This week’s theme could also be called “Trash to Treasure”. We saw how you can take every day, basic ingredients, even things you would have otherwise thrown away, and turned them into something great. Quality that you can’t buy at the store. So many packaged foods these days have become single “ingredients” to us – a jar of tomato sauce, a quart of chicken stock. We buy them because they are convenient. In reality, they are made up of tons of ingredients, many of which we cannot pronounce and we would never, ever use if we were making it ourselves. The sad thing is that making it yourself really isn’t “inconvenient”. And it’s fun too, see:
Ok, let’s take a closer look at store bought tomato sauce and chicken stock to prove out the point. I was browsing Ragu’s website and came across this:
A smooth, flavorful classic sauce. Ragú Old World Style® pasta sauces meet FDA guidelines for healthy.*
* To be considered “healthy” by the FDA, pasta sauce must be low in fat and saturated fat, contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium, and contain a minimum amount of certain nutrients.
A little more searching and I found the ingredients for their traditional Old World sauce flavored with meat…
tomato puree (water, tomato paste), vegetable oil (contains one or more of the following: soybean oil, corn oil), ground beef, high fructose corn syrup, salt, dried onions, extra virgin olive oil, Romano cheese (cow’s milk cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), spices, natural flavors.
Pretty much all of those things sound unappealing on their own, so how can they make up anything “good” mixed together?
What about chicken stock? It might be the most useful, versatile, and convenient “ingredients” you can keep around. One of the better brands you can buy at the store is Pacific Foods Organic Free-Range Low-Sodium Chicken Broth. Check it out:
Made with ingredients you can pronounce and with only 70mg of sodium.
We begin with free-range chickens raised on an organic vegetarian diet. Our mixture of simple ingredients is cooked together to create a foundation for a rich, delicious low sodium broth you didn’t have to prepare yourself.
Use as a base for more hearty soups, risotto, and pasta dishes or create your own amazing recipe.
And here are those “simple” ingredients:
Organic chicken broth (filtered water, organic chicken)
Organic chicken flavor
Natural chicken flavor (chicken broth, salt)
Organic evaporated cane juice
Autolyzed yeast extract
Organic onion powder
Homemade Chicken Stock
The measurements on this do not have to be exact. You can use ANY leftover vegetables to make a stock, even without the chicken. Replace the chicken bones with beef bones (marrow bones, knuckles, etc.) to make beef stock. Lamb bones to make lamb stock, etc.
Carcass from at least one chicken
2 medium carrots cut into thirds
2 onions, quartered, unpeeled
3 stalks celery, cut into thirds
2 parsnips, cut into thirds
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
10-15 sprigs each of fresh dill, parsley, and thyme.
2 teaspoons of whole peppercorns
Wash all vegetables, but leave unpeeled. Place chicken carcass, vegetables, herbs, and peppercorns in a large stock pot and fill with water. Simmer for 4-5 hours. The only attention the pot may need is to skim the foam or “impurities” off of the top every once in awhile. It’s an optional step, but produces a clearer broth. Once finished, pour the entire contents into a large fine meshed strainer suspended over a very large bowl or pot and discard the solids. Allow the broth to cool and separate into individual containers. Refrigerate overnight, skim any fat off the next day, if desired, and then move to the freezer. This makes anywhere from 6-9 quarts. I will add some water to stretch the broth as far as I can. Don’t dilute it too much, though!
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
I use farro flour, because it’s lighter in texture than whole wheat and is even better for you. To find out why click here. It may not be easy to find in a store. You can order it online here or substitute with wheat or spelt. Traditional gnocchi uses white potatoes, but I use sweet potatoes, as they are loaded with vitamins and they help balance your blood sugar. Don’t worry, they are nothing like the marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole you see at Thanksgiving! Made right, they are pillow-y little dumplings that are wonderful served with Bolognese sauce. And they only have 3 ingredients to boot. Gnocchi is somewhat ambitious for the beginner, but follow these tips and you will be successful: (1) Use hot potatoes and mash them very well, (2) Do not use too much flour! Only enough to form a soft dough, (3) Test a small piece of dough before rolling it all out by boiling it. If it falls apart then add more flour. If it is too dense then add a beaten egg; (4) Do not overwork the dough, and (5) Do not over boil. Once it floats (after 2-3 minutes), only boil for another minute.
1 lb. sweet potatoes
1 -2 cups flour farro flour (whole wheat pastry, white whole wheat, or whole spelt work)
Pinch of salt
Other fun gnocchi ideas:
- Add any fresh herb to the dough before rolling it out. Thyme or sage would go nice.
- Freeze them! After you have notched them but before you boil them, arrange them on the cookie sheet dusted with flour. Put the sheet in the freezer (make sure they are not touching each other) until frozen. Put them in a ziplock back. You want to make sure and freeze them individually, so they do not stick together. When you are ready to cook them, just drop them into the boiling water straight from the freezer. Do not thaw them first. Otherwise, you will end up with a mushy mess.
- Crispy gnocchi – After boiling, pan sear in skillet with oil or clarified butter until lightly browned. Serve with tomato sauce or toss with fresh herbs and parmesan cheese.
- Crisp finely chopped pancetta or bacon in pan. When finished cooking, add gnocchi and toss. Serve with parmesan or gorganzola cheese.
- Gnocchi Soup – In a large pot, saute an onion plus any other vegetables you want (green beans, carrots, celery, bell peppers – any or all of this would be good). Add about 2 quarts of chicken stock (preferrable homemade) and bring to a boil. Add the gnocchi and cook as you would in water. Do not remove them, though. When they are done, just remove from heat and add fresh herbs, salt and pepper.
This is a very thick and hearty meat sauce that simmers for two hours, but requires very little effort. For a 30 minute version use a can of organic crushed tomatoes, as opposed to the whole peeled tomatoes. It won’t be as tender and luscious as the two hour version, but still delicious. If you save the rind from parmesean cheese, toss it into the sauce while it’s simmering. It will add a rich undertone of parmesean that can’t be beat. I like to use a potato masher occasionally during the two hour simmerring period to really break up the meat and tomatoes.
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stock, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 lb. grass-fed beef
1/2 cup white wine (red would also work or use more stock, if preferred, in place of wine)
1 cup chicken stock, preferrable homemade
1 can whole peeled organic tomatoes, drained (Note: The best tomatoes are canned whole and the rest are ground and diced. If you want the best, go with whole).
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup milk or cream
Pour oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrot, and celery and cook until they begin to soften. Next add the ground beef and garlic and raise heat to medium high. As the meat browns, break up into small pieces. Once the meat is browned add wine, if using, and turn heat back down. Allow the wine to cook down.
Meanwhile, crush tomatoes with your hands in a bowl or run through the food processer. Add them to the pot after the wine has cooked down a bit (only a couple of minutes) along with the chicken stock, herbs, and crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to simmer for an hour and a half, mashing and stirring occasionally with a potato masher. Add more chicken stock if the sauce, if needed. This is supposed to be a very thick sauce.
After an hour and a half add the milk and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over pasta.