20 February 2008

Root soup with millet gnocchi

This is an odd combination.

It starts with a rather plain vegetable soup... Put some oil in a soup pot and

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds,
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns,
1 bay leaf.

Cook these over low heat until they darken. (By the way, this is a usual Indian cooking stunt -- fry the spices first...) Slice and sautee

2 onions and
1 teaspoon salt

in with the spices. Cook over low heat until slightly browned. Dice and add your favorite roots, for instance

1 potato,
2 turnips, and
1 parsnip.

Fry these for a while, then add

6 cups water,
1 teaspoon brewer's yeast extract, and
1 teaspoon paprika.

Cover and simmer until the vegetables soften.

Now you can get down to the business of making the pasta. I happened to open the cabinet while making this soup and saw that we had millet. Millet is a rather interesting grain, one that allows you to control its texture from a coarse grittiness (like corn meal) to a velvety smoothness. On the other hand, since it has no gluten, it's not very good for making pasta. At least, I wasn't about to try this evening. On the other hand, it can be used to lighten a wheat pasta in the form of gnocchi... Since I was in a mixing mood, I also decided that amaranth should also play a role, though I'm not sure what role it plays... (And you thought gnocchi requires potatoes... Look at The Silver Spoon some time -- there are 18 recipes for gnocchi, 10 of which do not contain potatoes!) Even better, gnocchi are easy!

Grind (blender, spice grinder, mortar and pestle, whatever works; a food processor does not)

1/2 cup mixed millet and amaranth seeds in roughly a 2:1 ratio.

add this to

2 cups boiling water,

and cook until most of the gritty texture of the millet is gone. (I like a little millet-grittiness, though Donna apparently does not.) You will want to stir this frequently as it is rather thick and will burn otherwise. Take the millet off the heat, cool slightly, and mix in

1/2 cup semolina flour and
1 egg.

At this point, the mixture should be sticky, and rather like smooth mashed potatoes. (That's the idea, anyhow.) Slowly work in

3/4 to 1 cup all purpose flour,
a pinch of salt,

and turn onto the counter. Knead into a smooth dough. Gnocchi dough feels almost like a soft downy pillow -- very unlike the usual stiff pasta dough. There is no need to be particularly rough in kneading, so don't add too much flour, lest you spoil the softness... Divide the dough into quarters, and roll each into a tube about 1/3" to 1/2" diameter. Slice into stubby pillows with a floured knife, and queue them on a floured dishtowel.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, and add the gnocchi, a few at a time to the water. They float to the surface (and stay there) when fully cooked, which makes them easy to remove with a slotted spoon.

I added about half of the gnocchi to the soup (sort of like dumplings), and put the other half in the fridge for later. This soup is rather plain, so pass the grated parmesan/romano cheese and salt/pepper (whichever is your particular vice, mine is for the later of each).

Donna notes that the gnocchi contrast strongly with the soup, suggesting that some cheese or bits of one's favorite protein be added to the dough. Indeed, The Silver Spoon often suggests such things. However, I'm suspicious, seeing as after finishing a bowl of soup, she went and made herself a quesadilla in the microwave.

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