Sunday, January 10, 2016

Parsley Salsa Verde

Last month I shared my picks for the five best cookbooks of 2015 (here). Like many cookbook commentators and critics, I really liked Travis Jett’s Gjelina, and the book made my “Best Of” list. From cover-to-cover, Jett’s cookbook offers tempting recipes for straightforward, bold food.

One of my favorite chapters in Gjelina is Condiments and Pickles. Lett shares his take on classics such as charmoula, gremolata, chimichurri and harissa. I particularly like his Parsley Salsa Verde, which is easy to make from ingredients readily available year round. Although many salsa verde recipes include mustard and/or egg, Lett keeps his version of this Italian sauce simple with grated lemon zest and red pepper flakes adding zing. He writes that the sauce “brings a lovely herbaceous briny note to things like grilled squid, grilled eggplant, and wood-roasted sunchokes.” I think it tastes really good with Roast Chicken (here). Lett’s recipe makes 1 cup / 210 grams.

3/4 cup [20 g] chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
10 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Pinch of crushed pepper flakes
1 garlic clove
2/3 cup [160 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

In a small bowl, combine the parsley, anchovies, capers, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Using a Microplane grater, grate the garlic into the mixture, add the olive oil, stir to combine, and season with salt. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature, and stir in the vinegar just before serving.

Lett writes that “[a]s for most herb-based sauces, it’s a good idea to make the base ahead of time and then spike it with vinegar just before using to avoid oxidation.” If you want to mix things up, you can substitute basil for half of the chopped parsley to make a basil salsa verde. When my so-called Roman mint (calamintha nepeta) comes this this year, I’m adding some to the mix.

A quick note. I used 4 large salt-packed anchovies the first time I made this green sauce. I then tried the recipe with 10 oil-packed fillets. I prefer the salt-packed version because, to my taste, it has a better briny flavor. But give both versions a try and see what you like best.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Orecchiette Revisited

This post explores an intriguing method to create the semolina dough used to make handmade orecchiette, one of my favorite pasta shapes to form and to eat. With autumn here and winter fast approaching, the shorter days affect the availability of local farm eggs that I use to make fresh egg pasta. So when hens lay fewer eggs, I make more pasta with semolina and water.

A year or so after writing about making orecchiette (here), I came across a 2013 article in Sunset magazine that described Samin Nosrat’s technique for making orecchiette. Nosrat teaches cooking classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and is working on a new cookbook entitled Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: The Four Elements of Good Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Her method for making semolina pasta dough intrigued me. Here’s her approach, paraphrased.

Add 4 cups of fine semolina flour to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to its lowest setting and slowly drizzle ½ cup of warm water (105º-115ºF) into the flour. Mix for 2 minutes then turn off the mixer and let the flour and water rest in the mixing bowl for 15 minutes. Turn the mixer back on to low and slowly drizzles in another ½ cup of warm water and mix for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the mixer and allow the flour and water to rest for another 15 minutes. Turn the mixer back on low and now add ¼ cup of warm water to the dough and mix for another 5 minutes followed by another 15-minute rest. Finally, add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil and slowly mix the dough until it “starts coming together in little balls, climbing sides of bowl, and is moist and firm like Play-Doh.” The reason for this process? Rosrat writes: “You want the flour to absorb the water for as long as possible before adding the oil, since fat inhibits gluten development.” Press the dough into an 1-inch thick disc, wrap it in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. This process makes enough dough for 6 to 8 servings of orecchiette.

I made Nosrat’s dough using Central Milling organic semolina and it turned out great. If you have a problem making a semolina and water dough, which can be tricky, try Nosrat’s recipe. Her approach takes time, but it’s practically foolproof.

After following Nosrat’s recipe a few times, I began to play around with it. I scaled it down to serve 2 and eliminated the olive oil—a rarity in semolina and water pasta dough—thus reducing the need for 3 fifteen-minute hydration periods. I found that using the same set-up (i.e., a standing mixer set on low fitted with a paddle), you can make an excellent small batch of orecchiette dough in much less time. As Nosrat points out, the key is to very slowly drizzle the warm water into the fine semolina flour. To make enough dough to serve 2, I use 150 grams of Central Milling organic semolina and 68 grams of 115ºF water. The process, from the first slow drizzle to mixed dough takes me about 6 minutes or so. Then I wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The orecchiette from this pasta dough tastes wonderfully chewy and delicious.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Best Cookbooks of 2015

For four years running I have shared my list of the top five cookbooks of the year. As in the past, I struggled to winnow this year’s class down to a list of the five best, IMHO. So without further ado, I present, in alphabetical order, my choice for the best cookbooks of 2015.

Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy. Saltyard Books.

Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett. Chronicle Books.

Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Mitchell Beazley.

Pasta By Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-shaped Pasta by Jenn Louis. Chronicle Books.

This is Camino by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin. Ten Speed Press.

So why these books?

Rachael Roddy’s Five Quarters (here) serves up an outstanding collection of mostly Italian recipes curated by Roddy. She lives in Rome and writes both a food blog, Rachael Eats, and articles for London’s Guardian newspaper. Look for the North American release of her cookbook, entitled My Kitchen in Rome, in early 2016.

I happened upon Travis Lett’s Gjelina while perusing the fall cookbook offerings at my local bookstore. What a happy discovery! As I thumbed through this book with dishes from Lett’s Venice, California restaurant, I found myself wanting to try every recipe. Gjelina features bold, simple dishes like Braised Spiced Romano Beans with Yogurt & Mint; Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Vinegar; Orecchiette with Chicken Hearts, Turnip Greens, Pecorino & Black Pepper; and Squid with Lentils & Salsa Verde. A first class cookbook!

The more time I spend with Olia Hercules’s Mamushka, the more I love its collection of simple, delicious dishes. The book contains mostly Ukrainian recipes, but she also includes a good number of Armenian recipes that remind me of dishes that I ate growing up. Hercules is a London chef, food stylist and one of The Observer newspaper’s Rising Stars in Food. Read Mamushka and it’s easy to see why Hercules’s star is rising.

If you spend any time bunburying around my food blog, you know that I make a lot of pasta and own a lot of books on pasta. So, in my opinion, Jenn Louis has penned one of the essential pasta cookbooks. Her Pasta by Hand (here) explores the fascinating world of regional Italian handmade pasta, including some seriously obscure shapes. If you love Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, you will absolutely want to add Pasta by Hand to your cookbook collection.

Last, but by no means least, comes This is Camino (here). If forced to choose, This is Camino gets my vote for the best cookbook of the year. Moore and Hopelain share Camino’s approach to cooking and hospitality. Buy their book and you will get an excellent collection of recipes to make direct, flavorful food. I really like the book’s prose; it’s as if Moore is standing in the kitchen with you sharing the how and why behind every recipe. If you find yourself in Oakland, California, do yourself a favor and eat at Moore & Hopelain’s Camino restaurant.

I want to end this year’s survey by sharing some of the other books that I bought and considered for 2015’s list of the best cookbooks. As I mentioned, I had a really hard time this year picking only five books. Here are the contenders in alphabetical order:

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer with Catherine Young.

Donabe by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton.

Fika by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall.

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying.

Preserving The Japanese Way by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman.

I enjoyed all of these books, especially The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook. Check it out.