Parsnip and Potato Pierogi

In addition to the three golden delicious crapples included in this month’s Fare for All groceries Mom shared with me, we also received the usual 5-pound bag of russet potatoes.

Last month I faced Iron Chef: Battle Potato by making gnocchi two ways – Gnocchi with Roast Chicken, Asparagus, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Pesto Cream Sauce, and Gnocchi Gratin with Spinach and Gorgonzola. (Yes, you can bake gnocchi. I was shocked, too.)

I have a freckle on my palm. Is that weird?

This month I again resisted my lazy urge to just make mashed potatoes and call it a day. Instead I adapted a recipe by Martha Stewart and made pierogi.

Making pierogi – making pierogi dough – was a natural progression in my breaducation. And really, how can you go wrong with stuffed dough? I love all filled dumplings – ravioli, tortellini, hand pies, won tons.

Stuff you like, wrapped in dough, then baked, boiled, steamed, or fried. Everybody wins.

Using just two parsnips along with the potatoes and leeks in the filling gave the adorable starch pillows the tiniest hint of earthy sweetness. And Martha’s pierogi dough is tender and silky. This one’s a keeper. I have a feeling I’ll be making a lot of pierogi this winter.

Recipe below the fold

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gnocchi gratin with spinach and gorgonzola

You can bake gnocchi. Did you know that? I did not know that. I almost feel a little hurt, like the people who knew that you can bake gnocchi were keeping a VERY IMPORTANT SECRET from me.

A few weeks ago, I made gnocchi from scratch, and I was so proud of myself. While it didn’t turn out perfectly, I think I’ve discovered the perfect application for imperfect gnocchi.

I stashed half of the imperfect homemade gnocchi in the freezer, and it waited there for a cooking method and a gooey sauce that would make it sing. Show tunes.

Sing out, Louise!

The frozen gnocchi is boiled, browned in butter, tossed in cheese sauce, and baked. At that point, you may inquire as to the gnocchi’s status. Is the gnocchi seeing anyone? Does the gnocchi maybe want to get together for drinks?

Recipe below the fold

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Italian Wedding Soup

My friends Brian and Benji were married on 10-10-10 in a perfectly sweet ceremony with an adorable Muppets-themed reception, and I made Italian Wedding Soup for lunch that day.

I wish I could say that I made the soup in honor of their union, but really, I just love soup.

This is a perfect fall soup – warm and comforting – and a pretty reasonably priced one-dish meal. Also? Tiny meatballs are adorable.

I substituted parsnips for the more traditional carrots and they were wonderful – creamy, just a little bit sweet, and a perfect complement to the buttery fresh dill.

Recipe below the fold

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Pasta e Fagioli

Bacon is my favorite color.

pasta e fagioli

If not for the bacon – the heroic bacon – this would be an entirely beige bowl of soup.

Bacon

I made this soup on one of the first cool, crisp days of the fall, and it was just what I needed: a little spicy, comforting, and oh-my-god-is-it-payday-yet cheap. The priciest ingredient used is the bacon, but with only three slices of bacon for 5-6 servings, it’s still a bargain. The bacon (yeah, I’m still talking about bacon) adds a smoky and savory depth to an otherwise plain soup.

Beans

But the hardworking protein source in this hearty soup is the creamy (and cheap!) cannellini beans. I absolutely love cannellini beans. They’re so smooth – they’re like bean-flavored butter.

The ridged macaroni fills out this soup perfectly. I made a big pot of pasta e fagioli on Sunday afternoon for my lunch the following week. I cooked all the pasta right away, but stored it in the fridge tossed with a tiny bit of olive oil separately from the rest of the soup, to keep it firm. Each morning I ladled out some soup into a plastic container and topped it with a handful of pasta. The texture of the soup and the pasta remained perfectly intact.

Recipe below the fold.

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gnocchi with roast chicken, asparagus, and sun-dried tomatoes in pesto cream sauce

It’s a little heartbreaking to me that many of my favorite dishes are ones that I’m too terrified to attempt to prepare at home: fish and seafood, baking from scratch, soufflés, most of the French mother sauces—and gnocchi.

Every time Greg and I go to Muffuletta, I order the gnocchi. And every time it’s perfect, and more delicious than I remember, with light pillows of potato, rich duck confit, and fresh tomatoes in a bright lemon-infused olive oil. It just seemed like an awful lot to live up to.

I’m not ready (or rich enough) to tackle duck confit. But when I picked up the monthly Fare for All groceries that Mom and I share, and I stared down a 5-pound bag of russet potatoes, I was emboldened. It was time to take a stand. It was time to make homemade gnocchi.

