Recently in Pasta, Rice and Grains
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

sweet potato gnocchi

sweet potato gnocchi

It is customary, when making something for the first time, to start with the basic building block and build on out from thereon. I, on the other hand, like to raise the stakes a bit. Normally, you’d start with plain gnocchi to get a feel for it, learn how to get them just right before trying a variation. And even though making gnocchi was on my to-do list for quite some time, I fully got on board to make them only after seeing the October Gourmet recipe listed as Ruth Reichl’s Top 10 recipes in the issue. They were sweet potato gnocchi and I pretty much find sweet potato anything irresistible. There was just one catch – gnocchi is one of the dishes that for some reason scared and intimidated me. Hence the reason I haven’t made them yet.

one of these things is not like the other!raw milk parmesan is how i roll
sweet potato gnocchisage from my window!!!

But surely, you must remember what I said to you about fear and conquering it? Well, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and tackle that which made me nervous. If I tell you to be bold, shouldn’t, myself, adopt the very mantra I seemingly espouse?

the potato wellsweet potato gnocchi
my ball of doughrolling the dough

Where do I begin with gnocchi? My love for gnocchi goes beyond words. Made properly they should be like little clouds of goodness, whisking you away upwards to the sky. Made poorly, they’re heavy clumps of dough that stick to the roof of your mouth. In between, they’re perfectly palatable, but once you’ve tasted amazing ghnocchi, that’s pretty much all you think about when you’re eating the so-so ones.

like little pillows

It’s the kind of dish that makes me think: one false move, and it’s ruined. I suppose while something like stewed prunes is impossible to run into the ground, a dish like gnocchi takes practice. You get a feel for the dough, its consistency. You’ll know immediately if needs more flour, or if your potatoes aren’t dry enough.

sweet potato gnocchi

Because these gnocchi are made with sweet and regular potatoes, and there are a few things I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you. First, is that it’s very important to use the right potatoes – Russets have a high amount of starch and lower amount of water, compared to their other spud cousins – and that’s exactly what you want – a nice, starchy potato. Sweet potatoes, however, are much more moisture-laden, so next time I make these, I will cook the sweet potatoes a wee bit longer to dry them out a bit more. Having more moisture in your dough will yield a more doughy gnocchi – and what you’re after are little clouds of goodness; sweet potato goodness, no less!

sweet potato gnocchi

I chose to serve these in (what else?) a little brown butter (because I can and I will) and olive oil sauce where you slightly brown the gnocchi after boiling them, and sprinkle a bit of fried sage and shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano and some freshly ground black pepper. And when I finished my plate and used some bread to absorb some of the residual brown butter sauce, I once again was amazed at how incredibly sublime simple food tastes.A few ingredients, a little time, a hungry me. For that kind of bliss, I’ll raise the stakes any day!

sweet potato gnocchi

Quick note:
Here as Sassy Radish, we’re doing a little bit of maintenance and will be migrating over to a new platform (shhhh, that’s all I can tell you, but trust me it’ll be awesome when it’s done!). So, if things are a little wonky here, please be patient! When all is said and done Sassy Radish will be snappier and sassier and have more functionality than ever before.

Continue reading sweet potato gnocchi.

Monday, August 17, 2009

cacio e pepe

cacio e pepe

Hello, summer! Finally, you’ve made your arrival to New York – and boy oh boy, did you let us have it. I mean, could you be any hotter? Scratch that, I’m not about to challenge you – you’re already making my air conditioning work overtime. But really, let’s talk here. First, you play coy with us and take your sweet time, and then – wham! You are here, in full bloom: heat, humidity and everything in between. May I just say that the ladies with curly hair are just a wee bit cross with you? I’m just being honest.

The other bit is that this sudden and rather intense arrival is sort of creating a rift between me and my kitchen. I want to go in there so badly, I want to chop and dice and saute and broil, but you, you are making it very difficult. Almost impossible I’d say. I’m barely mustering the energy to cook some simple pasta dishes, like this one here and the one I wrote about recently. I’ve also taken to making ice cream to cool myself off, but I’ll save that for another day. As for pasta, as I cannot live on salad alone and peanut butter sandwiches are neither exciting nor inventive, I have to keep it short and sweet.

fresh pasta

And lucky for you, dear summer, that it just so happens that my favorite pasta dish is this one. Yes, this very one. Dear readers, as you look below in search of ingredients, you find only five. I know – just five! And I bet you have most, if not all in your kitchen already. An authentic pasta dish that traces its roots back to Rome that’s as easy as making mac and cheese from a box, if not easier.

