Paula Wolfert’s Potato Gnocchi Pictorial

Paula Wolfert has a straightforward recipe for gnocchi in her Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking book. At first glance I was not sure how the recipe would work. It has no eggs at all and little flour, a portion of which is cake flour (ie has very little gluten). After making those a couple of times though, I can definitely say that the recipe works! It produces soft tender dumplings that are full of delicious potato flavor. I suppose one can add an egg to make a firmer gnocchi (Diana likes them firmer), but it really is not needed. Here is a streamlined step by step guide to making these guys.

Prick 2 lbs potatoes all over with a skewer and bake them on a 1-inch layer of salt at 400F for an hour and half. This really is the key step for success. Baking the potatoes as opposed to boiling them leaches moisture and concentrates the flavor. Baking them on a bed of salt further helps dry them out. Too much moisture in the cooked potatoes makes gnocchi dough very tricky to work with and could cause it to turn gummy.

Peel/scoop the flesh out and pass it through a ricer. Spread the potato on a baking sheet and allow them to dry for 30 minutes.

For 1 lbs of cooked potato flesh mix in about 160 gr all-purpose flour, 75 gr of cake flour and a pinch of salt. Fold the dough gently together until it forms a smooth ball.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Working one piece at a time, roll them into 1/2 inch thick ropes and cut the rope into 3/4 inch pieces. I got lazy on some of these and made them a bit bigger. Roll each piece gently on the tines of a fork to create ridges on the dumplings.

Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water until they float. Move them to an ice bath and then strain. Now they can either be used right away or tossed in a little oil and stored for a couple of days.

From this point on all you need to do is toss them in some kind of sauce. I made two different sauces. One was a venison ragu; slowly cooked ground venison, a little tomato, milk and aromatics. The other was based on one of Ms. Wolfert’s recipes in the same book. She sauces the gnocchi with a mixture of gorgonzola and pine nuts. I made a gorgonzola sauce using the Modernist Cuisine technique that adds sodium citrate salt to create an amazing smooth and creamy cheese sauce. I also toasted some pine nuts and caramelized onions and tossed them in there. This was a luxurious and very delicious sauce.

Meghli – Lebanese Spice Pudding

I just recently became an uncle. My brother and his wife welcomed their first baby into the family. Problem is all that has happened several thousand miles away, in Lebanon. It is customary to buy a ton of candies and sweets to offer the visitors and well-wishers when a baby is born. It’s also customary to make “Meghli”, a pudding made from rice flour, sugar and spices. The word meghli means boiled. Not sure why this particular pudding got the name as opposed to a myriad of other similar ones that are also “boiled”. In any case, it is a delicious taste of childhood for me and just because I am not in Beirut with them it does not mean I cannot make me some Meghli and enjoy it.
So, I called mom and asked her for her recipe. She was nice enough to send it via Facebook in what I call “Anglish”, Arabic but using English letters. It cracks me up how good she is at it.

At the end of the post is my proper adaptation for it. It is very simple. A mixture of sugar, water, rice flour, caraway, cinnamon and anise is boiled till thick. It is allowed to set in the fridge. Then it is served topped with a good helping of raw nuts and coconut shreds. The nuts have to be soaked for several hours in water so they get a nice fresh crunch that goes so well with the soft spiced pudding. I’ve tried it with toasted nuts before and for some reason I do not think it works or taste right. It just lacks a refreshing component somehow.

Meghli

Pudding:

1000 gr water
175 gr sugar
75 gr rice flour
¾ tsp caraway seeds, toasted and ground
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp fennel or anise seeds, , toasted and ground
¼ tsp salt

Toppings:

A few handfuls of raw Pistachios, Peeled almonds and Walnuts
A handful of shredded unsweetened dried or fresh coconut

  • Combine all the ingredients for the pudding and bring them to a simmer. Stir the mixture until it thickens. Divide the pudding into small cups or ramekins and chill it.
  • Now is the time to soak the nuts in water and keep them refrigerated until ready to serve. To serve it,  just drain a handful or so of nuts and top the pudding with it. Sprinkle with coconut and enjoy.

