Semolina Dumplings with Stuffed Mushrooms and Arugula Salad

Continuing my love of pasta, I’ve discovered a way to make a pasta-type dish but without all the kneading, rolling, and cutting of dough. These semolina dumplings take a little while, but involve nothing more than sprinkling water over semolina flour. Plus, they are sturdy enough to stand up to a spicy tomato vodka sauce!

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I started off by placing the semolina flour in a shallow dish. Then, I just drizzle water over the flour, shake the pan, and scoop out the dumplings.

Semolina Flour

After drying slightly, the dumplings need to boil for just a few minutes, and then are ready to add to the sauce.

Semolina Dumplings

This sauce is spicy and almost a little bitter from the vodka, but it is a great combination with the chewy semolina dumplings!

Tomato Vodka Sauce

Semolina Dumplings with Tomato Vodka Sauce

3 cups semolina flour
1-2 cups of water
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can of crushed tomatoes (28 ounces), preferably San Marzano
1 Tbsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup vodka
1/4 cup almond milk or vegan cream
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Start the sauce by heating the olive oil over medium heat in a wide sauce pan, then adding the onion and garlic to saute until lightly browned. Add the red pepper flakes and saute for another minute then add the vodka. Cook for about 3 minutes. Next add the crushed tomatoes, and cover. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for at least 20 minutes, or as long as it takes you to prepare the dumplings. Just before adding the first batch of dumplings, add the cream and adjust salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if you’d like a spicier sauce.
  2. Put the semolina flour into a shallow dish or plate, and have the water in a glass or measuring cup.
  3. Make small wells in the semolina flour, and then dribble a small amount of water (maybe 1-2 tsp) into each well. Allow the water to sit for about 5 seconds, or until absorbed by the semolina flour.
  4. Shake the dish lightly, then scoop out the dumplings and place on a sheet pan to dry. Repeat until the semolina flour is gone.
  5. Cook the semolina dumplings in batches by gently adding them to well-salted boiling water. Stir once to make sure they aren’t sticking, and then scoop out with a pasta spoon or strainer, placing immediately into the sauce and stirring to coat the dumplings.
  6. Continue until all the dumplings are cooked, and serve with a fresh green salad.

I always feel like I should have a little extra veggies with the dumplings, so I like the combination of a nice arugula salad and stuffed mushrooms.

First, I remove the stems from the mushrooms, and place the caps in an oiled baking dish.

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The stems get minced up, and sauteed along with some minced garlic.

Mushrooms sauteing

I love fresh parsley, so I usually chop that up to add to the mushroom mixture. You could also use fresh basil, or of course dried parsley or basil.

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Next, I added some white wine, followed by some bread crumbs.

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After the breadcrumbs absorb all the liquid, the filling goes into the mushroom caps.

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The mushrooms are baked until they are browned and the stuffing is crunchy. These are perfect as an appetizer, or even an entire meal. 🙂

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For the arugula salad, I love mixing lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper, then tossing the simple dressing with fresh arugula (or spinach).

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Stuffed Mushrooms

8 ounces whole button mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 cup bread crumbs, plus extra if needed
2 Tbsp vegan Parmesan cheese (or real, if desired)
1/2 cup white wine
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems. Brush a baking dish with 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, then place the mushroom caps into the dish, stem side up. Mince the remaining mushroom stems.
  2. In a saute pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, being sure not to brown it too much. Add the minced mushroom stems and 1/4 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is softened and fragrant. Add the parsley and cook for another minute.
  4. Next add the white wine. Bring to a light simmer, then remove from the heat.
  5. Mix in the Parmesan, if using, and about half of the bread crumbs, stirring to combine. Continue adding bread crumbs until you have a moist mixture that holds together if pressed into a ball. Taste and add salt or pepper if needed.
  6. Use a small spoon to place a scoop of the mixture into each mushroom cap, pressing as needed to hold the mixture together and in place.
  7. Cook the mushrooms for about 15 minutes, then check for browning. You want the mushroom caps to be browned and the stuffing to be crusty on top.
  8. Serve as an appetizer or with an entree as a side dish.

Simple Arugula Salad

One small container of fresh arugula
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Coarse sea salt
Optional, 1/4 cup shredded vegan or real Parmesan cheese

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice and olive oil over the arugula. Next, add lots of freshly ground pepper and about 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt (use less if you have a finely grained sea salt). Add the cheese if using. Toss to combine, and taste to adjust salt and pepper if needed.

