Friday, July 10, 2015

Pinzimonio di Ceci


Some outstanding new cookbooks hit our bookstore shelves in June 2015. Little Brown published The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer. Fischer worked in some prestigious kitchens, such as Babbo in New York and St. John Bread and The River Café in London, before running his family’s farm on Martha’s Vineyard. The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook features direct, simple dishes made with local ingredients: Beet Salad with Green Tomatoes and Radishes; Baby Leek, Asparagus and Pea Green Soup; Slow-Roasted Lamb Shanks with Parsnips; and Strawberry Shortcake. Fischer (with Catherine Young) penned a very fine work.

Across the pond Mitchell Beazley released Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Because Armenia is one of the book’s “Beyonds”, Mamushka intrigued me and I’m extremely happy I bought this cookbook. Hercules’s chapters covering fermented pickles and preserves, desserts and drinks stand out as among the best.  And speaking of dessert, here’s a shot of Hercules’s Osyne gnizdo (Wasp Nest Buns). Really good.


And now, let’s move on to the star of this post: Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy and published by England’s Saltyard Book Company. Even though I write a food blog, I don’t really read other cooking blogs…expect Roddy’s. Many of my favorite everyday recipes come from her cooking site, Rachel Eats. I understand that a US version of Five Quarters arrives in February 2016, but I couldn’t wait that long. I ordered my copy from overseas and it just arrived. I highly recommend this outstanding cookbook to anyone interested in simple, mostly Italian food.

Roddy lives in Rome’s Testaccio quarter. She writes that “Quinto quarto (the fifth quarter) is the name of the distinctive style of cooking created by the workers of the Testaccio slaughterhouse during the 1890s. Partially paid in kind with offal—which makes up a quarter of the animal’s weight, hence ‘fifth quarter’—the workers (or their wives) found clever ways of transforming their wages into nourishing and tasty meals.”

If offal puts you off, fear not! Roddy’s work isn’t entirely comprised of nose-to-tail dishes. Rather, her book celebrates simple, straightforward food that pretty much anyone can make without a whole bunch of fuss. Roddy culls excellent recipes and advice from locals in Rome, Italian friends and families, and talented food writers, such as Oretta Zanini De Vita, Fergus Henderson, Elizabeth David, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

Five Quarters contains so many excellent recipes that it’s hard to know where to begin cooking. Stand outs include: Fettuccine con Burro e Alici (Fettuccine with Butter and Anchovies) that I remember cooking from a Rachael Eats post; Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentil Soup), and Pinzimonio di Ceci (Chickpeas with Greens).

Let me quickly lament that some of my all-time favorite recipes from Roddy’s blog did not make it into her book. So I’ll just have to continue to visit Rachel Eats to find the recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovy Bread Crumbs and Eleonore’s Polpette, an AMAZINGLY delicious dish of small breaded meatballs fried and then finished with white wine.

If forced to pick my favorite recipe from Five Quarters, I choose Pinzimonio di Ceci or Chickpeas with Greens. I make some variation of this dish a handful of times every month. The original recipe comes from The River Café Cook Book (entitled Rogers Grey Italian Country Cookbook (1995) here in the States). Roddy writes that her copy of The River Café Cook Book “falls open at page 172” where you’ll find this recipe. She continues: “[t]he combination of the soft greens,…sweet and tender nubs of carrots and onion, heat from the chilli and depth from the wine and tomato is a full and delicious one.” Hear, hear! The dish serves 6.

600 g greens, preferably Swiss chard
1 red onion
2 carrots
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 dried chilli, crumbled
250 ml white wine
2 tablespoons tomato passata, or 1 tablespoon concentrate
400g cooked chickpeas
a generous handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice of ½ lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a fast boil, add the greens and blanch them briefly. The timing will depend on the greens; spring greens take 3-5 minutes. Taste them to check. Drain them well, and once they are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely and set aside.

Chop the onion and carrots. Warm the oil in a heavy-based sauté pan, add the onion, carrots and a pinch of salt and cook them slowly for 15 minutes, or until tender. Season with a little more salt and pepper and add the crumbled chilli. Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until it has almost completely reduced. Add the tomato passata or concentrate, greens and chickpeas, stir and cook, stirring every couple of minutes for 10 minutes.

Add three-quarters of the chopped parsley and the lemon juice, stir, remove from the heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large platter or serving plate, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and a little more extra-virgin olive oil, and serve.


Some notes and observations. Roddy writes that the dish is a meal in itself (and it is), but she will add some ricotta on the side or even an egg on top (which is a brilliant idea). I typically serve these chickpeas and greens over couscous or Japanese semi-brown rice. I’ve tried the dish using Swiss chard, kale, spinach, collard greens, beet greens and even stinging nettles. I like the spinach version best because of its soft, melting texture. I usually add celery to the onion and carrot battuto. I sometimes use chicken stock in place of the wine (and skip the lemon juice). In short, play with this recipe and adjust it to suit your taste.

