Monday, April 20, 2009

Penne in cream of broccoli

This dish sort of embodies the way I think of Spring - fresh, delicate, and of course, very green!

I rarely have cream or milk in the house, so I don't make things like this very often. In fact, the only times I have cream are when I need it for some special dessert I'm making. As it happens, my aunt had requested last week that I re-bake the superbly scrumptious caramel cake from November's Daring Baker's Challenge for her birthday, and so I did have both cream and milk on hand (the cake requires a few spoonfuls of cream and a cup of milk).

This situation required some creative thinking on my part to figure out how to use the remaining cream. I used up a fair portion in a lovely kiwi strawberry mousse, but I still had more than enough for the cream of broccoli sauce, which only requires a couple spoonfuls. Ideally, you would use "panna di cucina" or cooking cream, but I don't know if you can get that here. Panna di cucina has less fat than heavy whipping cream, so it is more suitable for savory dishes where you just want a creamy sauce. Panna di cucina has about 21% fat, while heavy whipping cream is more like 35% fat. In order to achieve the right consistency, I mixed a few spoonfuls of heavy cream with a few spoonfuls of milk, which seemed to work fine.

75 g. penne per person
1 bunch of fresh broccoli
About half a cup of cooking cream, or a mixture of half heavy cream + half whole milk
A couple gloves of garlic
Olive oil
Pecorino sardo or romano

Wash the broccoli thoroughly and divide it into florets. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then add the broccoli. Let the broccoli cook about 10 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon, and let cool.

Put the penne right into the broccoli water to cook, adding more water or salt if necessary. Meanwhile, peel and crush the garlic cloves, and heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan.

When the olive oil is hot, add the garlic. Let cook a minute or so, and then add the broccoli. Let the broccoli cook about 5 minutes, then turn heat down to low, and add the cream/milk + cream mixture. Cover the pan, and let cook another few minutes. Remove cover, and mash up the broccoli with a potato masher. You can do this right in the pan (I love when I can make these things without using a food processor, as I do not have one). Add a generous amount of salt and pepper, cover and let simmer some more.

When the penne are done, drain them, add them to the cream of broccoli, and mix everything up well to coat the penne. Turn off heat, and spoon into serving bowls. Cover with a generous heaping of grated pecorino, and eat warm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Insalata di farfalle with avocado and emmenthaler

I love the combination of avocado and emmenthaler in a sandwich, so I decided to try it in an insalata di pasta (pasta salad), and it worked just as well!

I call this insalata di pasta instead of pasta salad because to me, "pasta salad" conjures up images of elbow maccheroni smothered in some gooey mayonnaise sauce with a few sorry peas or carrot bits peeping out here and there. Since I can't stand mayonnaise, this is not a pretty image for me, and so I much prefer the term "insalata di pasta" which is really just a name for any type of pasta served cold with various accompaniments.

It's a great dish for summer, when it's too hot for a warm dish, and you can make it with pretty much any ingredients that appeal to you. I sometimes like to add bits of lettuce, peas, mozzarella, green olives - really almost anything will work. The one thing I advise against, however, is serving cold pasta with sauce, gooey mayonnaise or otherwise. The sauce will simply overwhelm the pasta; a light sprinkling of olive oil with perhaps some lemon juice or vinegar is all that's needed.

75 g. of farfalle (bowtie pasta) per person
50 g. of emmenthaler
1 ripe avocado
A spoonful of fresh lemon juice
Olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then the farfalle. Let them cook until they are al dente (done, but still firm), then drain them and run them under cold water while they are still in the colander.

Chop the emmenthaler and avocado into cubes, and combine with the farfalle in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a very small pinch of pepper. Mix well and serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Feta salad with mint and dill

Mint and dill are omnipresent in Greek and Turkish cuisine, but in this salad they get to play a starring role instead of their usual supportive part!