Lebanese Baklawa

 

 All of the Baklawa (or Baklava) versions are made with filo, a nut filling and a sweet syrup. However, what makes Lebanese Baklawa different than Greek or Turkish ones and – in my biased opinion 🙂 – better, are a few details. There should be no spice in the nut filling. No cinnamon, no cloves, no mace or nutmeg. The filling is just nuts, a little sugar and a pinch of salt. That’s all. Spices just distract from the flavor of the roasted nuts.

Lebanese Baklawa also does not have honey. No honey at all. Honey syrup makes it heavy and a bit cloying and again imparts its own flavor. This Baklawa is soaked in a syrup made from water, sugar and a couple of aromatic extracts namely rose water and orange blossom water. The first one is distilled from a specific kind of rose that is usually pink, not much to look at but so fragrant. The second one is distilled from the blossoms (flowers) of orange, preferably bitter (Seville) oranges.

Last but not least, there are only two layers of filo in a Baklawa. This is not a club sandwich. The construction should look like this: filo+nuts+filo. I’ve seen many versions that are more like filo+nuts+filo+nuts+filo. Not so good.

So, here it is. My favorite simple Baklawa recipe. This one is based on the recipe from Sonia Uvezian’s book Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Baklawa

  • 2 Cups chopped toasted walnuts
  • 0.5 to 1 Cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb filo pastry
  • 1 Cup clarified butter

Syrup

  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water 

Mix the nuts with the sugar and salt set aside. 

Generously brush a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with some of the butter. Lay half the filo sheets in the pan brushing each one with clarified butter as you put it in the pan. Spread the nuts mixture on the filo sheets and lay the rest of the filo on top, again brushing each one with the butter.

Preheat the oven to 350F. With a sharp knife cut the baklawa while in the pan into squares of about 2 inches. Place the pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 300F. Bake it for about an hour, or until a nice golden color and puffed a little bit.

While the baklawa bakes make the syrup by boiling the water, sugar and lemon juice together for about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the rosewater and orange blossom water. Let it cool slightly (this can be done a few days ahead and kept well covered at room temperature).

When the baklawa is out of the oven, pour on the syrup and allow it to soak through. Let it cool to room temperature and enjoy.



Barley Miso Porridge, Soft Cheese, Vegetables

Aesthetically, this dish needs work, but I am extremely proud of how delicious it was. The flavors popped and worked brilliantly together. It was fresh, healthy and refined. Cooking from the NOMA cookbook is not an easy feat. NOMA in Copenhagen is the new “Best Restaurant in the World”. Rene Redzepi’s cuisine is fiercely local, and in Scandinavia local means sea buckthorn, spruce, dulse seaweed, bulrushes and whole bunch of other wild edibles. This recipe is by no means from that book, but it was inspired by a recipe from it. I already had the purple and yellow carrots on hand and was wondering how to best serve them in a vegetarian dish and while flipping through the Noma book, which focuses a lot on vegetables, I came across the recipe he calls “Vegetables from Lammefjorden, Sea Buckthorn and Gooseberries“. No sea buckthorn or gooseberries for me at this time. So, I stole the idea for the custardy fresh cheese combined with perfectly cooked vegetables (that are definitely not from Lammefjorden) and a brown butter-chicken glace sauce.

Here are the vegetables I used (Lots of washing, peeling and chopping…good vegetarian food is a lot of work):

Purple Carrots, peeled but left whole and bagged with butter, salt and a teaspoon or so of sugar. Cooked sous vide at 85C for about 1.5 hours.

Yellow Carrots, peeled but left whole and bagged with butter, salt and a couple of teaspoons of honey. Cooked sous vide at 85C for about 1.5 hours.

