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Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category


the secret to a greener pesto

Seattle was beautiful. It was refreshing. It was sunny the entire 5 days I was visiting – a miracle, considering it rains roughly 80% of the time out there. I did get back to Annapolis about two weeks ago, but less than 24 hours after my plane landed, I was back at the airport to pick up my parents. My mom had been here before, but this was my dad’s first time at my new place. That means I put everything aside, my blog included, and showed them a good time.

my friends and I in Seattle

(left to right: Me, Charles, Paul, Andy and Nick)

I was in Seattle for the 2009 Web Design World Conference. If you’re into web design and development and ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. The speakers were all leaders in their respective fields and gave engaging presentations; these were a few of my favorites: Jared Spool (UI mastermind), Shawn Henry (Queen of Accessibility), Dan Rubin (CSS ninja) and Cameron Moll (design guru).

if only I had a kitchen in my hotel room

Pike Place Market was probably my favorite place to walk around in Seattle. It somehow manages to embody the small town feel of a local market, but on a large scale. The vendors, although swarming with clients, had conversations with you, jugglers and singers entertained small crowds, and best of all, the quality and selection of local produce was unbelievable – it was a fun place to be.

rockin’ local veggies

The market stands were filled with beautiful local vegetables, and the competing venders kept prices pretty low – always a plus.

my lunchtime view of the bay

Most of the lunch venues at the Market have a gorgeous panoramic view of the bay. It was the perfect sight to stare into while I enjoyed my grilled halibut sandwich.

I miss Seattle

The trip back to the east coast was ambivalent. Although I wanted to stay in Seattle forever, and visit Pike Place Market everyday, it was time to go back. I stayed staring out the airplane window for most of the flight back, thinking about what I can blog about once I get home. This pesto, for sure, was at the top of my list.

mise en place

I’ve always been a fan of the arugula-lemon combination. It’s one of those things in cooking that just works – like figs and blue cheese or chocolate and mint. Pesto, however, starts to get dark shortly after it comes together. This can be a problem if you’re dinner party starts in a couple hours or if you’re banking on some leftover sauce to give as gift or enjoy the next day. My good friend Michelle, who is quite the amazing cook, shared with me the secret to keep the vibrant green color in pesto, even days after it is made.

herein lies the secret – blanch your greens

The secret to keeping the gorgeous green color on the leaves is by blanching them in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. This process actually enhances the color of the chlorophyll, but since it is done quickly, it does not break down the greens either.

shock in ice bath

In order to preserve the bright green color the leaves turn, you need to immediately stop the cooking process after 10-15 seconds by plunging the greens into a bowl of ice-cold water. Make sure you drain and dry the greens before adding them to the pesto so as to not water down the sauce.

lemon zest for zing

Lemon zest, similar to salt, heightens the flavors of a dish without adding too much acidity.

extra virgin olive oil to combine

Once you have all the ingredients ready, you’ll want to bring them all together in the food processor with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

some acidity to make the flavors pop

Adding lemon juice is a matter of personal preference. I do it because I like how that little touch of acidity cuts the fat from the oil and cheese in the pesto. You can play around with different amounts and textures, but in the end you want the lemon flavor to be a subtle note in the background and not overpower the sauce.

Lemon infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

Lemon Infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

yields approx 1.5 cups

Components

  • 4 oz basil leaves, (approx 3 cups, lightly packed)
  • 2 oz arugula leaves, (approx 1 cup, lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Boil water in a large pot and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl.
  2. Salt the boiling water. Add the basil and arugula leaves for 10-15 seconds and immediately plunge in ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color in the leaves.
  3. Strain the leaves and pat dry using a clean towel. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor (or blender) and blend until well combined.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy with pasta or refrigerate with a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface to preserve the green color for up to a week.

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a peak of what’s coming up next!

A world outside of mozzarella & pepperoni

A simple google search for kid-friendly recipes is scary. What shows up, in fact, is a harrowing slew of butter-saturated, sugar-filled recipes written with a complete disregard for health. I discovered this last week because I was looking for just that – simple recipes that I can make with kids.

My friend Beth invited me to cook in front of a class of kindergarten students. Her son is in the class and they were looking for someone to do a cooking demo for the kids’ end of the year party – I was flattered that they thought of me and happily accepted.

