Friday, October 30, 2009

Carrot Gnocchi with Basil Pesto

Gnocchi, the tender little Italian dumplings, usually consist of cooked potatoes and flour. I see winter squash gnocchi here and there, but hadn't thought of making gnocchi with carrots until I saw the recipe in Marcella Says... , from Italian cooking jedi master Marcella Hazan. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, since boiled and especially roasted carrots develop such a sweet, squash-like flavor.

Hazan found carrot gnocchi in Friuli in northeastern Italy, and compares them favorably to pumpkin gnocchi in Venice. I adapted the recipe to omit an egg yolk, some cheese, and butter. The gnocchi binded well without the egg and cheese, and olive oil was an even match for the butter.

I first boiled the carrots until very soft, then sauteed them with onion in olive oil, until the onions were lightly browned and the carrots beginning to brown. Then they're pureed in a food processor, scraping the sides several times to make as smooth a puree as possible. Carrots aren't quite as amenable as squash or potato to pureeing, so it pays to put a little time into it.

The carrot-onion puree is seasoned with a little salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Make a gnocchi dough by adding tablespoons of all-purpose flour until you have a very soft dough. I got by with about six tablespoons.

Hazan's method for cooking these was new to me too. First the gnocchi are boiled like dumplings for just a little while (she calls for only a few seconds, but I left them in for a minute or so), and then plunged in ice water. You do this a few gnocchi at a time, which keeps the boiling water from dropping in temperature. After they're all boiled, they're tossed with olive oil and sage leaves, and baked for about 10 minutes in a 400 F oven.

Here they are out of the oven. I coated them with a pesto of fresh basil, lemon juice, walnuts, and sun-dried tomatoes. The contrast of sweet gnocchi with the lemony basil pesto was memorable, until I make my way to Friuli someday :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ginger and Maple-Roasted Veggies & Tempeh

I've been roasting all kinds of vegetables the past few days, one of the few good things about all the rain and cold we've been putting up with lately. I approach roast vegetables the same way I usually make soup, in that it's less about having a plan and more about using whatever odds and ends are on hand. Either way, you just cook them all together until all the flavors are mingling and getting along nicely.

This one includes brussels sprouts, apples, turnips, red bell pepper, sweet potato, mushrooms, and tempeh. After tossing everything in olive oil, it's roasted in a glass baking dish at about 375 F, with aluminum foil over the pan for the first 30 minutes. Removing the foil for the last 30 minutes or so allows for good's basically steamed for the first half hour, then roasted in dry heat for the last half hour.

Seasoning can be very simple - a little salt and pepper, along with the oil, and it's great. On the other hand, I also like adding some assertive flavors, since roasted veggies usually become sweeter and more mellow. This entry included grated fresh ginger, a half dozen whole garlic cloves, some fresh sage leaves, maple syrup, and a tbsp. of balsamic vinegar.

Tofu scramble is one of the joys of being vegan. Nutritional yeast, black salt, and turmeric transform crumbled tofu into scrambled eggs, and a bunch of fresh veggies make this look as vibrant as it tastes. It's almost November, and I'm still eating fresh cherry tomatoes, as the ones I picked before freeze are still holding up inside.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rosemary Cannellini Beans

I've made this a few times over the summer and fall, since I have a little rosemary plant in the's one of the final garden survivors after multiple freezing nights, along with my sage and Italian parsley plants. I've been covering them with winter coats over a wire frame every night, but I think we're losing the fight. Everything else is done and pulled out.

This is super easy, and usually a lunch time meal. Fresh rosemary leaves are tossed into a pan with lightly fried garlic in extra virgin olive oil, then the drained beans are tossed in and cooked just until they're warmed through. It's sprinkled with coarsely ground bread crumbs, also fried in a little olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt, and splash a little more olive oil on the final product. I like to sprinkle a tiny bit of lemon juice on this too. This is worth it for the fragrance alone - rosemary is pretty subtle tasting, but the smell is wonderful - you know you're eating real food.

It's been raining, snowing, and chilly all week, and it caught up with me when I caught a little cold a couple days ago. That was my cue to make vegetable soup with kale and dumplings, and I'm feeling much better now. These dumplings are just flour, Earth Balance margarine, and water, mixed to the consistency of a slightly gooey bread dough. Added to a hot pot of soup, they're cooked for about 10 minutes on a low simmer.

I made this a little while back, but forgot to include it here. On the left are cumin-spiced oyster mushrooms, and on the right sauteed green pea shoots with tamari and sesame oil. I've just discovered pea shoots this summer, and I'm a big fan. They taste like fresh green peas, with the texture of spinach, so they cook in just minutes. In the middle is fried marinated tofu, with a tamarind glaze from Vegan Yum Yum. Here's the tamarind recipe from the VYY blog, also in the cookbook.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Smoky Spicy Spanish Seitan Sausages

I think seitan is an acquired taste for some people, but it lends itself to some delicious creations, especially when coming up with meat analogs. When making seitan, or other patties or sausages featuring wheat gluten, I like using bold spices and flavors. These don't mask so much as outshine the taste of straight wheat gluten, which I'll admit isn't the top reason to go vegan.

