Tag Archives: vegetarian

The best potato gnocchi recipe

29 Oct

I’m not the artist here, just the technician.

The man responsible for these truly awesome gnocchi is the New York chef and restaurateur Andrew Carmellini. It’s his recipe that I used, and I have used it ever since first coming across it several years ago. (Here is the link to the original and complete recipe.)

There’s a good reason Carmellini titled this recipe “The Best Gnocchi.”

When it comes to potato gnocchi that is exactly what they are.

I have never made a lighter, more luxurious potato gnocchi than I have when using this recipe. And so if I am not making my own cheese gnocchi recipe then I am using Carmellini’s potato version.

If you enjoy a fine potato gnocchi then I strongly suggest you do the same.

Start with around two pounds of Idaho potatoes. Clean them, put them on a baking sheet, and into the oven they go (425 degrees F should do it), until the flesh is nice and soft. These took a little over an hour.

While the potatoes are baking it’s best to get all of your other ingredients together and ready to go. The reason is that you’ll want to mix them into the potatoes while they’re still warm out of the oven. This is very important. You do NOT want the potatoes to cool down before mixing the gnocchi dough.

What you’ll need is 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper. In addition you’ll need around 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour on hand.

When the potatoes are cooked slice them open and scoop out all the flesh while it’s still warm.

Run the potato through a ricer (use the smallest die) and into a mixing bowl.

Immediately add all the other ingredients, except for the flour.

And gently incorporate, using your fingers.

Then add 1 cup of the flour and very gently mix all of the ingredients together until a dough forms. The dough should hold together but not be sticky; if it does feel sticky work in a little bit more flour. Note: Do not take the term “gently” lightly. A successful gnocchi dough requires a very light touch. Anything more forceful will make for a heavy, tough gnocchi.

Please. Trust me on this.

Form the dough into a ball and turn it onto a well-floured work surface.

With a pastry cutter (or just a knife) cut an inch-or-so-wide piece of dough from the ball.

And lightly roll it out using your fingers. (You see that I said “lightly,” right?)

This is about what you’ll wind up with after rolling.

Each strand you roll out then gets cut into inch-wide gnocchi, like so.

Just a note: This recipe will easily feed four people. If you don’t want to cook all the gnocchi at once then lay some out on a well-floured baking sheet and put them in the freezer. Once the gnocchi are fully frozen tranfer them to a freezer bag and store.

Here, of course, we have opted for cooking the gnocchi. (In well-salted water, but you knew that.)

It will only take a couple minutes for the gnocchi to cook; as a rule of thumb figure that when they are all floating atop a rolling boil of water the gnocchi are done. Do NOT empty the gnocchi into a colander, as you might with some other pastas. Take them out of the water using a slotted spoon and transfer into a pan with whatever sauce you plan on using. Then gently stir and transfer the gnocchi to individual plates for serving.

Like so.

I promise that if you take your time and use a gentile hand you will thank me for this recipe.

Just as I thanked Chef Carmellini years ago.

Pasta with corn, tomato & cheese

17 Sep

My friend Peter is what you might call “an acquired taste.”

He is brash, opinionated, often insulting to those who cross his path. I have never met a person with less skill in editing their own words. Which is saying something considering the place I am from.

This is one of the reasons the man is my friend. I never have to wonder where Peter stands on any issue. He is, without apology, who he is. I admire and respect that.

It also doesn’t hurt that he can grow vegetables better than anybody that I know. With few exceptions, virtually every seedling that I plant in the spring has its beginning in Peter’s greenhouses in the dead of winter. On the property around these greenhouses you’ll find fruit trees of all types, as well as a large field where Peter and his wife Claudia grow potatoes, tomatoes and, of particular interest to us here, sweet corn.

A couple weeks back Peter texted saying that the corn in his field was ready to be picked.

“Come over today or tomorrow and take as much as you want,” he wrote.

Before I could answer Peter was back with the kind of snarky blather that is more his custom.

“Oh, and grab a few ears for your girlfriend Marc while you’re at it.”

