January 13th, 2014

Pan-seared Potato Gnocchi with parsnips

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In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.

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This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!

Before it vanished.

Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.

The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.

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There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.

Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.

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The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.

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While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.

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Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.

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There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.

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Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.

Elusive no more.

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PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish

Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.

Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.

Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.

Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.

In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.

Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.

Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 17 Comments »




January 18th, 2012

Ricotta Gnocchi, Dressed in Red

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Post-holiday drab winter funk settled in my kitchen…with an unsettling inertia. I’ve had as much resistance to picking up a knife and a whisk, as my market shopping bags. It’s been an odd feeling, uncharacteristic of my general passionate-about-food ways, but December left me shopped and cooked out. I’ve tried ignoring it, hoping that the malaise would lift. Now I’ve decided just to chop through it, and play my “use what you’ve got” game.

In my refrigerator, I found a container of ricotta, still in date. Part of a can of whole plum tomatoes in juice. Eggs. A stray scallion. A small wedge of parmegiano-reggiano.
A sealed bag of all purpose flour.

Could dinner lurk in some combination of these?

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Indeed it could. Ricotta Gnocchi.

And, those creamy pillow-like dumplings couldn’t be easier to make.

Unlike other versions that use potatoes (also delicious, but have an extra step–cooking the spuds) the dough can be whipped up in a manner of minutes. In their purest form, ricotta gnocchi are simply ricotta-egg-flour. That’s a plain canvas, rife with possibilities. How you want to season them–herbs, bitter greens, nutmeg, other pungent cheese—
or sauce them—smoky beurre blanc with bits of pancetta, chunky pesto, rosy red pepper puree–is up to you.

Or what you’ve got on hand.

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You’ve got plenty of time to make that decision! Mixing the soft dough takes moments. Then, you hand-roll pieces of the dough into long logs, dusting with more flour, and cutting into 1/2″ lengths. Or smaller, if you like.

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The shapes are imprecise, rustic; the rolling and handling of them feels like child’s play, a delightful aspect to combat any kitchen inertia.

Line them up on a pan lined with parchment and place the pillows into the freezer to get firm. (If you double this recipe, you can keep the unused gnocchi sealed and frozen for up to 6 weeks—ready to use at a given moment.)

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While the gnocchi are tucked into the freezer (or fridge) you can turn your attention to the sauce.

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Based on my modest assembly of on-hand ingredients, I chose to cloak mine in a brilliant winter red sauce–little more than plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic in olive oil, and pureed. I do like to plunge in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and thyme, snipped from yard, where they vigorously hang on through the cold weather months. They impart just enough piney aromatics to give the sauce a little herbaceous lift, plucked out before the immersion blender descends into the pot.

While the sauce simmers, bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Drop the gnocchi in. Very quickly, they’ll rise to the surface–indicating that they are almost done. Let them cook another minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and place the tender bites into a pool of red.

The color–a knockout that reminds you of summer—is vibrant and full-flavored dress for the gnocchi, enough to jar the drab winter funk out the door.

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RICOTTA GNOCCHI
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
1 Egg
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour (divided)
1/2 c. grated Parmegiano-Reggiano (Pecorino Romano would be terrific, too)
1 Green Onion, sliced thin (optional)
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
fresh ground Black Pepper

Place ricotta, egg, cheese, scallion, and Half of the flour into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix until a soft dough forms. Dust remaining flour on your work counter, and divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into 1/2″ thick log. Cut into pillow shaped pieces, placing each gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place the gnocchi in the freezer for about 15 minutes–long enough to set up and be firm.

Bring a pasta pot full of water to a boil. Season with salt. Drop in gnocchi. Cook over medium heat until they float to the surface. Cook for a about one minute more. Remove with a slotted spoon. Gently coat with sauce.

Serves 2 generous, or 4 first course plates

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Posted in Egg/Cheese Dishes, Pastas, Recipes, Sauces, Vegetarian Dishes | 35 Comments »




December 15th, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple-Sage Brown Butter

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In December, life moves at a crazy pace; it’s a giant snowball, hill-tumbling, avalanching to year-end. With all the demands of the season, it feels like I’m in a race to outrun it. This puzzles me, as my life is scads simpler than it used to be.

