with bleu cheese and popped in the oven to finish.

Now, before you think that I resemble Jabba the Hut after seeing the plate, I did not eat all of this in one sitting. God, that's a lot of meat (famous last words) even for someone who loves a good hefty steak.

But delicious. Carnivore's delight. M'mm.

Chipotle White Beans with Kale and Chard

So, if you haven't picked up on this already, I'm tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to cooking. A few things to know about me:

1. I'm a regular at Haymarket - Boston's big public market - on Saturday mornings for produce, dairy and bread needs. I've maintained this routine largely for 6 years, including going in sub degree weather when they have heaters on. Yup, dedication.

2. I usually cook for the week on Sundays. There's something about it that relaxes me and I love the hours I'll spend in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon / evening cooking, knowing that I will always have great food to come home to or bring for lunch without any real thinking.

OK, now that that's out, on to the second kale related recipe for last week's eatings, compliments of Heidi at 101cookbooks.

Giant Chipotle White Beans
Adapted from 101cookbooks

1 lb white beans, soaked overnight
kale / chard, mmm greens - finely chopped, about 2/3 cup
chipotle in adobo sauce, with 2 TB of sauce reserved
14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup queso fresco / feta
pinch of red pepper flakes
extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 TB fresh oregano

** Heidi serves this with a cilantro pesto, which I sadly didn't try, after forgetting to buy cilantro at the market ... Highly recommend giving that a whirl though. Visit her site for the recipe.

After soaking the beans overnight, cover with 1-2 inches of water, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 1-2 hours, until they are tender, but still maintaining a big of rigidity. Mine took an hour and 45 minutes.

Once cooked, add a hefty amount of salt to the water so it's a salty broth to taste. Let them sit in this broth for 10 minutes before draining and setting aside.

Now, make your sauce. Put oil, red pepper flakes, salt and garlic in a pan, heat until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and the oregano and stir. Remove from heat, add adobo sauce and diced chipotle (I like it spicy, so I added the chipotle). Toss the kale in the sauce.

Add the beans, then put in a casserole dish. Break up cheese into the beans.

Toast up the breadcrumbs with a bit of oil in the pan. Sprinkle on top of the beans and pop in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.

So yummy. The cilantro pesto then goes on top. I'll have to give that a whirl later.

When all else fails, use Kale

Kale was the featured ingredient of last week, something I was first introduced to in my young days of working as a waitress at Pizzeria Uno. Hey, I needed the money, don't judge me. Mandatory for all new Uno's employees was 15 hours of "pizza school" - kid you not - on top of on the floor training that most food services people are used to. As I was running my usual expo shift at the food window, the following phrase was ingrained in my mind ... so much that it's the title of this post -- "When all else fails, use kale." The trainer had a slightly annoying southern twang as this phrase rolled off her tongue, then followed by me non-chalantly rolling my eyes and counting the hours down until I could have a stiff drink. Not my proudest days, but hell, it was money.

Regardless, kale is often only known of as that annoying ruffage on your plate, under an orange slice or some other garnish. To counter that, I looked for a few recipes for last week featuring leafy greens, so here goes. Both were delicious, and let me tell you ... kale is cheeeeeeap at the grocery store, so if you're looking for a way to save some dough, go kale. Woo! Like, less than two dollars for over 2 lbs kind of cheap. Won a spot in my heart RIGHT THERE.

Ahem. Onwards.

On the menu for the week:
- Giant Chipotle White Beans with Kale and Chard, from Heidi at 101Cookbooks
- Winter Greens Lasagna, compliments of Chowhound

Both were insanely good, and not only fed me but also a number of co-workers, with some still to freeze. Can't wait for that night of no-cooking when I pull out a serving of this lasagna and bring it back to life. Nothing beats a good meal without the effort during the week.

