Sunday, January 31, 2016

Semolina and Ricotta Gnocchi with a Sage Butter Sauce

I have been wanting this cookbook, One Good Dish, for some time, and when I saw it among the offerings at my favorite used bookstore, Pegasus, I'll admit, I actually hemmed and hawed. The last thing I need is a new cookbook, and yet it's one of the first things I want. Reader, I bought it.

And I am delighted I did, for I made these unusual ricotta gnocchi--the method similar to the French pâte à choux, the dough for cream puffs and profiteroles. Sweet business, they are delightful--and delicate.

The first night I made these (and the night from which these photographs originate), we immediately made little quenelles to float in salted, boiling water. I lifted them gently from the liquid, and the drizzled sage butter atop them. More like dumplings than typical gnocchi, these were light, fluffy, and divine. 

The next night, I went for a run (while talking on the phone to my best friend, sometimes the only way I can get time to chat). She and I talked while I ran up hills (she did most of the talking then) and while I coasted down them (my turn to talk). Upon my arrival home, the husband had texted that he would be home late and that I should cook dinner without him. Enter leftover dough, which refrigerates nicely, I might add. Quenelles created again, and I chatted away with my friend. Not paying attention, I dumped the boiling water with the gnocchi into a strainer. The gnocchi fell apart completely. I was left with a semolina, ricotta mash. 

Which, I will admit, was equally as good with a slathering of sage butter if only a fraction as attractive as the night before's creation. The lesson here could be pay more attention to cooking. 

However, the take-home message I am going to glean is that these are darned tasty no matter how you serve them. Sometimes talking to your best friend, who is over 2000 miles away from you, takes precedence.


Semolina and Ricotta Gnocchi

Serves 4-6

2 cups water
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup semolina flour
3 large eggs
salt and pepper
Grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh ricotta, drained
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
2 tsp finely chopped sage
2 Tbsp slivered chives
6 Tbsp butter, melted
12 large sage leaves

1. Put the water in a medium saucepan, add 6 Tbsp solid butter, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the semolina all at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it comes together in a ball.  This wall take a minute or two, and then continue to cook for a minute more until it becomes firm.

2.  Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (alternately, use a hand mixer). Beat the dough at medium speed fora  few minutes, until it has cooled slightly. Add the eggs, one at a time, ensuring you have completely incorporated each egg before proceeding to the next one. The final dough should look smooth and glossy. 

3.  Mix in 1/2 tsp salt, a generous amount of pepper, nutmeg to taste, the lemon zest, ricotta, Pecorino, chopped sage, and chives. Mix on medium speed for a minute or two to combine the ingredients.

4.  To cook the gnocchi, bring a large wide pot of salted water to a rapid simmer. With a teaspoon, scoop up walnut-sized pieces of dough and nudge them into the water with the help of a slotted spoon. Be sure not to overcrowd the gnocchi (no more than 12 at a time). When they rise to the surface, let them simmer for 2 minutes, then gently transfer them to a warm bowl with a slitted spoon. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi.

5.  Warm the meted butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the sale leaves and simmer for 1 minute.

6.  Divide the gnocchi among shallow soup bowls. Drizzle the gnocchi generously with the sage-infused butter. Sprinkle some cheese over each bowl, if desired.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Siu Mai Open-Faced Dumplings

Yum, yum. Dim sum.

I am a fan of dim sum, a statement that hardly needs be made here in a blog that extols the virtues of morsels and sauces. A few years ago, when (one of) the landlocked niece(s) came to visit, we took her out for dim sum; she declared that Cantonese food was not her favorite cuisine (instead, she insisted that she loved Ethiopian or Indian food more). While I do not necessarily share in her ranking system (Steamed Pork Buns! Har Gau! Turnip Cakes! Phoenix Claws!), I am glad we got to introduce her to one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday morning.