This simple salad pairs perfectly with any pasta dish or vegetarian pizza. Serves 4.

Christmas Dinner with Family

This year, we were lucky enough to be celebrating Christmas in Atlanta with family. My Aunt Penny made an absolute feast and even let me help out in the kitchen, which was really fun.

The meal included lots of delicious side dishes such as cheese grits, roasted squash, glazed onions, roasted Brussels sprouts, strawberry salad, green beans, mashed potatoes, and lentils.

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As if that wasn’t enough, there were roasted portobello mushrooms for the vegetarians, and roasted beef for the meat eaters. There was also Yorkshire pudding (which is really entertaining to watch baking, if you never have), and both a vegetarian and meat-based gravy.

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Of course we had lots of fun chatting over dinner, especially since we were all wearing crowns from our Christmas crackers.

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And if that wasn’t enough, Aunt Penny had made a delicious Yule log and had a tray of Italian cookies.

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It was definitely a fun and tasty feast!

Vegetarian Tacos with Homemade Tortillas and Tomatillo Salsa

One of my recent birthday presents from Jon was a really cool tortilla press, so of course I had to make a taco feast! I started off by making the dough for the tortillas, which is an extremely simple flatbread style dough.
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While the dough rested, I made a tomatillo salsa. This involved a lot of tomatillos and a lot of husking!
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After the tomatillos were cooked, I blended them together with jalapeños, onion, garlic, cilantro (sorry, Mom!), and red pepper flakes to make a spicy yet mellow salsa. I’ve always used tomatillos raw in salsa, so I was intrigued at how cooking changes their flavor and texture.
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I also prepped all my yummy vegetables while the tortilla dough was resting. I eat so many peppers that my family crest (if I had one) would have to include a pepper!

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Next, I started baking the tortillas. This was a fun experiment flattening the dough and hearing it squeal (literally) as the steam released.

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After the steam released, I ended up with a tiny tortilla!

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Jon also got me a tortilla “keeper” that did an awesome job of keeping the tortillas warm and moist until the taco filling was ready.

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Finally, I finished off the taco filling by sautĂ©ing all the veggies, vegetarian “chicken”‘ and spices together.

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The tacos were quite easy to assemble by placing the filling in the warm tortilla shells, and topping with the fresh salsa. Jon admitted that usually my tacos were a “B” meal:-(, but with the fresh tortillas had been upgraded to an “A”. Although they were a little more labor intensive, it is definitely worth the effort if you have the time and a tortilla press!

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Whole Wheat Tortillas

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup canola oil
1 & 1/8 cup warm water
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together to form a fairly stiff dough, then knead until smooth. Shape into 12-16 small balls, then cover with a damp towel.
Allow to rest for 45 minutes.
Use a tortilla press to form and bake the tortillas.

Tomatillo Salsa
1 & 1/2 lb tomatillos
4 jalapeños, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, diced
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Tabasco sauce (optional)
Salt to taste

Husk and clean the tomatillos, then place in a pan. Cover with water, then simmer until the tomatillos are the color of green olives. Meanwhile, soak the onion in cold water for 5 minutes.

After the tomatillos are done cooking, drain and place into a food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Add water if needed to make a smooth salsa. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Vegetarian Taco Filling
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
4 small sweet green peppers, sliced
1 cup vegetarian “chicken”
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to taste (I used ~1 Tbsp red pepper flakes)
Dash red wine vinegar

SautĂ© the onion in a small amount of vegetable oil until softened. Add the cumin and coriander, then sautĂ© for another minute to cook the spices. Add all of the peppers and garlic, and sautĂ© until slightly softened. Add the vegetarian “chicken”, pepper, red wine, and salt to taste. Cook until the “chicken” is cooked through and all the flavors are blended. Serve in freshly made taco shells topped with tomatillo salsa, and other taco toppings of your choice.

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Tour and Dinner in San Gimignano

Would you believe that after our amazing cooking class, there was more planned for that same day? After the cooking class, some of us took naps, while others decided to go for a walk. I got to enjoy wandering around the villa property with my sister Emily (hermana!).

