Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Backyard Udon Stir-fry

Weeded the garden yesterday. Then cooked up the weeds for lunch.

February and March are strange months in the Pacific Northwest. It's often the best skiing of the year in the mountains, but those same storms that dump powder at elevation (or Cascade concrete, as the case may be) are nourishing the first flush of spring greens down in the valley.


Indeed. This is the time to start looking for fresh wild greens on the West Coast, especially the highly nutritious weeds—when they've just emerged. Right now California is kicking out commercial quantities of stinging nettles, watercress, and—soon—fiddleheads, and my own stomping grounds to the north around Puget Sound are not far behind. In fact, this is the time I usually start filling my larder with the first (and best) stinging nettles of the year, which present an obvious green target against the otherwise drab colors of a forest floor still trying to shake off winter. Dandelions are at their best now, too, before budding; watercress is on the rebound; and bittercress is another favorite.

If you're hesitant to include backyard weeds in your menu, try this simple recipe, which is sort of like disguising a dog pill in a little ball of hamburger. Who doesn't love a big bowl of stir-fried noodles with bright toppings? Wild greens add a distinctive and healthy bite to a dish already brimming with flavors. For the dish pictured, I used dandelion greens and watercress.

A colorful, heaping bowl of noodles with a variety of good toppings is so appealing to me, and it can be even easier to put something interesting together if you have a few ingredients ready to go, for instance pickled fiddleheads or a Tupperware full of five-spice beef short ribs (I make the ribs on Sunday and put them in the fridge for just such a weekday purpose). A fried or poached egg is another easy topping.

Fresh udon can be purchased at many Asian markets, and the pre-packaged stuff (dried or frozen) is available at many conventional grocery stores. Cook the udon according to the instructions and make sure to rinse with cold water and pat dry before stir-frying.

You can vary the flavors in any number of ways if your Asian cupboard is well stocked with a variety of chili pastes, bean pastes, Sichuan peppercorns, black vinegar, rice vinegar, aji-mirin, fish sauce, Sriracha sauce, miso, light and dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, pickled chiles, sambal olek, and so on. Below is the simplest form: just a little soy and aji-mirin (sweet rice wine).

1 package fresh udon
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced (reserve sliced tops for garnish)
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced julienne
2 cups wild greens, torn (or bok choy, cabbage, etc.)
soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)

1. Boil udon according to directions. Drain, rinse, pat dry, and set aside.

2. In a wok or large pan, sauté green onions, garlic, and ginger for a minute in peanut oil over medium heat. Add carrot and cook together another minute. Add greens and stir-fry until wilted, 30 seconds or so.

3. Stir in cooked noodles, add a splash of aji-mirin (less than a quarter cup) and a splash of soy sauce, to taste. Mix well, add a little sesame oil, and serve. Top with a garnish of sliced green onions, cilantro, crispy fried shallots, a fried egg, or a five-spiced short rib—or all of the above.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gnudi with Black Trumpets, Prosciutto & White Truffle

The magical combo of salty pig and fruity Cantharellaceae cannot be overstated. In this case I paired prosciutto with black trumpets, a match that took an already scrumptious dish—classic ricotta gnudi—over the top. But why stop there? If you're gonna get busted speeding, a certain twisted logic says it might as well be impersonating Mario Andretti.

So I shaved some Oregon white truffle.

From what I've been hearing, black trumpets are finally starting to show in their usual spots, though not in large numbers. It's been a slow winter pick overall and for this dish I resorted to dried mushrooms. It's not a difficult recipe, though it takes patience and a light touch.

A Few Words on Making Gnudi

Most gnudi recipes call for egg and flour to be mixed with the ricotta. These ingredients undoubtedly help to bind the gnudi and allow them to stand up to the boil—or even survive a subsequent pan fry intact. My Stinging Nettle Gnudi is just such a recipe, and it's delicious. But for the most tender and fall-apart goodness imaginable, you only need ricotta, or a mixture of ricotta and parmesan, along with an outer shell of semolina.

