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Cozy up to your mushroom

Ready or not…fall is here. At least for those of us shivering away in Munich. We all keep hoping it’s just the phase of the moon or a bad luck moment…but the cool days seem like they’re here to stay. I find the biggest telltale sign is the type of recipes I am pinning over on Pinterest. Cool breezy fruity drinks? Still summer. Spinach salads? Fig tarts? Corn? Getting to the end of summer. Lentils? Pasta? Mushrooms? Pasta and mushrooms? Fall has arrived. Accept.

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It’s not so bad, really, as long as you love fungus. I didn’t as a kid. Now I can’t get enough of them and I was like a little kid in a candy store at the viktualienmarkt on Saturday buying up various mushrooms. Crimini, shitake, three kinds of oysters, chantarelles…no porcinis here, but I’ll get those too soon.

The challenge (I challenged myself) was to make a pasta dish that used Japanese flavors but made the eater feel like it was Italian pasta. Not just the noodle, the whole dish. I love the satisfied feeling I get from a simple bowl of pasta with a rich tomato sauce. I wanted that feeling. But with Japanese flavors, which generally just don’t do it for me when it comes to pasta. I decided to make soba noodles as the base.

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I found a recipe that called for a mix of flours for the noodles. 2/3 buckwheat, 1/3 farina. Apparently this makes the noodles easier to handle – adding the flour with the gluten – which buckwheat lacks – makes it easier to work the dough. But it keeps much of the flavor of soba, and is not quite so “slimy” when you’re done.

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After mixing the dough (calculate 100 grams flour and 50 grams water for every person eating and use the ratio above for making the dough), I let it sit while I went for a run. Came back and rolled it out with my pasta machine – you can see from the cracks on the edges that the dough is a bit harder to work and a bit drier than a typical semolina. I just sliced off the edges and added them back into the rest of the dough. Cut the noodles by hand so I would have a bit of natural shapes, as well as thicker noodles. I let them lie out for the rest of the evening before making my sauce.

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In the end, after they’ve dried for a bit, you can just roll them all up in your towel and dump them in your boiling water when you’re ready to cook them. These took about 5 minutes to boil because of their thickness.

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For the sauce, I decided to roast the chopped mushrooms in the oven with a handful of fava beans, a handful of reconstituted wakame seaweed, a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic, a few glugs of olive oil, and a fair shake of two spice mixes my sister brought me – a Japanese herb and spice mix (citrus, seseme, chilis, etc.) and an umami salt mix (salt, essence of mushroom, who knows what else). Left everything in the oven at about 200 for a good 15-20 minutes until the mushrooms crisped up a bit on the edges.

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Meanwhile I made the sauce. More of the same (more mushrooms, garlic and the spice mixes), but also onions, spinach, cream, white miso paste, a dry white wine. It all came together well – the umami salt punched up the flavor a lot.

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Finally, for the protein (beyond the buckwheat) I wanted something still reasonably light – so I went for tiny quail breasts. They’re great sauteed lightly in a pan for a few minutes and then roasted on low heat for about 10 minutes more to finish them off.

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After draining the noodles – I cooked them in a broth with a porcini mushroom base – I began to carefully toss them with all the components.

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And it worked. I really had the feeling as I ate the dish that it had the richness of an Italian pasta (ehem, cream? :-O) but had captured also the flavors of Japan. At least many of them.  To finish the dish, I sprinkled it with toasted sesame and some sliced sheets of nori.

Will try out the soba noodles again with some other combos. Perhaps just a simple tomato sauce.

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Steamy buns

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Nice poster, no? ;-) It was in the bathroom of a bar in Cologne I went to two weeks back. I couldn’t resist taking a photo. It was one of those evenings where just walking around outside left you covered in a fine sweaty film – the humidity must have been about 95%. So the poster certainly looked…refreshing. Haven’t tried the drink advertised though.

It is barbeque season over here and for some reasons we’ve been more enthusiastic about barbequing this year. We don’t have a balcony or our own yard, but there is a lovely shared garden downstairs with a built-into-the-wall hand-made grill that one of the neighbors apparently crafted many years back. And during the summer the picnic table comes out – another neighbor – and sometimes there are spontaneous grill parties.

And while I like a juicy burger or bratwurst, I’m generally trying to think up something more interesting to put on the grill. A couple weeks back I invited a bunch of friends over for a korean taco barbeque. Two nights later I tried out some thai meatball sliders. In each case, the standard German bread option wasn’t really a great pairing and getting fresh brioche buns is difficult here. The packaged hamburger and hot dog buns in the grocery stores leave something wanting here as well. On a whim, I decided to test out a momofuku bun recipe (thank you, David Chang!) with the thai sliders. And that was a major win.