I took this as my tiny opportunity to make a difference in the way these kids looked at food. While this was not the time to introduce them to the delicate flavors of perfectly-seared scallops or steak tartare, I wanted to cook with them something they’re familiar with, but probably never had before. I decided to let them make their own pizzas. Instead of just mozzarella and pepperoni though, I brought with me a ton of different vegetables and all sorts of sauces for them to experiment with. Well-aware of the fact that the kids will have a short attention span that rivals mine, I also brought with me my pizza paddle and pizza stone so they could take turns sliding their pizzas into the oven.

flying food is always fun for kids

One of my favorite pizza combinations we made with the kids was a lemon-infused, goat ricotta, white pizza topped with thinly sliced zucchini. The flavors are light, refreshing, and clean — perfect for the hot summer days ahead.

mise en place

Count them – four ingredients; five if you include the extra virgin olive oil. This means no skimping on ingredients! I tried this same pizza with regular ricotta and it doesn’t work. The wow factor just wasn’t there. If you absolutely cannot find goat-milk ricotta, however, not to worry. Mix a semi-firm chevre (like Spanish Capricho de Cabra) with some good quality, fresh ricotta and you’ll get a similar result. Like I said, it won’t be spot-on, but it will get you pretty close.

lemon zest makes me happy

The lemon zest in the ricotta serves two purposes. Not only does it heighten the flavors of the goat cheese, but it also gives the pizza a clean, crisp flavor. I recommend using organic citrus whenever a dish calls for using the zest or rind.

almost paper thin, almost

Zucchini has lots of moisture and moisture is the kryptonite, so to speak, of pizza. To remove some of this excess moisture you’ll want to thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline) and fan the slices out on a plate so they’re not on top of each other. Then season the slices with salt and pepper and the salt will start to break down the cell walls of the zucchini, and thus allowing it to give up some of that moisture. Soak it up with a paper towel and your ready to roll.

extra virgin olive oil

The kids were shocked when I hinted at the idea of a pizza without tomato sauce. Their facial expressions were absolutely priceless. And although not many chose to forgo the traditional red sauce, I feel like those that did may have a bright culinary future ahead of them!

Lemon-Infused Goat Ricotta White Pizza With Sliced Zucchini

Lemon, Goat Ricotta & Zucchini Pizza

makes 1 large pizza

Components

  • 24 oz. pizza dough
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lb goat milk ricotta
  • zest of 1-2 lemons
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Zest the lemon(s) and stir the zest into the goat ricotta
  2. Thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline), fan out on a plate, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a paper towel to soak up some of the moisture.
  3. Stretch pizza dough to approx 1/8″ thickness – this pizza is better thin than thick – and brush a thin coat of olive oil over the top.
  4. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the top and top with the thin slices of zucchini.
  5. Preferably bake on a hot (550 degrees F) pizza stone for 5-7 minutes or until the crust gets golden brown.

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This is why everyone should invest in a pizza stone:

perfectly crispy crust

Molly’s Tomatoes

Yesterday, my Friday started out like a dreadful Monday in disguise. It was pouring, I was running late for work and I had a flat tire. In retrospect, this wasn’t too bad. I called in late, pulled up my sleeves and youtubed: how to change a tire. I was mildly amused by the number of videos there were for this topic. After watching a few I thought I was fully-trained, if not an expert, on how to put on those silly-looking donut wheels. To make a long, miserable story short – my spare also turned out to be flat, the tow truck took 3 hours to pick me up, and it took 2 hours to get my wheel changed  – never in my life had I felt so much relief in returning home and closing the door behind me.

Before going to bed last night, I finished Molly’s book: A Homemade Life. If you haven’t already bought it, you need to go and pick up a copy. In her book she has a chapter appropriately titled and dedicated to happiness, which apparently is achieved by slow-roasting tomatoes for six hours. I was convinced. After my miserable chain of events, I set out to make this recipe on Saturday morning, and ran errands while the tomatoes did their thing in the oven.

mise en place

Molly’s recipe calls for coriander, which I didn’t have, but I sprinkled some dried thyme instead, and added couple cloves of minced garlic for good measure. I cook under the illusion that anything roasted should have garlic in it. Ultimately though, I was happy that I found a recipe for the large bowl of tomatoes idly resting on the dining room table, just waiting to be used.