I used Anne Burrell’s recipe for Light as a Cloud Gnocchi, and sadly, my gnocchi turned out considerably heavier than clouds. Don’t get me wrong – they were a fine vehicle for the killer sauce I made. But they were heavier and doughier than I was hoping for. I’m guessing that the recipe is fine and the issue was USER ERROR. I think that I waited too long after baking the potatoes before passing them through the food mill. A mistake I don’t mean to duplicate. /Princess Bride

And I think I cut them too big.

But I conquered my fear of gnocchi (OOGITY! BOOGITY!). It was a long process, and it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, and I’m going to try it again. I feel a little less scared of seafood and those French mother sauces now.

The flavors in the sauce are some of my favorites – basil, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, and asparagus. The only complaint I have about the basil cream sauce accompanying the daredevil gnocchi is the chicken. It was roasted just the way I like it, but it didn’t seem to belong in this dish. Next time I’ll skip the chicken, and keep the focus on the gnocchi, vegetables, and sauce.

Recipe below the fold

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spaghetti in meat sauce

After taking a break to focus on Flops! this summer, I’m back in Lunch Bunch. A handful of folks at work take turns making lunch for the rest of the group every Wednesday. My turn to cook is in a couple weeks, and I’m on pins and needles.

When I cook for other people, I tend to get totally unhinged about everything being perfect, and Lunch Bunch provides two sizeable obstacles to serving a perfect meal: no oven and no stove. Also, the food needs to be prepared mostly at home, and then transported to work, to be served magically fresh and at the perfect temperature. If only I were a caterer with schmancy caterer tools – I’d be the Goddess of Lunch Bunch.

Sans schmancy tools and keeping in mind the kitchen constraints, I chose spaghetti in meat sauce for my triumphant return to Lunch Bunch, and guinea pigged Mom and Greg on Saturday night, with a special guest appearance by my big brother, Kevin.

[Kevin and his family live in Seattle where he works as a tattoo artist. He flew in for the weekend to do tattoos on some of his old Minnesota friends, and he was able to get away for a break on Saturday night to join us for dinner. Yay!]

Veronica! Dinner!

The sauce was ridiculously easy to put together – just brown the beef with onions and garlic, stir in the rest of the ingredients, and simmer. It was tasty pretty much right away, but I let it simmer for about six hours, stirring every once in awhile, and it just got richer and yummier.

It was pretty thick by dinner time, so before I drained the pasta, I ladled out some of the starchy cooking water and stirred it into the sauce. When I make it for Lunch Bunch, I’ll prepare the sauce the night before, warm it in the crock pot in the morning, and then stir in the cooked spaghetti before I leave.

I served this with Antipasto Salad, Roasted Garlic Whipped Butter, and Olive Oil Lemon Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting.

Recipe after the fold

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radiatori with eggplant in meaty tomato sauce

When I’m entertaining, I tend to go completely overboard, with a ridiculously complicated menu and every component of every dish made from scratch. When I’m cooking for myself, I scale it back considerably – I make one-pot meals from sale items and pantry staples. On Sunday afternoons, I make a big pot of something, the something I’m going to eat for lunch all week. This past Sunday, my mom joined me for dinner to watch the Emmy Awards (a week late). We only got about halfway through the red carpet stuff, so no spoilers, please.

This week’s Sunday dinner/lunch is an old favorite of mine. It’s a simplified stovetop casserole version of moussaka. When I’m feeling hot buttered fancy, I’ll make a traditional layered moussaka, with lamb and topped with béchamel, la la la. But for lunches, it’s ground beef, a jar of spaghetti sauce, pasta, seasoning, and vegetables, mixed up messy together and dumped in a bowl, sometimes topped with parmesan cheese. I served this on Sunday in my nice dishes, which are gigantic, so the portions were way too big. Mom and I finished our bowlfuls, but were too full to finish dessert, the caramel apple crisp I made that afternoon.

I started with a butt-ugly eggplant. I bought it over a week before I cooked it, and it didn’t age well in the fridge. It cooked up great, but it looked horrible, full of dents and creases, and the stem was brown and withered. I attempted every angle, but there was no pretty picture of the eggplant.

I hear it on the Food Network all the time that I’m supposed to gently wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel to clean off the dirt. And I did that – I did! For years, I followed the Kitchen Rule of Mushrooms: do not clean mushrooms in water. They will absorb the water like a sponge, and that will ruin their texture and keep them from browning properly.

Well, I was in a big, fat rush on Sunday to get dinner ready (Mom was in the living room watching “Live from the Red Carpet” and calling me in from the kitchen now and again to gasp at something glorious or hideous), so I threw caution to the wind and briefly rinsed the mushrooms in a strainer under cold water, instead of brushing off the grit with a towel. And they turned out just fine. Great, in fact. They were meaty and earthy, and everything mushrooms should be. From now on, I will save my time and rinse the mushrooms. I don’t care what Ina Garten says.

(I totally care what Ina Garten says.)

Recipe after the fold

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