Posted by: nekojita | June 19, 2008

My CSA box made me do it

So I am back in Ohio, and will be for some time. Blogging was only a very occasional activity for me in California, but I imagine that I will be lonelier here in Columbus and will therefore blog more often. It makes me feel very frailty-thy-name-is-woman, but there it is.

In any case, I arrived back home to find the fridge full of unused CSA items. Well, not full–the fridge is never full under B’s regime; in fact the fridge was really quite empty. However, the few items that were in there came from our CSA box, sad but hopeful orphans waiting for the right dish to come along.

To be fair, B shouldn’t have to bear responsibility for the CSA box. I bullied him into it, having seen the Local Harvest site for Elizabeth Telling Farms and decided that we should have half a dozen farm fresh eggs and assorted random vegetables each week.   For the last three weeks, he–all by his lonesome–has had to use vegetables granted to him with totalitarian lack of choice. Although, that’s not exactly true either, as I will explain below. But in theory, it seems a bit of a masochistic way of acquiring fresh produce. It’s freedom through submission, or some such philosophy…

So, what did I find in the fridge? Voilà! Baby turnips, with greens still attached; stinging nettles (!!!); pea shoots; garlic scapes (???); baby lettuce; green beans. Now, what to do?

Therein lies the genius of the CSA box. I had to make something new, and that preferably used as many of the vegetables as possible. I set aside the lettuce and the green beans–those were easy and could be used at any meal. The nettles, the pea shoots and the scapes were the tricky ones. In fact, B voluntarily picked out the nettles and pea shoots from Sandy’s “extras” box, either because he was genuinely curious to try them, or because he sadistically wanted to see what I would do with them.

This is what I came up with. I think I passed the test, albeit not with flying colors. The recipe had a few kinks, but overall, I’m pretty pleased with myself. If you don’t like it, no skin off my nose–blame it on my CSA box!

Nettle and Ricotta Gnocchi with Braised Baby Turnips, Pea Shoots and Garlic Scapes

*denotes an item from the BOX

The dumplings

  • 2 cups stinging nettles* (you could use spinach, chard or any other softer green)
  • 1 cup of fresh ricotta, drained (I didn’t do this well enough in advance)
  • 1 egg*
  • 1/4 cup grated parmiggiano
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup flour (you may eliminate this if you drain the ricotta very well)
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 cup cornstarch

1. Blanch the nettles in a large pot of boiling, salty water, for 1-2 minutes (I’m paranoid, so I did it for 2). Plunge immediately in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and let the nettles wick dry on a couple of paper towels.  Squeeze any last drops of water out of the nettles between two clean hands. Chop the nettles coarsely.

2. Mix the drained ricotta and egg together in a bowl. Add the parmiggiano, nettles, butter and nutmeg, and beat everything together. Add the flour and mix gingerly until no dry streaks remain. Let the mixture sit, uncovered, in the fridge for 1/2 hour while you (I) go buy some cornstarch.

3. Put some wax paper on a sheet pan and dump about 2/3 cup cornstarch on it. Shake to distribute. With 2 teaspoons, make the gnocchi, following this method: a) scoop up some batter with one spoon, b) scrape the batter off with the other spoon, c) repeat until you have a ball (2-3 times), d) plop it onto the cornstarch on  the cookie sheet.

4. When you are done, put the gnocchi into the fridge to dry a bit. Put a large pot of salty water on to boil.

The sauce

  • 1 bunch (~8) baby turnips* with greens attached, cleaned well
  • 1 TB butter, plus 4 TB for later
  • 2 garlic scapes*
  • 1/2 cup water
  • salt
  • 1 large fistful of pea shoots* (note: do not squeeze!)
  • fresh ground pepper

1. Make sure your turnips are clean! Trim off the skinny beardy ends and any brown spots. Pull off any yellowing leaves. Chop the scapes into pea-sized bits.

2. Put 1 TB butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scapes and sauté until fragrant. Add the turnips, water and butter. Don’t stir. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn the turnips. Let simmer for another 10 minutes. The turnips should be done. Pull them out and put them in a warm place. Leave the liquid in the pan, simmering over medium low heat.

