Friday, May 31, 2013

Harvey Wallbanger Cocktail

While you're outside grilling your Chicken Fajitas, hamburgers, steaks or ribs, you've got to have something to drink. Certainly a cold beer would be a good option, like any of these Oregon craft ales. But so would a refreshing summer cocktail.

If you're like me, you probably haven't had a Screwdriver since your early 20s. The vodka-orange juice combination is many people's introduction to cocktails (it's easy to serve at house parties). And, if you're a bit older than me, you probably haven't had a Harvey Wallbanger in a long time either.

This drink, basically a grown-up Screwdriver flavored with the Italian herbal liqueur Galliano, was created in the '50s and was immensely popular through the '70s (remember the short-lived series Swingtown, set in the '70s? They drank Harvey Wallbangers at their parties).

Anything with this much citrus seems perfect for summer. So next time you fire up your grill or just want to sit outside on your patio, consider this refreshing retro cocktail.

Harvey Wallbanger

1 1/2 oz. vodka
3 oz. orange juice
1/2 oz. Galliano liqueur
Orange wedge

Combine vodka and orange juice in a rocks glass with ice. Float Galliano on top and garnish with an orange wedge.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sweet and Sticky Baby Back Ribs

Sweet and Sticky Baby Back Ribs

Grilled ribs are delicious thing. When, like me, you don't have access to a grill, you can still enjoy ribs prepared in the kitchen.

Fellow D.C. food blogger Cathy Barrow (who writes Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen) adapted these ribs for the Washington Post, billing them as "The Only Ribs You Need to Know."

These rib racks were too large to fit in my dutch oven, so I cut then down a bit more, into pieces of three or four ribs.

I was skeptical about this dish because the first step in cooking the ribs is boiling them, and boiling is known to make meat tough. But, possibly because of the fat content of pork ribs, it wasn't a problem in this dish. Additionally, the ribs aren't fully cooked in the boiling water, as they are finished in the oven. The resulting meat was deliciously tender and not at all tough.

Once boiled, the ribs look a little gray, but they will be nicely browned once sauced and finished in the oven.

I asked the Whole Foods butcher for about 7 pounds and ended up with two big pieces that I had to cut down to fit in my pot. Cut into segments of four ribs, they actually all fit into my pot, an old 8-quart Revere Ware dutch oven.

I served the ribs with a sweet potato puree spiced similarly to the Moroccan(ish) Spring Stew and simply cooked Swiss chard.

Sweet and Sticky Baby Back Ribs
Adapted from The Only Ribs You Need to Know, tested by Cathy Barrow for The Washington Post as adapted from a recipe by Lee Manigault and Suzanne Pollak

6 servings

7-8 lb. baby back pork ribs, preferably at room temperature, cut into segments to fit in the large pot (about 3-4 ribs for each segment fit in my pot)
2 cups light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups Dijon mustard
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 cup bourbon

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with two racks evenly spaced in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

2. Over medium-high heat, bring a large pot of water to a brisk boil. Add the rib racks to the boiling water. Once the water returns to a boil, cook for about 15 minutes. Transfer the racks to a large bowl and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut between the bones to separate the racks into individual ribs.

3. Make the sauce: Combine brown sugar, mustard, soy sauce and bourbon in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. Remove sauce from heat and pour over ribs. Toss to coat ribs evenly.

4. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment. Spread ribs out over the two baking sheets. Reserve any remaining sauce for basting the ribs. Roast the ribs for about 10 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top-to-bottom and front-to-back. Baste with sauce. Roast about 10 minutes or so until the ribs are crisped on the edges and well browned. Serve warm with desired sides (they're not bad cold either).

Spicy Sweet Potato Puree

Sweet potato puree

This is a very simple puree that could be made in many different ways just by adjusting the seasoning. Because I really liked the blend of flavors from my Moroccan(ish) Spring Stew, I chose to use a similar spice mix. As side dishes go, this is pretty healthy: no added fat or sugar.

Any spice mix could be used for these potatoes. I chose a blend of spices that evokes Moroccan cooking.

Sweet Potato Puree

2 lb. sweet potatoes (two large potatoes or three or four smaller ones), peeled and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. turmeric
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and cook until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or transfer to a food processor and puree. Stir in enough cooking water to reach desired consistency. Add spices and stir to combine.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Feed: May 29, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

It’s the week of amazing food writer team-ups!

Smithsonian: “Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl Hash out the Food Revolution,” by Ruth Reichl.
Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl are two of my favorite food book writers, authors of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Garlic and Sapphires, respectively, among other great reads. This article, which is basically a transcript, chronicles a discussion the two had over a recent meal, covering topics like the recent history of important food thinkers, Pollan’s new book Cooked and the delicious food they were enjoying at Bell & Anchor. These are two very well informed and engaging people enjoying a few hours together. For many, talking about such subjects would be like regurgitating history and social studies. For them, it’s reminiscing.

Bon Appétit: “Cali-Persian,” by Samin Nosrat.
Speaking of Michael Pollan, if you’ve read Cooked, you might be interested in this story on Persian cooking by Samin Nosrat, the chef he cooks with in the “water” section of the book. An alum of Chez Panisse, Nosrat reflects on the cooking of her Persian heritage and Southern California upbringing, sharing recipes for a beautiful Shirazi Salad, Jeweled Rice and a Sparkling Sour Cherry Aperitivo.

Washington Post: “Weeknight Vegetarian: Going vegan, for the day, with Mark Bittman,” by Joe Yonan.
Here’s another fun combo: the Post’s Joe Yonan cooking with the New York Times’ Mark Bittman. Yonan, continuing his vegetarian trend, goes a step further with this vegan-focused piece, highlighting Bittman’s new book VB6, which stands for “vegan before 6 pm,” Bittman’s dieting strategy that has helped him lose weight and improve his health. Together they make Spicy Carrot and Asparagus Stir-Fry and Turnip and Bok Choy Mash, both of which sound really good. I also like the revelation that Bittman likes all-arugula salads as much as I do.

