Friday, January 28, 2011

Potato Gnocchi with Figs, Hazelnuts and Winter Squash

Photo by Sergio Salvador
If you've ever had freshly made gnocchi, perhaps you (like me) fell deeply in love with their creamy, delicate texture that melts in your mouth. The good news is, they're actually not that hard to make, with the right proportions and technique – the gnocchi in this recipe are from the authoritative Italian cookbook The Silver Spoon, and it works for me every time.

I'm finally cutting into the last of my heirloom pumpkins - the Black Futsu, which is a great keeper (here's a picture of it). Figs grow well here in Albuquerque, as long they're in a warm, protected spot such as a south-facing wall, and they store well dried so you can enjoy them all winter. They're also a great container plant - I bring mine in for the winter and put it back outside in summer (if you're interested in growing a fig tree, see Lloyd Kreitzer's website,

2 ¼ pounds potatoes
2 T. olive oil
3 C. winter squash, cut in 1-inch chunks
½ C. dried figs
½ C. hazelnuts
2 C. cream
1 garlic clove, smashed
Pinch of nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 C. flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 t. salt

Peel potatoes, cut in quarters, and steam 25 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the squash cubes and toss to coat with oil. Add about a cup of water, sprinkle with salt, cover and simmer until squash is tender and most of the water has evaporated. Fry a few minutes longer to brown the edges.

Soak figs in boiling water about 15 minutes, until soft – if they are really hard, you can simmer them on the stove a bit. Chop them into ½ inch chunks. Toast hazelnuts in a dry skillet for a minute or two, and chop roughly. Simmer cream, garlic nutmeg and pepper in a small saucepan until reduced by one-quarter, then season with a pinch of salt.

Mash the potatoes while hot, then stir in flour, egg and ½ teaspoon salt. Knead for a few minutes, until a soft elastic dough is formed. Shape the dough into ropes about ¾ inch thick. Cut into ¾-inch sections, pulling them off and setting them on a dish towel dusted with flour as you go.

Boil a large pot of generously salted water and drop in gnocchi, no more than a dozen at a time. They are done when they float to the top (just a few minutes). Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon and set directly onto serving plate. Top with squash, figs, hazelnuts and sauce. Serves 4.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Green Chile Blue Corn Posole

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Posole is great winter comfort food and a fascinating part of our cultural heritage. Made from corn dried in the summer sun so it would keep all winter, this is what New Mexicans ate when eating local was the only option!

Last week I made my own blue corn posole by cooking the dried corn in limewater... and it's easier than it sounds! If you're so inclined, you can read about it read about it here. It turned out great - there is something deeply satisfying about the flavor. Making your own may also be the only way to get organic posole, as I've never seen it for sale. Of course, you can buy locally produced dried or frozen posole at most New Mexico grocery stores. Just don't use canned hominy, which is mushy and bland in comparison.

In New Mexico, posole is often served as a simple vegetable side dish. It can be as basic as just corn, onion and salt. Of course it's better with chile – either red or green. Using a really good (preferably homemade) stock gives it a richer flavor. When you have great ingredients, they don't need much embellishment. There are as many posole recipes as there are families that enjoy it. You can add meat if you like. I love how the recipe on the back of the Bueno frozen posole package calls for pigs' feet to make the stock! Many recipes call for oregano, some use cumin. And some like to garnish with fresh cilantro, radish slices and a squeeze of lime juice.

1 pound dried posole OR 2 pounds frozen posole
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
½ to 1 pound frozen green chile, chopped
2 quarts good chicken or vegetable stock
1 T. salt, or as needed

If using dried posole, soak in fresh water overnight (omit this step if using frozen or freshly made posole). Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot, and simmer 2 hours,or until the corn is tender and some of the kernels have “blossomed” or popped open. Or just put it in a slow-cooker on low heat all day. Serves 8-10.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nixtamalization - Making Posole/Hominy

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Last week at the Los Ranchos winter market, I got the chance to chat with the farmers from Corrales Chile Company, who were selling dried blue corn and corn meal. They also sold little packets of pickling lime and explained how to do the nixtamalization process at home to make your own posole and masa!

Nixtamalization (don't you just love that word?) is the process of cooking dried corn in highly alkaline water, which removes the skin or pericarp of the kernel, and softens the corn to make it easier for grinding.

The resulting product, called nixtamal, posole, or hominy, develops a uniquely delicious taste and aroma as well as a chewy texture. It can then be re-dried or frozen as posole, or ground while wet to make fresh masa for tamales or tortillas, then dried to make masa harina (check out this great flowchart). Here is a great video on making tortillas, starting with your own fresh masa.

Nixatmalization is probably one of the greatest achievements of Mesoamerican civilization, enabling the rise of the sophisticated Aztec and Mayan societies.
The process makes corn significantly more nutritious, by releasing bound niacin (also known as Vitamin B3, nicotinic acid or nicotinamide) and tryptophan, an essential amino acid which can be metabolized into niacin. Without nixtamalization, people who eat a heavily corn-based diet can develop painful nutritional deficiencies such as pellagra, which was rampant in the Southern U.S. until its cause was finally discovered in the early 1900's. Nixtamalization also significantly reduces mycotoxins from fungus or mold growing on the corn, which is common when corn is stored improperly. If calcium hydroxide is used as the alkaline agent, it also adds calcium to the corn. New Mexico State University discusses this in a great little paper comparing the nutritional qualities of blue corn vs. white or yellow corn. They also found that blue corn was naturally higher in zinc and iron!

