Saturday, November 26, 2011

pumpkin, pancetta, and sage pasta

There is one thing I have learned in the past week: pumpkins are expensive in Zurich. Or to be more specific: pumpkin flesh is expensive (as I've only bough pieces of pumpkin, not an entire gourd). I let myself be sucked in early in the week by the container of pumpkin cubes: no rind or seeds to deal easy: 11 CHF ($12). And it wouldn't really have been a proper Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, right? No canned pumpkin for pie was to be found (my fault for grocery shopping on Thanksgiving day - I apparently missed the last can sold at Globus by a matter of minutes). My favorite gourmet grocery store Jemoli stepped in to save the day (for a price) with their store-made pureed pumpkin: 18 CHF ($20!!!).

The blow of the price was softened by the fact that the dishes made from the pricey pumpkin were both delicious. I've often said that pancetta makes everything better; I stand by that notion. The saltiness of the pancetta plus the sweet pumpkin and savory sage was a super tasty combination. I should warn that I really like sage. There is a lot of it in this dish. If you don't love sage as much as I do, you may consider reducing the amount that you include. Happy Thanksgiving week!

Pumpkin, Pancetta, & Sage Pasta
Serves 4

3 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt
white pepper
3 cups of pumpkin: peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" cubes
1/2 cup diced pancetta
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. butter
about 20 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped (plus a couple for garnish)
1/2 lb. pasta: I used fresh spinach ricotta ravioli
1 handful of walnuts, toasted
1/4 c. parmesan, grated

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix pumpkin with olive oil and a generous amount of salt and white pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking pan. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes or so, for 40-50 minutes until tender. Set aside.

Cook pancetta in a large pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add butter, sage, and roasted pumpkin. Reduce heat to med-low and allow to continue to cook together while you cook the pasta.

Cook pasta according to directions. When it's done, remove by slotted spoon and add to pancetta-pumpkin pan. Toss gently. Serve topped with toasted walnuts and parmesan cheese. Garnish with reserved sage leaves.

Friday, November 18, 2011

super schokolade cookies

Superschokolade: German for a whole lot of chocolate. Or Swiss, more precisely, as the chocolate in question is a whole lot of Lindt. I used a combination of Lindt weiss (white chocolate), milch extra (milk chocolate) and noir intense (dark chocolate, 70% cacao). The resulting cookies did not disappoint: they are crisp out of the oven, but now a day later have developed a pleasant browney-like chewiness. The multiple levels of chocolate tastes and types makes for one very robust, sweet, cookie. I think I've made a new best friend in the guy who lives downstairs, as I payed back his generosity in sharing his wifi password with me in cookies.

Super Schokolade Cookies
Makes 3 dozen

1 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter
10 oz. high quality chocolate* - 4 oz. coarsely chopped to be melted and 6 oz. chopped into 1/4" pieces, to be stirred into cookie batter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla**
*I used a whole milk chocolate bar (half melted, half chopped), a whole dark chocolate bar (half melted, half chopped), and half of a white chocolate bar (chopped).
**The vanilla extract here is crazy expensive - 12 francs per bottle! - so I substituted vanilla sugar

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Melt 4 oz. chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. Stir to combine. Remove from heat. Mix in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix in flour mixture. Mix in remaining chopped chocolate.

Form heaping tablespoons 3" apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 15 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

big shell pancetta mac and cheese

The weather has turned in Zurich this past week: a wintery cold to accompany the Christmas decorations that are suddenly everywhere. The trees that were brilliant shades of red and orange when I arrived are now bear. It's the sort of weather that makes me want to have something baking in the oven. This time, I opted for bubbly, cheesy comfort food: mac & cheese...with pancetta (because everything is better with pancetta).

I didn't mean for the shells to be so big. It's hard to tell from the pic without perspective, but the cooked shells are about the size of ping pong balls. They seemed to quadruple from their dried size after spending some time in boiling water. Though unexpected, this worked out very well, as it meant the noodles were not only covered with cheese, but also filled with it. I can't really complain about that.

Speaking of cheese, the particular combo I used this time was novel for me. I typically make mac & cheese with sharp cheddar. No orange cheese is to be found at the local Coop here in Zurich, however, so I tried something new. I found myself unable to move away from cheddar completely (after finding a white version unexpectedly at the grocery store - my backup was fontina, which I was strangely unable to find), but I did add some new-to-cole's-mac-&-cheese cheeses: gruyere (so Swiss!) and parmigiano reggiano.

The top-heating oven in my apartment is perfect for dishes like this, as it guarantees a golden brown crust (now that I've figured out the trick to prevent burning from the top: place the dish on the lowest rack and leave the top rack in the oven to shield the dish from direct heat). If you don't get a brown crust after cooking for 40 minutes in a conventional oven, try broiling at the end (but watch closely to prevent burning!). If you like that crisp top as much as I do, I recommend baking the mac & cheese in a large dish to maximize the crispy browned top to gooey inside mac & cheese ratio.

