Maybe it’s only the time of year and the fact that this ridiculous winter simply will not give up and spring on out of here that I’m having a hard time coming up with my usual at least adequate enthusiasm for cooking supper each night. My appetite is gone for root vegetables, for instance, and a chunk of meat just seems extravagant. Gone, too, I think, are the days when we could and would settle into a big pork chop and mashed potatoes with veg. I’m simply not interested.
But one of the best places I’ve found for interesting food is the Rutland (year-around) Farmers’ Market (it’ll be moving outside to Depot Park on Mother’s Day weekend), from Peter McGann’s excellent Mexican to Young-La’s smartly named Flavors of Asia: Vermont Seoul Food, and everything in-between.
One delicious food I’ve been noodling about all winter is Storytime Foods’ muhammara, a walnut, red pepper, and pomegranate molasses dip that is as spicy and full of flavor as you might deduce from the ingredient list. It is delectable, no getting around it. You can find a recipe on-line, but that involves several different steps, such as toasting walnuts and roasting and skinning red peppers, and even then you have no guarantee that you’ll get the same end result. They even make their own pomegranate molasses! I have an ancient bottle of that in my fridge, so perhaps next pepper season I’ll make a batch, but for now my Muhammara will come from Storytime Foods.
Get Cracking Kitchen is another intriguing purveyor. After I spotted several packets of its Chickpea Almond Crackers in a friend’s shopping bag and she told me she’d bought them out because they were so good, and gluten free, and vegan, and acceptable for diabetics, I made sure to buy a packet of them the next week, and Man, they are good! Intriguing. Just on the off chance I googled them on the web. And there they were, called Besan crackers on a lovely website, the Mindful Foodie. They’re very straight forward, containing flaxseeds and cumin as well as the two main ingredients. (The chickpea is also known as gram, garbanzo, and cece as well as besan.) However, I was certain that Grace Davy, who is the baker and cook behind Get Cracking, adds her own touches. Over the last couple of years I’ve bought several items from her, including a totally outrageously rich chocolate beet brownie that you can only eat in tiny slices. She uses 3 kinds of chocolate, she whispered to me.
So I emailed her, wondering what her aim is – besides deliciousness – in the products she creates. “You use such iconoclastic ingredients and I suspect your techniques are dissident. Are you just curious?”
Well, she got an awfully big kick out of that. And then she said, “My objective in all this is to keep my creative juices flowing and spread the creativity to my customers. I like whole grain flavors in my desserts, I like homegrown ingredients and I like details and ideas.”
And then I really like her take on competition with the other established foodsters at the Market, namely that she prefers “innovation to competition.” Continuing, “Everything at the market is good, and I came in after so much deliciousness had (already) been established, so why offer ... close choices?... I work really hard to offer things no one else does.”
I, for one, appreciate that hard work, and until I get a little more creative myself I’ll continue to let Grace put the cece in my crackers and the beets in my brownies.
Last couple of weeks there’s been fresh ricotta at the Farmers’ Market, and this last week I grabbed a package. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who I bought it from and there’s no label. Fresh ricotta, though! What a treat. And since I also bought two bags of fresh spinach from Radical Roots, my mind wandered to a treat I learned to make from Dancing Ewe Farm when they came to that first year of the winter farmers’ market back of the co-op several years ago. That treat being, it came to me slowly, Gnudi Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli! Meaning, in answer to Leo’s query, Nude ravioli – the filling without the pasta purse. “Oh,” he said, “how disappointing.” Well, no, not really. Really quite grand, he would find out.
So, the recipe had disappeared from Dancing Ewe’s website but I cobbled one together in spite of the fact that the search for “gnudi ravioli” all came up in Italian so I was forced to go with gnocchi. Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you, a plate of these swimming in basil butter is not a bad thing.
Gnudi Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli
(adapted from Epicurious) Serves 2 as a main course
- 12 ounces (2 bags from Radical Roots) fresh spinach leaves
- 8 ounces, 1 cup, fresh ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (plus more to be slivered over)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour (plus more to roll out)
- 1 large egg yolk
- ½ teaspoon salt (plus more for cooking water)
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Fresh ground nutmeg
- ½ to 1 stick of good butter, melted, not browned
- 2 small bunches of baby basil (Radical Roots has these) or sage leaves
Cook the spinach in a large pot of boiling well-salted water just until wilted, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Scoop the spinach out of the water, squeeze out the liquid when it’s cooled enough to handle, and chop finely. Reserve the cooking water.
Mix the spinach, ricotta, parmesan, flour, egg yolk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl until a sticky dough forms and everything is well combined.
Dust a flat surface with flour, and working with about ¼ cup of the mixture at a time, pat it into a well-floured, fat roll, then pinch off perhaps two teaspoons at a time and roll them between your palms to form into lozenge shapes. Handle these as little as possible while assuring that they are well put together. Line them up on a cool surface.
Add enough water to the spinach water to fill the pan ¾ full and bring it to a boil.
In a sauté pan melt the butter over very low heat – even using a diffusing pad over the burner if needed, the butter should not color – and add the whole sprigs of basil or sage to add their flavor to it.
When the water is boiling, work in batches to add the nude ravioli to it. Cook until the ravioli rises to the surface then cook 4 to 6 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, remove the ravioli from the water, letting all the water drain off, and put them into the warm butter.
When all the raviolis are boiled and warming in the butter, place on serving plates, grind pepper over them, sliver parmesan over that, place a couple leaves of basil or sage on the top – another grating of nutmeg? – and eat up.
So that’s this week’s installment of interesting food. Catch you in a coupla!