New York Times: “The Flexitarian: Make Peace with It,” by Mark Bittman.
Speaking of Mark Bittman, his own story in the Times today is an interesting counterpoint to the feature about him in the Post. Here, Bittman talks about cooking meat, but argues, quite persuasively, for cooking more dishes that include just a little meat. It’s meat-as-garnish rather than centerpiece, such as in this Grilled Steak and Vegetables with Flour Tortillas made with about a pound of steak but a plethora of vegetables. He argues that the higher price of meat raised by a local farmer is worth it if it means you buy less, since that smaller portion is probably all you really need to be satisfied and healthy.

New York Times: “What Can’t You Make With Chickpeas?,” by Mark Bittman.
And, because it’s really great, here’s one more Bittman story. This one puts a spotlight on chickpeas, one of my favorite legumes. The Cold Chickpea-Tahini Soup, which Bittman describes as a “refreshing take on hummus,” sounds so delicious that I’m actually planning to make it for dinner tonight (as a plus, it’s a no-cook recipe, which is essential this week as my building’s air conditioning is busted and the mercury is above 90). He also shares several recipes that use chickpea flour, including, Panelle, sometimes referred to as “chickpea fries.”

Details: “Move Over Kale: Why Major Chefs Are Adding Collard Greens To Their Menus,” by Allison Baker.
Baker writes about a possible shift from kale to collard greens as the “it” green everyone can’t get enough of. It’s loaded with nutrients and versatile. You can even eat them raw as I discovered the first time I tried to make kale salad and actually bought collard greens by mistake. Baker also lists six restaurants with collards on the menu, including Vidalia in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

State of Food Blogging 2013 Survey

The State of Food Blogging 2013 survey results are out (click on the link to download the full results). Because the respondents were self-selected, the results are not generalizable, but they are nonetheless interesting.

Results are based on the 679 food bloggers who chose to answer the online survey. Here are a few observations on the results and how my blog fits into them:

  • Respondents were overwhelmingly American (about 3/4) and female (about 7/8), with a little more than half falling between ages 25 and 44. That's two-thirds me (except for the female part).
  • Most respondents have some professional experience related to food blogging. Mostly in writing (27 percent) or marketing (26 percent). Only 4 percent claimed a professional drinks background. Although I do write as part of my job, I wouldn't claim a professional background related to food blogging.
  • Respondents' most common ways they measure the success of their blogs were personal satisfaction (about 80 percent), unique visitors (about 70 percent) and shares on social media (a little over half)--all of which I would agree with for me personally, as well as comments and Twitter followers.
  • Recipes are the top topic covered on respondents' blogs (91 percent), followed by restaurants (44 percent) and healthy living (44 percent). Drinks are a bit lower down, at 34 percent.
  • The social media coverage is interesting. Although more respondents say they use Twitter (91 percent) than Facebook (77 percent) and have more followers on Twitter (a median of 412) than Facebook (median of 300), they reported getting more traffic from Facebook. I've found connecting with followers easier on Twitter, although people I know well tend to follow me more through Facebook.
  • Monthly unique views are greatly skewed by very popular blogs: the reported average visitors per month was 42,000 but the median was much lower, at 2,000. 

The survey was conducted by Foodista and Zephyr Adventures, organizers of the International Food Bloggers Conference. It will be released officially tomorrow.

The Carving Room (Washington, D.C.)

Since it opened a few years ago, Taylor Gourmet has reigned supreme as the top sandwich-maker in the Mount Vernon Triangle area. Well, it's got some competition now from The Carving Room, which opened earlier this year and is serving thoughtfully crafted sandwiches made with quality ingredients.

The style of sandwich at Carving Room is quite different than Taylor: think large chunks of herb-roasted, flavorful meat served on a variety of breads with condiments like grainy mustard and bacon-caramelized onion. Pickles accompany each dish. And I'm not talking about dill cucumbers: they pickle all sorts of vegetables, including cauliflower, carrots and onion. I love how the side salad is basically just greens and pickles, a tart, satisfying combination.

The roast beef sandwich has been my favorite so far, with tender, flavorful slices of beef sandwiched between provolone and weck, short for "kummelweck," which is like a kaiser roll flecked with caraway seeds. There's just enough horseradish to give the sandwich a little kick without overpowering its other ingredients.

I also liked the roast turkey with bacon-onion compote (basically bacon-flavored caramelized onion). The turkey was flavorful, tender and not at all dry. The only drawback was the rosemary-tomato bread which, while tasty, fell apart a bit while eating the sandwich. For vegetarians (or cheese lovers like me), I recommend the grilled cheese sandwich, made with cheddar, gruyere and fontina and served with roasted red pepper. There are also mushroom and egg salad sandwich options.

Although it's a great lunch place, The Carving Room stays open through the dinner hours. All the better for sampling its other menu: cocktails! Not surprisingly, several drinks come garnished with pickles and one, The Dirty Pickle, even contains pickle juice.

The care they take with their sandwiches carries over to the drinks, which are made from top-quality ingredients and house-made syrups. The Feisty Señorita is a deliciously spicy take on a margarita. Although many such cocktails get their kick from habanero shrub, the bartender told me that they make their agave-habanero syrup in house. The sharp bite of ginger imbues the Redemption, a rye drink with house-made sour mix.

So whether you're grabbing a sandwich to take back to the office or meeting friends after work for drinks, The Carving Room can serve either function. And now that the weather has warmed, their outdoor space makes a good argument for not returning to the office with that sandwich. Just be careful not to indulge in too many mid-day cocktails, lest you return to the office, um, pickled.

The Carving Room, 300 Massachusetts Avenue NW (entrance on 4th Street), Washington, D.C. (near Mount Vernon Triangle, Chinatown and Union Station). (202) 525-2116.

