Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Slow Roasted Halibut with Fennel-Lemon Oil

Dinner is my favorite meal, both to eat and to cook. I am positive this is because of how I was raised. Dinner was ceremony. Around 6:00 each night, martini in hand, Dad would start his kitchen ministrations--readying coals on the grill, boiling water, mixing sauces. Around 7pm we would get the call to set the table. Placemats, cloth napkins, fork on the left and knife on the right, dinner plates heated in the oven. Salt and pepper? Dad would call from the kitchen. Check. Candles? Check. Serving spoons? Hot plates? Check, check. From 7:30 to 8:30pm each night the four of us sat down for dinner without distraction. We were not allowed to answer the phone. There was no TV on in the background. We ate and we talked. This is where I learned how my parents met, that my mom once lived with 3 men in a basement apartment that had only a curtain separating the bathroom from the kitchen (scandal!), that my Dad wrestled an octopus in the Pacific Ocean. It was at the oval table over a favorite meal of steak, peas and couscous that my sister and I had our first sips of wine, that we admitted to a bad grade on a test or being asked to the prom. Could we go? There have been phases in my life where the formality of dinner has fallen by the wayside. But a day without the punctuation of a dinner lovingly prepared and shared sends me to bed wanting.  The plates of my childhood are what I think of as a three part plate, a plate anchored by an animal protein and rounded out by a "starch" and a vegetable. These days my dinner plates don't always take that form and animal protein is not always the focal point. But this past Sunday night, craving comfort food, I found myself planning a three part plate in my head. Pete requested fish--a food absent from his diet in Argentina this past month--and, though I did not have a martini in hand, around 6pm, I started the happy task of boiling water, salting a halibut filet, zesting lemons and washing salad greens. This time, Pete set the table.

Slow Roasted Halibut with Fennel-Lemon Oil
 (barely) adapted from the improvisational cook
Serves 2

One pound filet of halibut, skin on
3 T olive oil plus extra for brushing
1 t fennel seeds
1 two inch piece of lemon zest
salt and pepper
lemon wedge to garnish

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Brush a baking dish with olive oil and place the fish, skin side down in the dish. Brush the top of the filet with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds until fragrant. Add the olive oil and warm about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the lemon zest and let it all steep.

Cook the fish for 25-30 minutes* until a fork goes through the fattest part of the filet without resistance and the flesh of the fish separates easily from the skin. *Schneider recommends 5 minutes of cooking for each 1/4 inch of thickness of the filet.

Cut the filet in half, lengthwise, and plate. Using a teaspoon, drizzle the infused olive oil and fennel seeds over the top of each filet. Garnish with lemon wedges. 

We ate this with salad from the garden and rice spiked with blood orange and smoked paprika. I also threw some sliced fennel I had in the fridge and a sliced onion into a baking dish with a little butter and let them slow roast at the same time as the fish.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gluten Free Beet Gnocchi with Cilantro-Walnut Pesto

I have always loved gnocchi. I like its plump little form, the toothsome nature of it, the way it draws a hearty ragu or a simple sauce or a delicate broth around it with equal success and delivers it all in one perfect bite. No cutting required. In most cases, when I love a food, I try to make it at home (carpaccio and ice cream being a couple exceptions that jump to mind.) Until recently, gnocchi was on that short list. I was intimidated by it, sure I would mess it up, and confident that a home version would fall so short of the ones expertly made in my favorite restaurants that I couldn't possibly enjoy it. Then I stumbled upon, of all things, a recipe for gluten free gnocchi made with beets as well as potato. The color of the final product was so stunning that I bookmarked the page and then forgot about it for a year. As I mentioned a few months ago, we take breaks from gluten from time to time.** I have been experimenting more with gluten free flours, trying to understand how they behave, and after pancakes, brownies, and cookies, I wanted to try something new, and savory. Pouring over blog posts old and new, I rediscovered this beautiful bookmarked post and decided to give it a whirl. I figured it would either taste good but look bad or look good and taste like an obvious gluten free impostor of something delicious. I invited my friend Lauren over to taste test.
I admit, I was surprised by the whole experience. The recipe was surprisingly easy and relatively quick to make. The result was a "pasta" with all the toothsome, sauce-carrying deliciousness of pure potato gnocchi, with the added benefit of being beautiful to look at and full of all the detoxifying power, vitamin C, Folic Acid and Potassium of beets. It was delicious. We had seconds. This is sure to be one of my staples from now on.

Note: I froze a few of the gnocchi and cooked them a few days later. The result was pink mush. Moral of the story, eat these fresh. They should be fine in the fridge for a day or two, uncooked, if you have more than you can eat the first day.
Gluten-Free Beet Gnocchi
adapted from La Tartine Gourmande
serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer
7 oz cooked, peeled beets (2 or 3 smallish beets)
14 oz peeled baking potatoes (2 medium sized potatoes)
1/3 cup quinoa flour plus more for dusting
1/3 cup potato starch
2 T corn starch
2 T almond flour
1 egg
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper

Cilantro-Walnut Pesto
1 cup raw walnuts
1 bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic
zest of one small orange
zest of one small lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil

Peel and dice the potatoes. Place them in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil, "steaming" them until soft, about 15 minutes.

Boil the beets whole, skin on, in salted water with a little white vinegar added to help retain the color. When a fork goes easily through each beet (about 40 minutes), drain and run under cold water. Peel the skins away with your fingers. You can do this the day before and store the beets in the fridge.

With a potato ricer, mash the beets and the potatoes into a bowl and mix well. (My ricer broke after I did the potatoes so I ended up dicing the beets and then running them through the food processor until pureed which worked well). Once well combined, turn the veggie mash onto a board which has been lightly floured with quinoa flour.

Make a hole in the middle of the mash and crack the egg into the hole. Mix the egg into the mash with a fork or your fingers. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the almond flour, corn starch, potato starch and quinoa flour and mix well. Add more quinoa flour as needed. The dough should be a little wet but should hold together.

Divide the dough into 4 or 6 pieces. Working with one section at a time, roll each piece of dough into a long stick, about 1/2 an inch in diameter. Cut the stick at half inch intervals. You can leave the gnocchi as is, or, to get a nice pattern, roll each 1/2 inch piece along the tines of a fork before placing on a plate or wax paper-lined sheet tray. Repeat with each section of dough. 

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. While you wait for the water to boil, make the pesto.

Place the garlic, walnuts and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined. Add cilantro and citrus zests. With the food processor running, pour olive oil through the feed tube until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.

Once the water has boiled, cook the gnocchi in batches (no more than what would cover the bottom of the pot in a single layer) for just a few minutes. The gnocchi will rise to the surface when ready. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Top with Cilantro Walnut Pesto or sauce of choice, lots of fresh grated parmesan, and lots of fresh black pepper.

**In light of the current gluten-free craze, I have been reluctant to discuss it here or in person too much because, in my experience and in my opinion, no two people react quite the same way to gluten and I don't want to come across as endorsing one particular diet or another. Some people feel hale and hearty after a gluten-packed meal. Others feel bloated, cranky, head-achey, and even depressed. And a small percentage of the population has celiac disease which is a serious abnormal immune reaction to gluten. For those of you who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease but are curious about being gluten free, I suggest you experiment. Take note of how you feel right after, hours after and the day after a meal with gluten or a meal without it. Play around and remember that each meal you eat, no matter the composition, gives you more information about what your mouth likes, what your body's "machine" likes, and how you can find a way to feed both of them without leaving either feeling deprived.

I would love to hear about your experiences with gluten and/or gluten-free. And, as always, please feel free to ask me questions.

Happy Valentine's Day!!!