Leeks, cut into 2 inch rounds and oven-braised with butter, water and Oloroso sherry. Before serving they were seared over high heat.

Cabbage, cut into thin wedges and blanched in salty water then refreshed in an ice bath. Heated in beurre monte (butter/water emulsion) before serving.

Swiss chard, inner smaller leaves blanched in salty water then refreshed in an ice bath. Heated in beurre monte (butter/water emulsion) before serving.

The base for the dish is a porridge of sorts, but not a mushy gruel, rather its grains are distinct and the flavors are fresh and savory. This is based on Heston Blumenthal’s famous dish from the Fat Duck. He uses regular rolled oats and tosses them in a mixture of parsley butter. Auldo from “The Big Fat Undertaking” blog cooked and wrote about it here. I used barley because I love its texture and flavor. I also made my own parsley butter sauce that uses a good dose of umami-rich Miso to complement all the vegetables in the dish. The end result is fantastic and I will definitely be making this as a side dish or a starch for future meals. The recipe for it is posted at the end of this entry.

The fresh cheese is from the Noma recipe. It’s made from milk, cream, buttermilk and rennet. It’s allowed to set at a very low temperature until it resembles very soft tofu. To serve, it is just spooned on top of the porridge. The other component from the Noma recipe is the brown butter sauce. That’s made from reduced chicken stock, brown butter, balsamic vinegar, shallots and parsley.

 

Barley Porridge with Parsley-Miso Butter

Barley:

  • 1/2 Cup pearl barley
  • A 3 inch piece of leek, mostly from the greener part
  • Sprinkle of salt

Parlsey-Miso Butter:

  • About a half bunch chopped parlsey
  • 1/2 of a small shallot, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Shiro Miso (white or more like blond Miso)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • About 1/4 cup hot water
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter

Put the barley in a pot with plenty of water and bring to a rolling boil. Drain the barley and put them back in the pot with the leek and salt and cover with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cover. cook on a gentle heat until tender, about 20-25 minutes. When done there should be very little or no water left. The barley should be tender but with a toothsome texture. If not, add a little more water and cook a bit longer.

Make the Parsley-Miso butter by pureeing everything together until as smooth as possible. Pass through a sieve if you want to but I did not.

Finish the porridge by mixing in the Parsley-Miso butter while the barley is very warm and serve it immediately. The barley can be made a day or two ahead of time. In that case heat it in the pot with a couple fo tablespoons of water before mixing in the parsley-Miso butter.

The Belly of The Pig…

Pork belly and bean salad 

 ….is one deliciouse piece of meat, fat and gelatin! I am talking about that same cut you make bacon from. Maybe your local Megamart does not have it, mine doesn’t. If you have a local Asian or Hispanic market close buy, give them a try and I am pretty sure you’ll find this cut. Cooking is super easy but a bit time consuming. Here’s what I do. Score the skin side with parallel lines, cutting through the skin but not the meat at maybe 1/4 inch intervals. Season hevaily with salt and pepper and let sit overnight or for a few hours in the fridge in a covered dish (you can even keep it like that for a couple of days).

 When ready to cook, remove the meat from the fridge, pat it dry and place in an ovenproof pan or skillet skin side up. HEat the oven to 400F. Place the pan in the oven, let the meat cook for 10 minutes and reduce the heat down to 250 F. Let it cook for 4 hours or more till lots of fat is rendered, the meat is soft and the skin is crispy. You can even broil it for 5 minutes or so at the end to make an even crispier skin. That’s it! One of the best pork dishes is serving this on top of a simple white bean salad (drained canned Cannelini beans, herbs, tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper).

The Best Chicken Burger, Lebanese style

This is my absolute favorite chicken burger recipe. Diana requests it almost every time I ask her what she would like to eat off the grill. I first created this recipe for some ‘Best Burger’ contest. I did not win, but since then this beauty is a winner every time I make it for friends. The origin for the recipe is the Lebanese dish Shish Tawook which is chicken chunks marinated and grilled on skewers. The aioli that goes with the burger is inspired by Hummus bil Tahini better known in the US as ‘Hummus’ dip. I usually also make my own buns but store bought Kaiser buns are perfectly fine.