The buns are meant to be for pork belly bites. But they work really well with any spicy meat. They’re a bit of work to make, so make sure you have a couple hours at your disposal to tend to them. They need to rise three times. But if you’re doing other stuff around the house, the active time to create them is not terrible. Make sure to make an entire recipe – it’s worth it and you can freeze them.

Based on David Chang’s recipe, but slightly modified.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1.5 cups water, room temp.
4.25 cups bread flour (sorry – I know this is a miserable measurement – it should be by weight, but this is what Mr. Chang thought was good enough, I think you could go with even a bit more flour.)
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup rendered pork fat or veggie shortening at room temp

Directions:

1) combine the yeast, water and sugar in a bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes and foam. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and soda and fat and mix (in a mixer or with your hands) for about 8 to 10 minutes, kneading as the dough comes together. I used my bread machine to do it for me and that worked perfectly. The dough gathers into a neat ball, a bit shiny.
2) Lightly oil a medium bowl, put the dough in it, cover with a dry kitchen towel. Let it rise about 1 hour 15 min.
3) Cut out 50 squares of baking paper, each about 3 inches square.
4) Punch the dough down and turn it out on your work surface. Divide the dough into 50 pieces, each about 25 grams. Don’t be lazy, use a kitchen scale. You want these things uniform in size. If you can’t get 50 pieces, go with what you can – I only got about 38.
5) Put the balls/pieces to the side somewhere to rise for 30 min.
6) Roll out each piece into an oblong oval shape about 4 inches in length. Take a chopstick, coat with a bit of grease – oil or shortening – and gently fold the oblong oval in half over the chopstick and then slide the chopstick out. You want to create a little hollow in the middle of the bun where it can easily be separated later after steaming. Place on a square of baking paper. Put each one to the side as you roll.
7) Let the buns rest again 30 minutes. They should look something like this.

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8) Get your steamer ready. I have one with two layers. More convenient. Place the buns – perhaps about 10 per layer in my case – in the steamer and let steam cook for about 10 minutes. Work in batches. Remove and let cool.
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After they’re all done and cool, simply bag the buns you won’t eat and freeze. They keep for months.

For the barbeque – you can take frozen buns and put directly on the bbq – they’ll quickly defrost and get nice little grill marks. But if they’re fresh you can choose to put them on the grill or not – or even resteam them for a few minutes to defrost them if you like.

Pair with a meatball or other spicy alternative, a few green onion slivers, perhaps a slice of cucumber, a little kimchi – whatever you fancy.

ummmmm…..

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Spice Cabinet Orga = Dhoka

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Last weekend I couldn’t look at my kitchen countertops anymore. They seemed to be filling up with crap everywhere. Out of control. Spoons and spatulas spilling out of a huge bucket, oils and vinegars and peppers and salts littering the space next to the stove, containers filled with coffee and muesli huddling at the endges. Enough was enough. A new strategy.

Honest assessment. What do I need here, what can go? What absolutely needed to be on the counter and what could live inside a drawer? How many wooden spoons does a girl need? (Note: I decided three.) And so there were several hours of rearrangement and clearing. I didn’t touch the spice cabinet – a nightmare by itself, all the little bottles and baggies. Horror. So I stuck with the counters. Step 1. Felt good.

Step 2 happened this morning. The rain was pissing down – the glories of German summer. Or as I learned …wimmer (winter+summer). It just starts in November and extends…to November. I wasn’t quite ready to jump into my running tights and head to the gym, so tackling the spice cabinet seemed a good activity. You can see the result above. We won’t discuss any further the “before” version. In order to hopefully maintain some order I even labeled the shelf sections. Let’s see how long the spices stay in their respective areas. It’s a bit like my clothing. I make nice orderly stacks of t-shirts and pants and sports clothes and 3 weeks later everything is asunder again.

As you might have noticed, the most common spices are the Indian/Pakistani ones. Granted, there are some crossover spices – I mean, where does “cinnamon” really belong? (Indian? Baking? Turkish?), but for the most part I sorted by instinct – “where would I look for something first?”

And to celebrate the order, I made a new Indian recipe. Something called Dhokla, a recipe for it was just published by the nytimes a week back or so. It’s, in this case, a semolina flour version. I decided to try it as the starch in our meal this evening rather than just a standard naan/roti. Dhokla is a steamed savory cake, usually served as a kind of snack in India, from what I learned.

