Archive for June, 2008

Ricotta Pancakes

Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries

For someone who used to hate ricotta cheese, I sure am making up for lost time. A few months ago I fell in love with Cook’s Illustrated’s Ricotta Gnocchi. Then last Sunday I discovered that my new favorite way to make pancakes now includes this creamy, once-loathed dairy product.

Food & Wine’s recipe for Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries reminded me how ricotta cheese imparts an airy sweetness to a variety of dishes. These pancakes were fluffy and moist, a welcome combination of breakfast and dessert. Thinner and more delicate than regular pancakes, they weren’t the most handsome ones I’ve ever made, but they certainly made up for their sorry looks in the flavor department. 

“Ricotta” means recooked in Italian. According to Steven Jenkins’s Cheese Primer, ricotta isn’t even a cheese. It’s actually a by-product of cheesemaking, as it is made from leftover whey. Interestingly, whey is not disposable. If dumped into bodies of water or sewers, it can wreak havoc by increasing the growth of algae and killing the existing fish. Who knew that cheese could be so evil?

I’m glad someone thought of an appropriate use for this wily whey. Italian ricotta uses the whey from sheep or water buffalo milk, while American ricotta uses cow’s milk, creating a very different effect from the sweeter and drier Italian ricotta. I’ve definitely noticed a difference between the packaged supermarket stuff and the fresh batches I buy around the corner at my Italian specialty store. When possible, always go with the fresh, Italian ricotta.

In fact, I think I’ll buy another container this weekend. Like I said, I have a lot of ricotta to catch up on. And more pancakes to make.

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More Memories of Morocco

Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey

A few months back I mentioned that Jim and I spent our honeymoon in Morocco. Over ten days we explored some of this North African country’s most amazing cities: metropolitan Casablanca; the marvelous maze of Fez; Marrakech and its bustling markets; the seaside jewel of Essarouia.

I also told you that our camera, with hundreds of pictures documenting our trip, was stolen on our way back to New York. I still have trouble talking about it, the loss is so sad to me. Now Jim and I rely solely on our memories and senses when talking about our honeymoon. 

One way we relive our trip is through food. Throughout the centuries, Morocco endured years of Arab, Spanish, and French rule, all of which influenced its unique cuisine. With its mix of exotic spices and culinary traditions, Morocco’s food is impossible to forget, and on two of our three anniversaries, Jim and I have celebrated by creating our own Moroccan feasts at home. (Last year we skipped town and went to the North Fork, which was fun in a non-Moroccan way, of course!)

While we were in Morocco, we began each meal with a selection of mezze. Mezze are small plates of food—some hot, some cold—served to stimulate the appetite. For our first anniversary, we devoted an entire Sunday to preparing our meal. We started with a cooked eggplant and tomato salad, another minty salad of cold cucumbers and tomatoes, and a dish of paprika-infused caramelized carrots. Last week our anniversary was on Wednesday, so we scaled down our celebration and made only two mezze when we got home from work. We threw together a tangy feta cheese, red onion, and cucumber salad, and we also whipped up some baba ghanouj, a creamy roasted eggplant and tahini dip.

Anniversary 2008Table with mezze and Tagine

One of Morocco’s most distinctive dishes is the tagine, a savory, slow-cooked stew. Classic tagines combine meat with fruit and spices. The word “tagine” also refers to the conical earthenware vessel in which the dish is cooked. While in Fez, Jim and I actually purchased one as a souvenir. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold a lot of food, so now we use it more as a serving piece and cook with our Dutch oven instead. Supposedly the use of Dutch ovens and slow cookers is growing more diffuse in Morocco as well. During our trip Jim and I tried many different tagines, with ingredients such as lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetables.

Anniversary 2006Anniversary 2006

On our first anniversary, our main dish was a traditional tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and artichoke hearts. Last week we chose to make a simple tagine of chicken with tomatoes and honey. We slowly simmered 4 chicken legs in a sauce of canned tomatoes, onion, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron, cooking it down until it caramelized, and adding honey at the end. The whole dish was then topped with toasted almonds and sesame seeds, resulting in a sweet, fragrant stew of tender meat and tomatoes.

So while we don’t have any photographs of our honeymoon in Morocco, we do our best to recreate it once a year. We’re planning to go back for our tenth anniversary, and hopefully next time we won’t lose our camera. Check back in with me in seven years…

Recipe for Djaj Matisha Mesla (Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey [first photo at top of post]; adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

  • 4 chicken legs, legs split from the thighs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes
  • salt (to your taste)
  • pepper (to your taste)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Put all of the ingredients except for the honey, almonds, and sesame seeds in a large Dutch oven. Cook gently over medium-low heat, covered. Turn the chicken occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly. Break up the whole tomatoes with a spoon as they cook. Cook for about 1 1/4 hours, or until the meat can be pulled easily off the bone.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and place on a plate. Continue to cook the sauce over medium heat until it thickens. This can take around 15 minutes. Stir the sauce as it begins to caramelize. Stir in the honey. Return the chicken pieces to the sauce and heat through. Serve the chicken hot, covered in the sauce and sprinkled with the almonds and sesame seeds. Serves 4 as a main course. Enjoy!

