With an entire free week on my hands, I began collecting recipes that I wouldn’t be able to pull off in a weeknight or weekend. And what better way to learn from it all than documenting it? So here is a week’s worth of adventurous cooking, from making gnocchi from scratch to sprouting lentils over the course of four days.
On the first day of the week, I had planned to make roti, an Indian-style flatbread interpreted by the chef of The Progress in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I did not read ahead in the recipe and failed to notice that the dough must rest overnight. Nevertheless, I made the dough substituting the 1 cup pastry flour/ 1 cup AP flour for all AP flour. I also switched the 1/2 cup creme freiche for sour cream because that’s all I had. The dough didn’t completely come together, but I proceeded with the recipe while anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s meal.
Before I realized the dough had to rest, I had already made what I planned to serve the roti with. At the restaurant, it’s served with a black-truffle ranch dressing made with oil infused with sunchokes. They shave black truffles, pecorino cheese, and sprinkle chervil on top. But, because black truffles were more than a little out of my price point, I devised my own toppings to smother the flatbread with: a creamy eggplant spread with a “mousse”-like texture and a homemade mayonnaise flavored with a basil oil.
The basil oil recipe (via ChefSteps) took some time and didn’t result in the smoothest product, more like a very thin pesto, it still tasted clean and herbaceous, just as I had wanted.
I used the freshest, smallest eggplants I could find at the farmer’s market which may not have been the best idea. Using four (minus the skins) resulted in only around 1/4-1/2 cup of puree, however I can assume they’re probably somewhat more flavorful than the supermarket variety.
Not feeling the satisfaction of having made something I could eat that day, I went about making a tomato salad with minuscule tomatoes and spindly mitzuna from SCLT. I halved and quartered the tomatoes, scooped out the seeds, and filled them with the basil mayonnaise. I took some ricotta cheese, thinned it with some half and half (you could use cream) and schmeared it across the plate. I dressed the mitzuna with a dash of olive oil and lemon arranged on the ricotta cream and garnished with the tomatoes. Maybe not a from-scratch roti, but still pretty delicious!
Starting the day off…Well, I didn’t actually have much of a start, beginning the day at 12:00. There goes plans for making gnocchi!
I did however make peanut milk, or at least begin to make peanut milk. Another two-day process, the milk production begins with roasting off unsalted peanuts to provide an aromatic, darkly roasted product. Add them to a saucepan with some cream, milk, half a vanilla bean, and some dark brown muscavado sugar. Simmer for 45 minutes and then into the fridge, with vanilla bean and all (I failed to notice this) for an overnight steep.
I also made the roti, fully rested all night and day. The end result? Awe-some. I seared the flatbread off in a cast-iron pan for 30 seconds on each side, resulting in a blister-y soft texture bringing to mind naan with a denser chew. I topped it with the basil mayo, eggplant mousse, grated pecorino cheese, and some parsley. Pretty darn tasty.
On Wednesday, I set off on two dessert dishes. First up, completing the peanut milk. I took the milk and peanuts and poured them into a blender (now would be the time to discard the vanilla bean, unless you already did like me) and whizzed them together for a few minutes. I then strained the milk, but it had a slightly gritty, just barely chunky texture. So, I blended it and strained it again. It was still a little thick but I figured that there wasn’t much else to do to change that, so into the fridge it went.
While not included in the recipe, I’d seen pictures of the milk and read a glowing article dedicated to it, so I knew it was served with a couple teaspoons of the muscavado sugar. I made my own caramel-y syrup by simply dumping a bit of the sugar into a sauce pan, adding a splash of water, and a tablespoon or two of water. I cooked it just until it started to bubble and thicken.
The finished peanut milk was good, but certainly not “world peace”. A drizzle of the syrup added sweetness to the nutty, creamy milk. If I made it again, I would certainly pay more attention to the cooking of it.
Second dessert of the day: buttermilk panna cotta from the Mission Street Food cookbook. Ingredients: heavy cream, buttermilk, sugar, lemon, gelatin. Pretty simple, especially after making the laborious peanut milk. All I had to do was heat up the cream and sugar until the sugar dissolved, stir in the gelatin, and then add it to the buttermilk and lemon juice. Then, simply portion into some containers (I used ramekins) and refrigerate overnight.
I only waited a few hours to try it which resulted in a deflated, yogurt-like consistency that puddled on a plate. (Note: Wait longer next time.) The taste was good, much higher on the lemony, tangy flavor than the creamy, sugary richness. I might cut down the lemon juice next time, but garnished with some macerated berries and muscavado syrup, it was still delicious.
Having wanted to make scones again this week, fresh blueberries from Schartner’s Farm proved to be the perfect incentive. They gently deflated into the dough, perfectly complimenting the caramelized scones‘ lightly sweet flavor.
Ricotta gnocchi from J. Kenji Lopez Alt sounded dead simple. Not so. The dough was loose, barely holding together and my scale shut off the moment I looked back at the recipe. The taste? Not quite as I imagined, but still delicious. Ricotta is barely held together by eggs, flour, and parmesan, begging for a flavorful sauce that clings to the tender pasta.
By far the most labor-intensive dish of the week, Bar Tartine’s Lentil Croquettes are not something you whip up on a weeknight. In fact, it’s not something you’d be able to make on a weekend. Sprouting the lentils takes three or four days (a week if you did it wrong, like me). I didn’t make every component myself; a unique aspect of the cookbook is that it reads like a restaurant bible of recipes for sweet onion powder, farmer’s cheese, kefir cream, fermented honey, and more (and those are just the from-scratch ingredients used for the croquettes). If you try to follow all of the sub-recipes, you’ll probably drive yourself crazy or just give up on it before you start. But if you substitute ricotta for farmers cheese as they suggest, use supermarket spices, etc. the book becomes an exacting, yet rewarding challenge.
The finished croquettes were super-crispy and worked well with the yogurt I substituted for the kefir sauce and the beet puree I made instead of the watercress sauce. Garnished with some of the sprouted lentils and whatever fresh herbs or greens you have, the dish becomes truly memorable (it brought to mind falafel).
Best Dish: Lentil Croquettes
Biggest Surprise: Roti
Biggest Letdown: Peanut Milk
Try Again: Ricotta Gnocchi