As often happens, I went a bit crazy at the markets last weekend. I actually went to two farmer's markets on Sunday, because the stands at my normal market had run out of a couple things I wanted and I thought maybe the market in the next town over would have them. Well, the second market didn't have what I had originally wanted, but it did have all sorts of other epicurean delights, among them bunches and bunches of fresh dill!

I've seen fresh dill called for in lots of Greek and Turkish recipes, but I've never been able to find it at a farmer's market before, and so I got really excited and immediately bought a bunch. Then of course, I went through a week making all sorts of wonderful and tasty dishes, not one of which required any dill.

So here I was, left with a big bunch of dill and a fair amount of mint too, and so I thought "Why not just throw them into a salad with a few other things to really highlight their flavor, instead of parceling out a few leaves at a time to go with other dishes?"

The result, as it turns out, was delicious. For very little work, you get a very flavorful salad. Once the weather really turns warm and people start having potlucks and things, this will be a great dish to bring, especially since it only improves as it sits around!

100 g. pearl couscous (also called Israeli or Lebanese couscous)
75 g. feta
1-2 large ripe tomatoes
A large bunch of fresh dill
A large bunch of fresh mint
Several sprigs of parsley
Olive oil
Juice of half a lemon

Prepare the pearl couscous the same way you prepare regular couscous: in a small pot, heat some water (a few inches or so) to boiling, then turn off the heat, add in the couscous, cover and let sit about 10 minutes.

While the couscous are sitting, wash the dill, mint, and parsley, and chop them all very finely. Wash the tomato and chop it into medium-small chunks, and chop the feta into cubes (or crumble it if you prefer). Combine the tomato, feta, and herbs in a large bowl.

When the couscous have soaked up all the water, let them cool a bit, and then add them to the tomato, feta, and herb mixture. Pour a couple spoonfuls of olive oil over everything, and then add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Stir well to combine, cover the bowl, and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve cold or at room temperature. See, I told you was it easy!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fillet of sole with lemony leeks and capers

Light fish with capers and lemon is a combination that will never fail you. It's one of those dishes that seems almost too easy, and yet it tastes just as good as any more complicated recipe.

Here, I added some leeks to round things out, but other than that I kept things nice and simple - a great meal for a day when you don't feel like cooking too much, but you still want a nice satisfying dinner.

One fillet of sole per person
1-2 medium leeks
A spoonful of capers - it's easy to overdo it with capers, so be sparing here
Juice of half a lemon
Half a glass of white wine
Olive oil

Remove the outermost leaves from the leek(s), trim off the top green parts, and rinse. Slice the leeks down the center and wash again under cold, running water, making sure to get in between the leaves to remove any dirt particles that might be hiding there.

Slice the leeks into ringlets and set aside. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat, and, once it's hot, pour in a few spoonfuls of olive oil. Add the leeks and let cook a few minutes, until soft. Pour the white wine over the leeks and sprinkle some salt over everything. Let cook until the wine has pretty much all evaporated, and then cover and turn the heat to low.

Let the leeks cook 10-15 minutes, and then start preparing the fish. Rinse the capers, and let them soak in the lemon juice. Wash and dry the sole fillets and cover each side with salt and pepper, and any other herbs you feel like adding. Spread some flour over a plate and then rub the fillets in the flour so that it covers both sides.

Heat a pan big enough to hold the fillets, and add some olive oil to it. Put the fillets in the pan, and let cook until golden-brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn the fillets over and let the other sides cook the same amount.

Transfer the fillets to the pan with the leeks, pour the lemon juice and capers over everything, and mix to cover the fillets. Serve immediately.

To fill out the meal, I made some couscous, and of course a glass of white wine is always a great accompaniment for fish!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Strawberry cilantro salsa

Though I don't normally think of strawberries as a savory food, they actually work really well here, creating a salsa that is light, tangy and fruity, without being oversweet.

I actually got the idea for the salsa from the website FoodPairing, which is a sort of Molecular Gastronomy-inspired website that analyzes the flavor components in different foods and uses that information to tell you what foods are related, what would go well together, and so on. Though I'm not that into Molecular Gastronomy, I did find this website pretty interesting, and some of the suggested flavor pairings, like parmesan and chocolate, looked pretty intriguing!