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And it worked and came together pretty quickly. Chili and ginger make it like a sort of spicy cornbread. I learned this fast trick – I don’t remember where I read it. To peel ginger, don’t bother with a knife. Just take a spoon and scrape off the skin. It comes off quickly and easily and significantly reduces the hassle and waste you normally get by trying to peel the knobby root.

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Dhokla is steamed, not baked. I had to make a sort of make-shift steamer. Which was fine.

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Tumeric surprisingly turned it red, not yellow, after it was steamed, although it started out yellow as you can see above. Must have been some sort of chemical reaction? One note is that the recipe calls for 20 minutes of steaming, but in my case it took about 35 minutes until the top was firm. My steamer set-up was slightly different than that described in the nytimes recipe, so perhaps that’s why.

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You make a tarka for the cake – an oil in which you quickly fry some mustard and curry leaves and chilies. To serve, pour a bit of this over the top, and sprinkle with some fresh coconut slivers and chopped cilantro.

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It’s a snack, but I made it for dinner. The taste? Quite similar to a cornbread, perhaps like a jalapeno cornbread, freshened up with the yogurt raita I served it with, really delicious. Although I look forward more to the leftovers, as usually by the time I am done cooking, I can barely face dinner – I’m sick of the flavors. Give it a day break, and it’s great again though.

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Surrounded by a spianch daal, a fresh aubergine and pepper dish, and a saag paneer, we were happy eaters this evening. And tomorrow evening happier with the leftovers.

Now…time for the Football. Go “Schlaaand!”

 

 

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When it rains in Spain

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I will be the first to admit that the vacation in Spain did not go as planned.

Although, the rain, when it appeared very infrequently, was rather a lovely break from the hot sun, and only once a small inconvenience that can hardly even be called that as the night was over and no one gave a hot damn anymore about if my hair frizzed in the humidity. If they ever did. ;-).

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I guess I could run through the long list of disasters that befell us all, although our stolen luggage was certainly the biggest unexpected blow.

So…for the record and posterity, I will allow the stolen luggage story and all the aftermath of that to simply exist as a “big and very expensive lesson learned,” not unlike the Prague wine story of 2002, thankfully a full dozen years in the past now and continuing to live on through the power of story telling. The upside is that I have a bunch of new clothes, desired or not. Hmm. Anyone ever told you never to leave suitcases locked in a car in a parking lot at a Spanish beach – even for just a quick lunch – take this advice and drag the suitcases into the restaurant, regardless of how ridiculous you might think you look. Your insurance DOES NOT cover much.

But moving on to more important reminiscing.

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The house (thank you, Mom and Dad!) we stayed at was gorgeous, and so wonderfully cool during the day when we were there.

And the horse in the front yard, whatever its name was, provided some great comic relief, as he galloped to greet us every time we got back to the house. Or at least the smell of him did, if he didn’t himself.

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And as we always do, we figured out how to deal with a kitchen that could plate up dinner for 50 if you needed it to, but which sorely needed a coffee maker and some fly screens on the window. But hey, we all learned how to be pretty inventive with a single espresso maker and pots of boiling water. ;-)

We did manage to cook one Spanish recipe while we were there (thank you, Amy, for bringing the cookbook).

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And I really enjoyed cooking the few nights we did. Spanish recipes or not. California bay leaves, direct from California, made the stews we made heavenly. (Again, thank you Mom and Dad.)

Going out was also largely successful, and I think my favorite meal was the mid-day beach lunch of razor clams, spinach salad, and of course, Paella.

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I was not sorry that I decided against tasting the original ice cream flavors one Gelati store offered up. (Tomato, salt and olive oil ice cream? Hm, no thanks. I’ll stick with cucumber.)

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A tasty finish, even if my sisters were not overly impressed, was the octopus we ordered on the last night. Damn it, maybe wasabi isn’t a Spanish ingredient, but we just don’t get octopus like that in Germany, so I’ll remain happy. ;-)

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Of course all the eating had to be balanced with exercise (one of the first purchases I insisted on when we started to buy the contents of our stolen luggage was running shoes…which ultimately made me really happy.) Today’s run back on the banks of the cool and shady Isar proved to me that it makes sense to challenge myself more on occasion. Five days of running gentle slopes up and down the Spanish country roads in 33 degrees made today’s jog feel like flying. Hoping the feeling lasts a few more days. (Ok, I know it looks flat, but trust me, there were plenty of non-flat stretches.)

