Breakfast Gnocchi

Breakfast gnocchi (4)

Yes, yes—I know:  I’ve neglected posting recipes and commentary in this platform for an embarrassing number of months.  And there’s no good reason, really, other than poor compartmentalization in my other creative endeavors.  There’s also a matter of teaching which occupies a hearty part of my time.  But in the end, I’ll echo Jerry Cantrell’s sentiments from the Jar of Flies album—“No excuses…”

But what spurred this particular installment was—despite my abeyance in posting recipes—the recent notification that one of my former editors subscribed to my blog.  (Thanks for checking in one me, Mr. E.)

What I’ve produced for you here is a dish I concocted for the breakfast menu at the restaurant.  The idea here was to incorporate key elements of a typical breakfast—meat, potato, egg—and produce a different interpretation.

Translated from Italian, gnocchi (pronounced knock-key) means “lumps”; so while I’ll place some emphasis on consistency (the ideal shape is oblong and tubular, about the size of the knuckle of your thumb), don’t work your fingers to the bone seeking geometric perfection.  Like all rustic dumplings, the dimensions of these silky-and-savory bites should suggest something homemade—or “fatto in casa.”

Typically, gnocchi is a mixture of potato, flour, and egg (often cheese like Parmesan, as is employed here), but you can also use other starchy products—butternut squash, for example.

Another advantage of these simple dumplings is pre-poaching the gnocchi ahead of time, and then refrigerating or freezing for later use.

For those of you who recently joined my list of readers:  thank you—thank you for participating in and supporting this culinary conversation.

We’ll chat again soon.

Breakfast gnocchi

Serves 5

  • One recipe of basic gnocchi (follows)
  • 1 poached egg (ratio for poaching liquid = 1 quart water : 1 tablespoon white vinegar)
  • 2 slices bacon (whole for rendering fat)
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 5 whole cherry tomatoes
  • As needed, grated Parmesan cheese
  • As needed, chopped fresh parsley
  • As needed, sliced fresh green onion (for garnish)

 Basic Gnocchi

  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading dough)
  • 2 tablespoons, grated Parmesan cheese
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1.  Place potatoes in pot of water; bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer; cook until potatoes are tender when inserting a paring knife through center.  Remove potatoes from water and allow to rest for several minutes.  While potatoes are still warm, remove skins.  Place skinned potatoes in food mill and mash until smooth.  Add in eggs, flour, Parmesan cheese, and season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper (may need additional flour if dough is too moist).  On a lightly floured work surface, knead gnocchi dough  for several minutes until dough is smooth.  Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap.  Prepare gnocchi poaching liquid:  place a large pot of salted water on high heat; bring water to just below a simmer.

2.  Divide dough into four equal portions; roll out each portion into a long rope; using a knife or bench scraper, cut knuckle-size pieces, and use the tines of a fork to make striated indentions in the dough (but don’t smash them—keep them tubular and oblong); reserve the pieces of gnocchi on a floured sheetpan.

3.  Once gnocchi is shaped, gently lower into poaching water.  Cook gnocchi until dough floats, and continue cooking for approximately five to seven minutes (or until thoroughly cooked).  Using a bowl strainer or slotted spoon, remove gnocchi and reserve on an oiled sheetpan.

4.  Bring one quart of water and one tablespoon white vinegar to approximately 180° F for poaching liquid.  Gently crack a large egg and lower egg into poaching liquid.

5.  Place cherry tomatoes in a sauté pan or sheet pan and place over heat or in an oven to blister skins; reserve.  Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, fry bacon, rendering fat; remove bacon, drain on towel and chop; reserve.  Add roughly a cup of prepared gnocchi to sauté pan and brown in hot bacon fat.  Toss in parsley, green onion, and season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.

6.  Plate gnocchi, garnishing with Parmaesan cheese, parsley, green onion, and cherry tomatoes.  Gently place poached egg on top of gnocchi.

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Daube of beef

Something to stew about

Originally appeared in the January 3, 2013 edition of the Southside Times.

Daube of beef (4)

In cooking cliques there exists the Q-and-A tradition of quizzing ones culinary comrades with this scenario: if you died tomorrow, what would your last meal be today?  And I’ve listened to a gastronomic gamut of responses—foie gras, langoustine, otoro tuna, kobe beef, caviar.  But, when queried, I’ve often followed the impulse to make a nostalgic return to the formative and financially modest days of my culinary vocation.  When I was a student in Chicago, I didn’t have the cash to buy filet mignon, but if I could get my hands on an economical cut of beef at the nearby market, I could use a few vegetables, a small amount of stock along with a bit of leftover wine to conjure something magical.

Daube of beef is a stew which was a staple of the provincial poor in France.  There are countless variations which call for different cuts of meat and particular piece of equipment.  Though purists would urge you to use a daubière (a uniquely shaped pot well-suited for braising) a sturdy stockpot will do the trick.  And tell you what: you bring along a crusty baguette and some parsley and caper salad and we can enjoy this meal together.  So long for now, dear reader.

Daube of beef

Serves 2

  • 1 pound chuck steak, trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • As needed, olive oil
  • ½ onion, small dice
  • 1 carrot, peeled, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry, red wine
  • 1 pint water or light chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1.  In a high-sided stockpot, season and sear the beef in batches, reserving on a plate when meat is browned and mahogany colored.  Remove and reserve on a plate.  Sauté onion and carrot for several minutes; add garlic and cook briefly (don’t burn).  If more fat is required, add a small amount of olive oil.  Add tomato paste and stir until vegetables become dark.  Add a small amount of olive oil along with flour; stir to form a paste.  Add wine and, using a wooden spoon, deglaze bottom of pan by scraping up browned bits.  Add beef back to pot and pour in water or stock until liquid just covers the top of the meat (depending on pot size, may need to adjust liquid).  Add bay leaves and bring to a gentle simmer and cook for until reduced halfway.