Some of the marinade prep. 

 

Marinating the chicken. Note how I leave some fat on the meat.

Creamy -and very addictive- Hummus Aioli. Tastes great on the burger and with fries.

Grilling over charcoal is the best way to go.

One side is done, one to go…

Served…

…but I usually eat at least two with lots of homemade fries. These buns are home baked too.

Now, here’s the recipe. Give it a try.

Lebanese Chicken Burger

Burgers:
8-10 Garlic cloves
3 Tbsp Chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp Tomato paste
1 Tbsp Yellow mustard
Juice of one lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3 lbs Skinless and Boneless Chicken thighs, trimmed of any sinew or excessive fat (leave some fat in though) and cut into cubes
3 Tbsp plain bread crumbs

Aioli:
½ Cup canned Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas), drained
1 garlic clove, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp ground Cumin
1 Egg
¾ Cup Vegetable or canola oil

To Serve:
10-12 Burger Buns
Green leaf lettuce
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced red Bell pepper
Pickled cucumbers, preferably the garlicky sour middle eastern ones
Homemade French Fries

4 to 24 hours before you want to enjoy these burgers marinate the chicken. Combine all the burgers’ ingredients except for the chicken and crumbs in the bowl of a food processor or a blender and pulverize to a paste. I like to do that with a granite mortar and pestle instead, but a processor works fine. Season the marinade with salt and pepper. Be a bit aggressive since this is the chicken’s seasoning. Place the marinade and the chicken in a bowl or Ziploc bag, mix well and refrigerate till you are ready to use.
When you are ready to make the patties, place the chicken and any marinade stuck to it in a food processor and pulse till the chicken is finely chopped but not creamed. Place the chicken in a bowl and add the crumbs and mix well. Form the mixture into 10 or 12 (depending how much you trimmed the meat) 4 oz patties. Oiling your hands helps with this process. Grill them over charcoal or if all else fails, under the broiler.

The Aioli can be made hours or even a day or two ahead of time. In a blender combine everything except the oil and puree till smooth. With the blender running, drizzle the oil in a VERY THIN stream. The end result should look very much like a slightly grainy mayonnaise. Well, that’s what this is. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, lightly grill the buns, slather generously with the aioli on both sides and add the patty. Top with your favorite garnishes and serve with a side of fries. A small ramekin of extra aioli goes great with the fries too.

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp 

This is my favorite way to cook shrimp. When I do this I make sure I have at least a pound to eat per person since it is so addictively good. My mom prepares it more or less the same way and that’s how I first tasted this. I add a bit more of a Spanish spin on it and eat it with some good crusty bread or in this case homebaked Focaccia.

Just gently cook 8 or 9 cloves of finely chopped garlic and half of a chopped bell pepper together in plenty of olive oil (like 1/3 cup of the good Extra Virgin olive oil) for 10 minutes or until they are very soft. They key here is GENTLE. You want the oil to be flavored with the garlic/pepper, but do not let the garlic burn or even get brown. Now add a tablespoon of smoked paprika and a couple of crumbled dried hot chiles (Those thin long ones called Chile De Arbol are best). Stir the mxiture for a few seconds and add about a pound of peeled (with the tail left intact) and deveined (that ‘vein’ in case you do not know contains shit, literally, and it is pure laziness not to remove it since it taste like crap and has the texture of sand) large shrimp. Cook the shrimp slowly for about 10 minutes stirring all the time to get them coated until they are cooked through and still juicy. Last but not least, turn the heat off and stir in a 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Serve piping hot.

This recipe makes enough for one person, or two I guess if you stretch it with some rice or potatoes. I like to eat those with my hands and mop up the amazing oil with the bread.