Rigatoni all'amatriciana

The exhaustion one feels from constant travel is powerful, elusive, and distinct. These days, it is a memory, a relic from a hectic and beautiful time. I certainly didn't think of it which such fondness on bleary mornings after a 14 hour overnight bus, or when sleeping in an airport. I think some of the most dreadful were early morning departures. For instance, leaving Greece. Lisa and I got enticed by a restaurant that was offering a free carafe of white wine when dining between six and eight. One somehow turned into at least five free carafes...
 A quick dinner transformed into hours of drinking wine and eating mussels and bass plucked right from the glimmering sea just fourty feet away from our table. Music, laughter, and waves. The chef treated us like old friends. It was a great way to end our time the country.
But it was not a good way to start the morning. 
And that's how it always seems to be. You roll into a new city, or country, and you're just destroyed from going out on your last night, or being up all night packing, or having to be on a shuttle bus to the airport at 4 am. Or, all of the above. (Hi, Dublin!) But you take a minute, realize where you are, and get to fall in love with a new city all over again.
By some incredible stroke of luck, we managed to make our 9 am flight. After throwing the towel in and taking a cab, we found our bags were well over the 20 kilo rule. At something absurd like 10 euros per kilo! I ended up throwing away or wearing 10 kilos of extra clothes. (Before Greece, I was in Israel for 6 months, so I accumulated a lot of stuff...) 
Milan was a small stopover for us- just two nights. It was the cheapest way to fly back to Montpellier, and we figured, well, why not? We found a wonderful couchsurfing host named Massimo, and he took such good care of us. We got to his apartment, and he directed us to his balcony, instructed us to sit down and relax, and went off to the grocery store to buy some things for dinner. We watched the city, felt the warm, early June breeze, and for a lovely moment, processed the fact that we were suddenly in Italy. 

On our first night, Massimo brought us to an aperitivo, where, with a glass of wine, we had access to an entire buffet of northern Italian specialties. What a great way to start time in a new place...
We slept forever that night. Bliss. The silver lining to a hard travel day is finally getting to sleep. It doesn't matter if your hostel didn't let you check into your room until three, and it's pushing nine. (Barcelona.) It does't matter that you landed at 6 am, and your couchsurfing host didn't get out of work until twelve hours after, and it poured with rain all day. (Aahrus.) All that matters is, you are now climbing into a bed, and you get to wake up, eat something different from what you were eating yesterday, and explore. 
 When we woke up in Milan, Massimo made us rigatoni with tomatoes and pancetta: all'amatriciana. It was so good, the flavors were so clear and delightful.We had a leisurely Sunday lunch with our new friend, and then had a sunny walk around Milan, and eventually, that night, went and saw Massimo's band play at a festival! I ended up going back to Milan when Anna and I spent a month in Italy, and stayed with Massimo again! I love Couchsurfing. You make such great friends and do such fun things. 
Tonight, I made my own version of amatriciana. It's simple, easy, filling, and delicious. Massimo, if you're reading this, thank you for the inspiration! 

Rigatoni all'amatriciana
1/2 pound of dried rigatoni 
1 28 oz can of tomatoes, chopped and in their juice
Olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1/4 lb of pancetta, cut into cubes
Bring water to a boil.
In a large pan, heat some olive oil and add your onions and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add your pancetta and cook for a couple minutes. 
Add your tomatoes, and  perhaps a little bit of water if it seems too thick.  Let it cook for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper (you won't need very much salt...)
Meanwhile, cook your pasta in generously salted water. When it's ready, mix directly into the sauce. 
I had mine tonight with pecorino. It was lovely.
Buon Appetito!


Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions

Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions
There is something strangely romantic about this dish. I don't know. It's lovely. If you can't be bothered to make your own gnocchi, sure, go buy some. Or, better yet, if you are a pro at making gnocchi, go ahead and use your own recipe. I don't mind. I am certainly not claming authenticity here; I made the recipe up and have only made gnocchi once before, ever. So...yours could verrrrry well be much better than mine. That said, I thought it turned out pretty darn well. 
Funnily enough, this is based off of something I had quite a few years ago...in a French restaurant...in Tel Aviv. Italian food at a French place in Israel, reinvented in the USA. Hilarious.  
I didn't make ridges in my gnocchi because when I ate the dish that inspired this, they were cut into discs, and I don't know, sometimes I just get it in my head that I want things to be the same in weird ways like that. But mine didn't really resemble discs anyhow. More like pillows. Feel free to experiment.  
By the way. I feel this is quite scattered, the way I wrote this recipe out. I hope people aren't having trouble following my recipes. I'm still quite new to this, and find myself often forgetting to measure out how much I used, and doing things in a roundabout way (such as making my roux in a separate pan...) I am in the process of turning over a new leaf and being more organized with all this, so my recipes are easier to read. Please, let me know if you think they are confusing! 