Carving Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 27, 2013

Grilled Chicken Fajitas

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of outdoor grilling season, a time-honored cooking method that I, alas, rarely get to partake in. I love living in the city, but one of the few drawbacks of high-rise life is that you can't have an outdoor grill since, you know, it's a fire hazard.

However, I actually do have a Weber charcoal grill, it's just someplace else--my mother's beach house in Oregon, 2,900 miles from here. So when we go visit her, I try to make good use of the grill and one of my favorite dishes is Grilled Chicken Fajitas--something I've made since I was in high school.

As grilled dishes go, this is pretty easy: marinate the chicken and cook it over hot coals. If you have a grill pan, you can also grill the vegetables over the coals (if you don't, you can cook them separately in a large frying pan on the stove).

Grilled Chicken Fajitas
Inspired by Chicken Fajitas, The New Basics Cookbook, Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 limes, juiced
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 sweet onion, sliced into thick rings
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
8 flour tortillas (fajita size, about 6-8 inches diameter)

1. Combine olive oil, lime juice, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Add chicken breasts and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours while you prepare the coals for grilling.

2. Prepare hot coals for grilling (I recommend using charcoal and a paper or electric starter, not gas or lighter fuel).

3. Flatten the bell pepper and brush the onion slices and pepper with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Remove chicken from marinade and grill over hot coals until cooked through, about 3-5 minutes on each side, turning halfway through. Remove and allow to rest about 5 minutes. Slice across the grain of the meat into long strips about 1/2-inch wide.

5. Place a grill pan on the grate over the hot coals. Cook the onion and bell pepper in the pan until softened and brown around the edges, about 7-9 minutes. Slice into strips.

6. Serve the fajitas on flour tortillas, with garnishes such as guacamole, tomato salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spring Cocktails with Don Ciccio & Figli Liqueurs

Don Ciccio & Figli liqueurs

DC Brau brought beer-making back to the District. Then Columbia Distillers brought back spirit-making. Now D.C. also has its own producer of fine liqueurs: Don Ciccio & Figli.

The company's website tells its unique story. The company is the creation of Francesco Amodeo, an Italian immigrant trained in restaurant management in his homeland who immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-2000s and worked in well-known D.C. establishments like Butterfield 9 and Cafe Milano. While working as general manager of Bibiana, he began serving his own artisanal limoncello. So popular was the liqueur, Amodeo left Bibiana to devote himself full-time to liqueur production.

Armed with recipes from his Italian grandfather, who made liqueurs in the old country, Amodeo has grown his line to seven products so far, including the limoncello, an herbal-coffee liqueur known as Concerto, and Finocchietto, a fennel-flavored digestif liqueur made from wild fennel, fennel seed, anise seed and dill.

Although I also bought a bottle of Concerto, I decided to focus on the more seasonal Finocchietto, an ideal ingredient for spring cocktails. Below are four recipes using this liqueur, one from the Don Ciccio & Figli website and three that I came up with. I found the liqueurs at Tunnel Wine & Spirits (311 H St NW at Massachusetts Ave.), which appeared to stock the entire line.

Something Anise
Something Anise

Because Finocchietto is made from fennel, I thought of other flavors that pair nicely with the vegetable, such grapefruit and other citrus.

1 oz. dry gin
1/2 oz. Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto liqueur
1/2 oz. Cointreau
3 dashes grapefruit bitters
2 oz. tonic water
Lemon twist

Combine gin, Finocchietto, Cointreau and bitters in a cocktail mixing cup with ice. Stir until combined and chilled. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Add tonic water and stir. Garnish with lemon twist.

Gin Field

I called this the gin field because its vegetal, spring flavors (fennel, celery, lemon) plus the honey (think honeybees) put in the frame of mind of being outside on a beautiful spring day.

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto
1/2 oz. honey syrup
8-10 drops of Bittermens celery shrub
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. club soda

Combine gin, Finocchietto, honey syrup, celery shrub and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Top with club soda and stir to combine.

Spring in a Glass

Spring in a Glass

Mint, fennel, cucumber and lemon strike me as particularly spring-like, so I named this "spring in a glass." I muddled the mint separately from the cucumber because I wanted the muddled mint in the glass but the muddled cucumber strained out.

10-12 mint leaves
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 tbsp. chopped cucumber
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto (fennel liqueur)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. club soda
Mint sprig garnish

Add mint leaves and simple syrup to a rocks glass and muddle. Add cucumber to a cocktail mixing glass and muddle. To the mixing glass, add gin, Finocchietto, lemon juice and ice. Stir well to combine and chill. Fill the rocks glass with ice and strain the contents of the mixing glass into the rocks glass. Top with club soda and stir to combine. Garnish with mint sprig.


This is a suggested drink on the Don Cicco & Figli website. To keep it local, I used Green Hat gin, which is made in D.C. I substituted Lillet Blanc for the dry vermouth.

2 oz Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto
1 oz gin
0.5 oz dry vermouth (I used Lillet Blanc)

Stir with ice and strain it in a martini glass.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moroccan(ish) Spring Stew

Me: "What would you like for dinner this week?"

Chris: "Chili!"

This conversation plays out almost every Saturday morning when I do our menu planning for the week before we go grocery shopping. Chris loves my chili, which is very sweet, but it's May and I'm not really in the mood for chili, which seems like a fall/winter dish.

I am, however, in the mood for spring ingredients like fennel and peas. I wondered what it would be like to make a chili-like dish, perhaps a stew, but without thing like tomatoes or corn that aren't in season right now.

Admittedly, my chili isn't very authentic. I love it with lots of vegetables and yes, beans. I wouldn't dare bring my chili anywhere near Texas, but I love it. And so does Chris, which is why he's always asking for it.

I got the idea that it would be interesting to give this stew a spice profile that's a little different from chili. Something perhaps Middle Eastern or Mediterranean. Looking for something along those lines, I came across this Moroccan Bean Stew with Sweet Potatoes recipes on Forks Over Knives that was pretty close to what I wanted. Drawing inspiration from it, I developed the recipe below with ground turkey, sweet potato, onion, fennel and chickpeas.