When I was full time-full blown catering, outrunning that avalanche was de rigueur for December. Any given day would be crammed with making countless appetizer platters, holiday luncheon spreads, and fruit, cheese, and petite sweet trays while orchestrating concurrent cocktail soirees, dinner parties, and dessert fetes…only to be repeated the next. Days were bleary, and days were Long.

At some point, in the course of this catering mania (We called it The Season We Love to Hate) I’d experience a meltdown. You know, one of those collapses into a tunnel of blind psychotic frenzy that would end with a bout of uncontrolled sobbing. You never knew when it would occur, or what might trigger it.

One morning, in predawn darkness, I spent forty-five minutes ransacking my home, front yard and driveway looking for my car keys—I had to get to the shop to scramble 200 eggs for a company breakfast and I was running horribly late—-only to find them lying on my dresser, under a scarf. Another time, I was talking to a client for the fifth time that day, as she revised her party’s headcount upwards (these late rsvps! we must have enough food!) and dozens of beautifully crafted yeast rolls burnt to a ghastly char in our oven.

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Once the meltdown happened, everything would return to normalcy—relatively speaking. Bill always hoped that “the episode” would occur early in the season. “Get it over with and move on.” I always hoped that it wouldn’t occur at all—wishful thinking. In fairness, we had a share of comedic moments to balance out the drama (like the time I ran over the baked glazed ham !) but I am grateful that those days are behind me.

Nonetheless, I have fallen behind this season–cooking, shopping, reviewing, blogging. I have been meaning to share this recipe with you that Maggie and I cooked up a couple of weeks ago! Maggie had much success growing sweet potatoes this year, and we wanted to try some different recipes. And because sweet potatoes are so versatile—you can pretty much interchange them with winter squashes or regular potatoes in many recipes—this gives you a wide range of possibilities. We chose gnocchi. These pretty little knobs are easy-peasy to make, and make an artful accompaniment to the holiday table.

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There’s not a terrible lot of ingredients. I put a little minced rosemary to the dough, along with cinnamon, salt, and pepper. I like the additional herbal note that it brings. It complements the maple’s sweetness and is a natural partner with sage. Bake your sweet potatoes ahead of time, and have them scooped out, ready to go.

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Working with this dough reminded me of making biscuits—-it takes a similar light (and messy!) hand as you quickly work the potato, egg, and all throughout the flour, massing it into a pliable ball.

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Divide the ball into 4, and roll each into long logs. There is a rustic, non-uniform look to gnocchi that appeals to me. It’s also child’s play! Cut them into bite-size pieces–they are ready to cook.

These are quite tasty, especially after being napped in the savory-sweet brown butter. They are rich, too. I think that you’ll enjoy them alongside smoked turkey, or roast pork, even a baked glazed ham, tenderized under the wheel of a whacked-out caterer’s truck.

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SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
2 Sweet Potatoes, baked, insides scooped out
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 Egg
4 T. Unsalted Butter, softened
1 t. minced Rosemary leaves
2 t. Cinnamon
Salt and Black Pepper

1 large pot for boiling the gnocchi

In a large bowl, place cooked and cooled sweet potato “meat” along with all the other ingredients and begin mixing them together by hand. It will be a little sticky at first, but continue working the dough, kneading, until it becomes a manageable ball. Beware not to overknead–keep a light hand! Cut the doughball into 4 pieces, and roll them into long log shapes. Cut into pieces.

If you are making these in advance, refrigerate until you are ready to boil them.

Drop the gnocchi into a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water. When the gnocchi float to the surface, (about 5 minutes( they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer to drain.

Dress with brown butter sauce and serve.

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MAPLE SAGE BROWN BUTTER SAUCE

6 T. Unsalted Butter
1/2 c. fresh Sage Leaves
2 T. Maple Syrup
Salt and Black Pepper

In a small skillet on medium beat, melt the butter. Shake and stir it around the skillet as it foams; you’ll notice the milky solids begin to get a toasty brown color. Add the sage leaves and continue stirring. When the butter gets bronzy, remove from heat and stir in the ample syrup.
Toss over gnocchi and garnish with additional sage.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables | 29 Comments »