Monday, July 20, 2009


I know I promised 2 ricotta recipes and I'm a bad person and only posted one. So, better late than never I'm posting one more.

Everyone knows Gnocchi.... the tradtional northern italian potato pasta. It is heavy and delicious almost like a dumpling. The perfect wintertime treat.

Well, in Florence they do it differently - Ricotta Gnocchi. Its light, fluffy, and delicious. Here is my version of the recipe.

You will need about 16 ounces of the ricotta that you made, or 16 ounces of a high quality ricotta from the store. Depending on how wet your rictta is you may need to drain it. If your ricotta is very wet (sometimes the homemade kind is) place it in some cheese cloth and press it. Try to get as much liquid out as possible.

Add one egg to your ricotta once you have it dry. The egg is the "binder" in your pasta. Fold in about 3/4-1cup of a dry cheese like parmesan (more mild) or pecorino if youre looking for a bolder flavor. Season your dough with salt, black pepper, and if you want a chiffonade of fresh parsely.

You will also need about 3/4 to 1 cup of CAKE flour. Cake flour is lower in gluten and will result in a lighter gnocchi. Fold in the cake flour with the cheese mixture. Do this slowly as you may not need all the flour - or you may need more. Gnocchi is really something you learn to make by "feel"

My method is this - form the "dough" into a big ball and put it on the table. Poke your finger into the ball and pull it back out. If your finger leaves a dent and but the dough still feels a bit sticky you've got it right.

Be sure not to overwork your dough as it will get tough. The best way to make gnocchi for the first time is by trial and error and a little bit of patience. Before you even start rolling your dough get a large pot of boiling SALTED water going so you can test your pasta. Once you have your dough the way you think you want it sprinkle a little flour on your work surface and roll out logs of dough about 3/4" thick. Cut the dough into 3/4" long pieces. I then like to pinch the dough into a little "pillow" shape. I find it holds the sauce better and looks cute! Put one gnocchi into the boiling water and wait until it starts to float. Once it floats another 2-3 minutes and you're ready to test. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon or a "spider." Taste it. If it falls apart in your mouth you may need a little more flour. If its too "doughy" maybe you over-did it and should add some more cheese. Like I said, making gnocchi for the first time is trial and error. So, adjust as needed and then finish cooking your gnocchi.

Once all your gnocchi is cooked remove it from the water and toss with a little bit of olive or canola oil. I like to lay it out in a single layer so it doesn't stick together. The gnocchi is best served right after cooking but you can also refrigerate it for a couple days.

For this delicately flavored gnocchi you don't want to drown it in a heavy sauce. Ricotta combines very nicely with fresh peas so I would reccomend making a pea coulis to accompany the gnocchi.

For the coulis you will need fresh or frozen peas and a nice vegetable stock. Simply blend the peas and the vegetable stock until you get a nice nappe consistency. Then strain through a fine mesh strainer and season with salt and black pepper. If you want to make the sauce a bit more rich you can also blend in some butter until it emulsifies.

When you're ready to serve heat some olive oil in a pan and add the gnocchi. Saute until they begin to crisp lightly on the outside. Add your sauce and rehduce the heat so your sauce doesn't break (especially if you added butter). You can serve the gnocchi just like this or you can go one step further... and I think you'll want to.

Split ripe heirloom tomatoes in half and sear on the grill until nice marks form. Set aside until they cool and remove the skin. Roughly chop the tomatoes and fold in thinly slice garlic, basil, salt, and black pepper. Form a mound of grilled tomato mixture in the bottom of a bowl and top with the hot gnocchi and pea coulis.


Note- the gnocchi above is shown with a piece of cripsed parmesan cheese and micro opal basil as garnish.

What is HR 2749?

Awhile ago I posted a link on my facebook urging people to read and understand HR 2749. Maybe you missed it - so I'm going to break down HR 2749 for you the way I understand it.

HR 2749 or the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 is an attempt to address the problems with factory farming in the United States. But, the way it is now the only thing this bill will do is undermine the few good things we have left in American agriculture - the small farmers producing for our local markets.

Upon first look the bill poses as a way to address the rising problems of contaminaton from foodborne pathogens as a result of the reliance on industrialized farming in the United States. All the contamination issues we have seen in the last few years have been linked to huge factory farming establishments. Not once has a small farmer been linked to an outbreak. Yet, HR 2749 will drive small farmers from endangered species to extinct.

For example, in this bill the FDA will require industrialized agriculture facilities and farmers to register and pay yearly fees. If a small farmer choses to make jam and sell it at the local farmers market he will be required to register with the FDA and pay a $500 fee. The food giant Del Monte will be required to do the same. This bill offers no consideration of the size of the company when assessing fees.

