Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi

gnocchi w summer squash n

Oh so fluffy…pillowy soft and flavorful… that’s how to describe these homemade ricotta gnocchi. We oohed and aahed after every bite.

Every summer, free from the distractions of work, we set goals – projects to push ourselves as we explore passions and interests. This summer we decided to focus on things culinary. With three different Culinary Institute of America courses from The Great Courses waiting for us to dive into, we donned aprons, dusted off the DVD player, and got our notebooks ready for shopping lists, culinary tips and instructions.

Today’s challenge was ricotta gnocchi. We had made roasted squash gnocchi back in Alaska, so the concept of this delicious handmade pasta was not new to us, but this time we were anticipating a more traditional version of this classic dish. We began preparing for this batch of gnocchi a couple of days in advance by making a homemade ricotta-type cheese. You can find that easy-to-prepare recipe here. This surprisingly easy to make cheese is perfect for this gnocchi recipe, or you can use store-bought ricotta. Whether you make your own ricotta or buy it, you’ll want to let it dry out a bit by hanging it in cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator.

Our CIA instructor, Chef Bill Briwa, began by making the dough and then rolling it out into long logs which he then cut into bite-sized pieces. He gave each piece a decorative pinch between his thumb and forefinger. As an alternative method of giving gnocchi a pleasing shape, I recalled seeing a video in which Italian grandmothers rolled the gnocchi down the back of a long-tined dinner fork to create decorative ridges to hold the sauce. With a lifetime of experience behind them, these women worked with incredible speed! Determined to make the Italian grannies proud, Jack and I quickly (although not as quickly as these women) rolled logs of dough, sliced bite-sized pieces, and rolled our gnocchi down the backs of forks. Given our lack of experience and how quickly and attractively the gnocchi came out, we clearly had good teachers.

And the result? Oh my. We made a light sauce featuring butter, olive oil and garlic, sliced fresh  summer squash thin on a mandolin, added a few halved cherry tomatoes, and briefly cooked up the sauce. It was perfect on the pillowy, flavorful gnocchi, as was the chilled bottle of Spanish Chardonnay we served. Fantastico!

Ricotta Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups dry ricotta (if you don’t want to make your own, you could hang store bought ricotta in cheesecloth overnight to reduce extra moisture)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg plus 1 yolk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • salt and pepper
  • semolina flour for dusting

Directions

  1. Mix together ricotta, Parmesan cheese, flour, and nutmeg.
  2. Thoroughly mix in eggs.
  3. Mix in butter.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Sprinkle working surface with semolina. Use a fairly generous amount. This will absorb the excess moisture while the dough rests.
  6. Take 1/4 of the dough and roll it into a long log.
  7. Cut bite-sized pieces and set them aside on a piece of parchment paper.
  8. Repeat with remaining quarters of dough.
  9. Cook gnocchi in salted, simmering water. Gnocchi will float to the top when they are finished cooking.
  10. Gnocchi is more delicate than other pastas. So it’s best to remove it gently with a slotted spoon or similar tool. Serve immediately with a light sauce.

Gnocchi freezes well. Initially freeze while on parchment paper on a tray in order to keep the gnocchi separate, then transfer to a zip top bag.

A Continent Away From Brandade of Walleye: Delicious & Easy Fish Casserole

Brandade w cod n

Bread crumbs tossed in olive oil and baked to a crisp give a pleasant crunch to this classic Mediterranean dish which traditionally features salted cod and potatoes in a mousse-like entrée.

Full disclosure. Here in Ulaanbaatar, we are about as geographically removed from the nearest walleye as could be possible. In fact, as the crow flies we’re over 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the Walleye Capital of the World, Lake Erie, in my former stomping grounds of western Pennsylvania. So I used cod in this classic brandade-inspired dish. In fact, this dish originated in regions around the Mediterranean Sea such as Italy and France where at certain times of the year the only fish readily available was preserved salted cod. The steps in preparing this dish do a nice job of masking the strong flavor of preserved fish, something you won’t have to worry about if you have access to fresh walleye, rockfish, striped bass, crappie or similar fish.

And it’s delicious – the kind of fish dish even people not particularly crazy about fish enjoy. Experiment with seasonings to give it some heat, herbiness or lemon flavors. Brandade can be baked in an oven-safe frying pan, a casserole dish, or, perhaps best of all, in individual ramekins such as the one we used in the above photo. Dress it up with a little chopped parsley and a dollop of lumpfish roe, pair with a Riesling, and dinner is served.