They actually seem to have changed the site a bit since my first visit several months ago, and now strawberries and cilantro are no longer listed as one of the suggested pairings, but they were before, and the idea had stuck in my mind as something that might be fun to try, though I wasn't really convinced that the two would go well together.

As the Spring strawberries are just arriving in the markets and I had a bunch of cilantro to use up, it seemed like the right time to try the idea out, and so I decided to make a simple salsa, combining the strawberries with the cilantro, some fresh mint, red onion, and a few other flavorings. And, despite my initial dubiousness, the flavor pairing really did work! The salsa was quite tasty and lighter than a normal tomato salsa. I think it would go especially well with grilled fish or perhaps other meats. I didn't have any fish on hand, but I baked some chickpea and black sesame seed chips to go with the salsa, and that worked out very nicely.

10-15 strawberries (fresh or frozen would work, but since it's Spring I had to use fresh ones!)
A small bunch of cilantro, stalks and leaves (about 20 stalks altogether)
A handful of fresh mint leaves
Half a red onion
A spoonful of citrus juice (lemon, lime, or orange)
A generous spoonful of balsamic vinegar

Wash the cilantro and mint, and crush them together with the salt until you get a paste (It may help to cut the cilantro stems first as they're a bit harder to crush). Wash the strawberries, cut off the leaves and any white parts at the tops, and chop them into small bits. Then mash the strawberries up thoroughly (the chopping helps cut the skin, which can otherwise stay intact when you mash them). Dice the red onion and combine the onion, strawberries, and mint-cilantro paste in a large bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, mix well, cover, and let sit at least half an hour at room temperature. You can also refrigerate for several hours before eating.

Serve as an accompaniment to fish, meats, breads, chips, or anything else you think might go well!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Chickpea and black sesame seed chips

I've had a box of black sesame seeds sitting around for months now, and this is the first time I've actually used them. As it turns out, they are delicious, and I'm sure that now that I've discovered this, the box will be gone in no time!

Perhaps the flavor is the same as with regular sesame seeds, but to me these tasted extraordinarily full-bodied and satisfying - full of umami, if you will! Combine that with the delicious taste of chickpeas, and you've got a wonderful snack, that requires very little work and tastes much better than any store-bought chips or crackers.

Ingredients (makes about 25 chips):
75-100 g. chickpea flour
25 g. whole wheat flour
A spoonful of sea salt
A large spoonful of olive oil.
Black sesame seeds
Warm water

Preheat the oven to 355º F / 180º C, and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Sift the two flours together with the salt and then form the flour mixture into a well, so the flour is highest on the sides, with a sort of hole in the center.

Pour the olive oil into the center of the well, and then add in the water, a bit at a time, mixing until all the flour has been incorporated, and you have a stickyish round of dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a couple minutes, just to combine everything - you don't have to knead a lot, since there's hardly any gluten in the mixture anyways.

If you want, you can let the dough rest about 15-20 minutes before rolling out. I didn't let it rest this time though, and everything turned out fine.

Roll the dough out until it's very thin, and then use a sharp knife to cut the outlines of whatever shapes you want your chips to be (I went for simple triangles). You don't need to cut all the way through - the chips will break apart once baked.

Brush the dough with water and sprinkle the sesame seeds over everything. Place in oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes until chips are golden-brown and crispy. Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes, break apart and serve.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sourdough walnut bread

Though I'm not a big fan of walnuts per se, I adore walnut bread - somehow the bread part manages to bring out the best of the walnuts and the walnuts bring out the best of the bread!

I've been baking a loaf or two of bread every week for awhile now, and though I try to vary it up from week to week with different types of bread, I've found that I just keep coming back to the walnut bread. I know it will be delicious, and I know I'll never get tired of it. The only downside to this bread is that it's so good that I hesitate to pile on lots of sandwich toppings because I'm afraid they'll drown out the flavor. In fact, this bread is fine to eat just by itself - add a bit of olive oil and salt and it's absolute heaven!