The Federal oversight of small farmers is over-reaching and overbearing in this bill. I understand that disgusting, dirty, filth-ridden factory farms need to be scrutinized. But really, must we make life even harder for the men and women who are trying to keep us healthy and vital by being stewards to the land and providing us with delicious local foods?

Another reality of this bill is the complete disregard for religion when it comes to Amish farmers. Under this bill all producers will be required by law to register electronically with the FDA. Amish farmers are already saying they refuse to register as it violates their religious beliefs. Religion doesn't matter to HR 2749. If a farmer knowingly violates a provision of the bill he or she can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.

Most importantly, the bill does not even address the underlying cause of food safety problems which is our reliance on industrialized agriculture. Rather than breaking up these food giants and taking America back to the small farmer the bill masks the problem with fees and registrations. Last time I checked $500 and mountains of paperwork won't keep e.coli from growing in a filthy factory. But hey, what do I know?

So, now that you know a bit more about HR 2749 please feel free and do more research on your own to get the whole scoop. You can find more information on this bill on Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund website at For even more information on HR 2749 please visit

Most importantly - TAKE ACTION. Please contact your congressman and senators and tell them how you feel about HR 2749. Fight for your right to eat real food. You can find your representatives by using the "finder" tool on or you can fill out the online petition against the bill at the following address and click on the link to Oppose HR 2749.

The High Cost of Cheap Food

My mom sent me this article written by a woman named Megan Nix for the Denver Post. It is one of the most well-written and easy to understand articles I have seen to date regarding the "food safety" bills. I hope she doesn't mind me re-posting it here. Enjoy