With that approach in mind, I intentionally went into high gear with the spices in these sausages. They're close relatives of the chorizo recipe in Vegan Brunch, with a heavy dose of smoked Spanish paprika, aka Pimenton de la Vera. I even used a little liquid smoke, which I'm usually not very crazy about, ever since a traumatic episode with a pot of chili. That's when I learned that a little liquid smoke goes a very long way, and a lot of liquid smoke will ruin a pot of chili beyond any hope of repair. I'm coming back around to appreciate it in certain recipes, though it should be used drop by drop. Maybe even with a syringe :)

Here's my ingredients:
1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten flour
1/3 cup chickpea flour
3 cloves garlic, finely minced, or ideally grated with a microplane
1 cup water (or vegetable broth, if you have some)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika
1 tbsp. tamari, braggs, or soy sauce
1 tbsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp. cayenne powder
1/8 tsp (just a couple drops) liquid smoke
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sea salt

The easiest way to do these is with two bowls. Mix the flours and nutritional yeast flakes in one bowl, and the grated garlic, water or broth, oil, tomato paste, and spices in another bowl. When both are well combined, mix together and stir just until all of the flour is incorporated. Divide into four equal portions.

If you don't have Vegan Brunch, the trick to making these is to form them into vaguely sausagey shapes, then wrap fairly tightly in aluminum foil. I steam these in a vegetable steamer in my soup pot, first bringing the water to a quick boil, then steaming over very low heat for about an hour. While they're cooking they expand into the aluminum foil rolls to form perfect cylinders. Pretty neat.

I made a couple of rice dishes with sausage chunks lightly sauteed in olive oil. The first is sort of a no-bake version of a baked Mediterranean rice and tomato recipe. Seitan sausages, fried onions, garden tomatoes, Italian parsley, and white rice. Sprinkled with a little more extra virgin olive oil, smoked paprika, and sea salt, and it sounds pretty good to me.

This is the same rice and seitan base, with fried onions, pistachios, and plump raisins that were soaked in hot water. I'll call it a pilaf, as it's seasoned with ground cumin and coriander, and has a sort of Middle Eastern feel. I love soaked raisins in savory dishes, because they're these sweet, juicy little surprises amid the all the spiciness.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cherry Tomato and Olive Pizza

If this looks suspiciously similar to my previous post, it's because I had a fair amount of leftover dough when I made focaccia a few days ago. I'm calling this one a pizza, but it's the exact same dough recipe and baking time. One handy trick I learned baking these is to finish the pizza/focaccia by carefully removing it from your pizza pan, and baking it for the final 3 to 5 minutes right on the oven rack. This ensures a crispy, crunchy, deliciously golden-brown bottom crust.

I'm savoring this one, because it contains some of my last cherry and green zebra tomatoes, along with chopped kalamata olives and oregano. I have a few tomatoes left outside, but I know it's going to freeze soon...we might even get a little snow tonight, which I'm in complete denial about.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Focaccia with Portobello Mushrooms and Crispy Sage

My job was rained out today and yesterday, which hasn't happened for months. Although it's pretty early in the fall to start having rain or snow days, I can't say I don't love the idea of a surprise four-day weekend :)

Since I knew I'd have some time on my hands, I decided to bake bread. I also have a beautiful sage plant in the garden, so this focaccia recipe from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's The Italian Country Table looked like a good idea. The recipe calls for 30 fresh sage leaves, fried to a light crisp in olive oil, and topping the bread along with mushrooms and garlic.

I've made focaccia a couple of times before, but this was my favorite. It might be because of the accidental mix of flours - using what I had on hand in half-empty bags, this contains whole wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, and spelt flour. This was absolutely delicious, especially straight out of the oven, and accompanied with Kasper's recommendation of a little red wine. If only every day was a day off.

I'll steal a paragraph from Lynne to close out - she has a wonderful way of presenting food in a cultural context that somehow makes the results even more enjoyable:

"So what is focaccia? In my Italian dictionary, similar words reveal an intriguing pattern. Focolaio means focus, hotbed, center of all. Focolare is hearth, fireplace, home and focus. In Italy, they say, "I return to my hearth," when telling of going back home. The word focaccia can embrace all low breads and tarts, leavened or unleavened, that are baked on a griddle like a pancake, baked in shallow pans buried in embers on the hearth or baked in the oven."

- from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rosetto Kasper