Dim sum comes from a Cantonese tradition of weary travelers eating morsels and snacks with a pot of tea in roadside tea houses. Typically these small dishes are served from as early as 5 in the morning all the way until mid-afternoon. Such a tradition is one I readily embrace, and this new cookbook, Asian Dumplings, happily leads me on what is going to be one heck of a culinary journey, even if it is not solely to the dim sum house.  Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen is generous in her dumpling offerings, and her book covers East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. In her introduction, she acknowledges that she has had to leave off Central Asia, the Middle East, Turkey, and most of Russia. Perhaps there is hope that she will write a sequel, as this little book is delightful.

With stops in Malayasia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India (to name a few), as well as the more standard stops in China, Nguyen offers up Nepalese Vegetable and Cheese Dumplings, Filipino Chicken and Egg Buns, Fried Sticky Rice Dumplings, Curry Puffs, Samosas, Shrimp Wonton Soup, Gyoza, and Steamed Pork Buns. You'll see your favorite dim sum treats, and be nudged to try a slew of others, including Empanadas and Thai Tapioca Pearl Dumplings. The flavors are bold and the geography wide reaching.

Nguyen encourages you to make the wrappers from scratch, and she provides extensive recipes in order to do so. Nguyen suggests that if we limit ourselves to only store bought wrappers, we will limit ourselves from the multitude of dumplings served throughout Asia. She does suggest some specialized equipment--from a pasta roller, a tortilla press, and a bamboo steamer--but she also gives hints on how to improvise in the kitchen, including crisscrossing chopsticks atop a wok to create a makeshift steamer (although she argues that an actual steamer--metal or bamboo--is much better).

Admittedly, for this first foray into the book, we used store bought wonton wrappers, and we went for a classic dim sum staple, Siu Mai--steamed pork (and sometimes shrimp) dumplings. These morsels, when coupled with soy sauce and hot mustard, are the perfect rainy day treat. And thankfully, the recipe makes 25-30 dumplings, enough to fill up on a 1/2 dozen or so each and then freeze the rest. 

Delightfully, the water chestnuts add crunch to a simple and fresh pork and mushroom base. I opted not to garnish of diced carrots or peas (but left that step in the recipe in case you're feeling all fancy and stuff). I would like to say we lingered over these morsels and savored them. We did not. 

We ate them too quickly, gobbling them up with glee. But they were so darned good. 

Now I just have a rainy afternoon in front of me. I can't wait to see what dumpling is in my near future. And with this cookbook, I just might even convince the niece that she should move dim sum higher on her culinary list next time she comes to visit.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Siu Mai Open-Faced Dumplings

About 25-30 dumplings, serving 6-8 as a snack

For the filling:
2/3 pounds coarsely ground pork (fattier kind preferred)
4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Generous 1/4 cup finely diced water chestnuts
3 Tbsp finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 large egg white, beaten

30 round siu mai (wonton) skins
1 1/2 Tbsp finely diced carrots or 30 peas for garnish (optional)
Soy sauce
Chinese hot mustard or Colman's English mustard

1. To make the filling:  In a bowl, combine the pork, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and scallions. Use a fork or spatula to stir and lightly mash the ingredients together so they begin to blend.

2.  Put the salt, sugar, pepper, cornstarch, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and egg white into a small bowl and stir to combine well.  Pour over the meat mixture, and stir, fold, and mash everything together until they form a compact mass.

3.  Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, returning it to room temperature before assembling the dumplings.  You should have a generous 2 cups of filling.

4.  To assemble the dumplings: Line steamer trays and/or a baking sheet with parchment paper (for the baking sheet, lightly dust the paper with cornstarch to prevent sticking). Set aside.

5.  Hold a siu mai skin in one hand. Using your other hand and a fork, scoop about 1 Tbsp of the filling, and position it in the center of the skin, pressing down gently. After setting down the fork, pick up the skin, and gather and pinch it together to form an open bag. Use both sets of index fingers and thumbs to bring up the sides of the skin and gently press it into the filling at four equidistant places. The skin should stick easily. Then repeatedly gather, pinch, and rotate the dumpling to form the sides of the bag. There should be a slight "waist" near the top. Secure the waist by wrapping your index finger and thumb around it as if you're making a very loose fist. Crown the dumpling with a sprinkling of carrots or a pea, if using. Hold the dumpling a few inches over the work surface, then drop it to flatten the bottom and ensure it sits upright.  (See below for pictures.)