We met Gina Stipo to spend the evening in San Gimignano. First we went to San Gimignano 1300, an amazing museum that included a reproduction of the town from the 1300’s. We learned all about the history of the town, and especially its towers.

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The town originally had 72 towers, which were built as symbols of familial power. Many of the towers were torn down over the years, but there are still 13 standing.

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After the museum, we wandered around the town some, visiting piazzas and climbing to the top of a hill to see a view of the entire town and the surrounding landscape. Beautiful!

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Before heading to dinner, we enjoyed an apertivo in the Piazza della Cisterna. We tried drinks recommended by Gina, including Spritz (prosecco and Campari) and various little snacks. The Italians never have drinks without some type of food.

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After enjoying our apertivo, we headed to an amazing dinner in a small restaurant in San Gimignano. My meal started with stracciatella, which ended up being a shared appetizer due to its size! It was delicious.

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Next, both Jon and I enjoyed ribolitta, a Tuscan vegetable and bread soup. Gina taught us how to top it with slivers of fresh onion and flavorful olive oil. Although it is incredible to think that we would have room for anything after all the food from the day, we all managed to save room for at least a little bit of world famous gelato from Gelateria Dondoli.

I love how the little bins of gelato are decorated with bits of their flavoring. Much more attractive than plastic bins of ice cream like you see in the US!

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With all the amazing food and activities, it was hard to believe that this was just our first full day in Tuscany! More to come from our Italian adventure. 🙂

Cooking Class in Tuscany

After spending another day in Rome and doing some additional sight-seeing, including visiting the Colosseum and Imperial Forum, it was off to Tuscany to meet up with my family.
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We had a fun dinner the first night prepared by Gina Stipo, our culinary host for the week, that included salad with fennel fronds, farro, yummy cheese, and of course wine. The next morning after admiring the beautiful views from the villa, it was off to our Ecco La Cucina cooking class!

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The menu was truly a feast, including cheese soufflé on a pear salad, freshly made pasta with artichokes, roasted rabbit, asparagus, and biscotti. Yum!

We started off by preparing the rabbit, which was roasted with oil-cured olives, chunks of orange, sage, rosemary, and white wine. Getting it ready for roasting was as easy as putting the rabbit in a roasting pan, burying all the flavorings under it, pouring white wine over it all, and then sticking it in the oven. I think there might have been some liberal doses of olive oil, as well.

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Like any good meal, this one started by making dessert early on. Gina had us prepare two flavors of biscotti: orange almond, and orange anise seed. I’ve made orange almond before, but the orange anise seed was amazing– of course, I am quite fond of licorice-flavored food!

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We also added sugar, orange zest, baking powder (which is vanilla-scented in Tuscany!), and almonds for the first batch. The second batch used the same ingredients, except we swapped out anise seeds for the almonds.

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Once the dough was formed, most of us got a chance to roll out a log of biscotti. The biscotti then went into the oven for the first baking.

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Next, we processed all of the artichokes for the pasta sauce – no canned artichokes here! Before this, the only artichokes I had ever tried to prepare were to be steamed and the leaves eaten with butter. It was surprisingly easy to peel off the tough outer leaves, clean the inside, and quarter the hearts for the sauce. Of course, it might have been slightly easier with Gina demonstrating the proper technique and results!

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One of the really fun things about the class was how Gina got everyone involved in the preparation, not just the practiced cooks. Jon even proved his fitness as a sous chef with his expert garlic chopping. 🙂

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After the artichokes were prepared and the garlic was chopped, we started a simple sauce for the pasta with butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and the artichoke hearts. Mom was the expert lemon squeezer.

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Next it was on to the really fun part of the class–making homemade pasta to go with the artichoke sauce! We mixed together flour and eggs, eventually forming a dough. Gina showed us how to make a well in the flour and use our fingers to start the dough.

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After everyone took turns kneading the pasta dough, it was time to roll it out. I have a pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer, and always thought using a hand roller would be really difficult and require you to grow an extra limb to manage it and the pasta. That was not the case, though it helped that there were lots of people to maneuver the dough once it got really long.

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Once the dough was rolled out to the right thickness, it was on to the chitarra to cut the spaghetti. This part was really fun: you sprinkled semolina onto the chitarra, placed a piece of dough on it, and then used a rolling pin to cut the noodles using the wires of the chitarra. In a lot of ways, this part was easier than using my pasta attachments. The spaghetti just falls neatly under the wires, so you don’t have to worry about catching all the pieces (and stepping on the pieces that inevitably fall on the floor).