So, starting with the lasagna ... which, I justify as being healthy due to all the kale and chard. Trust me, I can justify anything in this little head of mine ;)

Winter Greens Lasagna
From Chowhound

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound kale, washed, tough stems removed, and coarsely chopped
1 pound Swiss chard, coarsely chopped

(KT: After making this, I'd even use a bit more greens ... hard to believe, but it really cooks down ... And I love chard stems, so I include ... but up to you )

1 1/2 cups crème fraîche

(KT: I had to use sour cream due to lack of creme fraiche at the store ... it works, but go for the real deal if you can find)

1 (9-ounce) box no-boil lasagna noodles
1 pound fresh ricotta
2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400. Meanwhile, in a heavy bottom pot, heat up some oil, and cook the garlic and onions, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes. Then, add the cream and start slowly adding the kale / chard. It takes a while to tame ... be patient. Season with salt and pepper for each layer you add as it wilts. Cook down until all greens are in the pot, about 10 minutes. Take off the heat.

Meanwhile, spread a cup of the creme fraiche / sour cream on the bottom of the pan.

Layer with noodles, then greens mixture (without added liquid), then top with ricotta and parmesan. I mixed the ricotta and parm together to kill two birds with one stone, but can do separate if desired. Keep layering, noodles, greens, ricotta + Parm until you run out of greens.

Pour the remaining creme mix over the top of the noodles. Then mix remaining sour cream / creme fraiche + Parm together and spread over the top. It's a messy process. Have fun with it.

Cover with foil and cook for 45 minutes until browned and bubbly. Yum.

Potlucking, part II

The second dish I made for the potluck last weekend is one of my all-time favorites -- a baked macaroni and cheese with a tomato bechamel-esque sauce, courtesy of Jamie Oliver. I have a bit of a starcrush on Mr. Oliver, despite his inavailability, beautiful children, etc etc. Let a girl dream. (Jamie ... call me. ;) )

Annnnnnnyways, ahem, I first made the mac'n'cheese, out of his cookbook "jamie's dinners", for a girls dinner on my deck last June. It's the ultimate comfort food, and pairs really well with the pesto pea salad mentioned in the last post. It's creamy with a thyme and breadcrumb crust ... divine. When I have some more time, I'm going to give another Jamie recipe a whirl and break out my new pasta machine ... stay tuned for that.

On to the goods ... I made a few changes from Jamie's original, just for the sake of time / availability.

Tomato Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from "jamie's dinners" by Jamie Oliver

12 oz macaroni (I use campanelle)
hefty amount of breadcrumbs (or 6-7 slices of stale bread)
25 oz (large can, then half a regular sized can) of whole tomatoes, reserve the juice
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 large handfuls of fresh basil
2 oz. sundried tomatoes
2 anchovies (I've left these out in the past at vegetarian friends' request)
sea salt, fresh ground pepper
3 hefty handfuls of Parmesan cheese
2.5 cups light cream
1 TB red wine vinegar
1/2 a nutmeg, grated
14 oz cow's milk mozzarella
handful of fresh thyme
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. While that's heating up, get a pot of salted water going and cook the pasta.

Meanwhile, it's time for a little food processor fun. Blend up the whole tomatoes (without juice), garlic, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Once that's whizzed up a bit, add 2 handfuls of Parm (love that measurement), cream, vinegar and nutmeg. I then add a bit of the tomato juice. The pasta really absorbs a lot of the sauce, and can get dry if there's not enough liquid, so dont be shy. This time when I made it, I used almost all of the reserved juice. Don't be shy. Jamie uses some of the pasta water, but I like the tomatoey taste more.

Drain your pasta, toss into casserole dish. Pour the tomatoey saucey goodness over the pasta and then break up the mozzarella over the dish. Mix the last handful of Parm with the breadcrumbs and liberally spread over the dish. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the top, and drizzle generously with olive oil. It'll help get that crunchy crust you're looking for :)

Place in the oven for about 15 minutes - until the dish is bubbly and the crust has a nice golden color. (**New camera is in the mail ... apologies for the dimly lit photos.)

