July 18, 2011

Crispy Falafel with Tangy Yogurt Dressing

I had never made falafel before this, and in fact, I had only eaten falafel once. That was just a tiny, hesitant taste taken off a friend's place. To be honest, the idea of falafel was strange to me. What were these mystery nuggets that claimed to be made of chickpea? As much as I expected not to, I liked what I tried.

Hot summer nights call for dinners that are light and crisp, but hearty and interesting, as this falafel-salad is.

It's okay to lightly fry the falafel in oil. After all, these spicy, fragrant, and crispy nuggets are nesting atop a bed of healthy greens. The falafel's dominant flavors of smoky cumin and earthy turmeric instantly brighten with the zing of lemony yogurt sauce. Here, I drizzled the whole salad with generous dollops of the cool and creamy dressing, which is healthy and high in protein due to its yogurt base and takes barely a minute to whip together.

Admittedly, the only reason I ventured to try this recipe was that I had a bag of chickpea flour I wanted to get rid of. I am so glad I tried these falafel, though. Eating this salad was fun, and delicious, too. I know I'll be making them again, so it looks like I'll be buying more chickpea flour to replenish that supply I had wanted so badly to finish!

Crispy Falafel Patties: makes about eight 3-4 inch patties, or enough for 2-3 dinner salads.

1.5 cups chickpea flour plus extra for dusting
1 T. sea salt
2 t. cumin
1.5 t. turmeric
1 T. crushed garlic
1/4 cup hot water
1 t. baking soda
1 T. chili pepper, ground
1 t. mustard seed (a dollop of regular mustard will suffice)
1 t. garam masala
1 t. fresh ginger
2 T. finely chopped white or yellow onion
1/2 cup frozen spinach, defrosted and drained well

Vegetable oil for frying
Chopped lettuce and diced plum tomatoes for salad

Mix all of the ingredients except for the garlic, ginger, onions, and spinach in a bowl. Add the hot water and stir. Mix in the garlic, ginger, onions, and spinach and stir. Place in the fridge to cool until the mixture is slightly firm and easier to work with. Preheat a large skillet to medium heat with about 1 inch of oil. Meanwhile, dust a work surface with extra chickpea flour and scoop out a few tablespoons of mix at a time to form patties that are about 3/4 inch thick and 3 inches wide. Gently lower the patties into the oil and lightly fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Meanwhile, mix the yogurt dressing, as follows. To assemble salad, place diced tomatoes atop lettuce, then top with 3-4 falafel patties and drizzle generously with dresssing.

Creamy yogurt dressing: 6 oz. container plain non-fat yogurt, zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 t. dried basil or dill (or fresh if you have it), salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Whisk together until well blended.

Chef's Note: Next time I may try a hybrid of fresh chickpeas coarsely chopped in the food processor, and chickpea flour. This combination may lend itself to a somewhat meatier texture.

Breakfast Delight: Blueberry-Wheat Power Muffins

I am taking a break from my updates about eating in Italy because I've been cooking too many other things I want to share. But I'll be back with that, because boy have I got the best of recipes straight from the Amalfi Coast (think freshly made gnocchi in bright lemon-basil cream sauce, homemade vegetarian ravioli in pumpkin sauce, and delightful lemon cream desserts).

In the meantime I thought I'd share my daily breakfast. I recently started a new job and what I don't have time for is a sit-down bowl of cereal or oatmeal. What I do have time for is a deliciously soft, huge nugget of muffin. Healthy muffin that is. I can't imagine starting my day any other way.

These muffins are incredibly satisfying, and at the same time, extremely healthy. Healthy muffins can often turn out like dense, inedible hockey pucks... These are not so. They have a light, moist crumb, and a spongey texture laced with bursting and juicy fresh blueberries. Crunchy walnuts are the perfect hearty topping (no fattening sugar streusel here).

Plus, mine are baked in heart-shaped muffin molds, which brings just a little smile to my breakfast.

Oozing, fresh blueberries pop in every mouthful....