See what I mean.

Now, Marc is a regular companion of mine, I’ll admit, but he certainly is not my girlfriend.

He isn’t even a girl. I checked with his wife Beth just yesterday to be sure.

Nonetheless, my mission was to score a couple dozen ears of corn and so the next day my girlfriend and I were trudging through Peter’s corn field stocking up.

Which is how this pretty swell concoction of pasta, tomato, corn and ricotta salata came to be.

We start out, as we do with so many good things, sauteeing some garlic (three or four cloves) and a little hot pepper in a good bit of olive oil.

Once the garlic has softened (but not browned) toss in your tomatoes. We’ve got around three cups’ worth of fresh garden tomatoes here.

The basil plants have been growing wild this year. I figured a handful of them wouldn’t hurt.

You can skip this step if you like. For some reason, probably because I am incapable of thinking about corn without thinking about butter, I found myself adding half a stick just for the hell of it.

You’ll need to give it a taste, of course, but after around 15 or 20 minutes of medium-to-high heat the tomatoes are likely to have turned into a respectable sauce. At which point you can add the corn (around two cups here, blanched and cut from the cob) and lower the heat to a slow simmer.

After the corn has warmed a bit (maybe a minute or two) add a half pound of ricotta salata, cut into small pieces.

Then immediately add your pasta and incorporate.

I blanched and froze a bunch of corn and will try this with canned tomatoes in the dead of winter, when Peter is in his greenhouses getting a jump on spring.

Pasta with fava beans & mint

26 Jun

I can’t look at a fresh fava bean without thinking of an old Japanese man, a round piece of cheese, and a long ago flight from JFK to O’Hare.

Stick with me here. It’ll all make sense in a minute.

See, I was sitting in my usual aisle seat in a three-across setup. The center seat was unoccupied and at the window was the elderly man that I just mentioned. One of the items on the meal tray (remember those?) was a little round cheese snack wrapped in red wax. You know the type, I’m sure.

Evidently, my traveling companion did not. Through the corner of my eye I watched as the man picked up the cheese. He ran his fingers over the shiny red wax, tapped at it a couple of times and then quickly popped the whole thing into his mouth and began to chew.

And chew.

And chew.

I didn’t have the heart to risk having the old man see me unwrap the cheese and eat it the proper way. Why embarrass the guy? And so when the flight attendant came to collect our emptied trays my wax-encased cheese snack was still on it, untouched.

Which is to say that fresh fava beans must first be unwrapped before you make this pretty swell pasta dish with them.

Hey, I’m just trying to help.

This is around two pounds of fresh favas.

When you open the pod this is what you’ll find. Just pop all the beans out and toss the pods.

Rinse the beans in cold water.

Blanch them in well-salted water for a minute. Make sure not to toss the water because you are planning to cook the pasta in it. You are planning on doing that, right?

Using a slotted spoon remove the beans from the boiling water and toss them into an ice bath. This will prevent the favas from becoming overcooked and mushy, which can happen pretty quickly.

What you need to do now is pop the edible bean out from inside the shell, like so.

Just in case you haven’t seen it before, this is what we’re dealing with. The bright green bean on the left is the edible fava; on the right is a bean that’s still in its outer shell.

What I wound up with is around a cup’s worth of cooked favas.

In a large pan saute one large shallot, four or five garlic cloves and some hot pepper in olive oil until softened but not browned.

Add the beans, a dozen or so chopped mint leaves and the zest of one small lemon. Stir and saute for a minute.

Then just stir in your pasta (a half pound here), some pasta water to moisten things (a half cup or so), and maybe 3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

And that is that.

Ready to serve. And no unnecessary chewing.

How (not) to make agnolotti

5 Nov

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. — Mark Twain

I’ll be straight with you, okay. If I called this stuff agnolotti in the Piedmont, the region in Italy where the pasta shape is most common, I’d be sent packing like the Brutto Americano that I am. Strictly speaking, agnolotti are filled with roasted meats or vegetables. Add cheese to the mix and, well, you’ve got yourself some ravioli is what you’ve got.