Brandade of Walleye (or virtually any white-meated fish)

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 1/2 pound of skinless walleye fillet, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/2 pound of potatoes, boiled till they’re soft, and sliced into cubes (Skin removed or not, chef’s choice. We prefer skin on.)
  • 1 tin (2 oz/60 g) anchovies, chopped fine. Or use anchovy paste.
  • 1 cup milk (approximately)
  • 1 tsp Penzeys Chesapeake Bay Seafood Seasoning (or use 1 tsp dry tarragon and a dash of sea salt)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 oz shallots, minced
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp smoked chipotle powder (or use espelette pepper or whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil (optional)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • chopped parsley
  • lumpfish or salmon roe (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, add fillet, enough milk to cover, and Penzeys Chesapeake Bay Seafood Seasoning or tarragon and salt. Poach just until fillet easily comes apart with a fork. Remove fillet and use a fork to go through fish to make sure there is no skin or bones remaining.
  3. Using a food processor or stick blender, briefly pulse the fish. Don’t over process. Meat should look somewhat fibrous. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.
  4. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, shallots, smoked chipotle powder and paprika and cook just till garlic and shallots turn translucent and become aromatic. Scrape mixture into bowl with fish.
  5. Use a food processor or stick blender attachment to purée the potatoes. Don’t over process or potatoes will become sticky.
  6. Add puréed potatoes to fish. Add anchovies, heavy cream (or sour cream thinned with milk), lemon juice and truffle oil. Mix everything together thoroughly. Use a food processor or stick blender to again briefly process. You want a consistency that is somewhat mousse-like. Give it a taste and add salt and seasonings as desired.
  7. Use a spatula to place mixture in ramekins, casserole dish or oven-safe frying pan. Mixture will rise slightly during baking.
  8. Toss bread crumbs in extra-virgin olive oil. Use just enough oil to allow the crumbs to soak it up without becoming overly saturated.  Spoon onto top of potato and fish mixture.
  9. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Bread crumbs will be golden brown and crisp when done.
  10. Garnish with chopped parsley and fish roe. Serve hot.

Pinchos Morunos – Spiced Grilled Pork & Red Grapes Served on Skewers

pinchos morutos 2One of Spain’s most popular tapas, pinchos morunos features skewered pork and flame grapes in a dish that balances citric tang and sweetness against a mix of fiery and savory spices. Our first lesson with The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking was a tasty success!

Pinchos refers to small wooden skewers and morunos means “in the way of the Moors.” Of course, when the Moors, who were from Morocco, crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 711 CE (Common Era) the dishes they brought with them would have reflected their Islamic faith, which means that pork would have been off the menu. When Spain finally won independence, they employed all the wonderful spices the Northern Africans had introduced to create a grilled dish with pork. It’s been a favorite tapa there ever since. Flame grapes go perfectly with the marinated grilled pork. Here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we found tiny 4-inch (10 cm) skewers that were perfect for serving these as a snack, an appetizer or a main entrée.

We’ve mentioned The Great Courses in previous posts and would be remiss if we didn’t mention this excellent company here. Thus far, we’ve studied baking, cooking, photography and wine appreciation through them, all from the comfort of our own home (or boat), all at very reasonable prices and all with topnotch instructors. It’s been a long held dream to study cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, an institution Craig Claiborne likened to the Juliard of professional cooking. Here we are, in Mongolia, studying Mediterranean Cuisine with CIA’s Chef Bill Briwa and loving it!

For more on The Great Courses, see:

Photography: Great Cameras and Joel Sartore’s Great Course

Cooking: Deep Fried Parsnips – World’s Best Bar Snack?

Baking: Chocolate Mousse Cake – Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!

Pinchos Morunos – Grilled Skewered Pork with Flame Grapes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pork tenderloin cut into 1″ cubes
  • flame grapes
  • wooden skewers
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (approximately the juice from 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. For the marinade, combine spices in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add orange juice, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Stir together.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add cubed pork to briefly marinate – approximately 20 minutes.
  5. Skewer flame grapes and pork, alternating pork, grape, pork, grape.
  6. Cook in a dry skillet or on a grill over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, turning once to ensure even cooking. The pork should be nicely browned.
  7. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges. We served our pinchos morunos with smashed baked potatoes whipped together with onions and garlic sautéed in butter and white wine and a light cheese.

Enjoy pinchos morunos with a Riesling, Sangria or a cold beer.

Adapted from Bill Briwa’s recipe in The Everyday Gourmet: The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking