Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

We often speak as though we must earn the right to enjoy our lives.  The pleasures of being alive are couched in this language of deserving.  It can be as innocuous as thinking I've been working really hard this week, I deserve to buy this thing -- dress, bottle of olive oil, what have you -- or it can be as dangerous as This person has hurt me deeply, (s)he doesn't deserve to be happy.  Who am I to say what I, or anyone else, deserve?  My buying whatever thing isn't really connected to how hard I've worked this week, and someone else's happiness isn't really connected to what they've done to me.  I want to buy X, so I moralize why I should have it -- and I want X person to be unhappy, so I moralize why it should be so.  

No matter the extent to which we are religious or philosophical, we as individuals hold our own moral codes -- and we can see them in action when we talk about what we, and those around us, deserve.  This moralizing becomes tricky when we look at these scenarios another way.  What happens when I want this thing, but I don't have the money or This person was horrible to me, but look at how happy (s)he is.  What about what I deserve?  What about what that person deserves?  I've decided that, for me, it's healthier to stop myself from moralizing, and ask the real questions behind what I deserve.  Is this (buying X or wanting X to be unhappy) worth my money/time/effort?  Do I have the money/time/effort to spend?  If I am completely willing and able, I don't need to couch my decisions, to buy something or put something behind me, in this language of morality.  I make the decision and follow through -- that's it.  

I'm sure you didn't come here for my philosophical musings, and so, I present you with cake.  This is no ordinary cake -- it starts like a bread, with yeast.  It's a traditional pastry from Florence, ubiquitous in bakeries around the time of Carnival, in late February.  It's scented with orange and vanilla, and is an excellent snack with coffee for these sunny, melty days, when the air feels more like spring -- wet and smelling like new grass -- but still holds on to the chill of winter.  This also happens to be the perfect time to buy yourself tulips, because you can, and you are more than completely willing.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

2 1/2 c (300 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 ounces (20 grams) fresh yeast dissolved in some warm water (or 7 grams instant dry yeast bloomed in some warm water)
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) lard (or, less traditional, softened butter)
1/2 c (100 grams) sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Powdered bittersweet cocoa for dusting (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and yeast (along with the water) until you have a dough.  The original recipe didn't specify a specific amount of water, but you can start around 1/2 c.  Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.

In another bowl, beat together the lard (I went the less traditional route with butter), sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt until well combined.  Add the butter mixture into the yeast dough and beat until combined.  Place the dough in a buttered rectangular tin, cover with a clean towel, and let rise for 2 more hours.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F before the dough has finished rising.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.  Once cooled completely, dust liberally with powdered sugar.
If you are feeling crafty, cut out a mask of the Florentine lily and dust with cocoa powder. 

Baked Sweet Potato Falafel

Friends, it's spring break.  And Chicago says: WOOHOOOO SPRING BREAK TAKE YOUR HOODS AND SCARVES OFF YEAHHHH!!!!  Because can I tell you something gross?  It snowed here last night.  What even.

Also, I can't take credit for the anthropomorphism of Chicago -- my roommate Alexander gets all the snaps for that one.  It's just so fitting that I had to use it.  We've been bro-ing around the apartment this weekend, watching Netflix and eating and pretending that we don't have papers we should be writing (for my fourth year roommates, their BA deadlines are approaching, and I have grant proposals to be working on -- oh well).  And I've been on a cooking spree of epic proportions.  Last night's gem was an awesome apple cake from Luisa of The Wednesday Chef, which was completely devoured before I could even take pictures.  I also made a traditional Italian orange-scented, yeast-based cake called Schiacciata alla Fiorentina yesterday that you'll see a post for soon.  Homemade ricotta cheese and pasta will be turned into lemon herb agnolotti from Kelsey of Happy Yolks tonight for dinner (I'm terribly excited to see how this turns out, it's involved a lot of labor), and I plan to make the super delicious sesame bread I made last spring break again.  And, of course, the star of this post, sweet potato falafel were made and devoured for lunch today.  

Like I said, a cooking spree.  And not soon enough.  I've been so neglectful of my need for cooking this past week, with studying for finals and writing grant applications and generally soaking in the depression that seeps out of all the campus libraries during this week of every quarter.  I came home on Friday after all of my responsibilities were done for the week, and cleansed myself by cleaning all 3 of our apartment's bathrooms with an alarming amount of bleach (but damn, those showers are sparkling now, let me tell you).  These are small victories that snap me out of the too-lazy-to-function zone I can fall into when finals week hits, and remind me that cooking is something integral to my being a well-functioning human.

