Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Luganega Sausage

This is a recipe I learned in a cooking class at Philadelphia’s famous DiBruno Brothers. It’s surprisingly easy, much easier than regular gnocchi. It will take about 30 to 45 minutes to make a whole batch of gnocchi, and about 10 minutes more to have a finished dinner on the table (provided you made your sauce in advance). Each batch should be about 5 servings.

Ricotta Gnocchi:

1 lb. fresh ricotta
1 large egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
4 oz. (scant cup) flour, plus extra for work surfaces

First and foremost: let’s talk ricotta. If you happen to live near a fancy-pants Italian cheese shop, see if they have ricotta del pastaio – it has a lower water content than the regular stuff from the grocery store, which makes it better for things like pasta and gnocchi. If all you have access to is the stuff in the grocery store that comes in the plastic tubs, place a strainer over a bowl and line with cheese cloth/paper towels. Place the ricotta on the cloth, cover, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Now, I’ve used regular ricotta in the past and skipped this step with fine results, so if you’re crunched for time you can get away with not draining the excess moisture – just try not to add too much extra flour when making the gnocchi.

Ok, now that our ricotta situation is under control, let’s get to the recipe. Beat the egg with a whisk and add to a bowl along with the ricotta, olive oil and salt. Mix to integrate. Form a well in the center and add the flour, slowly integrating with the cheese mixture until a dough forms. You may need to add a little extra flour – the dough should be a little tacky, but not sticky.

Cut the dough into six equal sized pieces, covering the parts you’re not using with plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, work each piece into a cigar shape, rolling from the center outwards. Each rope shaped piece should be about ½ - ¾” thick. Cut each rope into 1” long pieces.

Once cut, pinch off the ends of each gnocchi, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and lightly floured. If you’re not planning to cook the gnocchi the same day, place the baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, place the gnocchi into a large Ziploc bag.

To cook the gnocchi, bring a pot of salted water up to a light boil. Add in the gnocchi, give the water a stir (so they don’t stick to the bottom) and cook for 1 minute (if fresh) to 3 minutes (if frozen) until they float to the top of the pot. Remove from the pot.

Tomato sauce:

This is more a general guide to how I do it than a real recipe per se. Open up a 6 lb. can of whole peeled tomatoes (I use Cento Italian Peeled tomatoes. San Marzanos are a really good choice, but I think they’re just too expensive, personally.), and add half to a blender. Puree to a liquid, and add into a large pot. Add the other half to the blender, and pulse a few times until broken down, but not so much that they don’t have any texture. I don’t like my tomato sauce chunky, but if you do you can just add the tomatoes to the pot whole, and break them up with a wooden spoon/potato masher to desired consistency while they cook down.

Add a large onion, peeled and chopped in half into the tomatoes. Yes, two giant halves and not diced onions. This trick comes from Marcella Hazan, and allows you to have that great onion flavor in your sauce without having to pick out onion bits from your teeth. Add to that some crushed cloves of garlic (4 or 5), a tablespoon of sugar, some salt, some dried oregano, and a little dried basil (not too much, as we’ll be adding fresh basil when serving), and crushed red pepper (not too much, as it will intensify as the sauce cooks down.

The sauce will taste under-seasoned, and very tomato-like. This is fine, as all those flavors will be picked up once the sauce cooks. Bring the sauce up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to simmer, uncovered, for an hour. Taste, and add seasonings as you see fit. The sauce should start to taste a little more like the finished product, but we still have some reducing to do. Simmer for another hour, or until the consistency looks good to you. Remove the onion and adjust seasonings as needed.

Putting it all together (for 1 serving):

1/3 lb. luganega, or other Italian sausage
½  tablespoon olive oil
½ cup prepared tomato sauce
1 tablespoon reserved pasta water
Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (the good stuff!)

Cut your sausage into ¾” thick pieces. Pre-heat a 10” frying pan over medium heat. Add in about ½ tablespoon of olive oil and the sausages, cooking on each side. If there is too much excess grease in the pan once the sausages are cooked, remove the sausages and drain the grease. Add the sausages back into the pan along with the ½ cup of prepared tomato sauce. Make sure the heat isn’t too high, as the sauce will heat quickly and possibly splatter.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the sauce along with 1 tablespoon of the water they were cooked in. Toss, and transfer to a bowl, topping with parmesan, fresh basil, and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chocolate Strawberry Tart

A while back I made this chocolate tart: and wasn’t overly satisfied with the results, on account of the fact that I used random baking chocolate instead of higher quality stuff.  I also decided to switch it up a bit, and add strawberries to the recipe. The simple syrup only adds a hint of strawberry to the chocolate mixture, so feel free to add more if you feel like it. The results are pretty outstanding – I’ll definitely be making this one again sometime.

