Asparagus in Bed

Should you be so lucky to have the pleasure of actually eating asparagus in bed I might have to ask where you live – I’ll be stopping by for a few days of delicious rest.

I have to admit that I don’t eat in bed very often. I’m sure I could enjoy it,  but when the plate is empty I’d have to be the one cleaning the Parmesan crumbles from the sheets, which would put a damper on my few moments of pleasure.

Maybe I need to make some lifestyle changes. Because seriously, what could be more relaxed and sensual than nibbling tender spears of asparagus with your fingers, dipping into the creamy yolk of a softly poached egg and reclining comfortably; all at the same time?

The recipe is so named because of the way the tips of the asparagus spears peek out from beneath a “blanket” of egg and cheese. It appears in the cookbook Cucina Simpatica, inspired by Asparagi alla Bismark, a dish served at Bagutta, a very old restaurant in Milan.

The recipe in the cookbook calls for the asparagus to be quickly roasted at a high temperature – at the restaurant Al Forno where it’s made they cook in a super-hot wood burning oven – and topped with an egg fried in butter. When the soft yolk, butter and cheese commingle, they create their own sauce.

I made my version with blanched asparagus because it was morning, I was hungry, and I didn’t feel like waiting for the oven to get hot. I also poached my eggs rather than frying for the same lazy reason, but the thought of a buttery fired egg makes me go mmmmm inside. I might have to try that next time, just before I jump back into bed to eat.

Toasted Walnut Taralli

Last spring I attended the 32nd annual IACP conference that took place in Portland, Oregon – whew, was it really that long ago already?

I knew that my life has been busy, but it really hits home when I think of these taralli. During the conference, I came across a booth set up by the California Walnut Board, where Portland chef Greg Higgins was generously handing out tastes of these crunchy little snacks. He was also generous about sharing the recipe, but I haven’t gotten around to making them until now.

I saw their appeal right away – they were an updated version of a savory Southern Italian biscuit I grew up eating, only these were made with walnuts and had a definite West coast sophistication.

Greg had them arranged on a tray, adorned with a rosette of roasted garlic chevre and tiny little basil leaves; seeing them made me rethink what I always saw as a humble snack that you took home in an olive-oil stained brown paper bag straight from the corner bakery.

But instead of being piled casually on a plate at my grandma’s house, these taralli looked like they were ready for a cocktail party in San Francisco.

Greg’s original recipe, including the delicious Roasted Garlic Chevre spread is on the California Walnut website, but my tweaked version is below. I substituted some whole wheat flour for half the amount of all-purpose and added fennel seeds, which gives the taralli a flavor that reminds me of home.

Toasted Walnut Taralli

Yield: about 5 dozen

Ingredients

4 teaspoons instant yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups stoneground whole wheat flour

1 cup finely ground toasted walnuts* (grind in food processor)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds

2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing on taralli

Instructions

  1. Using the kneading attachment, stir together the yeast, flours, walnuts, salt and fennel seeds.
  2. Add 1 cup of the water and mix at medium-high speed until the dough starts to come together. Slowly add more water as necessary (turning down the mixer speed as you do so) until you have a smooth, moist dough. It shouldn't be too wet or sticky, so keep your eyes peeled. Depending on the humidity and your flour, you might need a bit less water.
  3. Put the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 3 or 4 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Punch the dough to deflate and turn it out onto a sparingly floured surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
  5. Working with one piece at a time, cut each into balls about the size of a walnut. Roll and stretch each ball using your palms into ropes about 6 " long. Bring the ends of the rope together to make a ring, tucking one end inside the other and pinching together.
  6. Arrange the rings on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between. Brush the rings with oil and bake until golden and firm, about 30 minutes.
  7. Remove to a rack and cool. The taralli will crisp up more as they cool. Store at room temperature in covered container.

Notes

You could mix this up in large bowl and knead by hand, but I used my Kitchen Aid Mixer.

http://familystylefood.com/2011/01/toasted-walnut-taralli/

Homemade Nutella

homemade-nutella-recipe

What comes to mind when you think of culinary pairings that seem to make magic together, so absolutely made for each other you can’t imagine tasting one without the other?

I can think of a few right off the bat, like:

lime + ginger

basil + tomatoes

olive oil + garlic

and last but not least:

chocolate + hazelnuts.

In one of my favorite new books, The Flavour Thesaurus, author Niki Segnit writes that when cocoa became scarce and  expensive during the late 19th century, chocolate manufacturers in the Italian Piedmont “bulked out” their product with a paste of hazelnuts, which grew plentifully in the region, thus introducing to the world the taste sensation known as gianduja.

All I can say to the genius who stumbled upon this marriage of convenience is THANK YOU.

Millions of hungry, sugar loving children and their families are grateful, since the discovery eventually led to the production of Nutella, and from there, well, we all know the story.

Let’s just agree that chocolate-hazelnut spread on a piece of bread kicks the ass out of your every day PBJ sandwich.

I love the idea of making my own version of Nutella – as much as I adore the store-bought version, it can be a bit cloyingly sweet. Also when I check the label I’m a little dismayed to see that these days the spread can be ‘bulked out’ with partially hydrogenated oils.

I was inspired by a few different recipes here – one from raw food chef Ani Phyo and another from the LA Times.

After applying my appropriate tweaks, I’m happy to share the results with you. Be aware that the texture is not completely velvety smooth, like the stuff that comes out of a jar. Food processors are a wonder, but can’t completely pulverize the nuts to an ultra fine puree.

However, I enjoy the resulting texture – plus the flavor of this homemade version is so real and luscious it’s almost beyond comparison to anything you can buy.

Homemade Nutella

Yield: about 3 cups

Ingredients

2 cups toasted hazelnuts *

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

about 1/4 cup cold water

Instructions

  1. Process the hazelnuts in a food processor workbowl until they form a coarse paste. You'll need to scrape the bowl down a few times to fully incorporate.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except the water and continue to process until somewhat smooth.
  3. Slowly drizzle in the water until you achieve a smooth, emulsified consistency, keeping in mind that you might not need all the water, or might need a bit more.
  4. Scrape the spread into a container and chill in the refrigerator until spreadable; it will keep for about a week. Bring to room temperature before spreading on toast, pouring over ice cream, or directly into your mouth...

Notes

I like the organic, neutral flavor of Omega Nutrtion coconut oil

* To toast hazelnuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the nuts turn light brown. I don't bother with trying to rub off the skins - I find it too much trouble and the results are about the same.

http://familystylefood.com/2010/06/homemade-nutella/