baked gnocchi with spinach & prosciutto

i fancy myself as more of a baker than a cook. mincing onions and garlic and searing meat will never have the same appeal as crumbling streusel topping over cake batter or swirling chocolate and cream together to make ganache. i don’t like eyeballing amounts and adding salt to taste nearly as much as i love teaspoons and tablespoons and cups and very precise directions.

 


but if there is a class of savory dishes that i take pleasure in making, it’s those of the bake-until-browned-and-bubbly sort. i guess that makes me a casserole kind of girl – though this one is no ordinary casserole.

it comes from a little booklet of recipes that came free with a magazine i bought when i went to australia. three months it had sat unnoticed, tucked among some other magazines stacked in my bedroom, but today the cover photo caught my eye. it seemed just the thing for dinner, with a cold glass of sparkling wine.


it is unbelievably fast to assemble, and the brief time it spends under the high heat of a broiler is actually what allows for the dish’s wonderful play of textures. plump, squidgy gnocchi (a pasta made with mashed potatoes) is coated in rich mascarpone cheese; fresh tomatoes – only slightly cooked – still pop with juicy sweetness; the spinach wilts just barely in the heat and keeps its vibrant green color; and salty ribbons of prosciutto twirl throughout the dish – a perfect companion to the crust of peppered parmesan on top of everything.

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[this is just the kind of meal you could put together on a weekday work night, fit snugly between your drive home from the office and the time when friends start showing up to gather on your couch and watch a favorite tv show. (personally, i’ve been missing my weekly dose of community.)]

note: i was able to find all the ingredients at my local trader joe’s.

Baked Gnocchi with Spinach & Prosciutto
adapted from a recipe in a free supplement to
Australian Good Food, April 2010
Serves 4


17.6 oz. package gnocchi
8 oz. tub mascarpone cheese
2 to 3 oz. prosciutto, cut into strips
6 oz. baby spinach
8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
ground black pepper
½ cup grated Parmesan

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Cook gnocchi according to directions on package. Drain. Transfer to a large bowl. Add mascarpone to hot pasta and stir until melted.
  3. Add prosciutto, spinach, and tomatoes and toss to combine. Transfer mixture to a 6-cup capacity baking dish (that will fit in the broiler). Season with pepper and top with parmesan.
  4. Cook in broiler about 3 inches from heat source for 4 to 5 minutes, until top is golden. Serve.

mustard-roasted fish

this recipe is a triple threat: easy, fast, and good. and on these late summer days, that is exactly what i want: less time in the kitchen, more time to be out in the backyard lingering and lunching under the patio table umbrella, for as long as the shade will stay.

the hardest thing about preparing this dish is chopping the shallots. everything else gets spooned out and stirred together and poured over slender fillets of fresh white fish.

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slide the pan into the oven, check your watch every ten minutes or so, and pretty soon you have something elegant and effortless: tender fish, cloaked in a creamy sauce, browned just around the edges of the pan, little kicks of salt in the capers, and just simply delicious.


Mustard-Roasted Fish
recipe by Ina Garten
Serves 4 to 6

4 (8-ounce) fish fillets such as red snapper {I used mahi-mahi the first time – though I had the best results with a type of fish called swai, which was not only inexpensive but also had a faintly sweet taste that i liked}
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces crème fraîche
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons drained capers

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (You can also use an ovenproof baking dish.) Place the fish fillets skin side down on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine the crème fraîche, 2 mustards, shallots, capers, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish fillets, making sure the fish is completely covered. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it’s barely done. (The fish will flake easily at the thickest part when it’s done.) Be sure not to overcook it! Serve hot or at room temperature with the sauce from the pan spooned over the top.

cake for a summer morning

summer is for unadorned pleasures: an evening stroll without a jacket, sweet cherries straight out of the bowl, bare feet in the grass… a single slice of butter cake to go with the morning sunlight.

…perhaps it’s just me that likes to have cake for breakfast, but seeing this peculiarity resurface is fine by me. this is me feeling like myself again.

i have, as i mentioned, been reading – voraciously now, for i think it may become a favorite – atonement. i am also – as is my other little habit – making my way through a second book, the help by kathryn stockett, which is set in the south in the 1960s. at the narrator’s first mention of caramel cake, my mind was swinging towards a recipe i remembered seeing once on the blog smitten kitchen. suddenly i needed to bake a cake. (which, by the way, is just the kind of whim i am apt to indulge in.) so in between chapters about minny and aibileen, i was setting eggs out on the counter, measuring buttermilk into a cup, and twisting up the knob on our old gas oven – also, i think, from the 1960s.

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summer fare is best left simple, though. as much as i love caramel and the idea of the stuff sliding down a cake in curtains of amber sheen, it just isn’t the season to be standing over a bubbling pot with a candy thermometer in hand. so for the golden round that was rising and baking in the oven, i had a vision of sliced strawberries on a small pillow of cream.

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simple as it was, this cake astounded me. its texture was just what i was dreaming of: soft as air and just moist enough to hold its crumb and slice beautifully. perfectly sweet and warmed through with the aroma of butter. i’m not sure i’ll need to try another yellow cake recipe again.

i will find reasons to bake this one again, and dream of different ways to dress it up, and get around to that originally-intended caramel glaze, i’m sure. but for these summer mornings, when i am lucky enough to linger as long as i like at the seat by the window, all i need is this one and an open book.

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Softest Butter Cake
recipe for caramel cake, repurposed, Gourmet, January 2008
found via smitten kitchen
Makes one 9-inch round cake

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper; then butter parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, and then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  3. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, and then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment; then cool completely, about 1 hour.

for now, a book

it was perhaps not the worst year in my recorded history, but the job that brought on such bottled-up strife and which frustrated so many of my sweetest plans is quite over now. i really didn’t mean to be so vague when i alluded to it that one time; i meant to explain it all much sooner – but that’s what that was all about. i am unemployed free.

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it will take some time yet to figure out for myself exactly what went wrong and where this leaves me. in the meantime, i have a lot of things i have spent the last year longing to have to myself – time; my thoughts; and today, the house. i already spent a glorious afternoon yesterday sitting underneath an umbrella in the backyard reading reading reading, only coming into the house to bring out a lunch of leftover pasta and top up my glass of ginger beer.
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(ok, ok, it was actually a glass of ginger beer and rum. details.)

i have a growing list of things i’d like to reacquaint myself with now that i have the time and the peace of mind. it makes sense that reading was the one item i chose to start with: heading on back to the ballet studio requires some physical stamina i do not have enough of yet; calling up old friends takes a bit of emotional muscle; but picking out a book from the bookshelf is and has always been effortless.

i went to a used book store and found just the story i wanted to get into: atonement by ian mcewan. i had watched the movie and it had stilled me to the core, not just because of the story it told, but because the way it was shot was simply stunning. every scene was so gorgeously, deliberately composed. and when i turned open the cover to read through the pages of my new-old book, i found the words to be no less striking – so perfectly chosen and deftly placed among each other, so clearly the work of a writer who knew exactly what he was doing. in lieu of my own self-assured steps, i will enjoy the sound of his.