Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Roasted Potatoes with Apricot Harissa

I do enjoy reading a cookbook in which the author writes candidly about how she really prepares various dishes. That was the case with Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories by Nigella Lawson of which I received a review copy. In this book, the chapters are divided not by breakfast, lunch, and dinner or by season or by category of food. Instead, the chapters are themes introduced by a written explanation that includes how Lawson approaches ingredients, how she cooks for herself versus for guests, and how she uses leftovers for instance. The themes may seem random, but the writing offers more information than recipes on their own ever could. And, each recipe includes more than a headnote. Before the ingredient list and instructions, there is a page or two of writing about how the dish came about, how it can be modified at different times of year or for different occasions, and sometimes meandering thoughts on similar dishes. Meandering isn’t a criticism here. I quite enjoyed the foray through variations and executions. The first chapter is A for Anchovy, and I was delighted by the description of ways to enjoy anchovies on bread. She carefully explains the quantity and temperature of butter for an ideal base for anchovies on bread before describing a version of this she had in Milan that came with roasted red pepper slices. Then, she goes on to discuss crostini with mozzarella, burrata, or stracciatella that’s topped with an anchovy fillet. By the end of this intro to the chapter and before even reading through the recipes, I was doing a search to order anchovies. In the chapter Pleasures, she wholeheartedly supports the seeking of pleasure in food and suggests guilty pleasures have no place in the world of eating since there should be no guilt in culinary joy. The recipes here include a Crab Mac ‘N’ Cheese, a Fried Chicken Sandwich, and Creme Caramel for One that I want to try. The book was finished during the pandemic, so the chapter Much Depends on Dinner took on a new meaning since dinner parties have become tricky or unadvisable depending on the current state of things. Here, you’ll find chicken dishes, lasagna, and roasted vegetables. I was inspired to try the Beet and Chickpea Dip recipe in this chapter. In its intro, there’s a discussion of dips to offer rather than complicated appetizers that includes an aside about a green salsa made with cilantro and jalapeno and the Burnt Onion and Eggplant dip included earlier in the book. This inspired me to whip up a chips and dip Friday with eggplant dip and roasted salsa. And, from later in that chapter, I had to try the Vegan Lemon Polenta Cake that I topped with a blueberry sauce. The dish I want to tell you more about, though, is the Roasted Potatoes with Apricot Harissa. The harissa appears a couple of times in the book. It’s used on a sheet pan chicken dish with sweet potatoes and again with roasted cauliflower and spinach. In the intro to the cauliflower recipe, there’s a mention of using the harissa on roasted potatoes with specific instructions for how to do that, and that’s what I did. 

I had local potatoes and sweet peppers from Boggy Creek Farm, so the time was right for this dish. Both were chopped into big chunks. The potatoes were coated with olive oil and some of the harissa before being spread on a baking sheet. A few tablespoons of water were added before the pan went into a hot oven. After 20 minutes or so, I added the pepper chunks and stirred the mixture around to distribute the harissa and oil. The mixture roasted another 20 minutes or so until the potatoes were crisp outside, tender inside, and the peppers were browned. For the harissa, I used the dried peppers I had on hand which on that day were pasillas and anchos. They were stemmed and seeded and rehydrated in boiling water. Coriander, cumin, and cardamom seeds were toasted. The softened chiles, spices, some garlic, dried apricots, turmeric, smoked paprika, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and salt were all added to a food processor and pureed. I omitted the ginger that was part of the ingredient list. 

Happily, this made enough harissa for a few uses, and I have a jar in the freezer. The sweetness of the apricots plays nicely off the bitterness of the dried chiles. It was fantastic with the roasted potatoes and peppers, and I can’t wait to try it with cauliflower and/or chicken. Or, I might meander a bit myself and try it on fish or with roasted mushrooms. That might not happen until after I’ve tried all those options for anchovies on bread though.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Ricotta Gnocchi with a Simple Tomato Sauce

What’s your favorite day to cook? Is there a point in the week when you most enjoy the process of creating a meal for yourself or to share with others? For me, it’s usually Friday. I cook a lot on Fridays, prep things for the weekend, and get excited to try new recipes. For a professional chef, the weekend falls on Monday and Tuesday. The new book, At Home in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes from a Chef's Night Off by David Kinch, of which I received a review copy, is all about his Tuesday cooking. That’s his Sunday. Unlike the dishes prepared at his restaurant Manresa, his home cooking is a far more relaxed situation. He shares the straightforward, crowd-pleasing dishes he offers to friends who join him at his “Pink Palace” California home for those days off. Music is a big part of those days as well, and each recipe in the book comes with a song suggestion. At the start, there are some basics like a few stocks, pickles, croutons, and mayo. The Chickpea Stock reminded me that I’d previously learned how dried chickpeas can add a good flavor boost to homemade stock, but I never seem to remember to try it. Here, the stock is completely chickpea-focused. It’s recommended for the Minestrone with pesto recipe found a few chapters later that I have to try while I have lots of basil growing. The first thing I tried was the Spicy Sesame Cucumber with Avocado salad. It’s thick and lovely from the smashed avocado, bright and fresh from the cucumber, and spicy with jalapeno. If you’re looking to take your grilled cheese sandwich to a new level, the version here comes with a crispy cheese veil. Cheese is browned in the pan, and the finished sandwich is set on top of it so you can lift the cheese up the sides of the sandwich with a spatula and then serve it crispy cheese side up. In the pasta chapter, there’s a walnut sauce made with ricotta that’s garnished with fried marjoram leaves, and that’s on my to-try list as well. There are meat and seafood dishes and Jambalaya, Paella, and California Crab Boil, but the vegetable dishes kept calling out to me. Another one to try is the Eggplant with Black Olive Tapenade made with thick slices of eggplant. For dessert, there are not-too-sweet options with lots of fruit. I like the idea of the Rice Pudding Sundae served with various options for toppings. And, the last chapter is drinks with a couple of sangrias perfectly suited to entertaining. The dish I want to talk more about today, though, is the Ricotta Gnocchi with a Simple Tomato Sauce. 

This is such a simple gnocchi recipe. It’s just a mix of ricotta and flour. I made it vegan by using a plant-based ricotta, and I mixed in some chopped basil. The mixture was patted into a one inch thick square and cut into wide slices. Each slice was rolled into a long log and then cut into little pillows. The pillows were rolled over with a fork to give them a curved shape. They were quickly cooked for about a minute in boiling water. For the sauce, I started with fresh, fabulous, local tomatoes. They were peeled by dropping them in boiling water, transferring them to ice water, and pulling off the skins. Cutting an X in the bottom of each tomato before boiling helps with pulling off the skins. They were seeded and then pureed in the blender. Finely chopped shallots were cooked in lots of olive oil, and I added garlic as well. Then, the tomato puree was added with salt and pepper and left to simmer for a bit. The sauce and cooked gnocchi were combined and topped, in my case, with basil although pecorino would also be great. 

This fresh tomato sauce made with just-picked, ripe tomatoes can’t be beat. As it goes here, our local tomato season is on the decline by August. I miss it already. But, the gnocchi could be made any time, and they’re so quick to pull together there’s no reason not to. I lack a Pink Palace near the beach, but I’ll have fun cooking the same fare enjoyed there.

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