February 27, 2012

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

Do you watch Up All Night? I love it.

Here's some dialogue that had me cracking up during a recent episode:

Chris: Wow, you look great.
Reagan: Not as great as this. What's going on?
Chris: Just a little homemade gnocchi is all. Yeah, I purchased a gnocchi paddle. It's kind of made of wood.
Reagan (tastes the gnocchi): Oh my God. That is so good it's pissing me off. Damn you, you gnocchi bitch.
Chris: It's ricotta based, not potato. I was on Gwyneth Paltrow's website. She kind of walked me through it.

Check out a clip from the show here.

So there I am watching this and cracking up and of course I start to think about gnocchi. On the show Chris is trying to romance Reagan with the gnocchi and some Latin music. She goes to slip into something "more comfortable," which ends up being ratty sweats. He watches his wife in astonishment as she shovels one gnocchi after another into her mouth. Meanwhile I'm thinking, "damn, that gnocchi looks good!"

Unlike Chris, I didn't follow Gwyneth Paltrow's recipe for gnocchi. Maybe she's a good cook(???), but I refuse to buy into the idea of Gwenyth as Domestic Goddess.

I found another recipe for a ricotta-based gnocchi, this one with spinach. It's a little involved, but not particularly difficult.

The gnocchi turns out soft and pillowy. After taking my first bite I thought, "hey, what does this taste like?" And you know what it tastes like? The filling in a spinach lasagna! Because that's essentially what it is -- ricotta, Parmesan, spinach, eggs and some seasoning.

Gnocchi that tastes like the best part of lasagna? You gnocchi bitch.

The night before you want to eat the gnocchi, wrap the ricotta in some cheesecloth. If you can figure out a way to hang it in your fridge to let the extra water drip out, then do that. I couldn't, so I put the cheesecloth into a sieve, then hung that over a bowl in the fridge.

The next day, the ricotta should be dry and crumbly. Mine wasn't quite there. I got some excess water out, but not as much as I should have.

Defrost the spinach, then squeeze all the water out of it.

Mix the spinach together with the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and flour (a little at a time).

Put the mixture in a pastry bag. I put the mixture in a large Zip Loc bag and cut a corner off. Then pipe pieces of the mixture out onto a sheet pan that you've coated with all purpose flour.

Shake the tray around to coat the pieces with flour.

Then with your hands, very gently shape the pieces into balls. Place the balls on another sheet pan coated with semolina flour (the semolina keep the balls from sticking).

Drop a few gnocchi at a time into a saucepan filled with simmering, salted water. Cook for about 5 minutes until the gnocchi swell slightly and begin to float. Remove them from the water with a mesh strainer and blot them on a kitchen towel before putting them on a plate.

To serve, put some tomato sauce in the center of a plate. You can make your own, or use a good jarred sauce (Rao's marinara is my personal favorite). Place a few gnocchi on top of the sauce and sprinkle with some extra Parmesan.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

Recipe by Anne Burrell

2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese, wrapped in cheesecloth and hung overnight in refrigerator
1 (9-ounce box) frozen spinach, defrosted and water squeezed out
4 eggs
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese plus more for sprinkling
2 to 3 grates fresh nutmeg
Kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the outside of the gnocchi
Semolina, for holding the gnocchi
Jarred tomato sauce, for serving

1.    Unwrap the ricotta cheese from the cheesecloth; the texture should be pretty dry and crumbly. If it is really dry (this is good) pass it through the food mill with the biggest holes. Put the cheese into a large bowl.

2.    Finely chop the squeezed spinach and add it to the ricotta. Add the eggs, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and nutmeg. Mix until well combined. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Add in 1/4 cup of flour. If the mixture is still very wet, add in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.

3.    Dust a sheet tray generously with flour. Coat another sheet tray generously with semolina flour. Fill a pastry bag with the ricotta/spinach mixture. Pipe 1 1/2-inch balls of the cheese mixture onto the all-purpose flour lined tray. Shake the tray around to coat the balls in flour.

4.    Roll each flour coated cheese piece around in your hand to form a ball. Do this gently so as to not squish the cheese balls. Arrange them on the semolina lined tray.

5.    Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. Carefully add the gnocchi to the simmering water. Cook until the gnocchi float and have begun to swell, 3 to 5 minutes.