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Best of all, of course, was getting to hang out with my family and see how much all three of my nephews have grown, and how crazy they all are. ;-) (Or at least look…in my sunglasses.)

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I wish we’d had a little more time to explore a few towns like Girona. Walking the narrow brick streets was fun, and I look forward to doing it again at some point, after I’ve slept in my own bed for a month at least.

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And that is all. So good night.

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Eat your chia…seeds

For those of us who spent a good portion of the 70’s growing up, this tv commercial may bring back fond memories:

I watch it now and want to grow one. I wonder if I can find a ceramic animal to spread the seeds on top of. Maybe at a garden store…hmmm…nice window project for next week.

Anyway, this is not a gardening blog, is it? I just got off the phone with my Mom, who I wished a very happy mother’s day. She never bought me a chia pet….although the house was filled with half a dozen other kinds of small animals during my adolescence, so I can’t honestly complain. But this blog is also not a veterinarian-in-training blog either, so getting on with the story.

Mom heard the story of my adventure cooking this morning – including chia seeds – and asked for the recipe for these:

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That, my friends, is a tower of granola bars. Rather than eating handfuls of nuts and fruit and such as snacks during the day (weekends), I thought it might be nice to mix up a batch of granola bars – filled with all the things that I like, and ideally leaving out any of the butter and fats or other ingredients I would prefer not to have in there.

Martha Stewart’s recipe for “Fruit and Nut bars” was a guide for what I ended up with.

The key is not to be frightened of just having a go at your own mix. Here’s approximately what I ended up with for a recipe:

1 cup oats
1 cup quinoa (no need to cook)
1/4 cup CHIA seeds (Thanks, Alex, for introducing me to these, I have been using them in all kinds of things)
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 macadamia nuts
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup dried pitted dates
a couple squares of very dark chocolate – chopped into bits – perhaps 30 grams or so
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 Tbl sugar
3 Tbl honey

Directions:

1) put the dates and a cup or so of water in a pot and boil them for about 5 minutes until they get soft and plump up. Drain them and puree them briefly in a food processor.
2) take about half of the nuts and the oats and blitz them next in the food processor until they are somewhat fine. Not powder, but chopped.
3) chop the apricots and the chocolate and the rest of the nuts into small pieces – granola bar sized.
4) Mix all the ingredients together now – the puree, the oats and chia, the nuts and fruit and chocolate, the salt, cinnamon, sugar and honey in a big bowl.
5) press everything into a baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes – until the top gets a bit brown.
6) Remove from the oven and let cool for an hour.
7) Cut into bars and enjoy.

Note: I find these on the crumbly side, so if anyone has any tips on how to get them to stick together a bit better, I’d be happy to hear from you. Ideally solutions do not include butter or eggs.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom.

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BTW, to make the chia for breakfast, just combine two tablespoons of the chia with a cup of the milk of your choice (regular, soy, almond), mix and let sit overnight. In the morning, stir in some chopped fruit, a little honey, some slivered almonds, some yogurt if you like. Eat and enjoy. It takes 5 minutes.

 

 

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The Lake House

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A month ago Caro decided it was time we all went to the Lake House. And with the Easter break just around the corner, we were all counting down weeks until the four day break. Which is now just four days away. Mal and Fred have a beautiful house right on Ammersee that is well worth a weekend outing, so I blocked off the days in the calendar right away.

After a run and a fast trip to the Viktualienmarkt yesterday morning to pick up spring bounty (fava beans, asparagus, candy sweet tomatoes from Italy, wild spring greens, fresh mint) and stare at Easter decorations for a few minutes, I was off, kindly picked up by Caro and Sebastian, who generously carted me and my groceries down to the lake house.

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We got there to find Mal, Fred and Britta in their pjs or lounging clothes, and immediately unpacked the goods, and packed up a basket with fresh pretzels and turkish string cheese, tomato marmalade, butter and sweet orange juice, to carry the 100 meters down to the lake, and sat and just chilled next to the water for an hour or two, the warm spring sun on our faces. We passed these mushrooms on the way, there were kilos of them there and it was tempting to think we might be able to pluck them and dump them in a pan with butter and herbs, but thankfully we didn’t. These guys are not edible.

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Sit. Chill. Chat. Sip tea. zzzzzzz. ;-)

After a couple hours it was time to get up and go into town to the fish lady, known for selling….fish. We had eight to feed after Philipp and Elisabeth arrived, and throwing fish in the oven with some herbs and butter and wine and baking it was an easy way to feed a crowd. Something tells me this nice couple weren’t the ones who caught our dinner.