Overall verdict: this was a really tasty mac & cheese that will definitely become one of my new staple versions (or at least for those occasions where I'm looking for a classic variety vs. butternut squash mac & cheese, which still ranks as my fave). Enjoy!

Pancetta Mac & Cheese
Serves 4

1/2 lb. shell pasta
1 Tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. diced pancetta
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
a pinch of sea salt
a pinch of white pepper
a pinch of nutmeg*
1 c. milk
~2 handfuls white cheddar, grated
~2 handfuls gruyere, grated
~1 handful parmigiano reggiano, grated
*I used microplaned fresh nutmeg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until it begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add onion and garlic. Continue to cook until onion is transparent, an additional 3-4 minutes. Add flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir to coat. Add milk. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until milk reaches boiling. Reduce heat to med-low. Add cheeses and stir until melted and fully combined. Add cooked & drained pasta; and stir to coat.

Transfer to baking dish. Bake 40-45 minutes, until top is golden.

One year ago: red chart risotto

Friday, November 4, 2011

gemischte pilzen risotto

In case it wasn't clear from the picture, auf Englisch, this is a mixed mushroom risotto. I've been continuing to have fun exploring Zurich grocery stores and markets. The other day, one treasure I brought home with me was a box of magnificent mixed mushrooms. I couldn't conclusively identify a single one, nor would I have been brave enough to buy any of the varieties on their own (what would it taste like? how would I cook it?). In fact, I first reached for the plain old button mushrooms. But then my eye caught the combination pack: somehow the cornucopia made the foreign mushrooms seem less intimidating than they might otherwise have been. Into my basket they went.

I consider risotto one of my favorite dishes to make. It is time consuming (lots of active stirring), but not particularly difficult. Once you have the basics down, it's a super pliable dish, a blank canvas on which to paint. I enjoy pondering the possibilities, particularly when inspired by a great ingredient. In this case, that ingredient was clearly my box of mushrooms. 

Being unfamiliar with exactly what I was dealing with, I wasn't sure whether to add the mushrooms at the onset of the risotto making process (or would they become tough?) or near the end (but then would the flavors have a chance to meld?), so I decided to hedge my bets, adding half at the beginning and half later in the cooking process. This worked out really well, as it resulted in both great flavor as well as good texture, the mushrooms added later providing some toothsome meatiness. Lemon awakened the dish, bringing a bright taste of sunshine to the earthy mushrooms. 

This, in my opinion, was a standout dish that I will definitely make again.

Gemischte Pilzen Risotto | Mixed Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
a handful of mixed mushrooms, chopped
another handful of mixed mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 c. arborio rice
1/3 c. white wine
4-6 cups hot stock*
the grated rind (about 2 Tbsp.) and juice (about 3 Tbsp.) of one lemon
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
1/3 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. butter
parsley for garnish (optional)
*I used 2 cubes of chicken bouillon mixed with about 6 cups of water

Heat olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add the more finely chopped mushrooms and continue to cook until they begin to soften. Add rice and stir to coat. Add white wine. Cook, stirring, until fully absorbed by rice.

Add hot broth, a couple ladles at a time, stirring constantly and allowing to fully absorb between each addition. When you have about 4 broth additions remaining (this should be around 30 minutes into the cooking process), add the roughly chopped mushrooms. When you have about 2 broth additions remaining, add lemon rind, lemon juice, thyme, and parmesan cheese to rice. Continue to stir and add broth until none remains (test rice for doneness and add additional stock or water if needed). Mix in the remaining tablespoon of butter. 

Ladle risotto into individual bowls, garnish with parsley if desired, and be prepared for whomever you're serving to be impressed!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

my zurich kitch

I had an afternoon of playing in the kitch yesterday. The view out of my kitchen window shows fall in full swing in Zurich. I decided to revisit two somewhat involved recipes that seem fitting for the season: passaladiere and roasted butternut squash soup with fried leeks (click links for original posts with recipes).

The oven-that-cooks-from-the-top is presenting some challenges. Namely, the tops of things are cooking much faster than I'm used to. Strategically placed foil is helping, but I need to learn to account for this before the things I'm baking begin to turn black. For my evening meal, this meant that the onions on my passaladiere were definitely darker than caramelized. I am also finding that my lack of measuring devices means that I'm relying on my estimation skills - this part actually seems to be going pretty well so far (pizza dough without measuring flour or water? kein problem!). Cooking in a new kitchen in a new country is challenging, but I'm happily learning and improvising!

Autumn in Zurich: the beautiful view from my kitchen window.
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