By the way, this is supposed to serve 4 (says Jamie) ... I don't know about the people he's feeding (FEED ME, jamie. seriously, call me ;) ) butttt this definitely served 10 potluck style with some leftovers. Or at least 6-8 portions otherwise.

16 February 2009

Potlucking ... part I

Last night, in sunday dinner fashion, a group of my close friends and I threw a potluck to end all potlucks. Added benefit ... the majority of people in said group are astounding cooks, so the end product of traditionally miscellaneous and random potluck goodies was delicious - and oddly enough all worked very well with one another.

Included in the spread were homemade hummus with crudites and chips, a goat cheese dip with sun dried tomatoes, succulent wild salmon cooked in a white wine sauce with chopped onions and topped with a horseradish sauce, a delicious roast, pesto pea salad, tomato macaroni and cheese with thyme, homemade fruit tartlets with fresh whipped cream and berries, pumpkin cobbler with pecans and banana bread.

My contributions were the pesto pea salad with fresh lemon mint pesto (to follow) and the tomato macaroni and cheese - adapted from the Jamie Oliver cookbook. Oh, how I love Jamie Oliver. :)

Traditionally for the pesto pea salad, I make a basil pesto and add some mint, but my basil fell ill in my crisper whose temperature has been fluctuating from normal crisper temp to the death freeze. Lo and behold when I pulled out the fresh bunch of basil last night it was partially covered in frost, a dark brownish green and looking very sad. C'est la vie, life goes on, and the lemon mint pesto was just as delightful.

Pesto Pea Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten

2 cups of peas, fresh or frozen
2 TB pine nuts, toasted
Spinach or mixed greens with spinach for the base of the salad

** OK, to make the pesto:
Couple hefty handfuls of mint (yes, "hefty handfuls" is a measurement in my kitchen)
A smaller handful of basil, if yours hasn't been killed in the fridge :(
3 cloves of garlic
1 TB lemon zest
juice from 1 lemon
olive oil
hefty handful (see, it works) of Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup pine nuts, give or take
salt and pepper
* Optional - fresh parsley if you have it. mine's right on my windowsill.

Blend together. Season as needed.

End result should be this color and consistency :


Now, back to the salad.

First, bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the peas for about 15 seconds (no joke), then remove and put in a cold water bath to stop cooking. Once they've cooled, drain the water, pad dry, set aside.

Here's the easy part - the assembly. Take your greens, toss the peas and toasted pine nuts in, add the pesto, mix. And serve. Voila.

And, plates cleared ... on to the main course ...

04 February 2009

Split Pea Soup

I actually made up a pot of this while I was getting ready this morning. Unbelievably simple, healthy, and perfect for a bitter cold day like this one was. My friend had told me about this incredibly painless and fast way to make split pea soup, so I gave it a whirl - this version without a ham bone or meat for flavoring purposes.

Note - not everyone is a fan of split pea soup. Some, it reminds them too much of the first time they saw Linda Blair's head spin in the Exorcist, others just never developed a taste for it.

Me? First off ... Exorcist is one of my favorite movies as a child ... and think this soup is delightful. So THERE. :) Onwards ...

Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Miss Sab's kitchen

1 medium onion (I used a red onion, since it was what I had)
1 potato
bag of split peas
3 peeled and chopped carrots
3 smashed garlic cloves
s & p (plus other seasonings to taste)

Rough chop the potato and carrots and put in a pot. Cut one end off the onion, leave the other on and cut down into sections - but not all the way through. Think onion bloom. This helps you avoid fishing out pieces later, and hell ... it looks pretty :) Can chop if you want. Pour the bag of split peas in, as well, and the smashed garlic cloves.

Fill the pot with water to cover all the elements. Can use stock, if you'd like. Add salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until peas and other veggies are beyond fork tender.

You can cook this down until it starts to become mush (as Sab prefers), or use an immersion blender to puree it down. I left mine slightly chunky but pureed down the big chunks. I like the added texture. Then, add any remaining seasonings it may need to taste. And voila. Early morning soup.