My disclaimer: I did not make these today. Nor did I make them this week. I made these sometime last year, I suspect right around this time….
I like to think of myself as a meatball enthusiast, in concept. If there was one dish that I think about more than any other, one that makes me get all warm and fuzzy at the mere mention, and yes, possibly one that I would choose as my last meal, it would be spaghetti and meatballs. I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, she must eat a lot of meatballs.” But the truth is that I almost never eat them. Hence this post. It’s the dish I always crave, yet never take the time to make. So here’s to cravings, may someone (John — are you reading this? hint, hint…) come along and fulfill them all. Well, except for the bad ones. You know what I mean.
These meatballs were a discovery by Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame. She spent the day with the owner of Cafe Lago, a fantastic homespun Italian restaurant in Seattle, and learned all the tricks that make meatballs special. Knowing me this past year, I probably skipped all the important stuff, so you can read about it here. In the meantime, I mixed a bunch of yummy stuff in a big bowl.
And swirled it all around.
Then I shaped it all into adorable little balls.
And into red sauce it went! Seriously though, this may be a short and sweet post, but these meatballs are fantastic. And if you happen to be a leftovers junky like myself, you will be very pleased.
Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe:
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled, halved through root end
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup whole milk
8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
8 ounces ground pork
3 ounces finely ground Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Discard the onions. Using immersion blender, process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (texture should be even but not completely smooth). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.
- Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.
- Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture.
- Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
- Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
What a week!
Construction on my new business, The Pantry, is moving along, and I can finally see how the space is going to feel when all done. Such a good feeling. Then we released our class schedule on Monday and my “How to be a Pie Ninja” classes sold out in three days! And THEN, as if that wasn’t enough to make me blush, I wake up on Wednesday to the announcement that “I Made That” is a finalist for Saveur Magazine’s Best Cooking Blog award along with 101 Cookbooks, Lottie and Doof, Smitten Kitchen, Sprouted Kitchen and The Wednesday Chef! Seriously, my friends, I am glowing. And a little intimidated…I mean, I knew I had a few readers out there, but I don’t know how I landed in that company. All of a sudden I’m staring intensely at my photos, worried that they just aren’t up to snuff. And what recipe do you post when people are actually LOOKING? I was so scared I actually went out and bought $25 worth of pine nuts, because suddenly walnuts just weren’t good enough! I’m cracking people, I obviously can’t take the pressure. But thank you, whoever nominated me, you are a very nice person. And I mean that.
After a week like that there is only one answer: cake. And, well, I might as well put those pine nuts to good use…
So I toasted them.
And folded them into one of the weirdest cake batters I’ve ever made. It’s from the book “Urban Italian” by Andrew Carmellini, which is a book that I just love. Everything I’ve made from it has been right up my alley, and I’m excited to share this particular recipe. The book has you start with creaming the butter and sugar, and then go straight into adding all of the flour. Once all the flour is in, THEN you start adding the eggs, yogurt and lemon juice. That’s just crazy. But it worked. The cake has a beautiful crumb and it’s not too dense for my taste at all (did I mention it gets meringue folded into it? That probably has something to do with it).
It’s a simple cake, with the texture of a pound cake and a flavor that is almost savory. I made the recipe as he called for, except that I added salt, because all cakes want a little salt. And to be honest, I might add a bit more next time to make it feel even more savory. Or maybe make a salty caramel to pour over it. In fact I might just go do that right now. Certainly all that salt I just added makes it count as dinner rather than dessert, right?
Pine Nut Cake (Pinolata) Recipe (Andrew Carmellini):
2 cups pine nuts
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 whole eggs
3/4 cup yogurt
for the meringue:
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Toast the pine nuts over very low heat in a dry saute pan until they have just begun to take on a golden color. Remove from the stove and reserve. I actually just toasted them in the oven…
- Prepare the batter
- Meanwhile, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest together in a KitchenAid with the paddle attachment. Be sure to scrape down the sides as you go to make sure everything mixes evenly.
- When the mixture is quite smooth, add the flour and baking powder. Mix until the dry ingredients are just incorporated and then begin adding the eggs, one by one, waiting until each egg is thoroughly mixed in before adding the next. Turn the KitchenAid up to high for about 5 seconds to combine everything thoroughly, then scrape down the sides and the bottom with a spatula and mix in any bits that have failed to incorporate.