I knew this going in. A perfectly acceptable agnolotti filling (three parts roasted parsnips to one part leeks, all nicely caramelized) was resting in the food processor, waiting for me to crack open yet another bottle of vino rosso when…

I just had to notice the one-pound tub of ricotta in the fridge, thereby reaching both for it and a little lemon zest.

Just, y’know, to screw things up.

Why anybody playing with a full deck would further listen to a knucklehead who would act in such a way is a mystery.

And yet here we are.

Might as well have a go at creating the shape of agnolotti.

Take about 3 cups of flour (I use double zero) and create a well in the middle. Mix together three large eggs, three or four egg yolks, one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and a half teaspoon salt.

Using a fork, slowly incorporate the flour into the egg mix. Don’t rush it; just gradually, and in a circular motion, bring the flour into the egg a little at a time until a dough starts to form.

At this stage you’re ready to work the dough with your hands.

Pasta dough isn’t like pastry dough and so you don’t need to worry about being delicate with it. Just keep working it until the egg and flour are fully incorporated.

Whe a nice dough ball forms scrape away any remaining flour from your work surface. On the clean surface keep working the dough until it’s nice and smooth. If the dough feels too wet dust the surface with a little flour and incorporate it into the dough ball. The dough shouldn’t feel sticky when you touch it, but it shouldn’t be dry either. Again, don’t worry about being delicate. You could work pasta dough all night long and not mess it up.

When you’re through working the dough wrap it in plastic and let it rest. Most people allow the dough to sit at room temperature for a few hours before making their pasta, which is fine. However, I prefer to make my dough a day in advance and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Make sure to allow the dough to come up to room temperature before rolling out sheets of pasta for the agnolotti.

Roll a thin sheet of pasta dough around 4 inches wide and lay down a line of filling along one edge. A pastry bag is ideal but I just put the filling in a plastic bag and cut a small hole in one corner.

Fold the dough over the filling from the edge.

And fold again into a small tube.

Using your fingers press down along the tube in increments of around 1 1/2 inches.

Then use your cutting tool in the indentations you made with your fingers.

And there you have it: Agnolotti.

Or not.

Pasta with corn & gorgonzola

8 Sep

Sometimes it really is ALL about the ingredients.

I was in New York visiting the family and naturally made a stop at my favorite Italian food store on the planet, D. Coluccio & Sons in Brooklyn. If you’ve never been then do yourself a big favor and get a move on. Now!

Anyhow, they had this beautiful hunk of cheese that I’d never tasted before: a Gorgonzola-Mascarpone blend. One of the cheesemongers, a new guy that I didn’t know, offered me a try and I liked it so much that I bought the entire two-pound piece.

Nothing succeeds like excess.

By the time I got home to Maine, the best thing waiting for me (besides about 10 more pounds of ripe tomatoes in the garden and, okay, the woman) was corn season. After plowing through an unknown quantity of fresh-from-the-farm corn and a not insignificant amount of the cheese, the idea of putting the two together came to me.

Normally I steam corn but in this case I filled a big pot with water, tossed in a handful of salt, and blanched two ears for three minutes. Do not throw away the water. It’s what you’ll cook the pasta in. Get it?

After the corn has cooled a bit carve off the kernels and set aside.

In a large pan saute three or four garlic cloves in olive oil until tender, then add one medium-size chopped fresh tomato. Cook for two or three minutes. This is also a good time to get your pasta started in the pot that you cooked the corn in.

Add the corn and several basil leaves.

Then add about 1/4 pound of the cheese. If you can’t find the Gorgonzola-Mascarpone then maybe use a mild gorgonzola instead.

Stir it all up, add some freshly ground black pepper, then cook at medium heat for around five minutes.

When the pasta is ready add it to the pan and incorporate. Make sure to save some of the pasta water and add as needed to keep things moist.

My guess is that corn season will be around a little while longer. As for the Gorgonzola-Mascarpone, well, I’m always looking for a reason to drive down and visit la famiglia!

How to make potato ravioli

19 Apr

They only look like the ones your mother used to make.

Far from it, actually. These ravioli are filled with potato, not ricotta. The only cheese inside is a little grated Reggiano, and that’s for flavor, not texture.

I know what you’re thinking: Must be pretty heavy. Like pierogi maybe. Cannonball type stuff, right?

Nope. These are pretty light as ravioli go, so long as you treat the filling just right.

Start with around 2 pounds of Russett potatoes. With a fork pierce the skin in several places and bake until the flesh is thoroughly softened. It’s totally cool to microwave the potatoes instead; after all, we’ll only be using the flesh, not the skins. Just don’t boil the potatoes, okay. Far as I’m concerned that always makes for a heavier filling.

Once the potatoes are baked allow them to cool just enough so that you can work with them without burning your fingers. Remove the skins and run the potatoes through a ricer and into a mixing bowl.

Mix in one egg, three tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a dash of nutmeg, salt (don’t be shy here, okay) and pepper to taste, and enough milk to moisten the potatoes. I’d start with 1/4 cup and add from there as needed; the idea is to achieve a nice and smooth filling, but not a runny one.

For good measure stir in some extra virgin olive oil, at which point the filling should be good to go. Taste it and adjust as you see fit. You can now get right to work on making the ravioli, or refrigerate the filling until you’re ready. It will last in the fridge a few days.

All that’s left to do now is put the ravioli together (here’s my fresh pasta dough recipe in case you need one). These pasta sheets are very thin, rolled out to the 1.5 setting on my pasta machine, which ranges from 1-10, thinnest to thickest. You can see that the filling is creamy without being runny; that’s the consistency you’re looking for.

To keep the ravioli from having air pockets carefully lay down the top pasta sheet with that in mind. I always begin at one end and slowly roll the top sheet down over each dollop of filling. To me that works better than lowering the entire top sheet down onto the bottom sheet at once.

One at a time start to form the ravioli; again, being careful to allow all of the air to escape.

This is how things should look. It’s not the end of the world if a little air is left inside the ravioli; just do your best to keep it to a minimum.

All that’s left to do now is get out your pasta cutter and cut the ravioli. As I said, the dough is thin and delicate. When you boil the ravioli (in very well-salted water, of course) they should only take around 3 minutes.

The great thing about this filling is that it goes great with most any kind of sauce you can conjure. This is a really simple sauce that I made here. I just sauteed some garlic and a little hot pepper in olive oil, then added lots of sweet butter, white wine and chopped parsely. In a couple minutes enough of the wine had reduced so that the flavor was just right. Easy peasey.

Then again, I have some leftover filling from the other night and I’ll be making a small batch of the ravioli for dinner tonight. This time it’ll be a Bolognese sauce, I think.

Which is a lot more like what mom might have made.

Zucchini & eggs

10 Sep

This won’t take but a minute. That’s the way comfort foods work. Time-wise you’re in and you’re out in a flash. It’s the feelings that linger on.

To my way of thinking few foods provide more comfort than Zucchini & Eggs. It’s right up there with Pasta & Peas on the warm-and-fuzzy scale — and precious few things ever make it into that territory.

I am not alone in this. Many of the people that I grew up with in Brooklyn will back me up here, I am sure. Their mothers and grandmothers and aunts sliced many summer zucchini from their family gardens, and even cracked eggs fresh from the chicken coops in their backyards. The olive oils that they lovingly fried the zucchini and the eggs in were fresh and fragrant, the breads accompanying the completed scramble crusty and fresh from the bakeries down the street.

It would be an unprofitable use of time trying to estimate how often I have gone running to zucchini & eggs for nourishment. I wouldn’t even try.

What I will try is to get you to give it a go and see how it feels.

Just slice up a zucchini and fry it in olive oil until golden.

Add a couple eggs (three here) and salt and pepper to taste.

Once the eggs start to set, lightly toss into a scramble and then serve.

Feels pretty good, am I right?