Baked Sweet Potato Falafel (for 4 people)

2 medium sweet potatoes, cooked, cooled, and peeled (I roasted mine at 425 degrees F for an hour or so until soft)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 big handfuls of fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Scant cup (120g) chickpea flour
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper

To be served with:

4 pitas, warmed
2-4 avocados, sliced length-wise
2-3 carrots, peeled
2 handfuls parsley leaves, whole
Juice of half a lemon
Splash of olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
Couple dashes hot sauce 
Salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, mash the cooked sweet potatoes with cumin, garlic, coriander, fresh cilantro, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the chickpea flour and mix until completely incorporated.  Let the mixture chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  If the mixture seems too wet (it should be sticky and hold its shape when you mold it), add a little more flour.  The sweet potatoes vary in how much water they contain, and yours may not be the same size as mine were, so use your judgment.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil, then roll heaping tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on the pan.  The original recipe said it would make 18 falafel, but I ended up with 28 pretty good-sized ones, so it's really up to you what size you make them.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-25 minutes, until the falafel are firm and the bottoms are golden brown.

Meanwhile, prep the sides.  Warm the pitas in the oven during the last couple minutes of cooking.  In a medium bowl, use a vegetable peeler to create thin ribbons of carrot.  Toss the carrot ribbons with parsley (I left the leaves whole, just pull them off the stems), a squeeze of lemon juice (around a quarter of the lemon), a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Slice the avocado and set aside.  In another bowl, whisk together the tahini, the remaining lemon juice, salt and pepper, and enough water to create a sauce.  

When the falafel are done, cut the pitas in half and stuff them with the carrot-parsley salad, avocado, and a couple falafel, then top with the tahini sauce.  

Cannellini Bean Pasta

I felt incredibly inspired to cook and photograph today.  Even with the fleeting promise of spring buried under yet another snowfall, and the illusion that I am on top of my work confronted with the reality of finals week, there was so much gentle, beautiful sunlight this afternoon.  I couldn't wait to be barefoot in the living room, styling my food, taking pictures.  As I walked home, splashing through slush and bowing under branches laden with snow, the light streamed through the trees and warmed my face, lifted like a sunflower toward the sky.   

I set my groceries on the counter and went to work, fixing dinner.  I felt the weight of the chef's knife in my hand and the warm, tomato-infused steam against my face.  There was nothing else, just me and my hands and my meal coming to life in the late sun.  

The tall windows in our living room captured the soft edges of the afternoon light and scattered them across the floor, across the tables and chairs, across my arms and hands.  My world was still and quiet, and bright.  I was so at peace. 

Cannellini Bean Pasta

1 pound pasta (I used the gemelli shape, but it doesn't really matter)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced in half moons
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Palmful of capers
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
~1 c ground tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
~1/2 c water
1 bunch beet greens and stems, washed and sliced
Shaved parmesan cheese, to taste

Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add in the sliced onion with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 5-10 minutes until softened and beginning to caramelize.  Toss in the beans and capers, cooking for ~2 minutes until they've begun to incorporate with the soft onion, then add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water.  Simmer until the sauce has begun to thicken and reduce, and the onions are beginning to melt.

Once the water has come to a boil and you've begun to cook the pasta, fold the beet greens and stems into the tomato mixture.  Stir frequently to wilt down the greens and incorporate them into the sauce.  With the pasta cooked and drained, add it back into the hot pot and cover with the bean mixture.  Serve with shards of parmesan cheese (unless you want this to be vegan or are not keen on cheese).  

Pudla with Cauliflower and Thai Chili Chutney

This too shall pass.

Until then, Ghirardelli chocolate squares are on sale at CVS.  So there's that.

Llevame lejos desde aquí.

Pudla with Cauliflower and Thai Chili Chutney
(Chickpea Flour Crepes)
from The Kitchn

1 head cauliflower, de-stemmed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
~1/4 c olive oil, divided
1 1/3 c chickpea flour
1 c water, plus more
1 1/2 c fresh parsley leaves, divided
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, divided
1 tablespoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons lemon juice, divided
3 Thai chilis
3 medium garlic cloves
1-2 plum tomatoes

In a medium bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, 3/4 c parsley, mint, 1 inch ginger (grated), 2 teaspoons salt, chili powder, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.  The original recipe called for 1 c water, but I ended up adding at least another 1/2 c to my batter (Maybe because my flour is old?  I have no idea.) -- just use your judgment.  If you think it's going to be too thick to spread easily in a thin layer in a hot pan, you should add more water.  Let this mixture sit for at least a half hour, or up to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Slice the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, then toss in a bowl with a couple tablespoons olive oil, cumin, caraway seeds, and a teaspoon of salt.  Roast in a sheet pan until softened inside, crispy and browned on the outside.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into a small dice.  Let them marinate in a bowl with the other teaspoon of lemon juice while you finish preparing the rest of the dish.  In a food processor, blend the remaining 3/4 c parsley, 1/2 inch ginger, chilis, and garlic into a paste.  Set aside in a bowl for serving

Once your batter has sat for long enough and your cauliflower is almost done cooking, heat a nonstick pan coated with cooking spray (or canola oil) over high heat.  Once it's screaming hot, reduce the heat to medium-high and add around 1/3 c of batter into the pan.  Tilt it around immediately to distribute the batter in a thin, even layer.  Cook for 30 seconds to a minute on the first side, then flip and repeat on the other side.

To serve, you can rip the crepes like naan bread and use it to pick up the veggies, or use the veggies to fill the crepes and roll them up.  Either way, they're really satisfying.