For the gnocchi:
3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup flour
1 large egg
a generous pinch of salt
For the sauce:
3 medium onions, chopped
A pinch sugar
Red wine
1 tbsp flour 
1-2 cups beef broth or stock
6 cremini mushrooms, sliced 
A pinch rubbed sage
1 tsp thyme leaves
Salt and pepper 
First, get your onions on the stove. In a large pan, melt a good amount of butter and a splash of sunflower oil. Be sure the heat isn't very high. Add your onions. It will take them about a half an hour to caramelize, so just be sure to check up on them every so often. After about ten minutes, add a pinch of salt to them, and you can add a sprinkling of sugar as well. Stir every so often, and make sure they don't burn. Besides that, you can really focus on the gnocchi...
Boil water and add your potatoes. When they are soft, remove from pot and immediately put through a ricer or mash until there are absolutely no lumps. 
In a small bowl, whisk your egg with salt and pepper. Incorporate into the potatoes with a wooden spoon. Make a well in the center, and slowly add the flour until it has formed a soft dough. Knead it, but not too much or it will become less fluffy. 
Lightly flour a surface. Tear off some of your dough, and roll out a "rope". Cut into pieces, toss in the flour, and set aside. Repeat this until you have used all of your dough.
 In a small pan, add some butter and your mushrooms. Cook until soft, then remove from heat and set aside. Wipe your pan clean so you can use it again...
Check on your onions. As they get towards the end of their caramelization, you may need to stir them a bit more frequently, and scrape the bottom of the pan. When they are deep golden brown and smell like heaven, they're probably finished. Add a big glug of red wine, and stir, scraping up everything from the pan, perhaps raising the heat just a smidgen.
Boil water.
In your small pan (and it may have been unnecessary to use another pan, I probably could have just added this to the onions, but whatever) add equal amounts butter and flour (about a tablespoon of each) and cook until a golden paste is formed. Add a splash of beef broth. Stir. It will turn into a creamy sauce. Add another, bigger splash and stir to incorporate again. Then tip the whole thing into your onion pan. Stir.
Add another, much bigger glug of broth and stir again. It will form a cohesive sauce. Reduce, then add more broth and repeat a few times. Add your mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper, sage and thyme. Taste. If you desire more of the beef flavor, add more broth, stir in and let thicken again. 
When your water has come to a boil, salt generously (I belng to the  school of thought that pasta ought to be boiled in seawater...)  and add your gnocchi. You will know when they are cooked when they float to the top. I actually just used a slotted spoon, removed them as they rose to the top, and put them directly into the sauce. 
I also added about a spoonful of the cooking water at the last minute and stirred it in over low heat.
Serve with grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. 


Israeli-Style Hummus

You know what, while we're on the subject of Israel, let's learn about hummus. It's a big, big deal in Israel and eaten with practically anything. It's so ubiquitous that the Hebrew word for chickpea is actually just "hummus". It's eaten with pita, on sandwiches, as a side dish, with falafel, with meat...with everything! I found myself eating hummus with a spoon in Israel. Israeli hummus is fantastic, so creamy and flavorful. Here in the states, you can find similar styles (Sabra makes a pretty delicious version...), but it's easy to make your own. For a while, I was confused why mine wasn't as creamy and smooth as the hummus I ate in Israel, until it finally clicked that I needed to make a tahini sauce first. It makes all the difference...
Making hummus is not an exact science. I tend to add stuff, taste it, and then continue to add and blend until I feel I've gotten it right. Skinning your chickpeas will make an even creamier hummus, I suppose, but I don't think it's necessary. 
Sometimes, though, things don't work out as planned. For example! On Friday nights on Kibbutz, we had a big communal Shabbat dinner that generally included challah, hummus, tahini, soup and meat- usually chicken or roast beef. Months later, when I was in Ireland with one of my kibbutz friends, Anna, we decided to make a Shabbat meal for our hosts. We were really excited to make hummus, only to find that in our tiny village, tahini paste was nowhere to be found. In an attempt to improvise, we toasted sesame seeds and blended them, but that did  not work. It gave us a strange, gummy mass that I secretly thought was pretty tasty to snack on, but definitely not tahini paste. But you move on. We had tahini-less hummus. Not authentic, but still excellent. 
I made a batch of hummus today but didn't take a picture. I didn't even think to blog it, actually, but then I thought...why not? So the picture I have below is actually from that meal in Ireland. See, it still looks pretty good! In case you're wondering, the other items pictured are shnitzel and challah, both of which Anna and I made that day as well! I will eventually post recipes for the both of them...one recipe at a time...