6.  If steaming right away, place each finished dumpling in a bamboo or metal steamer tray, open side up, spacing them 1/2 inch apart and 1 inch away from the edge if you're using a metal steamer.  Otherwise place the waiting dumplings on the baking sheet 1/2 inch apart.

7.  Keeping he finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel to prevent drying, form and fill wrappers from the remaining dough. Dumplings made several hours in advance of cooking should be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer them to a plastic container and keep them frozen up to 1 month; partially thaw them before steaming.

8.  To cook the dumplings: Steam the dumplings in a bamboo or metal steamer basket/tray over boiling water for 6-8 minutes, until the dumplings have puffed slightly and their skins have become translucent. Remove each tray and place it atop a serving plate.

9.  Serve immediately with the soy sauce and hot mustard.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Baked Rigatoni with Bolognese Meat Sauce

In a delayed New Year's post, I am am going to admit that, in general, we don't do a lot for New Year's Eve.  This is in part because we used to have a big family dinner on New Year's Day, but our ushering in of the new year is a little more tame now that the in-laws have their new place up near Mendocino, a good three-hour drive away.  Five if you stop at a winery or for lunch. Or both. Or just the wine.

However, for New Year's Eve this year, I did make this baked pasta dish from the famed Marcella Hazan. Combined with a salad, it made for a hearty way to end 2015 and ensured that a few weeks of restraint were in the hopper for 2016.

This recipe is a two-day process, given that you need to make the Bolognese Meat Sauce. However, that sauce is pure perfection, so if you make it, make double the amount. Half of it you can use here and the other half can be used how ever you like. Which might just mean eating it with a spoon from the pot. I won't judge.

I posted on the meat sauce last month, so you can find the recipe there. But if you're in a pinch, use whatever good meat sauce you have on hand.

I did make some adaptations, mostly because you and I both know I have a proclivity for sauces. Consequently, I halved the pasta, a modification reflected in the recipe below, and I added bread crumbs. Because, people, I love breadcrumbs on baked pastas. I am not alone.

As I said, the dish is hearty. A diet must ensue the day or two afterwards--but we all made that our New Year's resolution, anyway, right?  Anyway, it's about that time that we're about to break the resolution, so dig into this simple dinner to feed a group.

Buon appetito e Felice Anno Nuovo!


Baked Rigatoni with Bolognese Meat Sauce

4 Servings (with a salad for a meal)

Bolognese Meat Sauce

For the béchamel sauce:

1 cups milk
2 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1.5 Tbsp flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the pasta:
3/4 pounds rigatoni

6 Tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3-4 Tbsp bread crumbs
Butter for preparing the baking dish and dotting the pasta

1. Make the Bolognese Meat Sauce. You need 2 rather full cups.

2.  To make a béchamel sauce: put the milk in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium low, and bring the milk just to the verge of boiling, to the point when it begins to form  ring of small, pearly bubbles.

3.  While heating the milk, but the butter in a heavy-bottomed, 4- to 6-cup saucepan, and turn on the heat to low. When the butter has melted completed, add all the flour, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Cook, while stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Do not allow the flour to become colored. Remove from heat.

4.  Add the hot milk to the flour-and-butter mixture, no more than 2 tablespoons at a time. Stir steadily and thoroughly. As soon as the first 2 tablespoons of milk have been incorporated into the mixture, add 2 more and continue to stir. Repeat this procedure until you have added 1/2 cup milk; you can now pour in the rest of the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until all the milk has been smoothly integrated into the flour and butter. This slower process keeps the sauce from being lumpy.

5.  Put the pan over low heat, add the salt, and cook, stirring without interruption until the sauce is as dense as thick cream. You want a medium-thick béchamel sauce.  To make it even thicker, cook and stir a little longer.

