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Archive for the ‘pasta’ Category

In case you’re wondering, that is the title of a sweet, little film we saw about a month ago. It’s a short film that was featured in this year’s San Francisco Women’s Film Festival, created by a friend of a friend. Check it out.

The title of the film alone sold me. The heroine in the film is named Gnocchi Bolognese. Her mother named her after a signature dish that her father made as a chef, but sadly, her father does not even know that Gnocchi exists.

There’s a funny dream sequence where Gnocchi imagines being eaten alive as gnocchi. Scary thought, but it didn’t keep me from craving a dish of gnocchi bolognese.

This was a gnocchi-making first for me. A pretty successful first, I think. This potato gnocchi doesn’t sit like lead in your stomach, like most gnocchi’s tend to do. On the contrary, these little guys are on the feathery side, and they found a perfect home in a substantial meaty sauce. We were able to eat quite a few of them.

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Gnocchi Bolognese (serves 6)
adapted from here

potato gnocchi

2-1/2 pounds large baking potatoes
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake potatoes at 400° for 1 1/2 hours or until done; cool slightly. (For a faster method, I boiled the potatoes by putting potatoes into cold water and bringing it to a boil, then lowering the heat to a simmer. If you do it this way, be sure to keep an eye on the potatoes so that you take them out when they’re tender. I overcooked my potatoes, and the skins broke, adding a lot of moisture to the dough.) Cut each potato in half lengthwise; scoop out pulp. Discard skins. Mash pulp. Place 4 cups mashed potatoes in a large bowl, reserving remaining mashed potatoes for another use. (I also pushed my mashed potatoes through a sieve/strainer; using a potato ricer would be easier, if you have one.) Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and egg yolks to 4 cups mashed potatoes, and stir to combine. Knead until smooth (about 2 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).

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Note: As I mentioned above, my dough was extra sticky due to the added moisture from boiling the potatoes. I didn’t know when to stop adding flour at this point, and decided to just roll the dough into ropes even when it still felt very sticky. I had little to worry about, though, as the floured surface prevented any sticking from happening. The less flour you end up adding, the lighter your gnocchi will be. Even with the extra flour I added, my gnocchi was surprisingly light and fluffy.

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Divide dough into 6 portions. Shape each portion into a 10-inch-long rope. Cut each rope into 10 (1-inch) pieces; roll each piece into a ball (I forgot this step, so my gnocchi look a bit wonky). Working with one dough piece at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), using your thumb or index finger, roll dough piece down the tines of a lightly floured fork (gnocchi will have ridges on one side and an indentation on the other). Place gnocchi on a lightly floured baking sheet. If you’re unsure about how to roll the dough pieces down a fork, you can view this video here.

sauce

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 lb beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 oz pancetta cubes (I got mine from Trader Joe’s)
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/3 cup dried chopped porcini mushrooms (about 3/8 ounce)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp dried thyme

To prepare sauce, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 3 minutes, browning on all sides and adding pancetta 1 minute into cooking. Remove meat from pan, and cool slightly. Finely chop meat.

Heat pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, porcini, and garlic cloves; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped meat, milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt, tomatoes, and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour. Uncover and cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in parsley and thyme; cook 15 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf.

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putting it together

Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add gnocchi in batches, and one at a time so that you don’t lower the temperature of the water too much. Add enough gnocchi depending on how many you want to serve; cook 3 minutes or until done (gnocchi will rise to the surface). Take care not to overcook the gnocchi. Remove cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon; place in the sauce to keep cooked gnocchi warm while you continue to cook the rest of the gnocchi. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese if you wish. If needed, you can freeze any uncooked leftover gnocchi.

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Silly me. I forgot to write about one of my most favorite food adventures.

A backpacking trip in Washington not only means a weekend of invigoratingly fresh air and breathtaking views, but dinner as well. On our hike to Shi Shi beach on the Olympic coast during the last week of May, J and I encountered a treasure trove of fiddlehead ferns. We decided that on the return trip back to the car, we would (illegally) pick some fiddlehead fern to send back home to his mom. (J’s mom is fond of eating the stems, and often uses them in her cooking.)

Fiddleheads are a more delicate variety of fern. True to its name, and like many other fern species, their young fronds start out tightly curled and resemble the head of a fiddle. As it matures, the frond gradually unfurls. One characteristic that distinguishes the fiddlehead from other ferns is that the young frond is curled so that it winds up upon itself and creates sort of a spiral. The fiddlehead portion of the fern is also considered a luxurious ingredient in many a fine dining restaurant, as I got to experience for myself earlier this year, visiting with good friends. (Hello, Erin and Abe!)

Needless to say, I was fairly excited about foraging for ingredients for a meal. Sloshing around in large patches of mud under intermittent drizzles of rain did not faze us at all. We were on a mission! It was amazing how adept our eyes had become, spotting out fiddlehead ferns amidst a forest of foliage.

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After coming back to Seattle, it took a couple of days for us to gather enough energy to prepare the fern. Thankfully, it kept pretty well in the fridge. To prepare the fern, we first soaked and washed it in cold water several times, separating the heads from the stems and using our hands to rub off the brown “feathers” decorating the stems. Then, in a large pot of boiling water, we blanched the heads and stems separately. The stems were laid out to dry over several days (this only takes a day if they’re laid out in the hot sun), while the heads were returned to the fridge, after a plunge in ice-cold water.

foraged fiddleheads

Several days passed before we cooked our precious fiddleheads for a dinner with friends. Fiddleheads have a nice earthy flavor, somewhat akin to the flavor of mushrooms. I wanted their flavor to be able to stand out, so I decided to keep the dish simple and without too many competing flavors. I sauteed the fiddleheads in a bit of butter and olive oil, together with pancetta for some savoriness. Lightly seasoned with salt and black pepper, the fiddleheads and pancetta were paired with an oh-so-good homemade pasta (hand-rolled by J, the greatest effort put into this recipe), and the final dish was topped with grated parmesan.

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pasta w/ fiddleheads & pancetta

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I crave spaghetti with marinara all the time. Even though it’s probably the go-to staple food for any college kid, it’s like comfort food to me. I love how it is so easy to make, and I love it especially with meatballs. I saw this recipe for meatballs in the New York Times awhile back and knew that I had to make my own. I sort of grew up on Costco meatballs, so this is a relatively new thing for me. Oh, the pleasure that the homemade meatball brings! These meatballs are nothing like frozen meatballs — they are not over-seasoned or fried to achieve a spherical shape.

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Meatballs

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil.

1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except olive oil by hand, using a light touch. Take a portion of meat in hand, and roll between palms to form a ball that is firmly packed but not compressed. Repeat, making each meatball about 2 inches in diameter.

2. In a large, heavy pot heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add meatballs in batches. Do not crowd. Brown well on bottoms before turning, or meatballs will break apart. Continue cooking until browned all over. Remove meatballs to a plate as each batch is finished. Let meatballs cool slightly; cover and refrigerate until needed.
Yield: About 16 meatballs.

Marinara

It doesn’t get any easier than this. For the sauce, I simply opened up a can of Trader Joe’s plum tomatoes with basil, diced the tomatoes, and threw the contents of the entire can in with the meatballs. The meatballs were pan-fried long enough until they were mostly cooked through; the rest of the cooking was done as the meatballs simmered in the tomatoes. To the tomato sauce I added some salt and pepper, and some sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

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