- Add the yogurt and mix in with the paddle attachment until it’s thoroughly incorporated.
- As you continue mixing, add the lemon juice and incorporate. Scrape down the sides and bottom and mix well with a spatula. Then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
- Fold a third of the meringue into the batter using a rubber spatula to combine well. Add the rest of the meringue and fold in well until the mixture is combined. Fold in the pine nuts, reserving about 3 tablespoons for the top of the cakes.
- Brush 2 9×5 loaf pans with melted butter. Fill each loaf pan with the batter. Smooth and flatten the tops with the spatula. Sprinkle the tops of the cakes with the reserved pine nuts. I forgot to do that part. (Now I’ll never win!)
- Bake the loaves on the middle rack until you can put a knife into each and bring it out clean, about 45 minutes.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 30 minutes and then turn them out onto a cake rack to cool completely.
Finally! Finally I have time to cook a nice meal for myself! To be honest, I had to make myself do it. Why? Because as far as I am concerned it is Spring. And every year, I love to welcome my absolutely favorite cooking season with a delicious dinner. It’s usually Italian and ALWAYS includes fresh English peas and asparagus. I know technically asparagus and peas aren’t growing in Washington quite yet, but I just spent the week in San Francisco and decided that as a transplant I’m allowed to import the good stuff from California. You know, for special occasions. Around my house we’re still perfecting the gnocchi, so I decided to make a Springy lemon gnocchi with a lemony cream sauce. Can you say happy? And did I mention we had friends coming over? FRIENDS! New Seattle friends!
First step – boil the potatoes until they’re nice and smooshy.
After they boiled, I drained the water out and placed them back in the pot. Then I continued to cook them over medium high heat to get as much of the water left in them to evaporate. That step keeps you from having to add too much flour into the dough later. Once they were dried out a bit (and getting dangerously close to burning), I pushed them through a ricer. Don’t they just look adorable as spaghetti?
I sprinkled on some flour and started kneading until all of the potato was coated. Then I added some egg yolks, lemon zest, salt and olive oil. I kneaded everything together, adding more flour until the dough was smooth and not too sticky. You can never get all the stick out, but I prefer to just roll the finished gnocchi in flour than add too much into the dough.
I rolled long tubes of dough and then sliced them into little pillows. I popped the little guys into the fridge to chill while I worked on the sauce.
And by sauce, I mean cream sauce. A yummy cream reduced with peas, asparagus, garlic and chili flakes. Once it was a nice thickness I stirred in lemon juice, zest and parmesan.
In the meantime we boiled up the gnocchi (which thankfully only needs to cook for 1-2 minutes).
I tossed the gnocchi into the lemon cream sauce and sprinkled on some bacon. Of course there was bacon! Pancetta would have been nice as well, but I just ordered 3 lbs of bacon form Zoe’s and was itching to put it to good use.
The whole dish was super yummy. Not too rich, not too lemony, just right and totally Springy.
Lemon Gnocchi with Asparagus and Peas
1 lb 4oz baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
4 large egg yolks
Zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately high heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pan. Shake over moderately high heat until dry.
- Working over a large rimmed baking sheet, rice the hot potatoes in an even layer. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the lemon zest, olive oil and the salt and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and stir gently just until a dough forms.
- Gently roll the dough into four 1/2-inch-thick ropes. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss in flour if sticky. Transfer the gnocchi to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Lemon Cream Sauce:
5 slices bacon, chopped
1 1/2 cup fresh english peas
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp dried hot red-pepper flakes
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb asparagus, sliced diagonally
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
- In a skillet , cook bacon over low heat until fat renders out. Drain out the fat and reserve 1 TBSP for sauce.
- Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add asparagus, peas, red-pepper flakes, garlic, reserved bacon fat and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer, until peas are tender and sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest, juice and parmesan.
- Meanwhile, cook gnocchi in a pot of boiling salted water until the gnocchi floats. Drain gnocchi.
- Add gnocchi to the sauce and stir to coat.
- Plate and sprinkle with bacon.