tossed in olive oil, thyme & garlic

The dish couldn’t have been easier to put together. I sneaked a taste of a couple the quartered tomatoes, put the rest in the oven at 200 degrees F, and went on with my errands. *I knew I wasn’t going to take long, but if you’re going to do this, I recommend using the cook-time feature in your oven so that it could turn itself off automatically.

ready to combine

After six hours, your entire house will take on the wonderful scent of the roasted tomatoes and lemony thyme. In order to make it a meal, I toasted a few slices of a day-old baguette, topped them with a healthy smear of fresh goat cheese, and a couple pieces of the slow-roasted tomatoes. Molly was right, this is happiness.

roasted tomato, goat cheese crostini

As she describes in her book, the possibilities for flavoring or using these tomatoes are virtually endless. Tomorrow, for instance, I can’t wait to wake up and throw a couple of these in with my scrambled eggs. I can then layer a few more pieces inside my sandwich for lunch, or toss them in with my salad – you get the idea.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

approx 1 cup of roasted tomatoes

Components

  • 2 lbs roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • thyme, to taste (approx 1 tsp)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Wash and dry tomatoes. Quarter them and scatter them on a large baking sheet.
  2. Gently, using your hands, toss the tomatoes with the oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.
  3. Bake at 200 degrees F for 4-6 hours or until tomatoes crinkle at the edges and shrink by about half.
  4. Pull them out of the oven, let them cool and eat as desired.

notes: Recipe adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. Roma tomatoes are best for this recipe, but any tomato will work just as fine. You could go longer than 6 hrs if you’d like, I actually went 7hrs when I made these and they were excellent.

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deliciously wrinkly

According to the atmospheric noise generated by this random-number generator, these three commenters will be receiving a pack of mahlab in the mail.

Congratulations to Hélène, Katie and Hannah, respectively, and thank you to everyone who commented and e-mailed me with their support. 

fried gnocchi.

I’m not a liar, I promise. I know that in my croquetas post I mentioned that I hated frying, and I do, but I couldn’t pass this up. Last week I made about 200 gnocchi for A Taste of the Mediterranean; after photographing them, I boiled a quick batch for dinner with some leftover pesto and stashed the remaining 180 in my freezer, in individual servings. 

mise en place

The idea for this snack came to me last Thursday at around midnight while studying for my Arabic exam the following day. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know this is not my first craving this week. For some reason, probably having to do with the endless hours I spend studying Arabic grammar, I’ve been craving everything from oatmeal raisin cookies, dates (the edible kinds), to tatter tots. I stopped conjugating irregular verbs for a second and thought about frying up some of the gnocchi I had in my freezer, but I didn’t. Instead I continued conjugating and waited until right after my test Friday afternoon to fulfill my craving. As you could tell from the mise en place photo though, I knew that one bag wasn’t going to be enough that afternoon.

they puff up like pillows

Once you start to plop the gnocchi into the hot oil they immediately begin to puff up like pillows. Fight the urge to nudge them around and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful, golden-brown nuggets of Italian deliciousness. As is my advice with all fried foods, also resist the urge to bite into the ones fresh out of the oil. I, of course, didn’t follow my own advice (again) and am typing this post with a slight tingly pain at the tip of my tongue.

fried gnocchi

I was in no mood to go shopping or do extra cooking after my exam, so I opted for store-bought tomato sauce my roommate (who recently found out she is allergic to tomatoes) had in the fridge. Another sauce that would probably go well with these is the saffron aioli I made back in the day.

Fried Gnocchi

yields approx 4-6 appetizer servings

Components

  • 48 gnocchi
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, for frying
  • tomato sauce

Putting them all together

  1. Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan (preferably cast iron) to 350-375 degrees F.*
  2. Fry the fresh or frozen gnocchi in small batches until golden brown on both sides.
  3. Move to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.
  4. Season with some salt, if necessary.
  5. Serve along side tomato sauce or saffron aioli

note: If you don’t have a thermometer and want to know if your oil is hot enough, stick the back end of a wooden spoon into the oil – if bubbles start to form on the spoon, your oil is ready for frying.