3. Meanwhile, your large pot of water should have come to a boil. Reduce the heat a bit, so that it’s at a gentle rolling simmer, rather than a hard boil. Slide the gnocchi (about 5 at a time) into the water. When they float, use a slotted spoon to fish them out, and put them in the turnip liquor in the skillet. When all of the gnocchi are in the skillet, sprinkle the pea shoots on top and slip the turnips back into the pan. Cover and let steam for about 2-3 minutes.

4. Plate in shallow bowls, and serve with plently of crusty bread.

Serves 2

Resistance is futile!

Posted by: nekojita | May 2, 2008

San Carlos Farmers’ Market

Yay! Yesterday was the first San Carlos Farmers’ Market of the year, so of course, the first market since I moved there. A surprisingly large (for sleepy SC) number of vendors of fresh produce and cooked foods assembled on Laurel Avenue between Olive and Cherry Sts. Strawberries and asparagus seemed to be the order of the day, although I also noted a number of booths selling gorgeous heads of lettuce and shelled peas. So Mom, Dad and I went a bit overboard and bought oodles of fresh vegetables: a big head of red butter lettuce, a tight bulb of fennel, sugar snap peas, gain lan, baby bok choy, spring onions and cucumbers. I suppose that as far as indulgences go, this is pretty innocuous. We have now solemnly promised ourselves to make a giant, meal-sized salad to properly utilize our purchases.

We also got a few things from prepared foods vendors, i. e. a trio of lovely rich, gluten-free (not that it matters to us) cakes from baker whose name escapes me (I will get it next time), and a tub of “sour kraut.”

This last purchase excited me the most, in spite of the fact that it springtime. Perhaps it has something to do with reading Eugenia Ginzburg’s Journey into the Whirlwind, an autobiography of one of the survivors of the great Stalinist purges. It came from a local San Carlos vendor, Dalex Co, so I suppose that if one is busy or unavailable on Thursday evenings, one can go to the storefront. At its farmers’ market booth, Dalex sells a number of their own homemade Eastern European delicacies such as borscht, piroshki and artichoke dip (delicious, but ?Eastern European?). I saw my mother eying the cabbage rolls with great interest. I suspect that they will be a future purchase.

Beyond a Dr.-Who-inspired affection for the company’s name, the products I tasted were all delicious, but I was particularly impressed by the sauerkraut. It was balanced, tangy and light tasting, with a satisfyingly toothsome texture. In fact, I am not exactly sure what to do with it, as it would be a shame to to cook it. Perhaps as a side salad to sausage or fish?

San Carlos Farmers’ Market
Thursdays, 5-8 pm (May-September)
On Laurel St., between Olive and Cherry
San Carlos, CA 94070

Posted by: nekojita | April 27, 2008

Pizza Capricciosa

Tripping lightly on the sweet spring breeze… Yesterday I made a pizza capricciosa in the literal sense–just a bunch of stuff from the refrigerator, as struck my fancy. No recipes used–not even for the dough

Springtime Pizza Capricciosa

The Dough

  • 1/4 tsp. yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 TB olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the water to proof it. Place the flour and salt together in a food processor fitted with a plastic pastry blade. Pulse them to mix and aerate. With the motor running, pour the yeast mixture down the feedtube in a thin steady stream. Add the olive oil as well. Turn off the machine when the dough comes together into a ball. With oiled hands, knead the dough a little until it’s smooth and elastic. Wrap it loosely in plastic and let it rise for few hours, until doubled. Refrigerate until an hour before you are ready to bake it.

The Pizza

Preheat the oven to 450. Make sure the rack is at the lowest position.

Prepare the toppings:

  • 1 c. grated fontina, set aside
  • 1 1/2 TB creme fraiche, mixed with
  • 1 1/2 TB Japanese garlic chives (nira), chopped coarsely
  • 4 stalks of asparagus, stems peeled, sliced laterally and tossed with a bit of olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 paper-thin slices of prosciutto, sliced horizontally into wide strips (1 cm wide)

Pat out the dough into a circle on floured board. Pick it up and pull gently with your hands to widen the disc until it’s fairly thin. Brush both sides with olive oil and put it in a pizza pan or cast iron skillet dusted with cornmeal or flour.