16 oz cooked chickpeas, either from a can, or dried beans that have been soaked and then cooked
1 lemon
1-3 cloves garlic (depends on how much you like garlic, since it will be raw!), crushed or chopped
1/2 or 1 cup of tahini paste
1 tsp of parsley, finely chopped
Olive oil
First, make the tahini. In a bowl, whisk the tahini with garlic. Add the juice from half of the lemon and whisk. The tahini will suddenly tighten up and be really thick and strange. Don't worry. You did nothing wrong. Add some warm water, splash by splash, and keep whisking. It will suddenly re-loosen up, change in colour (it will become quite a few shades lighter) and be thick and creamy. Season with salt and chopped parsley. Set aside.
Drain your chickpeas. If using dried, reserve some of the cooking water (a cup or so, though you may not use it all). If using canned, reserve some of the liquid.
Put your chickpeas in a food processor and pulse. Add tahini- you don't need to use all of it! It really depends on taste! So add some, taste it, and if you think it needs more, add more. 
Squeeze over the rest of your lemon, and season liberally with salt and cumin. Add a splash of olive oil and some cooking water or the liquid from the can.
Blend again, taste, and add more of whatever you think it needs.  
Transfer to a bowl. With a spoon, create a swirl in the hummus. Drizzle over olive oil, and then sprinkle over some paprika and chopped parsley. 
That's it! Serve with warm pita, crackers, veggie sticks...really anything as a dip. Or, you can spread it on a sandwich. I happen to love hummus with grilled meat. Anything goes. Eat it with a spoon. Just enjoy!


Chag Purim! Chag Purim!

Anybody who doesn't love Purim has not celebrated properly. It has all the elements of being the best holiday ever. A quick checklist.
  • Dressing in costume? Check.
  • The consumption of cookies, chocolates, cakes, sweets and everything delicious? Check.
  • Rabbinically encouraged drunkeness? Check. 
  • Parades, parties, and general revelry? Check. 
  • The tradition of putting on a PLAY! Check! (If any of you don't know, I was a theatre major...) 
  • Gift giving... Check!
Yes, my friends. I love Purim. It may be my favorite holiday to celebrate, although I unfortunately do not partake every year. This year involved me coming home from work, having a little nap, and making cookies. But last year I was in Israel and it was spectacular. It was my second Israeli Purim and one of the most fun weeks I've ever had. 
The kibbutz volunteers all got together in the kitchen and made hamantashen. These delicious treats are made either with a yeasty or a cookie dough, and are filled with countless versions of sweets. The versions I've seen most often are usually strawberry jam, orange marmalade, and poppy seed. I personally love the poppy seed ones, although I don't think everybody agrees with me. Making the cookies on the kibbutz was so much fun, and it was great because we had hundreds to snack on the whole week. Making costumes was great fun, and all the members, volunteers and other groups on the kibbutz took it very seriously! A bunch of us went into Eilat to buy costume pieces and facepaint...my friend Anna (pictured as Wilma Flintstone!) made her dress out of a tablecloth! My costume was decidedly easier...I was supposed to be Sally Bowles. Because, as mentioned before, theatre geek.  I did craft an old fashioned cigarette holder out of a mechanical pencil.
  Our little group of volunteers also did a secret buddy game with mishloach manot; Purim gift baskets filled with sweets. The children paraded around the dining hall in costume, the members put on a Purim play... (it wasn't in English, so sadly I didn't understand much...hopefully next time my Hebrew will have improved!) There was a giant party on the Saturday night of the week of Purim in the kibbutz "pub". (A converted garage with a bar and a dance floor- which I miss more than I can possibly express...) Everybody living on the kibbutz pitched in to decorate for it's theme of movies. It was amazing! The whole pub was covered in stars, recreations of film posters, and other fabulous decorations. We even had a wooden limo in front of the pub and a red carpet! Everybody worked so hard and it was worth every second of time. The pub was completely packed, there was an open bar and a champagne toast, great music...one of the best parties I've ever been to. Wow...feeling so nostalgic...
I made hamantashen today, but I didn't take a picture. Honestly, they didn't turn out so beautiful anyway, so it's not much of a loss. The pictures I am showing were taken by my friend Shayna, from last year's hamantashen making session on kibbutz, so all credit goes to her!  The dough recipe I used, and use every year,  comes from Joan Nathan's The Jewish Holiday Cookbook.