350 g. whole wheat flour
150 g. bread flour
A spoonful of salt
A spoonful of olive oil
Half a cup of walnuts
Sourdough starter
Warm water (as much as is necessary)

Naturally, to make sourdough bread, you'll need to have some sourdough starter. If you don't have the time to make starter, I suppose you could just use yeast, but the starter really adds a wonderful flavor here, so I strongly advise you to make your own. Once you make a starter, you can keep it in the refrigerator for years, just feeding it with flour and water every so often, and it will only get better over time!

The method I've been employing to make my sourdough bread recently is to make the dough one evening, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, and then give it a second rise and bake it the next day. While this does require a bit of planning ahead, it definitely improves the flavor of the bread, and I kind of like being able to spread out the bread-making over 2 days - that way I don't have to worry about not giving the dough enough time to rise.

So, if you want to follow that method, the day before you plan to bake your bread, make the dough. When I have time, I try to feed my sourdough starter about 5 hours before making the dough, so that I can build it up from roughly half a cup to almost a cup and a half - again, this is all with the aim of strengthening the flavor of the bread, and if you have time, I definitely recommend it.

Measure out your starter and add equal parts water and flour (I generally use whole wheat flour, but you can use any sort of wheat or rye flour), place in a covered container, and let sit several hours in a warmish place.

When you're ready to make your dough, mix together the two flours in a large bowl. Chop the walnuts into medium-small pieces and set aside. Prepare your kneading space by dusting with flour, and have a large cup of warm water ready. Also, just in case you forgot, make sure to remove any rings and watches, tie your hair up if it's long, and wear an apron (I know these are very basic bread-making tips, but I often forget at least one of these things until I'm already halfway through the dough-making and my hands are covered with flour, so I thought I'd include them here). The apron is not always necessary, but it's a good idea, especially if you're wearing dark clothing.

Measure out a quarter cup of the freshly fed starter, mix with a quarter cup of flour and a quarter cup of water, and return it to the refrigerator. The rest of the starter will go into the dough. Form the flour into a sort of well, and sprinkle the salt around the outside of the well. Pour the olive oil into the middle of the well, and then add in the starter. Incorporate the flour into the starter, starting from the inside and working your way out. Add water as needed, pouring in a bit and then mixing until the dough starts to become dry, and then adding more. Continue this way until all the flour has been incorporated into the starter and water, and you have a slightly wet, sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto your floured board, and do something called "fraisage". I first read about this on the baking site The Fresh Loaf, and though it's generally recommended as a way to get flakier pastry crusts, it's featured in this video of Danielle Forestier showing Julia Child how to make french bread, and I've found that if nothing else, it cuts down on the kneading time. Probably improves the flavor too, but I haven't done any scientific experiments to determine that yet...

In any case, fraisage is just a technique in which you turn the dough out and then sort of stretch it all out. Place the palm of your hand in the center of the dough and then push it out towards the left end of the board. Repeat, only this time push out the dough at an angle slightly closer to the center, and continue pushing out the dough all around. After this, let the dough sit for a couple of minutes (you can use the time to wash any dishes that need it).

Once the dough has sat a bit, turn it out again, and knead for 5-10 minutes, until it is resistant when you push down on it. Fold in the walnuts by taking a few spoonfuls, placing them in the middle of the dough, folding the bottom of the dough over the top, giving the dough a quarter turn, and then pushing it down again. Repeat with another few spoonfuls of walnuts, and continue this way until you have used up all the walnuts. Then fold the right and left sides of the dough over into thirds, give the dough a quarter turn, and repeat.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a floured bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, take the dough out of the refrigerator at least 2 hours before you want to bake it, more if possible. Because the dough will be cold, the second rise takes longer than it would if you had let the dough rise at room temperature - for that I generally give the dough a second rise of one hour, but here I aim for more like 3 hours.

Punch the dough down, and divide it into whatever shapes you want your final loaves to be. I went for two oval-shaped loaves this time.