Spread the creme fraiche mixture on the dough, and then sprinkle it with the fontina cheese. Arrange the asparagus halves radially on top of the cheese. Pop the pizza into the oven.

After about 5 minutes of cooking, crack open the egg onto the middle of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven to finish cooking, about 5-10 more minutes, depending on how done you want the yolk. When it comes out of the oven, sprinkle the prosciutto slices evenly over the pizza. Serve and enjoy!

Posted by: nekojita | March 20, 2008

Thoughts on Smokiness…

I like a lot smoky-tasting things–most notably bacon, and roasted chili peppers (fresh or dried, any kind), and barbeque, et cetera and so forth.

But I don’t like smoked salmon very much, and I have never quite been able to figure out why. Also, many hams are just too much for me, as are some dishes cooked in a wood burning oven (such as roast chickens and pizzas). The smokiness of these dishes just makes me feel overwhelmed and nauseated. They taste bitter-harsh, and seem to swell up stickily in my mouth.

I guess that it must come down to balance. Smokiness is not a substitute for other flavors–it enhances them, much like table salt or MSG.  When it becomes the dominant or only taste in a dish, it makes my mouth hurt. Everyone probably has their own threshold for this (again like salt or MSG), but I guess that what I am trying to get across is: smokiness needs spice or sweetness in order to taste good. It plays poorly by itself.

Posted by: nekojita | March 5, 2008

I *heart* cevapčići!

I finally got around to making the cevapčići featured in last month’s Saveur magazine (Jan./Feb. 2008). My only complaint is “Why did I delay making them for so long?!”

In fact, I bought the Saveur about a month ago in large part for this recipe. Then I bummed around for a while making pulled pork and other items that didn’t required reference to a recipe. I guess I just didn’t feel like following someone else’s instructions.

However, this story goes back farther than a mere moon’s cycle. When I went to Dubrovnik for a week in Oct. 2006, I had a really nice time and ate many delicious Dalmatian foods, such as octopus salad, grilled branzino and steamed mussels. Still, by day six, I was just a wee bit tired of seafood, which is obviously the most traditional source of protein along the clear rocky shores of the east Adriatic. So, I took a chance and ordered a specialty from the Balkan hinterland (I had these described to me as Bosnian in origin, but Saveur suggested that it was Serbian in origin): cevapčići. They strongly resemble Middle Eastern kufta or cylindrical versions of Jimmy Dean sausage patties. The ones I had in Dubrovnik were served with crispy french fries and sprinkled with a mild crumbly white cheese (not unlike Queso Fresco). They were emphatically meaty, slightly greasy and seemed the most perfectly satisfying type of junk food. It made me wonder why Italy has so many of those sub-par Doner-kebab joints instead of Balkan cevapčićerie (I just made up that word–I only wish that it really existed).

So when I saw Saveur recipe, I was jolted into a pleasurable memory of smoky, succulent pseudo-sausages. And I had to get the magazine, in spite of its hefty price tag. These cevapčići were meant to be served with ajvom–a sweet and savory puree of peppers and eggplant–and sour cream (I mashed together a mix of sour cream and Israeli feta, but will probably go find queso fresco next time). Amazingly, I was not disappointed! This tends to happen, I think , when you place the memory of a food on a pedestal at the level of heavenly manna. But no, these were really really good.

I think that, due in large part to the heretical mix of meats involved (beef, lamb AND pork), these rise above the level of kufta. The pork adds a certain moistness and sweetness to the patties that kufta tend to lack.

Note to unwary prospective cevapčići makers: You will have to quash any natural squeamishness you may have to make these. The three-inch long cylinders you will have to make look like nothing if not orderly rows of poops. Get over it, though, and you will be rewarded…

Pictures to come…

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