Gnocchi & Spinach Sauce

Folks. I am very happy about this piece. It’s very different than Cooking by Heart videos we’ve made in the past and I think you’ll enjoy it. This piece documents the gnocchi recipe of an Italian friend of Dominique Sarthe.  The spinach sauce was invented deep in the mind cogs of Domi’s husband, Cyril Sarthe.

Paul and I met the Sarthe’s in their hometown of Cassagnabere-Tournas, France, where we spent the month of March WWOOFing on their farm. Being that it was early spring, we planted everything from tomatoes to eggplants to squashes, spinach, lettuces, corn, leeks, basil, parsley, potatoes even peanuts. We harvested radishes, leeks, carrots, turnips, parsnips, celery, arugula, and spinach. It was wonderful to eat veggies that were so incredibly fresh. (WWOOFing is a great way to travel cheap – we work about 5 hours/day for room and board. See our travel blog here.) Luckily for us, Domi and Cyril know about good food. Before farming, they had another life as owners of a pizzeria near Toulouse. Now they live about an hour and a half south of Toulouse, in an old farmhouse that’s nestled into the rolling hills that dominate the area.  On a clear day, you can see the Pyrenees in the distance; it’s gorgeous. The Spanish border is about 2 hours away.

I should preface this story with the fact that Paul and I came to France speaking very little French. By very little, I mean we took a 101 class at Idlewild Bookstore in NY that met once a week for about 2 months. However, on March 1, we arrived at the nearby train station of Boussens where we first laid eyes on Cyril Sarthe. Bonjour was about all we could muster. Everything else came out all messed up. All we could do was smile. The drive was well a bit uncomfortable. Cyril drove home and we dragged our heavy backpacks up to the room that would be our bedroom. Cyril managed to convey to us that Domi would be home soon. It was a Thursday evening; she was at tango class. (what!?)

When Domi got home, she was all dolled up in her tango best and full of energy. Dinner preparations began. Cyril toasted pinenuts and crushed them in a wooden mortar and pestle. Domi boiled water for some fresh pasta and minced garlic. The nuts and garlic were mixed with basil they had preserved in olive oil from last summer. A bit of salt and voila. Handfuls of pasta topped with fresh pesto and handfuls of salad topped with nutritional yeast and vinaigrette made from sunflower oil and homemade cider vinegar.

Our conversation was limited and difficult. But we found ways to communicate. And each day, we could communicate a little more, and some days were impossible and some days were not so bad, but we learned a good deal, trial by fire style. We shared every meal with Domi and Cyril, we slept across the hall, we shared the same bathroom, shower, everything. We spent a lot of time together. And it was tough sometimes. But in the end, it was probably the best thing for our French and we all got to know each other well.

Domi and Cyril work hard. They are certified organic farmers who live almost entirely off their plot of land – with a few exceptions like coffee and chocolate. They’ve got a couple of pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and sheep. They also have two doggies and five cats, but not for eating. Domi sells their veggies and homemade products like canned tomatoes and apple juice at the market each Saturday in Muret. And each Wednesday evening, clients would stop by to pick up veggie baskets as part of a CSA (called an AMAP here). We would spend Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for the CSA; Thursday and Friday preparing for Saturday’s market. There was always work to be done.

It was maybe three weeks in, when we started talking about what recipe we could document. Domi and Cyril liked this one because they each prepare a piece of it and it’s one of their favorites. The music is by Django Reinhart, who I know they both love, and the track is called Honeysuckle Rose. Hope you enjoy!

 

Merci beaucoup, Domi et Cyril! xxo

Potato Latkes & Applesauce

Are you ready to witness a top notch Chanukah recipe passed from one generation to the next? That’s how we do! It was a special treat to shoot with  NY chef, teacher and cookbook author Peter Berley and his daughter Emma Jean at Peter’s teaching kitchen on the North Fork of Long Island. For those of you who are not familiar with latkes, you don’t know what you are missing! They are also known as potato pancakes, they taste incredible with applesauce, but it is also very common for folks to eat them with sour cream or even a bit of both. You can serve them on their own for a snack or as a side dish with dinner. They are delicious.