Cover the dough with a well-floured cloth, and let rise for 2-3 hours. 45 minutes to an hour before baking, preheat your oven to 450º F / 235º C. If using a baking stone, make sure the baking stone is in the oven before you preheat it!

Just before baking, score the loaves, by making several deep cuts into the tops with a sharp knife or razor blade. Place in oven, and after about 5 minutes turn the heat down to 400º F / 205º C. Let bake another 20-30 minutes, remove from oven, and let cool.

Serve as a tartine, a sandwich, a complement to a meal, or simply on its own!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Aloo gobi

This mixture of potatoes and cauliflower is one of the most popular and well-known Indian dishes, and if you ever make it, you'll understand why. It's simple, satisfying, and it fills your kitchen with delicious aromas while it's cooking!

The thing about Indian recipes is that there's almost never just one authoritative version. Everyone has their own particular mix of spices that they add, and the amount and type of spices used define the dish and make it unique to its creator. While this is great, it means that if, like me, you're a novice at making Indian food, you just have to experiment a bunch of times to figure out what spice blends work best for you, and you may run into some less-than-perfect combinations on the way!

It took me three tries to come up with a version of this that I really liked, and in the end it was the simplest version that won out. However, if you're up for it, I encourage you to experiment with your own spice combinations to figure out which Aloo Gobi is your favorite. If not, I can assure you that the recipe below is a good one and is unlikely to offend anyone's taste buds!

2 medium potatoes (the aloo)
1 head of cauliflower (the gobi)
1 smallish onion
A couple cloves of garlic
A knob of fresh ginger
1 spoonful of cumin seeds
1 small spoonful of coriander seeds
1 spoonful of turmeric
1 small spoonful of garam masala*
1 small spoonful of ground red pepper (optional - I left it out this time and then ended up adding some pepper later because I didn't think the dish was spicy enough)
Olive oil or other vegetable oil - olive oil isn't very traditional, but I tend to use it for anything and everything that I can
A spoonful of lemon juice

*Garam masala is a spice mixture that I like to add to just about every Indian dish because it tastes so good. Though you can buy it in many stores, I highly recommend making your own, as it will generally be more flavorful and last longer. To make mine, I dry-roasted some cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, chopped nutmeg, black peppercorns, star anise, and bay leaves, and then ground them all together. I used my coffee grinder for that and so I had garam masala-tasting coffee for weeks afterward. Not so bad, really!

Rinse the cauliflower and fill a large bowl with cold water. Add the lemon juice and place the cauliflower, head down, into the bowl. Let soak for half an hour. This step can probably be omitted, but if you're worried about your cauliflower being dirty, it's a good way to get all the bugs out. Gross, I know, but not as gross as finding a dead bug on your plate...

Grind the coriander seeds to a powder and set aside with the turmeric and chili powder. Peel the garlic and ginger, mince them and then crush them together into a paste. The garlic-ginger paste is very common in Indian recipes and often has green chili peppers added as well, though I didn't add them here.

Peel and dice the onion, and then peel the potatoes and dice them as well.

In a large pan, heat some olive oil. When the olive oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and let them cook a few minutes until they start to sizzle. Once they start sizzling, add the onion and cook until it's translucent and soft. Add in the garlic-ginger paste, let cook a few more minutes, and then add in the potatoes and the turmeric, ground coriander, and chili powder. Let cook a minute or so on medium-high heat, and then add the garam masala. Add in enough water to cover the potatoes, let the water come to a boil, cover the pot, and turn the heat down to low. Let the potatoes cook about 10-15 minutes while you prepare the cauliflower by washing it and dividing it into little florets.

Once the potatoes are halfway cooked, add in the cauliflower, cover the pot again and let cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the cauliflower are tender, but not mushy. Add the salt, stir, and let any excess water boil off.

Serve warm with roti (Indian griddle bread), rice, or whatever else you please. Also tastes very good after being refrigerated and reheated, so make even more than you think you should!