Originally labeled as cucina povera (aka humble food for the common folk who might not have the means or the time to fix themselves an elaborate meal) this is anything but a poor man’s dinner. The marriage of its ingredients, while deceptively simple, is anything but humble when it comes to taste. And yet again, it’s a step away from traditional tomato or cream sauces, which, believe me, you will not miss in this sweltering heat. The mere thought of a cream sauce is making me reach for my glass of ice water.

olive oil

I know I keep saying to you fresh pasta, and I’m sure you’re a bit annoyed because it’s not like fresh pasta is sold in every grocery store. But, just trust me when I say fresh pasta is totally worth it. Really. It’s that much better. I think it might be the egg in it, but I’m not certain. If making pasta ain’t your thang, and believe me, I don’t blame you (who has the time and kitchen space?), try finding it in your supermarket. It will make a difference – and you won’t be sorry.

cacio e pepe

When we can be barely brought to approach our stoves, this is a solution that’s a good compromise. While you heat the water, you can grate the cheese and make basil chiffonade (a fancy term for slivers). Your fresh pasta takes mere minutes to cook and after a quick drain, you place it in bowls, add heaps of grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracker pepper. You mix the ingredients, and garnish with fresh basil slivers. Then you pour yourself a glass of chilled, robust white wine and sit back while eating your dinner. You won’t even break a sweat with this meal which means you win. Score: you – one; summer – zero.

Dear summer, you can bring your worst, I am ready for you.

Continue reading cacio e pepe.

Monday, August 10, 2009

pasta with goat cheese, zucchini and summer squash

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

I’ve been a little zucchini obsessed lately. I can’t stop buying them and they disappear as soon as they make it in the kitchen. I’ve sautéed them, I’ve gone back to my favorite feta and dill stuffed ones, and I’ve come across this recipe which I’ve made at least three times. I know, a recipe repeated? Several times at the expense of others? But there’s something soft and comforting and bright and cheery about this meal. And best of all, it lets the seasonal favorites: summer squash and zucchini shine.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

I’m also taking a break from the traditional tomato-based pasta sauces – I’ve been craving creamy cheeses like ricotta and goat cheese. And lemon, lots of lemon. I cannot get enough of it. Lemon is my constant water companion; I drizzle it over my salads and fish; and make sorbets out of it. I add it to fruit in pies to make the fruit stand out more. Lucky for me, the local grocer offers lemons in bulk and at the rate I’m buying them, is probably thinking I’m running my own lemonade stand.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

A few weeks ago, I once again, brought home my current favorite loot. But I didn’t quite have a plan, and after staring at the contents of my fridge for a few minutes my vegetables, I had a brilliant plan. I first sautéed a shallot with a garlic clove and then added sliced zucchini and summer squash. The whole thing came together quickly, beautifully and I have to say that for a week night meal, after you get home from a crazed day at the office, this is perfection at its best. I even served this to the book club ladies two nights later. Never one to hoard food, I was a little wistful that none was left over for the following night.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

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Friday, June 26, 2009

pasta with stinging nettles and ramps pesto

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

It should by now not strike me as unusual that things we barely paid attention to in Russia are considered a delicacy in America. Sorrel leaves were the cheapest greens at the market. Chanterelles were considered pedestrian, no matter how delicious. Gooseberries were easily the cheapest berries you could find – and in the US they’re quite a treat. And then of course there were stinging nettles. They grew everywhere, much like weeds. Around apartment buildings, in ravines, in nearby fields. In fact, as a child, I was often covered in an itchy rash from stinging nettles. From time to time, my grandmother would go out and with a towel, pick a bunch of nettles and make them into a soup. In fact, stinging nettles was something you ate to pinch pennies, it was one of those things – delicious, yet somehow indicative of poverty. I didn’t really think about it much while I was young, but I remembered stinging nettles after we arrived to the US and couldn’t find any in the store or at farmers’ markets.

stinging nettles ramps

I suppose stinging nettles have become somewhat en vogue recently because I’ve been seeing them on menus and at green markets everywhere. Maybe it’s always been so and I haven’t been noticing, but it seems to me like suddenly, stinging nettles went from being the girl no one wanted to take to the dance to the girl pronounced them homecoming queen. Humble, unapproachable, homely stinging nettles – suddenly glamorous!