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Pretty little piles of spaghetti!
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Earlier in the class we had prepared cheese flans to go on top of a pear salad. While the pasta was being cut, the flans came out of the oven and were placed on the salad for a delicious starter.

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We headed out to a beautiful covered terrace to start our meal with the cheese flans.

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After whetting our appetites, it was back to the kitchen to finish the pasta. Once the pasta was cooked it went into the pan with the artichoke sauce and a little of the cooking water to thicken the sauce.

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A little cheese was mixed in, then it was back to the terrace to eat pasta. Yeah!

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While we were enjoying the pasta, the rabbit miraculously made its way to the table along with some asparagus. Even though none of the rabbit made it to my plate, it looked delicious!

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After all this food, it was hard to imagine there was still dessert. The biscotti was “well-guarded” (and maybe adequately sampled!) so there was plenty left for us to enjoy.

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The biscotti was served with Vin Santo and fresh strawberries. It was a perfect end to the meal and a fun and informative cooking class!

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Stay tuned for more posts from our Italian adventure! 🙂

Trastevere food tour

I was lucky enough to get to go on a trip to Italy recently, and the best description is Wow! When friends have asked what was my favorite part, I literally can’t answer the question. As you can imagine, food was a major component of the trip, highlighted by a “culinary adventure” in Tuscany. So, Italian food and all things Italy will be occupying my blog for the next several weeks!

Jon and I started off in Rome, and what better way to get ourselves oriented than to take a walking food tour. After suspending our veganness for the trip, we signed up for Twilight Trastevere through Eating Italy food tours and it was a great way to kick off the trip!

After landing in Rome that morning, walking several miles, and eating lightly, we were ready for our food tour. We decided to walk to the Tiber Island to meet up with our tour, walking past the Imperial Forum on the way. After meeting up with the group and getting a little background on Trastevere, we were off to Da Enzo Al 29, where we had prosecco accompanied by stracciatella and melon (and prosciutto for the meat eaters). The cheese was drizzled with olive oil, and some of the best cheese either of us have ever tasted. 20130609-203715.jpg

After savoring this decadence, we were off to the next stop – Spirito di Vino – a restaurant/wine cellar in a building that was the oldest synagogue still standing…obviously it was no longer in that function! We sampled some amazing red wine, along with some more cheese dishes. Would you believe that this shot is ~20 feet below current street level, but was street level 2000 years ago?!? Amazing. 20130609-204831.jpg

Next we were on to Innocenti, an absolutely amazing bakery – Yelp and Tripadvisor agree!20130609-205524.jpg

After ogling the cookie display from the window and admiring the ancient industrial oven…
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Next up was Antica Caciara where we sampled some amazing cheese. I also ogled some cheese to take home, but decided against it.
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Massive wheels of Pecorino Romano…they would fit nicely in my luggage!20130609-212244.jpg

Next we were off to La Renella. First we got to observe the amazing kitchen and bread oven.20130609-212657.jpg

The bread ovens were huge! They seriously went back at least 10 loaves of bread, and required massive bread paddles with long handles to pull freshly-baked bread out of the oven.20130609-212901.jpg

After seeing the kitchen, we got to sample some of the amazing pizza. As a former cheese addict, I always thought pizza had to have lots of cheese on it. This pizza, however, was a revelation. With a simple crust and excellent tomato sauce, both Jon and I thought it was some of the best pizza we have ever had.20130609-214532.jpg

You’d think we would be done at this point? So did we, but we were not. We went to Ristorante La Scala for some amazing pasta – Ravioli and mushroom fettuccine alfredo.
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Before our last food stop of the evening, we went to Farmacia Maria Della Scala. Closed in the 1960’s, this was an amazing glimpse into the past. We sniffed viper paste (literally made up of ground vipers and 40+ other ingredients), admired the old ingredients, and peered at the paintings of famous historical patrons. We weren’t able to take photos inside the Farmacia, so I can only share the exterior sign. It is most definitely worth a visit, if you happen to be wandering around in Trastevere.