I love the combination of spices in this. I toasted the cumin and fennel seed whole and then ground them in a coffee grinder that I've repurposed as a spice grinder. I'm just not motivated enough at 6:00 a.m. to grind coffee beans. The cinnamon is really great too.

I don't know anything about authentic Moroccan cooking and I don't know how authentic Forks Over Knives' recipe is, but it doesn't matter. This is a great dish. The pinch of cayenne adds a touch of heat, the potatoes a touch of sweetness, and although this is a warm, hearty dish, it's not overpoweringly so. In short, it's perfect for a cool May day.

Even if it's not really "chili."

Moroccan(ish) Spring Stew
With elements adapted from Moroccan Bean Stew with Sweet Potatoes by Forks Over Knives

2 tsp. cumin seed
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 lb. ground turkey (dark meat if available)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced with fronds chopped and reserved
1 celery stalk, diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced (no larger than 1/4-inch pieces)
4 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt, to taste
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. smoked paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 cup frozen peas
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1. heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add cumin and fennel seed and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Grind toasted spices in a spice or coffee grinder.

2. Heat a dutch oven or large sauté pan over medium heat. Add ground turkey and cook until browned. Remove from pot.

3. Increase heat to medium-high. Add olive oil and, when hot, add onion, fennel, celery, sweet potato, garlic and salt and sauté, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

4. Add ground spices, coriander, cinnamon, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, bay leaf, frozen peas, chickpeas and chicken broth. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with chopped fennel fronds.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Feed: May 22, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

New York Times “Gin, Tonic and a Dash of Restraint,” by Jeff Gordinier
The Times dives into the summer drinks season with a wonderful profile on the re-emergence of the Gin & Tonic, the cocktail classic that never goes out of style. Gordinier discusses how the Spanish have led the drink’s renaissance (the “gin tonic,” which I wrote about in March; Time has also covered the subject). He also visits several New York restaurant bars doing interesting things with the G&T like Cata, which serves a Kumquat and Clove Gin & Tonic. The article is accompanied by a recipe for that drink and three others. As a nice bonus, Eric Asimov provides tasting notes and ratings for a few prominent tonic brands.

New York Times: “Cocktail Snacks with Verve,” A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark.
Clark provides something to snack on while you sip your G&T: an ode to salted bar nuts that include a fabulous-sounding recipe for cashews spiked with tamarind and mint.

Washington Post: “A Texas barbecue party requires time, patience and a serious loss of sleep,” by Tim Carman.
I learned a good deal about Southern barbecue reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked, so it’s nice to also get some education about its Texas-style kin. Carman writes specifically about Central Texas barbecue for which there are specific rules, of course, and maybe a little sauce (I like a little sauce). I enjoyed this as much for the barbecue insights as I did for the story of how Carman and Jim Shahin, the Post’s Smoke Signals columnist, first met and became friends before either wrote for the Food section.

Afar: “Pass the Gravy,” by Kent Black
Speaking of Texas, Black profiles another Lone Star State cuisine: Chicken-Fried Steak. It’s a dish that inspires a lot of loyalty and pride: every restaurant he visited that served the dish claimed theirs was “the best damn chicken-fried steak in the whole durn state.” My own experience with it is limited to my grade school cafeteria, which I imagine means I’ve never really had it.

Grist: “Frankenfoods: Good for Big Business, bad for the rest of us,” by Tom Laskawy.
I’m naturally inquisitive, so when I hear people saying things like “GMO food is bad for you,” I want to find out why. After all, if companies started genetically modifying foods (GMO=genetically modified organism), they must have had a reason for doing so (“money!” shouts one quarter, “yields!” screams another). But even so, does that translate to a good outcome for consumers? Laskawy would clearly say “no,” and his article does a good job explaining the recent history of genetically modified seeds and how they haven’t quite delivered on their developers’ promises about their supposed benefits. He also critiques Nature’s recent coverage of the subject, taking the journal to task for siding too closely with industry and misinterpreting the public’s distrust of GMOs.

The Kitchn: “Grits, Demystified: A Brief Look at the Southern Staple,” by Anne Postic.
Postic offers a good primer on grits, the ground corn meal cooked as a popular breakfast in the South (and sometimes as a side dish at restaurants). It’s like polenta, but not quite the same.

Laughing Squid: “The Cocktail Chart of Film and Literature,” by Justin Page.
This is basically a really cool poster, created by Pop Chart Lab, that has visuals and recipes for drinks from movies and books like the Manhattan from Some Like It Hot and the Mint Julep from The Great Gatsby.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Second Helping of Range (Washington, D.C.)

Range DC Spring Pea Ravioli

When I first visited Range and wrote about it in February, I fell pretty hard for the restaurant. I absolutely loved it. Both the food and service were stellar. And I wasn't alone. The restaurant received many accolades, including from Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, who awarded the restaurant a respectable 3 stars.

More recently, however, there have been grumblings about the restaurant's service. Having received so many complaints during his weekly online chat, Sietsema recently suggested he shouldn't have been so generous in awarding 3 stars.

Still reveling in fond memories of the bacon marmalade, roasted Brussels sprouts and lemon custard, I decided to pay Range another visit with two questions in mind: 1) is the food is still as amazing as it was during my first visit? and 2) are the grumblings about the service true?

The brief answers are: 1) mostly yes, and 2) nothing bad as far I can tell.

I'll tackle the food first. As I previously discussed, Range has a very broad menu. During our first visit, we treated the restaurant as a sort of Southern steakhouse. This time, we decided to explore Range's Italian side. We weren't disappointed by our pasta: the chewy ravioli filled with spring pea puree and served with radish, ricotta salata and additional spring peas on the side was delicious. We also really liked the kale sprouts, which have a flavor similar to artichokes and are served with ham and pickled apple, a creative and tasty combination.