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dunk in dipping sauce of choice

edible italian clouds

I was able to wear a short sleeve shirt today without turning blue. It was bittersweet, however, because it made me realize that I’ve been remiss in blogging lately. Time does fly, but the truth is I started taking grad classes this semester and have literally been surviving off of cereal and my frozen batches of pastitsio that were supposedly reserved for “emergencies”. The pastitsio entries for A Taste of the Mediterranean were always a treat to read and an excuse for me to take a break from studying. So, to those who partook in lowering my gpa preserving my sanity, thank you. I’m happy to announce that the winner for February’s ATOM challenge is Joie de Vivre with her Lamb Pastitsio post! Make sure to check out all the creative pastitsio entries that were submitted, here.

This month we’re featuring Italy with Francesco from The Food Traveller. When I e-mailed Francesco to ask him what he wanted to prepare for ATOM, his heart was set on gnocchi (neo-ki). Last Sunday to prepare for the contest, I set aside some time in the afternoon, put on my nonna apron and cranked out a few hundred of these soft cloud-like Italian dumplings. It was beautiful.

mise en place

Before I start raving about this Italian pasta/dumpling, I need to make a confession. Although I’m not proud of it, a few years ago I fell into the temptation of cooking store-bought “gnocchi”, if you could even call them that. The stuff that’s sold in the vacuum-sealed packages is often a dense, starchy imitation of the traditional, billowy pieces of Italian heaven. Nothing more than an impostor.

As you can tell from the mise en place, the ingredients for this dish couldn’t be simpler. Ingredients that I’ll venture to say a good 80% of people (85% of foodies) already have on hand.

the well method

If you try googling for a gnocchi recipe, you’ll find that everyone pretty much has their own version. You’ll find some that boil the potatoes, a few that bake, some will call for eggs, others will use ricotta – it all depends on who taught them to make their recipe. You’ll often notice this trend in Italian recipes depending on what was available in the different regions.

The recipe that I use is one that I developed after trying different approaches to making gnocchi. This one boils the potatoes in the beginning, finishes them off in the oven and binds everything using an egg, and no ricotta. The reason why I boil and bake is because boiling the potatoes ensures that they do not dry out in the oven. I then finish them off in the oven for the opposite reason – to make sure that any excess moister gets evaporated. Once they come out of the oven, I peel and mash them to make something similar in texture to potato crumbles. If you have a food mill or a ricer you could use that to make sure you don’t over-mash the potatoes. Of course Italian grandmothers never needed these fancy gadgets to prepare their gnocchi; for them a fork and some old fashioned care was all they needed. Once you get the potatoes mashed you’ll want to combine them gently with the egg and the flour to form the dough, making sure to never over-knead the mix.  

my kind of treasure

The good thing about these dumplings is that they freeze extremely well and still taste infinitely better than any of the stuff you’ll pull from off the shelf. I doubled my recipe and froze individual-sized portions to last me the entire month, experimenting with different sauce ideas. The sauce is why it is important to create the ridges on the gnocchi – not only will the gnocchi look more authentic/prettier, but they will also have more surface area to hold on to the sauce. 

I can’t wait to see all the variations of gnocchi for A Taste of the Mediterranean – experiment with different doughs, sauces, presentations and submit your entry by March 31st for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to igourmet!

Potato Gnocchi

yields approx 6-8 servings

Components

  • 2 lbs potatoes, russet
  • 1 scant cup of flour
  • 1 egg
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Boil your potatoes (with the skin on) for 30 minutes or until slightly undercooked. If you poke one with a sharp knife it should still offer some resistance. 
  2. Transfer the potatoes to a 400 degree oven and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  3. While the potatoes are still hot, peel them and mash them with a ricer, food mill or a fork (whatever you have on hand).
  4. Let the mashed potatoes cool.
  5. Beat the egg.
  6. Create a well by layering the potatoes with 3/4 cup of the flour and the egg. 
  7. Start kneading the dough slowly and softly incorporating more flour as you need it. You’re looking for a soft dough that is still still slightly moist, but not sticky or tacky.
  8. Cut the dough into four pieces and start by rolling the wedges into 1/4 in. diameter snakes. 
  9. Slice every half inch and roll each gnocchi over the back of a fork to create ridges.
  10. Set aside on a sheet tray until ready to boil.

note: To make sure the gnocchi remain light and fluffy try your best not to overwork the dough by kneading it gently. To freeze the gnocchi for later, freeze them first in a large sheet tray first for about 5 hours then transfer them to individual zip-lock bags for convenience.

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