Mexican posole is different from hominy because of the type of lime used, which produces a characteristically nutty flavor and aroma. In Mexico, nixtamalization typically uses calcium hydroxide (variously known as slaked lime, pickling lime, builders' lime or “cal”) which is made by mixing calcium oxide (quicklime) with water. Calcium oxide can be made by burning calcium carbonate, which comes from naturally occurring limestone or seashells. Other cultures use wood ash, lye (sodium hydroxide), washing soda (sodium carbonate), or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), both of which occur naturally in some mineral deposits.

I did a fair amount of research on the correct process. I started with the instructions from this article, which are quite good, but it wasn't totally clear to me how long you really need to cook the corn depending on the type. Blue corn can be denser than white or yellow, so I thought it might take longer. In fact, there are different types of corn with significantly different properties - "Indian corn" and popcorn are types of flint corn, whereas most field corn grown on a large scale is dent corn. I also wondered whether the objective was for the alkali to permeate all the way through the kernel, or just to remove the pericarp. Directions from different sources give cooking times ranging from as little as 15 minutes to an hour, but I finally concluded that for posole it mostly just depends how long it takes to loosen the skins from your particular corn. For masa, you don't need to cook the corn as long, but you soak it overnight so that the liquid really does permeate through the entire kernel, gelatinizing the starches so that when you grind it the dough sticks together nicely.

So here's my recipe:
2 pounds dried corn (you can even use popcorn)
5 Tbs pickling lime
1 gallon water

Add corn and lime to water in a large stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. The water will gradually turn cloudy and yellow. Simmer for 15 minutes, then check whether the skins are coming off - just remove some kernels with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl of fresh water. If you see little flaky skins floating in the water when you rub the kernels between your fingers, it's done. Otherwise, keep simmering and checking every 15 minutes or so. This shouldn't take more than an hour. The kernels may still be fairly hard inside, but this is fine. If you like, you can leave it in the limewater to soak for a few hours or overnight, and it will take less time to cook when you're ready to make your posole stew. If you're going for masa, you'll need to soak it overnight, then rinse it as described below, then you can grind it in a food processor.

Stir the pot to get the sediment off the bottom and pour off the limewater. Refill the pot with fresh water. Rub the kernels together with your hands to get the skins off. Drain and refill the pot and keep rubbing the kernels together. Do this a few more times until all the skins are rinsed away. Now you can freeze the posole or use it immediately to make posole stew. So that's it - boil, soak (optional), rinse and rub - not too bad, extra-delicious and nutritious!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pear Kuchen

One of my favorite breakfasts. Or dessert, I guess. It only has about 1/2 cup of sugar! Pears keep so well through the early winter - I have lots of them now. I think this recipe originally came from an old cookbook of my mom's, The Spice Cookbook.

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs cold butter
1/2 cup milk
2 ripe pears
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp lemon or lime zest
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 Tbs melted butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Mix flour, baking soda and salt thoroughly. Cut in butter with fork or food processor, until it looks like cornmeal. Stir in milk. Spread dough in a pie plate (it will be sticky). Cut pears in 1/2-inch slices and arrange them on the top. Mix sugar, butter, lemon zest and spices and sprinkle over the top. Bake 35 minutes, or until top is bubbly.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rosemary Pumpkin Soup with Saffron Ice Cream and Winter Pesto

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Exciting news! I'm thrilled to now have gorgeous photos by Sergio Salvador for my Edible Santa Fe recipes, and he's nice enough to let me use the images for my blog as well.  I'm really looking forward to working with Sergio - check out his other work at

Serve this basic pumpkin soup in a pretty glass with an unusual garnish, and it becomes art! The contrast of the hot, savory soup with the cool sweetness of the saffron ice cream is surprising and delightful. The saffron ice cream is delicious on its own, and it's easy to make - you just mix saffron with plain vanilla ice cream. 

The recipe is adapted from my new favorite cookbook of all time, Anya Von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table. Every recipe is amazing, using simple ingredients that are not too difficult to find, and combining them in creative and exciting ways!
2 lbs. winter squash (any kind will do)
1 lb. sweet potatoes
Olive oil
1 medium-size onion, coarsely chopped
1 T. finely grated orange zest
1 sprig rosemary
4 C. chicken or vegetable stock
1/3 C. cream (optional)
Salt and pepper
Saffron Ice Cream:
1 small pinch saffron
2 T. hot milk
1 C. best-quality vanilla ice cream
Winter Pesto:
1 clove of garlic
2 T. olive oil
2 T. pinon nuts
1 C. parsley
1 small sprig of rosemary
2 small sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Remove seeds from the squash, brush the cut side(s) with olive oil. Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly and rub the skins with olive oil. Bake the vegetables 1 to 1½ hours, until they are very tender.
Pulverize the saffron with the back of a spoon in a small bowl. Pour hot milk over it and let it steep until completely cool. Let the ice cream stand until soft enough to stir (or microwave 5-10 seconds). Mix thoroughly with the saffron milk, cover the bowl, and re-freeze.
If you're making your own pesto, pulse garlic, olive oil and pinon in food processor until finely chopped. Add herbs and process until a fairly smooth paste is formed. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Photo by Sergio Salvador
When the squash and sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the skins and mash or cut into chunks. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a soup pot on low flame. Add onion, orange zest and rosemary, and cook until onions are soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and vegetables, and cook about 10 minutes more. Remove the rosemary sprig and puree the soup with a hand blender (or do it in 2-3 batches in a normal blender). Add cream and season with salt and pepper.
Serve in small tumblers or martini glasses garnished with a little scoop of saffron ice cream and dab of pesto. Serves 8 as an appetizer.