Range's take on the wedge salad, little gem lettuce with bacon and blue cheese, was a refreshing way to begin the meal. We were also happy with the milk chocolate dessert that ended our meal. The only dish that didn't quite stand up to the others was the pizza with "salumeria" (sausage, bacon and ham) and buratta. I thought the sausage was delicious, but the toppings were cut in pieces too large to be supported by the somewhat limp crust.

If I was going to complain about anything though, it would be that the allotment of bacon marmalade that accompanies the warm cornbread has sadly been reduced. How can I pig out on this decadent condiment if we're only given a spoonful? I was tempted to invade the kitchen in search of another serving or at least ask for more (it's really quite amazing).

Now, about that service.

I scanned through Yelp and Tom Sietsema's recent online chats to see what people are complaining about. Their concerns included long waits to be seated, served drinks or brought food, as well as lack of attention from servers and managers. Surely, these can be very frustrating issues.

However, on a recent Saturday night, I did not encounter any of these sorts of issues. In fact, I found the service to be prompt and attentive. Perhaps, having had these issues brought to their attention, Range managers have implemented steps to address customers' concerns? I hope that's the case and I wasn't just lucky this last visit.

We were seated promptly upon arrival (and appreciated the sympathy for our being soaking wet as we got caught in a sudden downpour walking the last block to the restaurant). The cocktails we ordered came out quickly, as did all of the food we ordered, although not too quickly as to make us feel rushed. Cleared plates were removed promptly, but not until we were done with them, and our plates were never taken until both of us were finished with that portion of the meal.

Our server was helpful and attentive, and we appreciated that a manager was around to check on us. When we asked for clean plates because the last thing we'd eaten was rather saucy, they were replaced immediately. The service wasn't just satisfactory, it was still quite good. Sure, they didn't bring the candy cart around this time, but frankly I can do without the temptation.

If you're waffling about visiting Range because you've heard service complaints, I would encourage you to give the restaurant a chance. In addition to the food, which most everyone agrees is very good, the service I've experienced there has been very good as well. Sure, any great restaurant can have an off night, but, from my experience there is no pervasive issue at Range.

Range, 5335 Wisconsin Avenue NW (Inside Chevy Chase Pavilion, second floor), Washington, D.C. (Friendship Heights). (202) 803-8020. Reservations: Open Table.

Range on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chicken-Strawberry Spinach Salad

Chicken-Strawberry Spinach Salad

Today is National Pick Strawberries Day. Although strawberries are common in dessert, I like them just as much in salads, where their sweet note balances nicely with bitter and savory flavors.

Search the web and you'll find many combinations similar to this: strawberries with bitter greens, nuts and sharp cheese. I've used spinach, pecans and soft goat cheese, but certainly arugula, walnuts and blue cheese would be just as good. For some extra tang, I bet quick-pickled red onion would be good in here too.

Fresh strawberries

Chicken-Strawberry Spinach Salad

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Seasoned salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup pecan halves
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. warm water
10 strawberries, sliced
3 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
2 oz. soft goat cheese (chèvre)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, pat chicken cutlets dry with paper towel and add to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning once halfway through. Set aside to cool and cut into bite-size pieces.

2. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add pecans and toast until fragrant. Stir together honey and warm water and then add to nuts, stir until nuts are evenly glazed and the water has evaporated. Set aside on a plate to cool (don't put on a paper towel).

3. Combine the chicken, nuts, strawberries and spinach in a large bowl and toss to combine. Whisk together dressing ingredients, pour over salad and toss gently until salad is evenly coated. Gently stir in the goat cheese.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a grain and vegetable salad that makes an excellent side dish in hot weather, in addition to being a popular mezze dish. Although it's usually made with bulgur wheat, this recipe from Bon Appétit substitutes quinoa, which works just as well. As suggested by a recent Washington Post article, I like to soak my quinoa before cooking it.

Quinoa Tabbouleh
Adapted from Quinoa Tabbouleh, Bon Appétit, June 2012

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and soaked for 15-20 minutes
1 cup water

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 large English cucumber
1/2 pint golden cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 scallion, thinly sliced

1. Bring quinoa and water to boil to boil. Cover, reduce heat an simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, mint and scallion to the bowl with the quinoa. Add dressing and toss to combine. Chill until ready to eat, at least 15-20 minutes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Yogurt Kuku

For my mezze dinner, I'd decided on hummus, baba ghanoush and quinoa tabouleh, but I needed an anchor: something a little more substantive to serve as the centerpiece dish. I asked the Washington Post Food section staff for ideas during a recent Free Range chat, which is how I came across yogurt kuku, a sort of frittata.

Kuku is a Persian dish, so, although it's a little ways from the Mediterranean, I thought the flavors worked well with the other dishes, and making it with Greek yogurt nudges it westward a bit anyway.

The Washington Post's recipe says to cook this at 250 F for 20-25 minutes. This cannot be right. The recipe says to bake the dish until the center is "just set," but after 25 minutes at that temperature it was still very liquidy. I found the original recipe by Iranian-American cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij from her book Food of Life, and she said to bake it at 350 F for 25-30 minutes, which sounds more reasonable (I brought this to the Food staff's attention, so hopefully it will be corrected).