1 cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
10 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli chocolate chips – chop the chocolate into small pieces if using larger chunks/bars)
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lb. strawberries, divided
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs, room temperature

Press the pine nut and almond crust into a 9” tart pan, then refrigerate for 15 minutes. Line the crust with tin foil and pie weights (I use some pinto beans I have reserved just for this purpose) and bake in a 350°F oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and milk until it just starts to simmer around the edges. Remove the pan from heat, and add the chocolate, whisking to incorporate. Add in the sugar and salt and let the mixture cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil. Stem and quarter 3 strawberries (should be ½ a cup, chopped) and add to the water. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, adding an extra bit of water if it reduces too much. Pass the syrup through a strainer into the chocolate mixture.

In a bowl, mix the two room temperature eggs, then add to the chocolate mixture. Pour the chocolate mixture into the cooled tart shell. Bake at 325°F for 15 to 20 minutes until the filling is set. If it starts to form bubbles or crack remove from the oven immediately as that’s the signal that it’s starting to overcook. Cool completely.

Chop the remaining strawberries into thin slices and arrange them around the tart, working from the outside inwards.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cod en Papillote with Lemon Beurre Blanc and Steamed Aspagus

Any fish filet should work here, keep in mind that cooking time will vary depending on how thick the fish is. Mine was very skinny. The beurre blanc recipe makes at least 4 servings depending on how much you drizzle on your fish.

Total time: 40 minutes

Cod en Papillote (for each individual package):
Cod filet
Parlsey sprig
Butter (about 1 tbsp)
Lemon slices
Splash of white wine

Lay the cod filet out on a piece of parchment paper and season with salt. Top with remaining ingredients. Fold the parchment paper over itself and use a stapler and/or toothpicks to seal, allowing steam to be trapped inside in the oven. Bake in a 400°F oven, about 10 minutes (or more if the filets are thick). Remove fish from parchment packages and discard remaining ingredients.

Lemon Beurre Blanc:
¼ cup white wine (I used a French Chardonnay)
¼ cup lemon juice
1 small shallot, diced
Zest of ½ lemon
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz)

Add the white wine, lemon juice, shallot, and zest in a small pan and reduce until almost a glaze (about 8 minutes). Add the butter in 4 additions, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.

Steamed asparagus:

Wash asparagus spears and trim off the woody ends. Use a vegetable peeler to remaining stalk, moving downward from the tips. Fill a dutch oven with 1-2” of water and nestle a pasta strainer over top. Bring the water to a boil then reduce heat to low. Add asparagus to ghetto steaming basket, then cover with lid and wrap foil around any cracks to prevent steam from escaping. Steam for 6 minutes.


Cook polenta according to directions on package. Place polenta on plate, top with cod filet (I halved mine and stuck one piece on top of the other, lemon buerre blanc, a slice of lemon and fresh greend/herbs (I used mustard greens, baby arugula, and parsley). Arrange asparagus around the plate.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pork Chops in Mole Verde

Sorry for the presentation, this isn’t the sexiest plate I’ve ever made. This recipe comes from Gran Cocina Latina, except it calls for chicken instead of pork.  I have a freezer full of pork loin chops to eat, hence the substitution. The mole turned out a bit thin, I think because instead of a baguette slice I used a piece of white bread. I may have added too much liquid to the herb puree as well. The original recipe also calls for 4 sprigs of fresh epazote added to the herb blend, but I didn’t have any on hand.

3 to 4 one-inch thick pork chops
6 allspice berries
5 whole cloves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 pounds tomatillos (about 15 large)
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, seeds
1 baguette slice (1 ounce)
2.5 cups chicken stock
2 chayotes
8 ounces green beans
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
½ bunch cilantro
3 dried hoja santa leaves
Olive oil

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the allspice, cloves, and cumin. Toast for a minute, until fragrant. Grind in a spice grinder.

Remove the tomatillos from their husks, give them a wash and halve them. Add the tomatillos, the jalapenos, the garlic, and the spices from the grinder to a blender. Puree, then pass the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer.

Add 1.5 cups chicken stock and the baguette slice in a bowl. Place in a blender and puree.

Heat a dutch oven over medium and add olive oil. Cook the pork chops for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.

Add the tomatillo mixture to the dutch oven and cook for 3 minutes on medium. Be careful, as excess oil left in the oven may splash. Add the bread puree, the chayote and green beans. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the pork back in and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

While the pork and veggies cook, place the parsley and cilantro in a blender with ½ cup broth and process into a puree. Place the hoja santa leaves in ¼ cup water for 2 minutes. Puree in a mini-food processor and pass through a small strainer into the herb mixture. Pulse to incorporate.

When the pork and veggies have cooked, pour in the herb mixture. Serve immediately before the color of the sauce darkens. Mexican rice is the go-to side dish here.