Peter Berley’s beautiful new teaching kitchen in Jamesport, NY

Like Emma Jean and Peter himself, I grew up glopping lots of applesauce onto my latkes so I am excited to have learned how to make applesauce from scratch! Latkes are a fried food but Peter has found a way of keeping them from being heavy. His latkes are light, fluffy and crunchy all at once. I’ve seen other recipes that call for 1/2 inch of oil or more but I think Peter’s shallow fry, or pan fry, is the way to go. There are many latke recipes out there, but this one may take the cake. I had the pleasure of sampling the goods and they were the best. I could have eaten ten.

You can make the applesauce and latkes simulaneously. Get your apples cooking first, then you’ll have plenty of time to prep your latkes. Before you begin frying latkes, mill your apples so your latkes can be served up hot and fresh as possible. Peter also suggests turnip latkes or adding a bit of grated carrot, or chopped scallion or chives to the mix. Have fun, experiment and let us know what you think!

Applesauce:

(makes about 2 quarts)

Ingredients :
5 pounds red apples (cortlands are best but can also use
McCoons, Empires, Galas or others)

Method:
1. Wash the apples. Halve core and slice into 2 inch chunks (do not peel them!)
2. Place the apples in a heavy pot and bring to a simmer over high heat, give
them a few stirs to prevent scorching.
3. Lower the heat and cover the pot. Cook gently until they turn soft and juicy,
about 30-40 minutes.
4. Puree the apples in a hand cranked food mill.
5. Serve alone, atop latkes or any way you like!

Notes on Applesauce:
If an apple (or pear) is on it’s way out, getting soft or over ripe, it’s a good time to sauce it.
When making applesauce, use a heavy pot – in a thin one, apples will burn before they sauce.
In addition to the pink color the skins provide, Peter keeps the skin on his apples for the pectin, which is just under the skin of apples. Pectin has a thickening effect on the sauce.
You can add cinnamon once the apples are cooked, but that doesn’t go so well with latkes.
Your applesauce will keep for 1-2 weeks in the fridge without any preserving method.

Potato Latkes

(makes 10-12 latkes)

Ingredients:
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1 cup onion, coarsely grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 cup ( or more ) vegetable oil or shmaltz

Method:
1. Fill a large bowl with cold water.
2. As you grate the potatoes and onions transfer them to the water (this prevents them from turning
brown).
3. Drain the potatoes & onion mixture and place in a large to a clean towel. Ring out as much water as
you can. You can also do this by hand in batches.
4. Transfer the potato-onion mixture to a large bowl and stir in the beaten egg, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Heat a large skillet with 4 tablespoons of oil until hot but not smoking.
6. Fill a 1/2 cup measuring cup with potato mixture and press out excess liquid back into the bowl.
Add the mixture to the pan and flatten into a 3 inch round with a spatula.
7. Fry 3-4 pancakes at a time or whatever amount will fit comfortably in the pan without overcrowding it.
Cook until golden brown on each side. Drain the pancakes on brown paper. Season with a little salt.
8. Serve immediately or drain on a wire rack and keep warm in a 300 degree oven.

Notes on Latkes:
For this recipe, do not use extra virgin olive oil. Extra light pure olive oil, safflower or canola oil are best.
Once pan is hot, keep flame low.
You can make the grated potato mixture a day ahead. Keep it in the fridge with plastic directly on the grated mixture so no air gets to it.
If preparing latkes for a crowd, you can keep them in warm oven around 200.
If you are vegan, can use flour instead of egg to help bind the latkes.

 

Thank you Emma Jean and Peter! And as usual, thank you Sintalentos, Trokon Nagbe, and Mister Helzer. And thank you Momma and Pops Helzer for lending us the car so we could shoot this piece! Also merci, Domi et Cyril, pour le pomme et le pomme de terre ;). As for music credits: Meg’s Shopping Spree (Take Without Giving) and The Fall of Benson Mining by Sven Libaek; Something Elated by Broke for Free; Kolomeiko by Tres Tristes Tangos; Leno by Vlada Tomova Balkan Tales.