FINALLY. John cooks for me. Granted there was a dinner party, and we were making an appetizer. But still. I love it when he cooks. And there’s no better way to make me happy than with homemade gnocchi.
He started by boiling potatoes and pushing them through a ricer.
Then he mixed in some flour, salt and egg.
And kneaded it into a dough.
Then he rolled out little rods and chopped them into little pillows.
Many many pillows!
And ok, so I had to do SOMETHING. So I made a sauce to toss those little gnocchi in. A cilantro jalepeno pesto, with a little cream. It was perfect, all I had to do was throw it all in the food processor. So no hurting of my delicate little hands…
And we served it with some sauteed sweet corn & zucchini, topped with a bit of pancetta and some parmesan.
And it was awesome.
CILANTRO JALEPENO PESTO:
2 bunches cilantro leaves
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup almonds
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Process everything in the food processor until smooth scraping down the sides.
- Through the feed tube as the machine is running, slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil and continue pureeing until smooth.
The moment of just beginning to make fresh pasta.
Homemade cheese. With some homemade pesto mixed in.
Complaining about how long it takes to make fresh pasta.
Perfectly sliced vegetables.
Assembling a lasagne.
Perfect little cherry almond cakes.
With ice cream on top.
My friends coming over to eat dinner with me. But I didn’t take a picture of that. Because that would be lame.
But you know who you are.
Cherry Frangipane Cake
12 oz almond paste, room temperature
2 tbsp sugar
6 oz butter, room temperature
4 eggs, room temperature
6 tbsp flour
4 tsp baking powder
As many cherries as you like, pitted
- Heat oven to 350.
- Butter 10” tart tin.
- Mix together flour and baking powder.
- Place almond paste into mixer and beat until smooth, 1-2 minutes. It is really important that there not be any chunks, once you start adding other ingredients, it’s impossible to get the chunks out. On the flip side, don’t overmix or it will get oily.
- Add butter and continue mixing until well blended, about 1 minute.
- Add sugar and continue mixing for for 30 seconds.
- Slowly stream in eggs, continue mixing until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Turn mixer speed to low and mix in flour and baking powder.
- Spread into tart tin. You want to have batter about 3/4″ deep in pan, So you won’t use all of the batter. You can save the rest in the fridge for about 2 weeks, or in the freezer for 2 months.
- Top with cherries, pressing them down so that they’re halfway sunk into the batter.
- Bake until done, around 30 minutes.
- Cool in pan on rack for 30 minutes before unmolding. It’s a delicate cake, so be gentle…
- Sprinkle with some powdered sugar and serve with some whipped cream or ice cream.
It’s that super fun time of the year when my CSA box starts making me giddy. There’s still some asparagus, but we’re getting our first zucchinis of summer. I wanted to make a spring/summer crossover meal, to celebrate the shift, and decided on a pesto. I love me some pesto – at the end of summer I start making large batches to keep in the freezer, to get me through winter, but I always run out by xmas. Now that the basil is showing up again, it’s definitely time to drag out the food processor and get pureeing.
Obviously pasta is a great base for pesto, but I wasn’t feeling it today. So I decided to try out a Zuni Cafe recipe for ricotta gnocchi. I’ve never made gnocchi before and have been meaning to give it a try. But first I needed some ricotta…
I drained the ricotta extra long (though not long enough I later learned), to dry it out. Then I blended the ricotta with eggs, parmesan, salt, nutmeg and melted butter. It looked WAY too soupy to ever be a dough, so I mixed in a little flour to give it some body.
Then I scooped out chunks and rolled them in flour.
I boiled them and tossed them with my pesto and the veggies that I had sauteed. This dish probably won’t be winning any beauty pageants, but it was so good!
Another Tuesday and here I am making pasta again. It’s spring (and I woke up to rain, sad) and I was just feeling it, you know? I’m more confident of my pasta making after my excellent raviolis, so I’m ready to add flavored pastas to my repertoire. Since right now everything in my backyard is bright green, I was thinking spinach pasta was in order. It’s basically the same as making regular pasta, just with a few more steps at the beginning to get all that spinach flavor (and color) into the dough.
First I tore all the stems off of my spinach leaves. Then I boiled them for about 45 seconds. I threw the boiled spinach into an ice bath to cool down.