2.  Occasionally skim impurities from the top of the stew, and be vigilant about the liquid (meaning you may need to make further additions if reducing is too rapid).  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  When stew is thick, flavorful, and beef is tender, ladle into large bowls ad serve with crusty baguette and parsley and caper salad.

Published in: on January 4, 2013 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Classic lasagna al forno

Lasagna: an indefatigable classic

Originally appeared in the December 20, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Clasic lasagna al forno (1)

Lasagna is an indefatigable classic—sure, we could quibble over styles (think of the variations between cheeses: cottage or ricotta or the complete absence of either), but the traditional combination of pasta sheets, tomato-based sauce, and some sort of dairy or cheese—all baked together in a savory stratification—make for a hearty, family-style dish that’s difficult to beat no matter the permutation.

An old cooking chum once shared a story with me that his grandmother, in addition to red tomato and white cottage, employed a layer of spinach to her lasagna as a nod to the Italian flag—red, white, and green, of course.  I can appreciate those familial and familiar version, but with this week’s recipe I’ve included two elements that will be exercise for your cooking chops—Bolognese and white sauce.

The Bolognese (also called a ragu) is a mix of aromatic vegetables and chopped or ground meat, and the white sauce is a basic béchamel (one of the five leading or “mother” sauces) with an addition of two types of cheese.  And al forno is just a term that denotes a softened pasta noodle achieved through baking.

Classic lasagna al forno

Serves 4 -6

  • 9 oven-ready lasagna sheets
  • ½ onion, grated
  • 1 carrot, peeled, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 ounces minced sirloin steak
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • A few pinches dry oregano and dry basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 14 ½ ounces canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 ounces red wine
  • 2 – 4 ounces whole milk
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Cheese sauce

  • 1 ounce all-purpose flour plus 1 ounce unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces whole milk
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 ounces grated white cheddar cheese
  • 2 ½ tablespoons grated parmesan (plus more for topping)

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  In wide-bottomed, high-sided sauté pan or sautoir, heat small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and carrots, reduce heat slightly; sweat veg several minutes before adding garlic; continue till veg are translucent and fragrant.  Add in minced steak and ground pork; lightly season with salt and pepper; add dry herbs, bay leaf.  Using a wooden spoon, add tomato sauce; incorporate and reduce slightly; add crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire.  Pour in red wine and reduce until syrupy.  Remove from heat, stir in milk.  Reserve warm.

2.  In a high-sided saucepan over medium heat, add flour and butter, allowing butter to melt to form a paste.  Whisk in 1/3 of milk, removing any lumps by stirring.  Add in another 1/3 of milk along with pinch nutmeg.  Add last 1/3 of milk, bring to gentle boil.  Remove from heat, add in grated cheese in small installments; whisk in parmesan, season with salt and pepper.

3.  Evenly spread 1/3 of meat mixture to a 8-inch by 11 ½ -inch by 2-inch casserole dish (or 2 quart baking dish).  Line with three sheets of oven-ready lasagna; spread out 1/3 of cheese sauce and top with another 1/3 of meat mixture; add three more sheets of lasagna.  Pour out remaining 1/3 of meat mixture, spread evenly before applying final amount of cheese mix.  Top with additional parm; cover with aluminum foil, bake at 350° F for 30 minutes.  After removing, allow lasagna to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Top with extra parmesan.

Published in: on December 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grilled bison steaks with pesto goat cheese gnocchi

Some bison advice: get to know buffalo

Originally appeared in the December 6, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Grilled bison steaks with pesto goat cheese gnocchi (5)

You may have noticed those bison steaks chilling in a slim row next to the organic chicken and lamb shanks at your local grocery.  And for whatever reason you’ve passed them over for the same old steaks—whether due to cost or culinary uncertainty—take it from me: you’re missing out.

As shared in the third edition of Labensky and Hause’s insightful tome On Cooking, bison (also known as American buffalo) were once found in huge herds in the plains states, but were hunted into near-extinction during the nineteenth century.

Cooking bison is a quiet affair—what I mean is that while the meat is tender and flavorfully distinct, it lacks the marbling of beef; and having said that, the lean profile of bison requires you to make a few adjustments to the cooking time.  Like other coveted cuts of red meat, I urge you: don’t…overdo…it.

The subtle aroma and flavor of bison is ungamey, and retains a texture akin to filet mignon.  My last three pieces of bison advice: season wisely, uncork a bottle of red, and serve with hearty starch that will do the noble buffalo justice.  See you next week, dear reader.

Grilled bison steaks with pesto goat cheese gnocchi

Serves 2

  • 2, 6- to 8-ounce bison sirloin steaks
  • 16 ounces prepared potato gnocchi (Delallo makes a very decent boxed variety)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons prepared pesto
  • As needed, ½ cup (or more) whole milk
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • As needed, fresh Italian parsley for garnish

1.  Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Meanwhile, place a grill pan over medium-high heat.  Liberally season bison steaks with kosher salt and cracked black pepper; and once grill is hot, place steaks on heat.  When water comes to a boil, pour in prepared gnocchi and cook for 3- 5 minutes.

2.  Prepare sauce for gnocchi: in a sauté pan over low heat, add goat cheese along with a small amount of milk; allow cheese to melt down.  When goat cheese has thinned out, whisk in prepared pesto; season to taste and keep warm.

3.  When bison has been grill-seared on both sides, place on an oven-safe dish, cover with aluminum foil, and continue cooking in oven at 375°F for 5-7 minutes or until desired doneness is achieved.  Drain gnocchi thoroughly and toss in goat cheese sauce.  Serve bison atop gnocchi and garnish with Italian parsley.

Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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