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Neighborhood Newcomers: South Brooklyn Pizza and Annabelle’s

After a quiet winter of culinary openings, spring has sprung several restaurants here in Brooklyn. So before Jim and I received our first CSA shipment on Saturday and became inundated with fresh vegetables, we ventured out into our neighborhood last week to see how these upstarts measured up.

South Brooklyn Pizza

South Brooklyn Pizza: Located in the space adjacent to popular neighborhood pub P.J. Hanley’s, Carroll Gardens’ newest coal oven pizza joint opened about a month ago. Both locales are owned by real estate developer Jim McGown, who is also South Brooklyn’s pizza maker. Ten minutes after Jim and I sat down at our table, our oblong, thin crust pies arrived on individual wood planks ($12). In addition to a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, a sprinkling of fresh basil, and an ample amount of olive oil, South Brooklyn’s pies are topped with a mix of mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, and asiago cheeses. The four cheese combination creates an almost salty mix of flavors nicely tempered by the less assertive tomatoes and olive oil. Toppings are not offered, although they are supposedly in development. The crust on our pies was thin, light, and crispy, with little char to be found. Despite the lack of ambiance in its dimly lit dining room, South Brooklyn has some fine pizza to offer, and I’m certain I’ll be back when I’m in need of a quality pizza fix and don’t feel like waiting on line at Lucali’s. Thank goodness it’s right around the corner from my apartment. 451 Court Street between 4th Place and Luquer Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn  T: 718-852-6018

Lobster Roll at Annabelle\'s

Annabelle’s: The Red Hook IKEA opens on Wednesday, surely bringing more foot and car traffic to Red Hook’s often desolate streets. Perhaps banking on this influx of shoppers, chef Neil Ganic has opened Annabelle’s, a new restaurant/bar in the old Lillie’s space (which happens to be right across the street from the blue and yellow behemoth). Befitting a chef known for the seafood spots La Bouillabaisse and Petite Crevette, Annabelle’s casual menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees leans heavily towards offerings from the sea. Jim bypassed the fish this time around and went with a pulled pork po’ boy ($13), while I couldn’t resist the lobster roll ($22). Ganic’s version employs luscious chunks of lobster meat coated with a creamy, tangy dressing served on a crispy baguette with salty fries and a side salad. I’ve heard rumors of an upcoming iteration of La Bouillabaisse next door to Annabelle’s, but I saw no sign of it. In any case, the scene in the backyard garden was pretty quiet for a Friday night at 9 pm, but I’m guessing the tranquility won’t last long. Who needs IKEA’s Swedish meatballs when you have lobster rolls across the street? 44 Beard Street at Dwight Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn  T:718-643-1500

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Back to the ‘Burgh: Pots and Berries

We just got back from an adventurous (and sweltering) weekend in Pittsburgh, where we spent a few days visiting with Jim’s parents. As always, we had a fantastic time eating and drinking our way through Steeler Nation, and on Saturday morning we hopped in the car for a food-related tour that I’m still recovering from.

We started by driving to the All-Clad warehouse sale at the Washington Fairgrounds. If you’re as obsessed with cookware as I am, and you find yourself in Western Pennsylvania during this twice yearly “seconds” sale, you definitely need to stop by. With a little patience you can find great bargains on this brand’s pricey cookware and kitchen tools in near-perfect condition. Anyway, after an hour of pans, people, and heat, we returned to the car (with 2 pots!) and surrendered ourselves to the air conditioning.

Next came a restorative lunch of lobster bisque and a Reuben sandwich at the very pretty Back Porch restaurant in Speers, followed by a trip to Sand Hill Berries. As you can tell from the name, this small, family-owned fruit farm in Mount Pleasant is known for its berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries and more. They are also famous for their fruit pies and jams, all made on site at the farm in small batches.

Having wandered through a sea of people and stainless steel at the All-Clad sale, it was a relief to relax in the serenity of Sand Hill. We tasted some very sweet grape and berry based wines at their new Greendance winery, and then sat outside on the terrace to enjoy live music and fresh baked goods from their café. The strawberry shortcake I ordered was covered with fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream, a cool mass of summertime goodness in the 95 degree heat. Jim’s vanilla ice cream topped with raspberry sauce was also refreshing, and his parents shared a piece of blackberry pie made with the farm’s frozen berry stock.

After working our way through the sweets, we decided to call it a day and head home, where I took a nap on the couch. The combination of pots, berries, and heat had that affect on me. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a great weekend!

The All-Clad sale takes place at the Washington County Fairgrounds: 2151 North Main Street, Washington, PA, 15301. The sale happens twice a year, usually in December and June. It is not advertised on All-Clad’s website, but I found out about it here.

The Back Porch Restaurant, 114 Speers Street, Belle Vernon, PA 15012 T: 724-483-4500

Sand Hill Berries, 304 Deer Field Road, Mount Pleasant, PA 15666 T: 724-547-4760. Greendance Winery is located on the same property.