Dough recipe courtesy of The Jewish Holiday Kitchen

2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
Fillings of your choice (I used raspberry rhubarb jam and Nutella!) 

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat in until smooth. Add the vanilla, and then the dry ingredients until a dough has formed. Wrap and chill for at least two hours, or even overnight. (I never plan well enough to chill overnight, but if you're more organized than me...)
After your dough has chilled, flour a surface and roll out your dough.
Preheat your oven to 375. Spread baking paper over two baking sheets.
Using a cup, cut out circles from your dough. Lay on your sheets.  Drop about a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Any sort of jam works really well. I've used lemon curd and that was awesome. In Israel, we used Israeli chocolate spread and that gave me the idea to use Nutella today. Anything goes! Also, if you want to do the poppy thing, I think you can buy the poppy filling in the baking isle of most grocery stores.
Once every circle has a filling, carefully pinch into triangles like so:

Be sure to pinch the corners well so the filling doesn't explode out.
Bake for 11-14 minutes, or when they smell like cookies. 
If you've never had these before, you are in for a real treat. 

Enjoy! Chag Sameach!!!!


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

When I was in Galway, a man told me "When the sun is shining, there is no place like Ireland." Truer words have never been spoken. I love Ireland and my month there holds a very, very special place in my heart.
I don't have a recipe for you because I haven't been cooking. Well, I have a little, but I haven't photographed anything, or written down how much or everything I used. I just want it to be perfect for you, dear readers! I just got back from my trip and my sister is in town and I've been working a lot, excuses excuses, I will have some new recipes up in a few days. I hope everybody had a great holiday, and I promise you'll see a whole slew of recipes from me starting this weekend.



When I dream....

I don't think I'll be posting so frequently in the next couple weeks because I am taking a much anticipated holiday to Santa Fe (where I studied, and one of my favorite places in the whole world) and then a short jaunt in  Los Angeles. 
Cannot wait to see my friends, and my old teachers, and to eat green chile for every meal, and watch the stars and those beautiful mountains...
Hopefully my flight will land in time to see one of THESE!!!!!!
Oh, Santa Fe. See you soon!


Brining and Roasting a Perfect Chicken

Yes. Perfect. Bold words. I know. Usually when I cook, I find a billion mistakes. Roast chicken, however, is one of those things you can tweak and tweak and tweak and suddenly...it's perfect. I have such strong memories connected to this dish. I made it with my friends in college, for my hosts on farms...
 One particular memory stands out in my mind. I'm going to speak about Spain again. I know. Lot's of Spain this week. Probably because I took a book on Spanish cooking out of the library, haven't had time to read it, and have been staring at the cover, a picture of quince and membrillo, all week...
So, as I mentioned before, I spent a fortnight in the Extremadura region of Spain last October. What a magnificent area! I was helpxing on a finca right on the Portugese border.  My hosts were English expats who owned a small and lovely pub and restaurant.  I had such a nice time exploring the area, and my hosts brought me on lots of fun outings, to markets in nearby villages, meals at their pub, even a shopping excursion to Portugal! They were both fabulous cooks and we had lots of grand adventures in the kitchen, making everything from paella to Mexican hot chocolate ice cream to fresh pasta...
During my last few days on the finca, my hosts had a bunch of old friends come out to visit them from England. They threw a huge party and pretty much the whole village came! I got lots of practice on my Spanish that night...it's one of my favorite memories of over a year of traveling. The food that night was unbelievable. Most memorable was by far the jambon serrano...it was the best  I have ever eaten- and probably will ever eat. It was hand crafted, and from a friend of my hosts who owned a farm. But there were also enormous, juicy prawns, piquant chorizo, and olives that could not be believed. And that was just the beginning...
My hosts prepared an enormous roast dinner complete with a beautiful roast pork, spiced cabbage, potatoes...and so much more, but I'm blanking. It was so much fun; my hosts, their out of town guests and I all worked together in their beautiful kitchen to prepare the food, while consuming plenty of chocolate and beer! It's such a good memory. Anyway. The point of this all is that my hosts let me roast two chickens for the party. I did it my favorite way...by brining it! Brining a chicken not only adds a whole new level of flavor, but produces the juiciest bird ever. The difference is stunning, and it's really easy to do if you plan ahead a tiny bit. This is something that you could even throw together before  going to work, or class, or out for the day exploring, whatever you do. Just pop the chicken in your brine, go out, and when you come back, it's pretty much ready to go.