Once cooled, started trying to get all of that water out. There are probably many methods for that, but mine consisted of layering the leaves in paper towels and then rolling the stack into a log. And then doing it again with new paper towels. After they seemed dry enough (whatever that is) I pureed them in the food processor.
The food processor didn’t seem to understand the severity of my need to get minuscule little bits of green (too large chunks will get caught up in the machine, I learned this the hard way, with some failed beet pasta – I’ll tackle that one again someday), so I threw the spinach in with my eggs and pulled out the (little) big guns, the immersion blender. Have I mentioned yet that immersion blenders rock my kitchen world? I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t have one. I think tony gave me this one years and years ago, thanks tony!
After finally getting a smoother puree, I starting mixing my dough. Typical pasta method: I put the flour in a shallow bowl and made a well in the middle. Then I poured in the egg/spinach mixture and started stirring, slowly incorporating the flour from the sides. I did that until it came together into a mass to dense to stir, and then I started kneading. I kept kneading in more flour until it stopped feeling wet (I never use all the flour). Then I plopped my dough onto a floured surface and kept kneading for about 8 minutes.
The dough needed to hang out for an hour, to relax all that gluten. The sun was out again (!) so it was just enough time for me to do a quick bike ride up twin peaks (the hill, not the TV show), take in the view, ride back down and start a-rolling!
I decided to make a fettucine out of my pasta sheets. Since my machine already has a setting for slicing into perfect little strips, it was easy peasy!
And we’ve got fresh spinach fettucine for our 90210 dinner tonight!
I probably won’t take any pics of it sauced, but we’re freestyling a lemon chicken artichoke cheesy creamy sauce. With capers, I believe there are some capers in there somewhere. Yes!
But I did take a picture!
And by sh*t I mean cheese. And by cheese I mean ricotta, as in all the leftover ricotta from 2 weeks ago. It’s been sitting in the fridge taunting me, and I had no plans for it. As usual, I made way too much. But sometimes when you need to pull a quick dessert out of thin air, leftovers like that save the day. There was a potluck that needed a dessert, and I didn’t have much time for cooking & baking. I was gazing into my fridge looking at what I already had and remembered seeing a recipe for zeppoli, or Italian ricotta fritters. I found it and realized that these guys were a cinch to make. And well, I do have an unhealthy obsession with deep frying. What can I say, it makes me happy.
I made my batter (which really just involved mixing the wet stuff, mixing the dry stuff, and then mixing them together) in like 10 minutes.
Then I dropped spoonfuls of the batter into my hot oil and fried them for 2-3 minutes.
And then I dusted them with powdered sugar!
But I was feeling the need to dip them in something sweet. So I made a quick and dirty raspberry jam sauce. Perfect!
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean
vegetable oil for frying
powdered sugar for dusting
- Heat 2 inches oil in a heavy saucepan until it registers 360°F.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, lemon zest, nutmeg and salt in a bowl.
- In another bowl, whisk together ricotta, eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla bean seeds, then whisk in flour mixture.
- Working in batches, drop tablespoons of batter and fry, flipping occasionally, until deep golden, about 2-3 minutes per batch.
- Transfer to paper towels to drain.
- Dust generously with confectioners sugar.
- Dip and enjoy!
1/2 cup raspberry jam (without pectin if possible)
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons sugar (depends on sweetness of jam)
- Just stir it all together!
You know that calm before the storm? This is what it looks like to me:
It’s that moment when I know I’m about to enter a world of “Oh my god, I’ve been doing this for 5 hours, why am I not done?” At this point in our relationship, I think John has learned to leave the house quickly and quietly when he sees me dragging the pasta machine out of the pantry. Because, inevitably, I will be moaning and groaning until he is guilted into helping. But sometimes a girl just wants some homemade pasta. It’s spring and I’ve got fresh asparagus and english peas that want some lovin…Italian lovin. I’ve been watching the pasta dude at work, I think I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve. I can DO this.
Peas are awesome. Simply awesome. I understand how if you were to grow up eating English peas out of a can, you might think they are all kinds of icky. But I didn’t. I grew up with fresh southern peas from the pea patch in the woods behind our backyard. While we didn’t grow English peas (we’ve got all kinds of crazy peas in the south), my love of peas does not discriminate. So I’m gonna celebrate these little guys, because they only come out to play for a few months every year.