These muffins are made entirely from white-wheat flour, which I buy at Trader Joes, which is high in fiber and nutrients. Each muffin also contains barely any fat and is low in sugar, as the recipe uses two whole cups of yogurt for its sweet flavor and moisture. These are no-guilt muffins with all of a muffin's delights.

It's definitely a breakfast my day (and time crunch) can get behind.

Blueberry-Wheat Power Muffins:

2.5 cups white-wheat flour
1 cup quick cooking or instant oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
4 T. ground flaxseed (optional)
2 6-oz. containers vanilla non-or low-fat yogurt
1 6-oz. container blueberry non- or low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup reduced-fat milk
3 T. canola oil
2 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1.5 cups fresh blueberries
walnut pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in cupcake tin and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray. Sift together all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together all of the rest of the ingredients (wet), except blueberries and walnuts. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture well and mix lightly until barely incorporated. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Portion out tablespoons of mixture 3/4 of the way high in each cupcake tin. Lightly press walnut pieces on top of each muffin batter and bake until lightly golden and puffy, about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack 5 minutes, then carefully remove each muffin and cool completely on the rack.

July 6, 2011

Pasta Carbonara: A Beautiful Indulgence

While traveling in Italy we ate as many different bowls of Pasta Carbonara as places we visited. Carbonara refers to pasta traditionally tossed in the pan with egg yolks, parmesan cheese, and bacon or ham. Is there anything to complain about with that combination?

Here are two of my absolute favorites... these are the two carbonaras that made my heart truly skip a beat with every bite. Interestingly, they are both very different from each other.

The first is a creamy, utterly indulgent carbonara from enjoyed on Ischia:

Oh how wonderful it was! Each perfectly al-dente noodle of linguine was thickly coated with parmesan cream and speckled with fresh parsley. Each bite hid huge hunks of smoky, savory guanciale. Yes, this portion was pretty much family-sized, and yes, I did eat the entire plate myself. 

Then, my other favorite carbonara was vastly different and yet still almost caused me to cry out in declaration that it was, indeed, the ultimate and best carbonara. But, I still felt I could not forget the carbonara I had enjoyed in Ischa. And so they ended in a tie.

This carbonara was eaten at Hosteria Romana, our last meal in Rome. The restaurant is praised here in the New York Times, and now praised here again on Pumpkin Prose. Everything from our quirky waiter (who had enough antics up his sleeve to star in his own Broadway show) to the Italian locals enjoying a Friday night dinner made it a meal to remember. The carbonara came piping hot, and as the Times suggested, "originale". That is, served in the bowl the pasta is tossed in. 

The deep orange yellow sauce was strikingly beautiful (but not too beautiful to eat). Tiny chunks of crisp and crunchy, almost burnt, and intensely salty bacon had Matt and I rolling our eyes to heaven in disbelief and wonder. I was delighted when the bowl "originale" was served to me. I even made the ultimate sacrifice and generously shared the end of the bowl with Matt (that is love!)

It was clear that this carbonara focused on a yolk-heavy sauce base while the carbonara in Ischia focused on the parmesan and may have even used cream. I did discover that while I loved both, I do enjoy carbonara best when it is served with a flat and wider noodle such as lingine or fettucine rather than spaghetti. This way, the sauce is able to cling to the surface of every noodle, which truly is the ultimate goal of this Italian dream dish.

Basic Pasta Carbonara: (adapt as you like)
1/2 lb. fresh fettucine or linguine (store bought or home-made)
8 oz. pancetta or guanciale, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 whole eggs or 4 egg yolks, room temp.
6 tablespoons or more Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1 t. freshly ground pepper
2 t. salt
2 t. butter
2 t. olive oil
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat a pot of salted water over high heat. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until barely al-dente. Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan, then add the pancetta and cook until it is barely crisped. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese, and pepper. Keep the bowl near the stove to keep the eggs warm. When the pasta is just al-dente, reserve a small amount of cooking liquid and drain the rest. Add the pasta into the saute pan with the pancetta, then pour the egg mixture in at once, tossing very quickly to combine. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Add more cheese and pepper, and some reserved cooking liquid if necessary, to thin the sauce. Top with parsley. Eat immediately.


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