Roast Chicken
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of salt, plus a bit extra to season 
About a gallon of water
1 roasting chicken, giblets removed
1 tbsp butter, soft
1 lemon
Rosemary sprigs
Thyme, either dry or fresh 
In a large container (I use a stockpot), dissolve your sugar and salt into the water. If you are using less water, you can use less of the sugar and salt, just make sure they are in equal parts.
Drop your chicken into the pot and refrigerate for 4-12 hours. If you've got extra time (which I never seem to), I've heard that letting the chicken air dry in the fridge overnight after it's salty bath produces much crispier skin. I believe this. But I've never had time to do it!
After your chicken has hung out in the brine for at least four hours, pull it out, rinse it off and dry it well.
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Place your chicken on a large baking sheet (breast side up) and rub it all over with butter. If you want, you can use oil (I would use a bit less), but butter adds phenomenal flavor...
Cut your lemon in half and stick one of the halves in the cavity, along with a couple rosemary sprigs.
Sprinkle thyme leaves all over the bird, season with (not too much) salt and plenty of pepper, and pop it into the oven!
After about twenty minutes, reduce the temperature to 350. 
Every fifteen minutes, brush the chicken with the fat that's collected in the pan.
Cook for about an hour, or until juices run clear.
Once removing from the oven, wait for 5-10 minutes before carving. This will allow the chicken to retain it's juices. Worth the wait.



Tomato Fennel Soup

When I was a junior in college, I went with my friend Jolie to meet Lisa in Amsterdam. Lisa has been studying in Paris for the semester, and Jolie and I teamed up to save money so we could spend ten days with her in Europe. We flew to Amsterdam on Christmas and Lisa came and met us the next day. We were all so happy to be together, and Amsterdam was singing with the holiday spirit. It was just magical. Warm, yellow light spilled onto the cobbled streets from the cozy, narrow buildings. People were ice-skating, eating little pancakes, riding bicycles past the canals. It was like a scene out of a story book...
One afternoon, the three of us wandered over to the Jordaan district of the city and found ourselves in a cafe called Letting. 
I really never remember the names of restaurants and cafes when I'm traveling, but I'll never forget Letting. It was wonderful. Three years later, I I still remember that the walls were painted orange, and that the waitress was so nice to us...and I remember what we ate.  We all had soup and different sandwiches. I remember Jolie had goat cheese and honey on soft bread.... And I still remember mine;  a pesto and cheese toasty. The shining star of the meal, however, was the soup. Warm, comforting, inviting tomato and fennel soup. It was so simple, yet I'd certainly never had anything like it before...
I love fennel. I feel like I sort of rediscovered my love for it after making that salmon salad last weekend. It's just such a strong flavor. And I love the smell when cutting it! When I decided to recreate this dish, the ingredients pretty much came naturally. It tasted exactly how I remember it...

Tomato Fennel Soup

Butter (or oil)
1 large onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
1 large fennel bulb, chopped
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 28 oz can or box of tomatoes- chopped will be a bit easier but it's not necessary

Heat a large pot with the butter. When using butter (which I always tend to use...in everything...), I add a splash of sunflower oil to keep it from burning. 
Add the onions and garlic. Cook until nice and soft, then add the carrots, celery and fennel. Cook until everything is soft and aromatic.
Add the broth, stir, and then add the tomatoes.  
Using a hand blender, puree everything until it is smooth. Mine still had a few chunks, which I liked, but if you want it smoother, go ahead and keep blending. If you haven't got a hand blender,  put it in a food processor or blender in batches.  
Season liberally with salt and pepper. 
I garnished mine with some rice crackers...I'm sure croutons would also be delightful...

Smakelijk eten!