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

I would have shared this dish with you sooner, but I thought the stinging nettles season was over and so this dish was going to go into my computer’s oubliette for a few seasons. But I heard through the bloggy-grapevine that stinging nettles were still abundant at least in Union Square market and so wanted to share this recipe with you as soon as possible.

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

I had a version of this dish at one of my favorite restaurants, Hundred Acres, on the first night of Passover of all nights. And guess what – it was in a pasta dish (I can see my parents shuddering as they read this bit) as pasta is probably the most anti-Passover food out there. But I was sad that night, because I couldn’t go home for the holiday, meanwhile my dad was sick, my grandmother – deteriorating. And here I was, feeling mopey on the eve of a family holiday, without family in the city to celebrate. Friends who know me well know that I rarely feel homesick, but on that night, I felt very lonely in a city where I feel very much at home. And to cheer myself up, I decided to take myself out to a nice dinner. I just happened to be walking past Hundred Acres – clearly I was meant to dine there that night.

ramps and stinging nettles pesto

Its simplicity and comfort of this pasta dish struck me as exactly what I needed that night. Even though it was as far away from a Passover-appropriate meal, I didn’t care. Passover is a tale of exodus, and a people’s search for home. And I, quite desperately, needed to feel a sense of home that night, at whatever cost. I wanted simple, hearty, homey – and this pasta offered it all. Not to mention as soon as I saw stinging nettles, my decision was even easier.

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

The next opportunity I had, I bought stinging nettles at Union Square market and tried to recreate this simple, yet amazing dish at home. And wanted to share it with you. Because to me, this pasta brought a little piece of home, in so many ways: the comfort and weight of fresh semolina pasta, the childhood stinging nettles, fragrant coating of olive oil, a sharp bite of grana padano. What I realized that night is that a delicacy need not be a fancy thing – it is the thing that makes you feel indulgent and wrapped in comfort, be it a common food or a fancy one.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

pasta with chanterelles and fresh ricotta

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

It is still, after 20 years of living in the United States, utterly shocking to me how much chanterelle mushrooms cost. When I was growing up in Russia, they were the one of the cheapest mushrooms around, though we picked most of our mushrooms ourselves. That’s the kind of thing you do in Russia – pick your own mushroom and berries in the forest. It’s a bit cliché and “Sound of Music” but I assure you we didn’t do this with a song. And as for mushroom-picking, I used to be quite good at it too. You had to have a keen eye, discerning one brown thing from the next, a twig or a leaf sometimes was hiding a beautiful porcini or a cremini mushroom. And as for chanterelles, you could see their bright yellow tops a mile away.

I also had memorized names of all the mushrooms and how they looked and how to tell their poisonous look-alikes from the real thing. I’ve forgotten most of it by now, but with the chanterelles, my favorite childhood mushroom, I still remember. Should you find a chanterelle mushroom that has worms inside, it is a fake. Apparently, real chanterelle mushrooms are repugnant to worms. Now, that may have been an old wives tales, but even so, would you want a wormy mushroom?

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

Regardless, the chanterelle is a pretty fabulous thing, if you ask me. It smells of earth and moist woods and moss and when cooked, it makes the most humble meals glorious and worthy of a special occasion. And this dish, which I slightly spruced up with some fresh ricotta (I really just couldn’t resist it!) was an absolute favorite thing of mine to eat when chanterelles were in season. And ridiculously simple too!

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

You simply sauté some onions and shallots, add to them the chanterelles and let that cook until reduced in volume (mushrooms shrink when cooked) at which point you add a dollop of sour cream (what dish in Russia goes without?), mix it all in, and then stir it into freshly boiled pasta. It sounds simple and pedestrian, though it’s anything but – and you just might finish the whole dish by yourself, so for your sake, do invite some guests over. This could be one fancy dinner party!

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

kasha varnishkes

I wish I had a great story to tell you about growing up eating kasha varnishkes, but I don’t. In fact, I had it, for the first time, last year at a Jewish deli and it was love at first bite. And at the time, I didn’t even know it was such a traditional dish. All I was excited about was that there was buckwheat in it and fried onions that, for reasons now known to me (one word, people – schmaltz!) were the best tasting fried onions I could think of. I liked the bowtie pasta, but my fat-loving stomach hinted that egg noodles might have been even better. But there are no bow-tie egg noodles are there?

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