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Stovetop Grilling

Living in an apartment has its share of advantages. For example, I can vacuum my entire living space in 10 minutes. I’m less of a pack rat because I don’t have room for extraneous belongings. Perhaps best of all, my building has a stoop where I can sit with a margarita in hand and watch the neighborhood stroll by. 

But at this time of year, as aromas of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs float through my second floor windows from the backyards below, I long for my own outdoor space. And a grill, of course. I want to cook outside in the fresh air and enjoy my meal at a shaded table nearby, mosquitoes be damned.

Well, that’s not going to happen right now, at least as long as we live in our current abode. But even though we didn’t have backyard access or a grill, Jim and I refused to be denied our Memorial Day barbeque last week. And so during my supermarket fava bean run I also picked up some ground lamb for one of our favorite recipes, Everyday Food’s Mini Lamb Burgers.

Mini Lamb Burgers

These lean little burgers have a Greek twist to them, as they are served in pita bread with tomatoes, lettuce, and a creamy, cool tzatziki sauce. I altered the original recipe in a few ways, adding more onion to the burger mixture and omitting the oregano. (Jim is allergic.) We cooked the patties in our grill pan on the kitchen stove, and enjoyed them at our dining table, right next to the open windows. It wasn’t the same as grilling burgers over an open fire outside, but it worked for us. The mosquitoes can wait.

Recipe for Mini Lamb Burgers (adapted from Everyday Food)

For the tzatziki

  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt (we used Fage Greek yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh mint
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • salt
  • pepper

Combine all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready for use.

For the Mini Lamb Burgers

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • salt 
  • pepper
  • 4 pita breads, sliced in half
  • arugula
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced

In a medium bowl, combine the ground lamb with the onion and parsley. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Shape the meat mixture into small patties, each about 3/4 inch thick. You should wind up with 12-16 patties.

Heat the grill pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, grill the burgers for about 2-3 minutes on each side. 

When ready to serve, place 2 patties in each pita bread half. Stuff the pita bread with a slice of tomato and arugula. Top with a generous spoonful of tzatziki. Serves 4 as a main course. Enjoy! 

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Falling for Favas

Spaghetti with Fresh Fava Bean Pesto

I’m finally back from Singapore, and I have to be honest: Although I enjoyed my two previous trips there, I just wasn’t feeling the love this time around. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the travel experience, but as I strolled through the glittering, air-conditioned shops of Orchard Road I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to come home.

Of course one of the reasons for my homesickness had to do with food. There’s nothing wrong with Singapore’s cuisine; in fact, a few months ago I told you all about its fantastic hawker stands and amazing ethnic eats. But I was craving my local spring vegetables. Fresh greens, asparagus, peas…I couldn’t wait to get back to New York and stir up some seasonal treats of my own.

So as soon as I returned to Brooklyn I drove straight to Fairway and stocked up on piles of vegetables, including a bag full of fresh fava beans.

It’s funny that I was so fixated on favas last week, because I don’t like beans. It’s true. As a child my stomach sank at the sight of my mother’s pasta fagioli, and it still does. (Sorry, Mom!) A few weeks ago, in an attempt to cure my aversion to them, I cooked a big batch of cannellini beans with fresh herbs and dressed them with olive oil. Nope, didn’t work.

But for some reason I had greater hopes for these favas. I wanted to utilize them in a pasta-related way, and after a bit of thought I decided to purée them into a pesto. It was remarkably easy. I simply threw the shelled beans into my food processor with a bit of mint and garlic, a squeeze of lemon, an ample amount of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. 

When combined with the cooked spaghetti, the pesto released all the potential lurking in those little beans. Now I realize that my problems with beans might be more related to texture than anything else. The silky, smooth sauce gave off hints of light, nutty flavor as it clung to the spaghetti strands. As I twirled bite after bite onto my fork, it felt great to be home.

Recipe for Spaghetti with Fava Bean Pesto

  • 1 pound of dried spaghetti
  • 1 cup of shelled fava beans (see prep method below)
  • slightly less than 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 of a fresh lemon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Shell the fava beans from their long pods. Add fava beans to the boiling water. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fava beans from the boiling water. Reserve the cooking water, as you can use it again for the pasta. Remove the thin outer shell from the fava beans; it should slip off very easily. You will be left with small, bright green, little pods.

Bring the cooking water back to a boil and add the spaghetti to the pot. While the pasta cooks, turn your attention to the pesto. Using a food processor, purée the fava beans, mint, garlic, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice together. Slowly add the olive oil while pulsing the ingredients together, until you reach your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Taste the pesto, and season it to your liking. I always spend a lot of time tinkering with my pestos. In this recipe, I have used very little garlic because I didn’t want it to overwhelm the dish. Feel free to increase it if you like.

When the pasta is ready, drain it but reserve at least 1 cup of cooking water. Add the pesto sauce to the drained spaghetti and stir together. If the pesto sauce clumps together, slowly add the cooking water and stir until the pesto is evenly distributed.

Spoon the pasta into individual bowls. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper. Add a small drizzle of olive oil to each serving. Serves 4 as a main dish. Enjoy!

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