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Archive for June, 2009

The thing about being a food blogger is that you always have random photos of food in your camera.  My husband and I headed out yesterday for a sailboat cruise with friends on the San Francisco bay.  So uploading the pictures today was interesting, as sandwiched between pictures like this:

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were pictures of this:

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Nothing like bringing yourself back to your mundane life like a picture of potatoes.

It’s really OK though because these potatoes made a delicious potato salad.

The recipe comes from my husband’s mother, and he thinks it originated with his grandmother.  We have no idea if she invented it or pulled it out of some 1930s women’s magazine.  I’d love to know because I’ve never had potato salad that’s anything like this.  It uses some seemingly weird ingredients, like mint and white vinegar, but it’s really simple and really delicious.

Potato Salad with Mint

Ingredients
6-8 waxy potatoes
1 cup mayo
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup mint, coursely chopped
a splash or two of distilled white vinegar (not the fancy white wine vinegar, but basic white vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

The original recipe also suggests the option of adding chopped celery or green pepper, but I like the simplicity of the salad without those things.

Directions
Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender.  The time will probably vary depending on the size and type of potato, so I’d start with 10 minutes and then check every couple minutes until it gets to a good texture.

When they are done cooking, remove from heat and drain.  After they’ve cooled, peel them and coarsely chop into bite size pieces.

Add the mint, onion, salt and pepper, mayo, and a teaspoon or so of the vinegar to the potatoes.  Gently stir to combine, being careful not to crush the potatoes.  Add a little more vinegar and salt and pepper if you want.

Chill the potato salad until you are ready to eat. 

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I’ve been lazy

Occassionally, I’ll get in lazy, uninspired moods.  I take pictures of some of the stuff I make and then it just sits in the camera because I just wasn’t excited enough about the dish to want to spread the love around.

So to make up for the fact that I have not blogged about anything in over two weeks, I’ve got something really elaborate and decadent for you all today.  I have made…drumroll…homemade ricotta gnocchi!

I have never made gnocchi of any kind, and when I found out we were getting potatoes from Eatwell, I thought that’s what I’d do with them.  Well, they were the wrong kind of potato for gnocchi, so my dreams were crushed.  But I made homemade ricotta on Saturday for a pizza and had a huge amount leftover.  And once upon a time, I think I had ricotta gnocchi before, so off to the internets I went to search for a recipe.  A group of food bloggers called the Daring Cooks all attempted this ricotta gnocchi recipe from the Zuni Cookbook about a month ago, so I decided to try that recipe out.

It’s not easy but it was a fun recipe to make.  The key is starting with homemade ricotta, because it’s much drier than the storebought versions, and if the gnocchi aren’t dry enough, they will fall apart.  The end result is deceiving.  At first bite, they are light and fluffy and you just want to keep eating.  Then you eat about 5 and remember that there’s nothing in these things but cheese and eggs, and you need to lay down.

I would make these again, however, I would not serve them as a main course.  They are just too rich.  But they are yummy and impressive tasting, so if I were to ever host the fancy, formal kind of dinner party with a proper appetizer course, this would make it on the menu.

The recipe for the gnocchi comes from the Zuni Cookbook and I got a great deal of good advice from many of the fantastic Daring Cooks bloggers who wrote about their experiences making this recipe.  The pesto is my own creation, inspired by the bunch of marjoram we got in our CSA box from Eatwell.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Lemon-Marjoram Pesto

Ingredients

For the gnocchi:
pound fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional, and I used lemon zest)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the pesto sauce:
2 tablespoons marjoram
1 tablespoon pine nuts
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 scallion, finely minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
a squirt of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness.  To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel.  If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet.  To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve.  Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. 

I used homemade ricotta that I had made the day before and had drained really well after making it.  I did put the ricotta back in the seive over cheesecloth and a little more water came out, but after about 6 hours of that it was bone-dry.   It’s recommended that you drain the ricotta the day before you make the gnocchi, but since mine dried out really well by late afternoon, I just forged ahead.  If you are unsure, I would wait the extra day since it can’t really be too dry.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.  Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).  I put it on medium speed and it needed about 3 or 4 minutes to get to this point.

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

The batter was really sticky and I couldn’t really maneuver working a camera and dealing with the sticky dough everywhere, so I have no pictures.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.  Mine were small – about an inch or inch and a half long, and took just over 3 minutes.  If you make yours bigger, I’d do 4-5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter.  I also read where other bloggers added a bit of flour.   If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in.  Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.  I made about 45 little 1 inch gnocchi, but you can make yours bigger if you prefer.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

This is what they looked like.  Sorry, I know the picture is blurry.  I’ve been out of practice and was covered in sticky dough.

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You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Make the pesto sauce.

In a mortar and pestle, smash up the marjoram with a pinch of salt.  Add the scallion, lemon zest, and pine nuts until it forms a chunky paste.  Smash it up some more.  Add a squirt of lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil and mix that in with the paste to smooth it out.  Slowly add a bit more olive oil and lemon juice as needed to thin it out.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Step 5 Cooking the gnocchi.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).  Mine floated up to the top very quickly…almost within seconds of putting them in.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water.  They are too delicate to dump into a strainer so don’t.  Just add them to the bowl with the sauce and gently stir.  I had a little bit of difficulty doing this as they are fairly delicate and got a bit crushed, so just be very careful.

And here’s the finished product. 

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