This time, John made the mistake of coming home too early. So I snagged him for some help. Turns out he just keeps getting better and better with the pasta machine. He cranks out much nicer pasta sheets than me! So maybe it was meant to be.
I prepared a filling of peas & asparagus that I boiled in vegetable stock, homemade ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest, bread crumbs and chili flakes. I pureed them into a nice fluffy cream that I piped onto John’s beautiful pasta.
Then I layered on the top sheet.
And stamped out little circles for my raviolis!
Since they were so fresh, the raviolis only took a minute or 2 to cook.
I served the raviolis in a vegetable broth that I had simmered with the asparagus & peas that went into the filling, and some parmesan rinds I had been saving (I KNEW they would come in handy some day!). I threw in some fresh peas, the asparagus tops and shaved some parmesan to finish.
It was pretty decadent. I kept thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe I actually made that”. Most definitely worth the effort.
You know how some people bake a cake when they’re stressed? Or make a loaf of bread? I make cheese. When I feel overwhelmed, or bummed, or nervous, cheese makes me feel better. There’s something about all that milk, the cheesecloth, the thermometers, and the TIME (it ain’t no 30 minute meal)…it just relaxes me. So last night I was feeling the need to make some cheese, and didn’t have the energy to try something too wacky or new. So ricotta it was, the recipe that introduced me to cheesemaking.
Ricotta is super easy. I know I say that a lot, but this time I really mean it. Anyone could make ricotta. Well, anyone with a stainless steel pot, a thermometer & some cheesecloth.
I started with a ratio of 1:4 of buttermilk and whole milk. I heated them up to 180 on the stove, gently stirring occasionally. Then I let them sit for half an hour or so, until I could see nice strong curds separated from the whey. Then I scooped the curds onto a strainer lined with cheesecloth. I let that sit for a while and drain until it reached what I thought was the right amount of dryness (that is personal preference that totally depends on what your plans are for the ricotta). Then I salted it to my liking and was all done!
This time I went for a pretty dry ricotta. But not too dry.
But now I have about 3 lbs of ricotta…I guess I’ll just have to bake a cake out of it. An Italian Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake to be precise. It’s my first time making an Italian cheesecake. The first time I had one was while living in New York. My friend (and maker of magic in the kitchen) Kate baked one that was so fluffy and gorgeous that I still think of it when I see them. Hopefully mine will come close!
First things first, I needed a crust.
After I baked my crust I started on the filling. I put my ricotta in the food processor to fluff it up a bit, and break down any huge curds. Then I mixed some egg yolks, sugar & and a vanilla bean until they too were nice and fluffy. I mixed into this my fluffy ricotta and some lemon zest.
Then I whipped a meringue to just medium peaks.
I folded that into my ricotta base and poured it onto my baked crust.
It spent an hour baking in the oven and came out a beautiful souffle.
And then it slowly falls. I love fallen desserts. There’s something really honest about a dessert that souffles up as high as it can go and then sinks back down as it cools.
I served it with some strawberries that had been soaking in sugar and lemon juice.
It was so light and fluffy that people kept asking if it was really cheesecake. I think Kate would have been proud.
RECIPE (Adapted from Gourmet Magazine):
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 lb whole-milk ricotta, drained in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl until dry, chilled
6 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1/8 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Pulse flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Add yolk, vanilla, and lemon juice and pulse just until mixture begins to form a dough.
- Spread dough with a flat bottomed cup over buttered bottom of a 24-centimeter springform pan and prick all over with a fork.
- Chill 30 minutes.
- Bake crust in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes, and cool on a rack.
Make filling and bake cake:
- Increase oven temperature to 375°F.
- Pulse ricotta in food processor until fluffy and smooth. Beat yolks, vanilla bean seeds and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and pale.
- Beat in ricotta, flour, and zests. Beat whites with salt in another bowl until they hold soft peaks, and fold into ricotta mixture.
- Butter side of springform pan and pour filling over crust. Bake in baking pan in middle of oven until cake is puffed and golden, about 1 hour.
- Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in springform pan on rack.
- Chill, loosely covered, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.