Yogurt Kuku
Adapted from The Washington Post, as adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij's "New Food of Life"

4 servings

2 to 3 tbsp. extra-virgin oil
1/4 tsp. saffron
1 tbsp. just-boiled water
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh snipped chives
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 cup Greek-style low-fat plain yogurt, plus more for garnish
1 to 2 tsp. blanched slivered almonds

1. Add the oil to an 8-inch round or square oven-proof baking dish. Place the dish on the oven's middle rack and preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. While the oil is heating, combine the saffron and water in a medium bowl, stirring to break up the threads. Add the eggs, flour, salt, pepper, chives and carrot, and stir until well combined. Add the yogurt and almonds, stirring to combine. Pour the egg mixture into the hot oiled baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the center is just set. Divide portions among individual plates and top with a dollop of yogurt.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Feed: May 15, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

The New York Times: “Putting Spring Vegetables to Work” by Dee Shoe.
Following on the recent one on artichokes, the Times offers another recipe photo graphic, this time featuring a variety of dishes with seasonal spring vegetables like Ramp Focaccia by Melissa Clark and Simple Spicy Asparagus in a Wok by David Tanis. Mark Bittman’s Braised Artichokes even make an appearance.

National Public Radio: “Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops,” by Dan Charles.
More news about the bees dying off, and it’s not pretty. Last week I talked about Time’s story. This week, NPR looks at the issue and it appears to be even more dire: a survey of American beekeepers found that almost 1/3 of American honeybee colonies did not survive this last winter. Charles reports this spells trouble for crops like almonds, blueberries and apples that rely on bees for pollination. Some suspect pesticides, but it doesn’t seem like the chemicals’ role in this is very well understood. Seems like something that needs immediate study.

Los Angeles Times: “Food deserts may not be key in what people eat, study says,” by Mary MacVean. 
I read about food deserts last year in Tracie MacMillan’s The American Way of Eating and they came up again earlier this year when the USDA released its food deserts atlas. This new study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, finds a weak association with being overweight and the availability of nearby food outlets. They conclude that access to motorized transportation means shopping habits are weakly related to neighborhoods (i.e. people are able and willing to drive outside their neighborhood to get food). Nonetheless, they did find that having access to fast-food outlets within easy driving distance was associated with eating more fast food, so I’m not ready to give up on geographic factors as a role in the obesity epidemic just yet.

DC Eater: “Anatomy of a Noodle: Daikaya's Supplier Talks Ramen,” by Missy Frederick.
If you’re a fan of the chewy Sapporo-style ramen noodles at Daikaya, you’ll enjoy Frederick’s profile of the Japanese company that supplies the popular downtown ramen shop with its noodles. Lots of great facts here, like that there are 26 different types of ramen in Japan. Imagine eating your way through all that!

Wall Street Journal: “Springtime Superfood,” by Gail Monaghan.
I have a bag of watercress in my fridge right now, and after reading Monaghan’s piece about the flavorful and nutrient-packed spring green, I have some better ideas of what to do with it. She includes recipes for Watercress and Mussel Soup and two salads.

Washington Post: “Dinner in Minutes: Pan-Seared Garlic Ribeye Steak,” by Bonnie S. Benwick.
I’ve been in the mood for ribeye lately (in my review of Le Diplomate I ranted gently against the hanger steak trend, which I’m ready to be over). This Dinner in Minutes recipe from Benwick looks like just the ticket, a quick recipe packed with lots of garlic and smoked paprika flavor. It has some dramatic flair: the sauce finishes with a bourbon flambé!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Le Diplomate (Washington, D.C.)

Le Diplomate, Washington, DC

Good buzz is the stuff of new restaurant dreams, and Le Diplomate has it in abundance.

The large Logan Circle bistro has been the talk of the town since opening a couple months ago. On a recent early Sunday evening the place was already packed, making me glad we had reservations.

French cuisine used to be the pinnacle of exciting restaurant food, but it's lost stature as Medterranean, pan-Asian and now farm-to-table have moved in to dominate our collective palates. So that the hottest new place on 14th Street--itself a pean of hot new eateries--is serving traditional French bistro fare instead of new wave Thai or super-seasonal modernism represents a risk that's clearly paying off.

The restaurant, located on a prime 14th Street corner, is a beautiful and generously apportioned space, with several dining rooms and a large patio.

Le Diplomate bread basket
The infamous Le Diplomate bread basket.

All visits here begin with Le Diplomate's extraordinary bread basket, featuring a perfect baguette with light, chewy crumb and a crispy crust. Also delicious are the cranberry-walnut bread and warm peasant bread with a slightly sour taste and thick crust. In an age where restaurants increasingly charge for things like bread or chips-and-salsa, it's amazing that such a standout item is provided gratis. It's a generous offering and a great way to begin the meal.

From there we moved on to fresh vegetables. Radish crudité is prepared simply: a variety of radishes sliced in half served with large-flaked sea salt, toasted brioche and chive butter. if you like butter, this place is for you, as just about everything is either cooked, spread or garnished with it. Salade verte features fresh lettuce dressed simply with a bright red wine vinaigrette, green beans and radish slices. The radishes were perhaps a little too plain, but the salad was satisfying.

Our entrees were mostly quite good. I loved my half roast chicken, which was quite flavorful with herbs stuffed under the nicely crisped skin and a wonderful rosemary-flavored jus de poulet ("sauce" for you non-French speakers). I also enjoyed the potato puree, although I suspect it was more butter than potato.

Le Diplomate steak frites
Steak frites

Steak frites features a pan-roasted hanger steak with crispy browned frites served with a side of mayonnaise. The steak was nicely seasoned but, although we ordered it medium-rare, it came out fairly tough, which is not uncommon for hanger steak, but I was hoping for something more tender. (Frankly, I'm ready for restaurants' hanger steak obsession to end. Can't we go back to ribeye?)

Our dessert was absolutely delightful: a dark chocolate napoleon constructed with a bottom layer of almond dacquoise, planks of dark chocolate and columns of dark chocolate mousse with a delicious side of chocolate ice cream and a little pool of caramel. I'm definitely looking forward to coming back and seeing what other artful treats pastry chef Naomi Gallego can create.

Le Diplomate dark chocolate napoleon
Dark chocolate napoleon

I found the wine list a little perplexing. I know it's expected that French restaurants' menus are written in French, but if the wine list's subheadings would've been in English I probably wouldn't have accidentally ordered a half-bottle when I wanted a full-size one (thankfully I noticed the mistake before our server opened it).