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Caro had made a couple delicious quinoa salads – one a bit like a tabouleh, but spicy, so for greens I put together my market pickings into a yummy and simple mix. Britta asked for the recipe and when I explained there was none, she asked me to create one. So here goes.

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Serves 8

A kilo of fava beans, shelled, boiled for about 4 minutes and skins removed. Spring peas would work too and would be substantially less work.

A kilo of asparagus, bottoms removed, tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted in a hot oven (200 degrees) for about 5-6 minutes until the outsides begin to brown and the asparagus get a bit limp. Check after a few minutes – time is dependent on how thick they are. Chop into inch-size pieces when done.
Two large handfuls of watercress, leaves picked from stems unless the stems are very tender.
About 500 grams of tomatoes – only seasonal, tasty ones – sliced and chopped into bite-sized pieces
A handful of dill, a handful of mint – chopped.
1 lemon, zested, half of the lemon juice.
Mix it all together, pour the lemon juice and perhaps a quarter cup of olive oil on it, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, toss and taste again, adjusting as you go.
To serve, grate pecorino cheese over the top. We probably grated about 100 grams.

The fish came out of the oven and Britta filleted both giant fish. They were eaten with generous squeezes of lemon and sprinkled with salt.

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And after a late night of games and wine, everyone dug into Caro’s delicious cherry and raspberry pie…which we all want the recipe for as well. ;-) Caro, feel free to post here.

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Happy Spring. :-)

 

 

 

 
 

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Great Balls of …Spinach!

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Been here, done this. But it’s worth writing about again, if briefly. Because this meal fits very nicely into the vegetarian meals phase. Three weeks in, I have to admit, I really wouldn’t mind eating some meat. I’m not craving steaks or hamburgers, but I do miss chicken…For now, fish is back in in limited quantities and I think it’ll stay there (i.e., not adding any further animals in including shellfish) for the time being.

On a cool spring evening, what’s a tasty dinner treat to celebrate “springing forward?” (I am hating daylight savings time right this minute. I’m tired, damnit.) Spinach and ricotta gnocci with a fresh tomato sauce. I’ve covered these before – in my former blog – but they are soooo worth trying out that I’m posting a photo and reprinting the gnocci recipe one more time. Both the gnocci and the sauce recipes are from Marcella Hazan (who died just recently), and I spent about an hour perusing her classic Italian cookbook yesterday morning, reading up on her recommendations on how to make pasta.

These gnocci come together relatively quickly, although the whole endeavor – including the sauce – will probably take you about an hour and a half. If I’m being honest. The sauce – Marcella’s classic Tomato, butter and onion – only has four ingredients, but needs to simmer for 45 minutes. There are no shortcuts. You can make the gnocci after getting the sauce up (2 pounds tomatoes – peeled and chopped, 5 tbs butter, one onion cut in half only, salt to taste – put in saucepan, simmer 45 minutes, remove onion. Done.)

And here is Marcella’s gnocci recipe (modified to remove the prosciutto – completely unnecessary, but adding in lemon peel).
Ingredients:
1 lb fresh spinach or 1 10-ounce package frozen leaf spinach, thawed (Euro readers, 10 ounces = 283 grams, I used frozen and it was just fine)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon onion chopped very fine
Salt
3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
The peel from about a half a lemon, grated.
Whole nutmeg (I cheated – put in a pinch of pre-ground)

1) Cook the spinach in a covered pan with salt (VERY IMPORTANT) for about 5 minutes (I did about 3…) Drain it and squeeze all the moisture out of it, chop it coarsely.

2) Saute the butter and onion in a small skillet until it is pale gold. Add the chopped spinach and some salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Take off the heat and let cool.

3) In a bowl, combine the spinach mixture, the flour and ricotta and stir. Add the egg yolks, grated Parmesan, and a grating of nutmeg (about 1/8 teaspoon), the grated lemon peel and mix with a spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

4) Make small pellets of the mixture, shaping them quickly by rolling them in the palm of your hand. Ideally they should be no bigger than 1/2 inch across, but if you find it troublesome to make them that small, you can try for 3/4 inch. If the mixture sticks to your palms (IT DOES), dust your hands lightly with flour. (I tried the flour, but that did not help. So instead, I wet my hands with water and then rolled them – and THAT WORKED).

5) Drop the gnocci, a few at a time (about a dozen or so) into boiling SALTED water. Cook them for about 3 minutes – or for about a minute or two after they return to the surface of the water. Remove with a slotted spoon.

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