6.    On individual serving plates, spoon some of your favorite jarred tomato sauce on each plate and spread it out until it becomes a 4 to 5-inch circle.

7.    Using a spider or long handled mesh strainer, carefully remove the gnocchi from the cooking water, blot on a tea towel and arrange 5 gnocchi on each circle of sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

Serves 6 to 8

February 19, 2012

Coconut Cream Pie and ...

... Happy Birthday to my blog!!! Yes, The Garlic Press is one year old today!

It's hard to believe that I've been cooking and writing this blog for an entire year already.

When I started, I knew I'd have plenty of recipes to share. I'm always flipping through cookbooks, food blogs and food magazines. I have a trove of family recipes to explore. I have a LONG list  of recipes to try and it gets longer every day.

On the other hand, I did worry that I'd run out of things to talk about. After all, how many stories could I possibly have to share? But what I've learned this year is that food is even more intimately connected to my life, my family, my friends, and my feelings, than I'd realized.

Sure, a lot of meals are "just food." But there are so many more that evoke a time, a place, a person, a story. And that's what I've attempted to share with you for the past year.

I hope you've enjoyed the stories and the recipes. And I hope I've even inspired you to try a few along the way.

I've got plenty more recipes to share. So I hope you'll continue to share this adventure with me as I embark on Year 2!

In honor of my blog's birthday, I made a coconut cream pie. This is one of my very favorite desserts -- but one I've never attempted to make before.

It took some courage (homemade pie crust!) and some time. But boy was it worth it! Tender, slightly crispy crust, rich coconutty filling, and sweet, airy whipped cream. Heaven!

Start with the pie crust. Combine flour and salt. Then add butter and shortening (the combination of the two gives you a nice combination of flavor and texture).

Using fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter and shortening into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

Add the vinegar and water. Roll the dough into a ball and refrigerate.

Roll out the dough.

Then transfer it to a pie dish. (You can see my crust was far from perfect!) 

Trim the extra dough and pinch the edge to make it look nice. At this point the directions said to put the crust in the oven. But the butter in my crust looked melty so I put it back in the fridge for about 15 minutes until the dough firmed up again.

When you're ready to bake the crust, prick it all over with the fork. (The holes prevent the crust from puffing up).

Line the crust with aluminum foil. Then fill with beans. This also helps prevent the crust from shrinking. I didn't have dried beans on hand so I used rice. Bake the crust like this for about 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil and beans or rice, then continue to bake until the crust is golden brown. Let it cool completely.

Now for the filling. First, sprinkle gelatin on cold milk and let it soften.

Once the gelatin is soft, add the sugar, cornstarch, egg and egg yolks. 

Whisk to combine.

Heat the milk and coconut milk in a saucepan. When the milk is hot, add a little of it to the gelatin mixture and whisk. Add a couple more small additions of hot milk to the gelatin mixture and whisk.

Then pour all of the gelatin mixture into the saucepan with the hot milk. 

Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture (now a custard) becomes nice and thick.

Strain the custard through a sieve, into a large bowl. 

Add the coconut extract, vanilla extract and cream of coconut. Then stir in the shredded coconut.

Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and refrigerate. I made the pie up to this point the night before I wanted to serve it.

The final step is the topping. Just whip the heavy cream with confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract until it forms soft peaks.

In a small skillet, heat shredded coconut over low heat. Continue to heat, stirring frequently, until the coconut is golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and let it cool.

Spread the whipped cream topping evenly over the cooled pie.

Sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Prepare to swoon!


Coconut Cream Pie

Very slightly adapted from a recipe by Mississippi Kitchen

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1 tsp white vinegar
2-3 tablespoons ice cold water

1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1 envelope (about 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 (13.5-ounce) can pure coconut milk (unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar (I would use 1/3 cup next time)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 large whole egg
3 egg yolks
2 Tbsp butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp coconut extract
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can cream of coconut (like Coco Lopez)
2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

1.      Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

2.      In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening and 1/4 cup cold cubed butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the vinegar and 2 tablespoons water, until mixture forms a ball, adding more water if necessary.