I know that ordering a heavy cookbook from overseas costs a lot, but in the case of Five Quarters, I believe this fine book warrants the outlay. So far 2015 looks like a great year for cookbooks: first, Pasta by Hand (here); now Five Quarters; and on the horizon, This is Camino by Russell Moore.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hasselnötsflarn





In November of 2010 I shared a recipe for a comet-shaped butter cookie called a Straussburger (here). This recipe came from the 2008 English translation of the classic Swedish cookbook Sju Sorters Kakor or, in English, “Seven Kinds of Cake”. Swedes love the simple act of coming together during the day for coffee and conversation and a considerate host offers up at least seven kinds of cakes and cookies. Since 1945 home bakers have turned to Sju Sorters Kakor for recipes to help fill their cake and cookie trays. If this Swedish practice of slowing down and enjoying coffee and something to eat appeals to you, then I recommend Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. While Sju Sorters Kakor focuses on recipes, Fika explores the very Swedish act of taking a respite with coffee (or tea or some other beverage) and a snack.

Brones and Kindvall divide Fika into an introduction and five chapters: (1) a history of Swedish coffee; (2) modern-day fika; (3) the outdoor season; (4) celebrating more than the everyday; and (5) bread, sandwiches, and fika as a snack. So what exactly is a Swedish fika? Fika, which Swedes use as both a verb and a noun, essentially means “to drink coffee”. But as parsed by Brones and Kindvall, fika means more than just taking a break with a drink and snack. Fika changes depending upon its context. It might be a simple cup of tea and biscuit on a trip, a celebratory treat, or an opportunity to catch up with a friend.

Each of Fika’s chapters contains between 8 to 10 uniquely Swedish recipes to make and then enjoy whilst you fikastund (the moment you have fika). The majority of the book’s recipes lean toward baked goods, mostly sweet but some savory. Boy, do these treats sound appealing! Brones and Kindvall include recipes for kladdkaka, a flour-less sticky chocolate cake; kinuskikaka, a sweet caramel cake that originated in Finland; and semlor, Swedish cream buns most often associated with pre-Lenten Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) celebration.  Fika also contains recipes for jams and even beverages, such as rabarbersaft (rhubarb cordial), flädersaft (elderflower cordial) and glögg (Swedish mulled wine).

With so many tempting options, I had a hard time deciding what to bake first! I went with the hasselnötsflarn (hazelnut crisps) because they look dead simple to make and because, well…I’m a sucker for small, crisp cookies. The key to the recipe lies in making sure the baked crisp is golden brown—the authors’ say “dark golden brown”—around the edges. I didn’t push my first batch quite this far and the cookies, although sweet and delicious, weren’t quite crisp enough. The second batch turned out fine. The recipe makes about 30 cookies.

¼ cup (2 ounces, 57 grams) unsalted butter

¾ cup (3.75 ounces, 106 grams) raw hazelnuts

1 egg

½ cup (3.5 ounces, 99 grams) natural cane sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until almost finely ground.
In a bowl, whisk the egg until frothy, then stir in the sugar and vanilla. Pour in the slightly cooled butter and mix together until well blended. Add the hazelnuts and stir until an even batter forms.
Spoon the batter by 1-teaspoon drops onto the baking sheet, leaving 2-inches (5 centimeters) between each cookie. If you make then slightly larger, just be sure to flatten them with your fingertips so that they bake to an even crisp.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until dark golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet until they are hard, them carefully transfer them to the counter.
When fully cooled, store in an airtight container to keep the cookies crisp.
Some notes and thoughts. I followed the weights given and everything when smoothly. (You have to love a cookbook recipe that calls for 99 grams of sugar—not 100 grams, not 98 grams, but 99 grams of sugar.) I skinned the hazelnuts (just because) and added just a bit of sugar before pulsing the nuts in a food processor (to avoid making a nut butter). All told, hasselnötsflarn are very easy to make from Fika’s clear recipe.
Fika, published by Ten Speed Press, is a neat little book done extremely well. I particularly like Johanna Kindvall’s lovely illustrations and kudos to Betsy Stromberg for her handsome book design. I look forward to pulling Fika off the shelf whenever I have a fikasugen (fika craving).


Monday, April 6, 2015

Spätzli


Surely we live in The Golden Age of pasta making instruction. In March of this year, Ten Speed Press published Marc Vetri’s Mastering Pasta. Right on its heels, Chronicle Books put out Jenn Louis’s Pasta By Hand. Last year, Ten Speed published Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water Pasta (here), and in 2013, Norton released Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant’s Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way (here). Of these works, Mastering Pasta and Flour + Water Pasta share the most similarities; both books offer an excellent pasta making primer followed by mostly modern (as opposed to traditional) pasta and sauce parings. Sauces & Shapes covers a broad range of authentic Italian recipes for pasta, both fresh and dry, in soups and sauces.