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Finally, we wrapped up the tour with an amazing gelateria. Jon made better flavor choices than I did, but it was very interesting to learn the identifying characteristics of “real” gelato: the pistachio should be earthy green, not bright green; the mint should be white-ish and not bright green; and gelato that is mounded up way over the containers is not heavy enough to be real. This education probably saved us a few gelato calories in our wanderings through Italy!

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After the tour was wrapped up, Jon and I decided to walk back to our hostel. Although we walk all the time at night at home, we definitely don’t wander past 2000 year old ruins illuminated by moonlight!

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Potato Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce

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My crazy cooking last week wore me out! One night, Jon got wontons, and just a night or two later he was treated to potato gnocchi. Yikes! That is a lot of cooking for week nights, hence the delay in posting.

I started off by cooking the potatoes in the microwave (I was not about to wait 45 minutes for them to boil!), and then peeling off the skins as soon as I could handle them. I tend to pick things up when they are too hot, and the potatoes were no exception, so there was some blowing on my fingers! After I peeled and mashed up the potatoes (lacking a ricer, the “proper” method), I spread them out to cool, and then added salt, pepper, and allspice.

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Next I added in the flour and flax eggs to make the gnocchi dough. I shaped the gnocchi by making long ropes of dough, cutting it into smaller pieces, and then pushing each piece down the back of a fork. Eventually, I ended up with a flock of gnocchi. Not quite as graceful as the herd of wontons, but still pretty impressive.
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While the water was heating up to cook the gnocchi, I whipped up a simple tomato sauce, starting with onions and garlic and then adding in some roughly puréed tomatoes.
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I always like to have the sauce ready before the first batch of gnocchi is cooked because then I can just put the gnocchi directly into the sauce.

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Once the sauce was simmering away, I started cooking the gnocchi in batches. You can tell they are done when they float to the top of the boiling water.

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Finally all the gnocchi was done and ready to be eaten. Yum!

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Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

For the gnocchi:
3 large potatoes, boiled (or cooked in the microwave!)
2 flax eggs (2 Tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 6 Tbsp water)
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more as needed to form dough
1 tsp ground allspice
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:
1 onion, very finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp dried basil

Cook the potatoes using your desired method (hint: microwave is faster!), and remove the skins as soon as they are cool enough for you to handle. If you have a ricer, put the potatoes through the ricer and spread in a thin layer to continue to cool. If you don’t have a ricer, you can use a hand masher, but try to incorporate as much air as possible – you don’t want actual mashed potatoes! Allow the potatoes to cool.

In a large pot, boil water. Meanwhile, gather the potatoes together, and make a well in the middle. Pour the flax eggs into the well, and sprinkle 1 cup flour around the potatoes. Add the allspice, salt, and pepper. Using your clean hands, mix everything together. Continue to add flour until you have a soft dough that holds together and isn’t too sticky. You don’t want to add too much flour or mix the dough too much, or the gnocchi will be tough and dense. Dense gnocchi just isn’t as good!

Test the dough by pinching off a small amount and placing it into the boiling water. The dough should stay together and float to the surface in about 3-5 minutes. If your gnocchi falls apart and your dough is really moist, add more flour. If your gnocchi falls apart and the dough is really dry, you probably need to add a little extra water.

Start the tomato sauce by sautéing the onion and garlic until they are softened and flavorful. I wanted a smoother tomato sauce, so I used my immersion blender to mostly purée the diced tomatoes. You can skip this step if you want a chunkier sauce. Mix in the balsamic vinegar, basil, salt and pepper. Cover and allow to simmer while forming and cooking the gnocchi.

Separate the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into ropes about 3/4″ thick. Using a dough cutter, cut the ropes into 1/2″ segments. Using the back of a fork, push the gnocchi down the fork. You should get nice ridges on one side, and an indentation from your thumb on the other side.

Once all the gnocchi are formed and you’ve scraped all the extra potato mixture off your hands, cook the gnocchi in the salted boiling water in batches. Be sure to gently scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure none are sticking. The gnocchi will take 3-5 minutes to cook, and you’ll know they are done when they float to the top.

As each batch is finished, spoon the gnocchi directly into the tomato sauce. After all the gnocchi is finished, allow them to simmer in the sauce for a minute or two. Serve topped with freshly ground pepper and a little grated Parmesan, if you’re a cheese eater!