3.      Pat into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

4.      Roll dough out to fit a 9 1/2-10 inch glass pie plate.

5.      Place crust in pie plate and trim and crimp edges.  Place the dish on a baking sheet for easier handling.  Prick the bottom and sides of the crust well with a fork.  Line the inside of the crust with a piece of foil, allowing edges to extend several inches beyond the perimeter.  Place 2 cups of dried beans in the crust to weight it down during baking and prevent shrinkage.
6.      Bake for 15 minutes or until crust is no longer raw on bottom. 

7.      Remove the foil and beans by carefully lifting the foil out by the overhang.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. 

8.      Remove from oven and cool completely.  

1.      Place 1/2 cup cold milk in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Set aside to soften for about 5 minutes.

2.      Bring the remaining milk and coconut milk to nearly a boil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.
When the gelatin is soft, add the sugar, cornstarch, egg and egg yolks and whisk until very well blended.

3.      Gradually whisk about a 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into the gelatin mixture. Repeat this process once or twice using about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture each time.

4.      Pour the warmed gelatin mixture into the saucepan with the hot milk and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for about 2 minutes or until mixture is very thick. Strain the pastry cream through a fine wire strainer into a large clean bowl. Whisk in the butter, coconut extract, vanilla extract and cream of coconut until smooth. Stir in 2 cups shredded coconut.  
5.      Pour into the cooled the pie shell and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

1.      Beat the heavy cream in a large bowl on high speed until foamy. 

2.      Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat until soft to medium stiff peaks form. 

3.      Put a small skillet over low heat. Add 1/2 cup shredded coconut. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until the coconut is lightly browned and fragrant.

4.      Spread whipped cream evenly over the pie. Sprinkle with toasted 1/2 cup coconut. 

Note: Keep the pie refrigerated.

Makes 1 9-inch pie

February 14, 2012

Indian-spiced Pea and Potato Cutlets

The Daring Cooks’ February 2012 challenge was hosted by Audax & Lis and they chose to present Patties for their ease of construction, ingredients and deliciousness! We were given several recipes, and learned the different types of binders and cooking methods to produce our own tasty patties!

I love Daring Cooks' Challenges where I read the challenge and know exactly what variation I want to make.

That was the case in the this month's challenge — flipping fried patties. Patties, as defined by this month's DC hosts, are flattened disks of ingredients held together by a binder, usually coated by breadcrumbs, and then fried.

Well it just so happens that last Thanksgiving, my mom made Indian-spiced pea and potato patties (we call them cutlets) to serve as an appetizer.

Cutlets are one of my all-time favorite Indian appetizers. They can be made with vegetables, as my mom did, or with meat (usually some type of kheema), which are also delicious. The veggies or meat are mixed with mashed potatoes, dipped in egg, then breadcrumbs, and then shallow fried.

The trick with these pea and potato cutlets is to spice the pea mixture more heavily than you would if you were going to eat it on its own. That's because the peas also have to flavor the potatoes when the two are combined. Adding a bit of salt and cayenne to the egg and breadcrumbs ensures that no part of the cutlet is bland.

Crispy coating, tender potatoes, savory peas.

Are you hungry yet?

To make the pea mixture, add mustard seeds to hot oil. Once they begin to pop, add cumin seeds and asafetida powder.

Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Stir in turmeric.

Add peas, then chili powder, cumin and coriander powders, salt, sugar, and 1 tsp garam masala.

Stir and cook until peas are tender.

In a separate saucepan, cover unpeeled potatoes with cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer until tender.

Peel, then mash the potatoes while still warm.

Stir in salt and cornstarch.

To make the cutlets, add the potatoes, a little at a time, to the pea mixture, until there is just enough potato to bind the peas together. Taste for salt and chili powder and add more if needed.

Shape small handfuls of pea/potato mixture into flat rounds or ovals.

Set up eggs and breadcrumbs.

Dip each cutlet into egg, then breadcrumbs, and place in a skillet. Cook over low heat until dark golden brown, then flip.

Cook second side until dark golden brown, then place on a paper-towel lined plate.

Serve with ketchup or my favorite, masala chili sauce.