Jenn Louis’s outstanding Pasta By Hand takes a unique and different path from these other books. Louis exclusively focuses on fresh, handmade pasta dumplings. She defines Italian dumplings as “carefully handcrafted nubs of dough that are poached, simmered, baked, or sautéed.” As one might expect, her book covers gnocchi, perhaps the most obvious of Italian dumplings, but as Louis points out, “while all gnocchi are dumplings, not all dumplings are gnocchi.” So scan Pasta By Hand’s Contents and you’ll find recipes for Sardinian malloreddus, Puglian orecchiette, Molisan cavatelli and Ligurian trofie.

But the majority of recipes in Pasta by Hand celebrate what most pasta eaters think of as gnocchi: bite-sized dumplings made by combining flour and a mixture of potato or a vegetable and cheese. Look up gnocco—the singular of gnocchi—in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta and you’ll learn: “The word gnocco is not of Latin origin, but one of the many words that culinary Italian has taken from the immense pool of dialect terms, in this case probably from the Veneto, where we find the dialect word gnoco. The latter may go back to the time of the Longobard domination and the term knohha, which is nocca or nodo in Italian, or “knot.” Thus, the old name probably referred to the irregular shape of tree knots.” Fascinating!

Pasta By Hand dives deep into gnocchi. Louis explores these  dumplings by region. From Campania we get a traditional potato gnocchi bathed in a simple tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and torn basil leaves. From Emilia-Romagna comes a recipe for potato gnocchi enriched with egg and ricotta paired with a range of traditional sauces, such as Brown Butter and Sage or Lamb Ragù. And from Trentino-Alto Adige, Louis shares a recipe for Strangolapreti that is a close cousin of Michelina Satori’s recipe for Strangolapreti alla Trentina that I shared with you last year (here).

With so many dishes to tempt me, I had a hard time deciding what to cook first. In honor of the Satori Family, I went with a traditional spätzli from Trentino-Alto Adige. I own a nifty German spaetzle plane or spätzlehobel from Küchenprofi—this is the spaetzle maker to buy here in the states—so whipping up these little dumplings took no time at all. Louis’s recipe serves 6.

350 G / 2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
300 G / 1¼ cups whole milk, plus more as needed
extra-virgin olive oil for tossing
sauce of your choice (suggestions to follow)

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, salt, eggs, and milk. Mix with a wooden spoon or on medium speed until just combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir more vigorously or raise the speed up a notch or two and beat until the batter becomes slightly shiny and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, check the texture of the batter—it should be thin and elastic, with more stretch than a typical batter. If it is too thick, add more milk, 1 Tbsp at a time, to achieve this texture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Working in batches, press the dough through a spätzli maker or colander into the simmering water. Simmer the spätzli until they float to the surface, about 1 minute. Stir to release any spätzli that have settled on the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 1 minute more, until tender. Remove immediately with a fine-mesh strainer and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Toss the cooked spätzli with a little olive oil, so they don’t stick together. Allow to cool to room temperature. Finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away.

Louis recommends either a Sage and Speck or Brown Butter with Sage sauce to pair with her traditional spätzli. But it’s hard to go too terribly wrong if you want a sauce that heads in a different direction. I topped my spätzli with Benton’s bacon sautéed with shimeji mushroons and peas. You probably wouldn’t find this combination in Trentino-Alto Adige, but I found these ingredients in my refrigerator and the finished dish tasted delicious.


Louis’s recipe scales down nicely if you halve the recipe. You can add chopped thyme, parsley or oregano to make an herb-version of the dish. Louis also provides a recipe for Spinach Spätzli and Beet Spätzli. I did have to thin out the batter with milk, but I used medium eggs for my batter. If you want to see what the batter should look like, check out Jenn Louis’s “spaetzle prep 101” on Vine, a video posting site. Her Portland restaurant, Lincoln, has posted a number of short looping video clips that help clarify some of the shapes and techniques featured in Pasta By Hand. The loop for menietti is particularly helpful given the rarity of this shape. Actually, Chronicle Books and Louis should film a loop for each pasta shape in the book and post the videos on-line. Why not?

As I write, it’s only April, but I find it hard to imagine that Pasta By Hand won’t make my 2015 Best Cookbook of the Year list. Now here’s a thought: why doesn’t Jenn Louis tag along with Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant and do a little Vine on how to make each shape in the Encyclopedia of Pasta. A Serious Bunburyist can dream, can’t he?