Speaking of which, our server was delightful, friendly and attentive. Sometimes the food seemed a bit slow to arrive, but hey, isn't that kind of French? And, as I mentioned, the place was hopping.

What you won't find at Le Diplomate: a celebrity chef, a trendy menu or molecular gastronomy. What you will find: delicious classics prepared well and served in an energetic setting that's a great space for spending a couple hours.

Le Diplomate, 1601 14th Street NW (at Q Street), Washington, D.C. (Logan Circle). (202) 332-3333. Reservations: Open table.

Le Diplomate on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 13, 2013

Baba Ghanoush (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

baba ghanoush

While I love hummus, I'm increasing also a fan of another mezze dip. Baba ghanoush is roasted eggplant dip that originated in the eastern part of the Mediterranean (the Levant). It's smoky flavor is one of its best attributes, and if you have an outdoor grill, roasting the eggplant over charcoal will help impart that flavor. If you make it indoors, like I did, using smoked ingredients like paprika, olive oil and smoked flavor will compensate adequately.

The eggplant roasts for quite a long time at a very high temperature. They are large vegetables after all and you want them to be extremely soft on the inside when you scoop them out. The skin of the eggplant should look darker, turning brown from its purple shade, and get sunken looking.

Like hummus, baba ghanoush can be served with bread or vegetables for dipping. I like to cut pitas into  triangles, brush them with olive oil and sprinkle them with za'atar seasoning before lightly toasting them under a hot broiler.

Baba Ghanoush

2 medium-size eggplants
Olive oil
1/4 cup tahini
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tbsp. smoked olive oil (or regular extra-virgin olive oil)
2 tsp. smoked paprika
Pinch of chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
Toasted pita bread or cut vegetables (for serving)

1. Preheat oven to 500 F. Pierce eggplants all over with a fork and brush or spray lightly with olive oil. Roast until skin has darkened and the eggplant is very soft and sunken looking, about 30-45 minutes. Split eggplants open and scoop out contents. Discard skins.

2. Place eggplant in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic, smoked olive oil, smoked paprika, chili powder and salt. Turn food processor on and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with fresh chopped parsley.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Making a Mezze Meal

"Mezze" refers to small-plate dishes typical of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Because many of these types of dishes can be made ahead, mezze works well for entertaining. Throw together enough of them and you'll have a great meal, which is basically the concept behind José Andrés restaurant Zaytinya.

All this week I'm featuring recipes to make a great mezze meal, which also just happens to be vegetarian. That I didn't miss the meat is a sign of how satisfying a varied dinner made of these dishes can be.

smoky-smooth hummus
Smoky-smooth hummus

Hummus is an essential mezze dish. I've already featured two recipes for it: a basic recipe and a more involved smoky-smooth version (the extra work is worth it, in my opinion).

This week, I'll have recipes for baba ghanoush, quinoa tabouleh and yogurt kuku, which is basically a frittata. Some other dishes that would well in a mezze dinner: chickpea patties, reconstructed hummus salad and Mediterranean salad.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Nice Rickey Cocktail

Last week, the Washington Post Food section's spirits columnist Jason Wilson announced his retirement from the paper. For the past 6 years, Wilson has been a wonderful source of information about spirits and cocktails. I'll miss his regular columns but am glad to hear he's still writing for his website, Table Matters.

In his final column, Wilson offered two parting recipes for the rickey, the official cocktail of Washington D.C. Both recipes were based on previous cocktails Wilson had written about. My favorite of the two was the Nice, a rickey version of the Antibes.

Although I'd been dissatisfied with it in Gin & Tonic, I thought I'd give Columbia Distillers' made-in.D.C. Green Hat Gin a try in this drink. Thankfully, D.C.'s homemade spirit tastes great in its official drink.

Nice Cocktail
By Jason Wilson, Washington Post

2 oz. gin (I used Green Hat Gin)
1 oz. Benedictine liqueur
2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
2 oz. sparkling water (I used club soda)
Lime twist

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the gin, Benedictine and grapefruit juice. Shake until cold, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with sparkling water and stir. Garnish with a lime twist.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pressure Cooker Spring Risotto

pressure cooker risotto

When I was a kid, my mom sometimes cooked with a pressure cooker, and I was always thankful the kitchen was still intact when she was done. It was a noisy scary thing, with a little metal top that jiggled constantly like the whole thing could burst at any moment.

pressure cooker
Fagor Duo 10 Quart pressure cooker. It's a lot less scary than old models I remember from my childhood.

My pressure cooker, which I got for my birthday this year, is nothing like that. The Fagor Duo 10-Quart pressure cooker is quiet with no movement apart from a gentle flow of steam. The instructions assured me there are multiple safety features to prevent an explosion. All in all, it feels quite safe and I was quite pleased with its inaugural dish: a spring risotto.

Getting the texture of risotto just right is important, and I was skeptical whether a pressure cooker could do it. The grains of rice need to be al dente, like pasta: cooked through but still chewy. After sweating the aromatic vegetables and briefly toasting the grains, would I open the device a few minutes later to find mush?

Thankfully no. The texture of the rice was spot on. It was really quite good. And instead of stirring the broth in over the course of half an hour or so--stirring frequently--the cooking time once the liquid was added (all at once) was just 7 minutes, less than a third of the usual time.

As for selecting a pressure cooker, I chose mine for several reasons. I opted for a stovetop model over an electric one, since it allows you to use the pot for sautéing and browning, whereas an electric model requires a separate pan for that. I chose a 10-quart model since a larger pressure cooker is more versatile (I could do canning in this one if I chose to). America's Test Kitchen also highly rates Fagor.