Indian-spiced Pea and Potato Cutlets

Recipe by The Garlic Press

2 16-oz bags of petite green peas
6 medium white potatoes
4 medium onions, chopped
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp black mustard
½ tsp cumin seeds
1/8 tsp asafetida powder
¼ tsp turmeric
2 ½ tsp chili powder
2 ½ tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
salt, to taste
sugar, a pinch
1 ½ tsp garam masala, divided
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp corn starch, divided
3 eggs
1 cup plain bread crumbs
canola oil, for shallow frying

Peas mixture:

1.      Add oil to pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add mustard seeds. About the time they stop popping, add cumin seed and then asafetida powder. Immediately add chopped onion. Sauté onion until soft/translucent on low to medium heat. Add turmeric powder and mix. Add green peas and sauté for a minute or two. Add chili powder, cumin and coriander powders, salt, sugar, and 1 tsp garam masala. Stir well.
2.      Cover and let it cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the peas are cooked. Do not add water. Off the heat, add ½ teaspoon garam masala. (Can be made ahead of time. Bring to room temperature before using.)


1.      Put unpeeled potatoes in saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
2.      Peel and mash boiled potatoes when they are still warm. Add salt to taste. Add 1 Tbsp corn starch and mix well. (Potatoes can be made ahead of time. Bring to room temperature slowly, without using microwave.)


1.      Place pea mixture in a large bowl. Add potato mixture in small portions to the peas, mixing it lightly so that the peas won’t get mushy. Add enough potatoes to bind the peas, without masking the flavor of the peas. (You may not need all the mashed potato.)
2.      Make small flat round or oval patties. Place them on a clean plate.
3.      Beat eggs in a bowl with a pinch of salt and chili powder. Spread breadcrumbs on a separate plate. Add a pinch of salt and chili powder and ½ tsp corn starch. Mix well.
4.      Preheat large, shallow skillet over low heat. Add enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the skillet.
5.      For each patty, dip quickly in egg mixture (let excess egg drip off), then roll in bread crumbs. Place in skillet and fry over very low heat, for about 10 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd the pan.
6.      Serve cutlets with masala chili sauce or ketchup.

Note: Cutlets can be prepared ahead of time. Rewarm slowly in a low oven.

Makes about 50 cutlets.


February 10, 2012

Lentil Soup with Chorizo Croutons

This lentil soup, like the chicken stew I wrote about a few days ago, goes in the "hearty and healthy" category.

French green lentils
Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse. They're high in fiber, protein, iron and folate. And they're low in calories, and practically fat-free. They help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels steady. 

That's all well and good. But it would be meaningless (to me, at least), if they weren't satisfying. The good news is, they are.

Take this soup, for example. It has no butter or cream. But it's still rich and filling. The lentils start out hard and unyielding. But as they cook, they become tender and absorb the flavors of the vegetables and broth that they're simmering in. Give them a quick puree and you've got a thick, flavorful soup that satisfies the mouth and the belly.

And the chorizo croutons. These are optional, but recommended. What's neat about the chorizo in this recipe is that it's a garnish, rather than a main ingredient. Just place a few chorizo slices on the soup and drizzle with a bit of chorizo oil. The spicy, fragrant oil flavors the entire bowl, without undoing the virtuousness of the dish.

To begin, soak lentils in cold water.

Combine drained lentils in a pot with carrot, onion, bay leaf, thyme and stock.

Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender.

Puree soup. I did this with an immersion blender but you can also do this in a regular blender.

Fry chorizo slices until lightly browned on both sides.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with a few chorizo slices and a drizzle of chorizo oil.

Lentil Soup with Chorizo Croutons

Recipe from French Food at Home

1 cup French green lentils
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, sliced
bay leaf
1 fresh thyme sprig
4 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, for squirting if you like
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small chorizo sausage, thinly sliced

1.      Soak the lentils in cold water for 2 hours. Drain the lentils, and put them in a pot with the carrotonion, bay leaf, thyme sprig, and stock. Cover the pot and simmer until very tender, about 45 minutes.
2.      Discard the herbs, and let the lentils cool somewhat, then puree in a blender along with the vegetables, working in 2 batches to avoid an explosive mess.
Cook's Note: Remember that if you put something too hot into a blender you may crack it.
3.      For a very smooth soup, strain it, although it's not necessary. Add salt and pepper, to taste, along with a squeeze of lemon if you like. Gently reheat the soup.
4.      Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan, and sauté the chorizo slices until they curl, about 30 seconds. Turn and fry another 15 seconds.
5.      Serve the soup with the chorizo rounds on top and with some of the now bright-orange cooking oil spooned around.

Serves 4 to 6