The High Cost of Cheap Food
I used to find Flaming Hot Cheetos, bagged pickles, and the occasional plate of fried chicken in my classroom when I taught Senior English in Louisiana.
I allowed some of my students to eat at their desks after lunch. I had to; there were three pregnant seniors in my fourth period.
Shayna, who was in her third trimester during her last semester of high school, mostly snacked on packets of those horribly orange peanut butter crackers. Over half of my class was obese. After pizza or macaroni or hamburgers from the cafeteria, they'd fall asleep against their will, come to, apologize, then nod off again.
My students were kids who carried iPhones and wore brand-name shoes. Eighty percent were black, 98 percent were low-income. They'd been raised to look as good as they could, but eat as cheaply as possible.
For awhile, you can ignore poverty in schools, outbreaks of cookie dough E. coli, and the fact that 27 percent of our country's children are obese. But they're all connected — and these layers of bad news will eventually weigh one down.
I found this statistic a little harder to overlook: For the first time in 200 years, today's children have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Unhealthy school lunches are certainly one reason. Here's another: Most of our food comes from huge factory farms that are government-subsidized to produce food products quickly but not nutritiously.
A partial list of Health and Human Service's recalled foods so far this summer include:
• Lewis Laboratories' chocolate flavor nutrition drink;
• C.F. Sauer gravies and sauce mixes;
• Publix Brand chocolate and vanilla whey protein;
• Malt-o-Meal Maple & Brown Sugar; and
• Three types of seasonings from Kroger.
There aren't any unfamiliar family names up there because smaller, organic farms abide by the rules of nature: You are stewards of your stock; you allow the soil to regenerate; and you don't add dry milk and MSG to everything, then recall it a month later. You learn the names of the plants you're eating, and you connect a chicken sandwich to a living thing with feathers — something the fifth- grade students I worked with couldn't do. The bigger farms are the ones responsible for the litany of gone-wrong products.
The most recent "good news" is that the FDA is pushing for "preventative process controls" through the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 (HR 875) and the Food Safety Enhancement Act (HR 2749), in order "to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness and ensuring the safety of food." Problem is, the process controls the government will deem as necessary will likely be too expensive for small organic farmers who are doing more to keep this country healthy than the huge agribusiness companies (Tyson, Sedexho, Hormel) who can buy bigger freezers and continue to sell nicely wrapped crap.
What the passing of HR 875 and 2749 could mean is a loss of organic, small-farm options and a reduction of both the shopper's autonomy and the good things that are happening in the food world today.
Endangered are farmers' markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and programs like the Farm to Cafeteria initiative, which fills cafeterias with fresh heads of lettuce and teaches kids that accountability can mean nurturing little green lives. These programs banish the resentment often extended toward the gourmet, neo-hippie organic movement. Supplying cafeterias with local organic food isn't fancy; it's cheaper than skipping lunch. In the long run, our tax dollars wouldn't subsidize the petroleum that keep factories surging, trucks transporting our tomatoes, and our health insurance bills skyrocketing.
In the long run, I would like for Shayna's little girl to have a banana when she's hungry in the afternoon and dirty fingernails from digging in a garden, not a chin covered in garish orange crumbs.
Are these aspirations likely? One in three children today will develop Type 2 diabetes (one in two if they're black or Hispanic). It's partly because we aren't eating diversified foods anymore, and the FDA's new plans to protect factory farms will ensure that we continue to eat a fairly homogenized diet of refined sugars.
According to Vandana Shiva, an Indian crop ecologist quoted in Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," over the course of history, humans have consumed over 80,000 plant species. That number has now been reduced to eight species, with a continuous honing in on modified canola, corn and soy.
When Kingsolver wrote the book in 2007, only six companies controlled 98 percent of the world's seed sales (Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis, and Dow), and they continue to desecrate land. Juggernauts like Monsanto send 330 small farm operators off their land a week.
In a nutshell, government regulations will soon favor genetically modified (or GMO) seeds over organic seeds, and organic seeds might eventually become illegal.
Hand-planted kale and preservative-less poultry might be things of the past. The FDA says requiring eggs to be kept at 45 degrees will make us healthier, but I've owned chickens, and their eggs are like silk when it's 60 and sunny.
The standard that food providers should be held to is purity of process and intent. We don't need to add bad things to our food. Agribusiness doesn't promote food safety, it swells with immoral shortcuts (a thousand chickens in a bedroom- sized space, soil made prematurely infertile, etc.).
What we need to do is take a good, hard look at what "safe" means.
Take a garden. Plant what grows best in your sun. Water the leaves, the roots. Walk through your rows. (If you don't have a yard, that's what urban gardens are for.)
Now take another garden. Grow it long and wide, cutting away the ecosystems along its edges. Decimate the birds and the bugs. Spray it with regulatory chemicals to ward off the changes provided by the wind and the rain, the nutrient highways for our food.
Which one would you call "safe"?
I tried to teach my kids how to write, but I also told them what I'd learned: that an adult needs eight hours of sleep, that homemade bread and hand-written letters are second to none. That, as Annie Dillard said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our years."
On a more human level, the current statistics mean that less of our kids' days are spent learning, whisk in hand, how their grandma's wrist turned yolks in a bowl. We are unaccustomed to bugs in our lettuce, fish with heads, berries covered in the harvest's dust.
The situation here is honest food; the deeper story is our respect for human life. Lose the first, and you lose the second, too.
I might not have much to hand down to my kids (when I have them). But I do have a recipe for sweet potato bread and a dad whose knees are muddy all summer long from gardening. I'd like to give my children shiny vegetables, basil that leans into the sun, and teach them how to smell a crust that's done. If the worsening economy means our kids might inherit less, then we should be giving them longer lives to live.

You can reach Ms. Nix at or by email at

Friday, July 10, 2009

Food, Inc.

Attention Chicagoans - The movie Food, Inc. is playing @ Landmark Century Center Cinemas at 2828 N. Clark St. and you MUST GO SEE IT!!!!!!!!!!! If you don't already know, the movie is a sad and scary look at the American food industry. The filmakers name is Robert Kenner and he collaborates with Michael Pollan (writer of the Omnivores Dilemma & In Defense of Food) to give people an in depth look at where America is really headed in terms of food. Not suprisingly he launches attacks on companies such as Tyson and my favoriate Monsanto - and as usual these companies were unwilling to cooporate with the filmmaker. Rather than seeing a "point-counterpoint" documentary you're just going to see a scathing review of American industrial agriculture (yay!!). Oh, and the film also features another seed cleaner and ally of my dad who was attacked by Monsanto - Maurice Parr from Indiana. So, go see it and learn even more about the politics of food.

Remember you are what you eat and you are what you eat eats too!

love, vanessa

PS if you aren't in Chicago find a theatre near you that is showing the film!!

PPS if you can't find a theatre near you then check out clips of the movie on YouTube

Where Have I Been?

I'm not really sure, but I'm back now! My visit home was great and relaxing and too short. I am now the albino of the family as I am the only one with an "indoor" job. (see photo for proof) Anyway, I really enjoyed getting to be at home and let my allergies totally take over, lost my voice and everything. Sadly I had to leave before these were ripe. Very jealous about that. Well, I'll leave with an apology for not being a good blogger and a promise to be better in the future.


Yes, thats right folks, no more blackberry blogs - that means more pictures and more frequent updates!

xoxo, vanessa