Pressure Cooker Spring Risotto

3 oz. pancetta, diced
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium (or 2 small) yellow onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
Salt, to taste
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Vitiano 2012 verdicchio/vermentino blend)
1 cup frozen (or fresh) peas
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup grated pecorino-romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives (half reserved)

1. Heat pressure cooker pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until lightly browned. Remove from pan. Add olive oil. When hot, add onion, fennel and salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cooked until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes more. Add wine and stir until absorbed, a couple minutes.

2. Add peas, spinach and broth and stir to combine. Close and lock the lid. Set the cooker to high pressure (15 PSI). When the pan reaches pressure, lower the heat and cook for 7 minutes (follow your pressure cooker's instructions for achieving high pressure and setting the temperature, as they may vary by model and will vary depending on whether you use a gas or electric range).

3. Use a quick-release cold water method to subside pressure and open the cooker. Stir in the grated cheese. Serve in bowls topped with fresh chives.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Feed: May 8, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Washingtonian: “The Meaning of Local,” by Todd Kliman.
When it comes to food, “local” is the new “organic.” It’s what a certain food-conscious consumer is looking for. It’s what high-end grocery stores make pains to point out for certain products. It’s what certain restaurants tout on their menus. But what does it really mean? As a descriptive word, it’s about as useful as “natural” is on food packages. In D.C., where many farmers markets sell produce that’s trucked across two states to get here (and let’s face it, in our densely populated region, “local” probably has to be a fairly flexible term), what does it mean to buy or offer “local?” Kliman offers a thoroughly researched piece on the subject, talking to farmers, chefs and others, discussing the changing nature of the term and the seemingly elusive ideal it implies. It’s a long piece but worth the read and is even at times funny (I wonder if he had to struggle to keep a straight face when speaking to the young restaurateur who used the phrases “über thing” and “touch point”).

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Whole Foods Local Forager Elly Truesdell Is a Grocery Tastemaker,” by Claire Suddath.
Following nicely on the themes in the Kliman story is this profile of a “local forager,” a new position at Whole Foods Market. The forager, Ms. Truesdell, visits farms and food producers in her region looking for potential products for the grocery store chain. The company started the effort in response to criticism from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma over the market’s use of large-scale organic vendors he viewed as problematic as their big-agriculture counterparts. Her role includes not just finding the products but also helping the suppliers made adjustments to be able to offer their products in the store, which may include needing to increase their output volume.

Time: “Beepocalypse Redux: Honey Bees Are Still Dying—and We Still Don’t Know Why,” by Bryan Walsh.
I’d heard the honeybees were in trouble, but apparently the situation is getting worse, as recounted here by Time. More than half of the 6 million honeybee colonies that existed 60 years ago are now gone. A certain pesticide is suspected, although still in use, since it’s not been proven to be the culprit and other factors could be at fault, including bacteria diseases and parasitic mites. If you think the loss of honeybees would only mean the loss of honey, consider that we rely on bees to pollinate many of our crops. Their loss would be far more devastating to our food supply.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook: “My Olympic Medal,” by Hank Shaw.
For a food blogger, rubbing elbows with chef/TV personalities like Sara Moulton and Chef Kevin Gillespie at the James Beard Awards, during which said food blogger wins an award (and they do not) must be a rather surreal experience. Hank Shaw, winner of this year’s individual food blog award for Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, recounts his personal experience of the evening (“I felt like I was levitating as I went to the stage, and Ted went to put the James Beard medal around my neck”). Congratulations Hank Shaw!!! (all the 2013 James Beard Award winners here.)

Washington Post: “Serve a better-looking plate,” by Lisa Cherkasky.
Food stylist Cherkasky offers tips for plating food to make it more visually appealing. She shows how three dishes traditionally served at table look better if plated in the kitchen with a few touches to add color and interest. Love the accompanying graphic with sliders to move between the “before” and “after” shots.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gnocchi with Ramps and Sausage

I stopped by the Penn Quarter farmers market one recent afternoon hoping they would have ramps. I was in luck! I picked up two bunches of the seasonal wild leeks with their red and white bulbs and wide leafy greens. They're like scallions but with style.

Fresh ramps

Ramp bulbs and greens separated
Ramps resemble scallions with reddish bulbs and leafier greens. 

The first time I ever had ramps was 3 years ago during my first visit to Birch & Barley. As part of the tasting menu, we had gnocchi with rabbit sausage, ramps, fennel pollen and ricotta salata cheese. I loved the dish and always planned at some point to try to re-create it. As soon as I saw those ramps at the market, I decided that night would be the night.

I found this recipe on Tasting Table that was quite similar to what I'd had at Birch & Barley, apart from the speck. So with a few adjustments to that recipe, I had just what I was looking for. I made one additional modification: during a recent visit to Graffiato, we had their ramp pizza, which featured a ramp pesto as well as a generous sprinkle of raw ramp greens, which provided a nice contrast of flavors.

Gnocchi with Ramps and Sausage
Inspired by Birch & Barley and adapted from a recipe from Tasting Table

1 lb. gnocchi (potato or sweet potato, make your own with this or this recipe, or buy at the store, but be sure you get good quality)
1/2 lb. mild Italian chicken sausage
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 lb. ramps (two bunches, about 20-25 ramps)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tbsp. fellen pollen
1-2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup shredded ricotta salata cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface, about 4-6 minutes. Drain and set aside (recommend making the gnocchi at the same time as the sauce, as you don't want it sitting around).

2. Remove chicken sausage from casings and brown in a large sauté pan over medium heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Remove from pan and set aside.

3. Separate ramp bulbs from the greens. Finely chop the bulbs and cut the greens into 1-inch pieces. Add 2 tbsp. butter to pan. When melted, add the chopped ramp bulbs and sliced garlic. Cook about 2 minutes (the ramps and garlic should not brown, turn the heat down a bit if necessary). Add chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for 7 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add fennel pollen, half of the ramp greens, the cooked sausage, and olive oil. Stir to combine, add cooked gnocchi and toss to coat. Serve gnocchi in shallow bowls with a sprinkle of ramp greens and some shredded ricotta salata.