6. To make and assemble the pasta: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

7. Cook the rigatoni in abundant, boiling, salted water. Drain when exceptionally firm, a shade less cooked than al dente because it will undergo additional cooking in the oven. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

8.  Add the meat sauce, béchamel sauce, and 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan to the pasta. Toss thoroughly to coat the pasta well and distribute the sauces uniformly.

9.  Lightly smear the baking dish with butter or spray with cooking oil. Put the entire contents of the bowl into the baking dish, leveling it with a spatula. Top with 3 tablespoons grated cheese and the bread crumbs. Put the dish on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven and back for 10 minutes, until a bit of a crust forms on top. If you want it extra toasty, put it under the broiler for a minute or two. After taking it out of the oven, allow the rigatoni to settle for a few minutes before bringing to the table.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Persimmon Loaf (Or Persimmon Quick Bread)

Oh, Happy New Year! What a delight.  Let's start 2016 off just right, okay?

One of my very favorite poems of all time is "Persimmons" by Li-Young Lee.  Take a minute. Go read it. I promise it's worth it.

See.  Wasn't that breathtaking?

From forced assimilation to a poignant connection to one's aging father with stops at different layers of startling sensuality along the way, this poem bowls me over every time I read it. Torn between cultures, the speaker explores what we can recover or inherit from our families and what we invent for ourselves. This hybridity creates a new language, one of love, loss, and revelation.

And ain't all that just fruit glorious in all its symbolism?

The persimmon used in this baked good--more cake than bread--is the hachiya persimmon Lee references in the poem. Hachiya persimmons need to be ripe, really ripe, to be eaten, or they are bitter and unpalatable. They are astringent unless their tannins are allowed to mellow with a long-ripening process.

Fuyu persimmons, characterized by their round shape and flat bottom, can be eaten straight from a tree. But the heart-shaped Hachiya persimmons need patience. So much patience, you may think you have moved into the rotten stage. However, wait until the fruit is soft and squishy (almost like jelly) and the skin has begun to peel away from the flesh. Then, and only then, will you have a fruit worthy of Lee's poem.

Once the fruit is ripe, you can simply peel away the skin slowly to reveal a dome of fresh pulp. Or you can cut it in half, and then scoop out the soft, meaty flesh. The end result either way is a mash of fruit that acts much like pureed pumpkin (and has resonant flavors).

This loaf is as delightful the first day as it is next month if you freeze individual slices when you need another dose of persimmons. So go out, grab the last of the season's persimmons, be patient as they ripen, and then reap the sweet, subtle rewards.

Just like that poem. Let's go read Lee's poem just one more time, shall we?


Persimmon Loaf (or Persimmon Quickbread)

Adapted from Baking in America

1 large loaf cake, 12 servings

3/4 cups pecan halves or large pieces
4 very ripe Hachiya persimmons
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp cloves
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
6 ounces pitted dates, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1.  Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan, or coat with cooking spray. Dust the pan all over with flour, knock out the excess, and set aside.

2.  Place the pecans on a shallow baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes--until they give off a toasty aroma and barely turn light tan. Set aside to cool completely.

3.  Cut the persimmons lengthwise in half. Use a spoon to scoop the pulp from the skin. Place the pulp into a medium bowl and break it up with a pastry blender/cutter. You want a puree with some texture, so leave a few lumps. Measure 1 1/2 cups and set aside. (Any remaining persimmon is great stirred into a bowl of oatmeal.)

4.  Resift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, mace and cloves.  Set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer on high speed for 1-2 minutes, until slightly thickened. Beat in both sugars and the vanilla, and beat for 3-4 minutes until very thick. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly drizzle in the oil in a thin stream until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the bowl, and beat on high speed for 1 minute. Add the persimmon puree and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

6.  On low speed gradually add the dry ingredients, beating only until thoroughly incorporated. With a rubber spatula, stir in the dates, then the pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

7.  Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the loaf is well browned and springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake, and unmold the cake onto a wire rack. Turn the loaf and cool it completely.

8.  Cut into portions with a sharp serrated knife. Serve with butter or cream cheese. Wrapped airtight, this loaf keeps well for up to 1 week at room temperature, or freeze it for up to 1 month.