The main drawback is that you need to refrigerate the gnudi for at least a 24-hour period. Two days is even better, and three days is not unheard of. The semolina, as I understand it, helps to draw moisture out of the cheese, solidifying the gnudi, but sufficient time and cool temperatures are necessary.

This is the most tender and delicate gnudi I've ever tasted. They require care. Although this recipe will make enough for four, my advice is to make it for yourself the first time around, or for two. The leftover gnudi can remain in the fridge another day or two. Most recipes tell you to boil the gnudi for two or three minutes and remove after they float to the surface; these only need a minute in gently boiling water, and they might not float. Capture with a slotted spoon, then carefully place on a paper towel. The first time I made these, I tested eight in a rolling boil. Four survived. After that I reduced the heat and the cooking time for a 100 percent success rate.


2 tbsp butter, divided
1 small shallot, diced
1 handful black trumpets
vegetable oil
4 slices prosciutto, torn into pieces
chicken stock
parmesan cheese, grated at table
white truffles, shaved at table (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a lightly oiled saute pan over medium heat, cook prosciutto pieces for a minute per side until slightly wrinkled and crispy. Remove to paper towel.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in same saute pan and add diced shallot, stirring for a minute. Add black trumpets and cook together a few minutes, seasoning to taste. Deglaze pan with a splash of chicken stock if necessary, then remove pan contents to a bowl.

3. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in same pan over medium heat, add a quarter cup of chicken stock and whisk together, reducing. More chicken stock can be added and reduced later if necessary. Or, for a more decadent touch, add some cream.

4. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a light boil. Add gnudi and cook for about a minute before removing to paper towels with a slotted spoon.

5. Add prosciutto and mushroom-shallot mixture back into sauce pan, stirring.

6. Carefully plate gnudi and pour over sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley, optional truffles, and grated parmesan.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Black Truffle Pear Crostata

Ugly pie makers, unite! That is, those of us who make ugly pies, not... you get the idea. I barely have the patience to bake, much less make my creations look pretty. If you're like me, keep reading. Crostata is for us.

The (ahem) beauty of crostata is that it's meant to look all Frankenstein-y and whatnot. Short of a square head and electrodes, it's still stitched together with quick and easy pleats that don't even attempt to sew up the whole deal. It's a rustic, time-saving answer to that annoying friend of yours who pulls off a perfect lattice top with a few cutout curlicues to boot.

Besides, you can shush your annoying friend because you know how to find truffles (right?) and know how to use them in interesting ways. For instance, truffled dessert. Black truffles, whether from PĂ©rigord or Oregon, have a musky aroma that reminds some of overripe pineapple. It's an unusual aroma that's heavenly with certain sweets.

This crostata happens to be one of those excellent vehicles for black truffles, a combo that I discovered at Silvan Ridge Winery during the Oregon Truffle Festival. Shiloh Ficek of Red Hills Market in Dundee, OR, made this dessert and it was killer. His came with candied walnuts and a truffled Creme Anglaise; I took the easy route with vanilla ice cream. For the pastry, I used Ina Garten's recipe, which is easy and food processor-friendly.


3 - 4 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into chunks
1/4 tsp lemon zest


1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp cold butter (1/2 stick), diced


1 cup flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold butter, diced
2 tbsp ice water

1. To make pastry crust, combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Add diced butter and pulse until pea-sized. Pour in ice water and process until mixture has nearly formed a mass of dough but not quite. Remove to a well-floured surface and knead until smooth, then roll into a foot-long cylinder. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Mix pear chunks and zest in a bowl.

3. To make pastry topping, combine flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in food processor. Pulse and add butter. Process until crumbly. Set aside.

4. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

5. Remove dough cylinder from refrigerator to a well-floured surface and slice into 6 equal portions. Form each portion into a ball and roll out into a 6-inch diameter pastry circle. Place on a baking sheet.

6. Dollop cut-up pears on each pastry. Sprinkle with a handful of topping. Bundle up pastry by lifting and pleating. Sprinkle exposed pear filling with more topping.

7. Bake 20 - 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to cool a few minutes.

8. Shave black truffles over crostata while still warm and serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6.