Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another One Off Of The Culinary Bucket List

Are we all done with turkey now, at least for a while?  Everyone raise their hands if you agree.  Yeah.  Thought so.

Let’s see.  So far, I’ve done turkey sandwiches with my lovely cranberry/jalapeño jelly, with a side of reheated dressing (day-um but I made good dressing this year), turkey in reheated gravy on mashed potatoes (oh yeah….), a snack of turkey on White Lilly flour biscuits (with more of that jelly) and tonight, turkey seco tacos (spread the shredded turkey on a baking sheet, toss with olive oil, garlic, chile powder and whatever other spices float your boat, throw into a 300° oven until it gets dry, about half an hour, that’s the “seco” and then make into tacos with all the usual suspects….tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, avocados, radishes, corn tortillas….).  Those rocked.  I may, may have one more turkey meal left before any dregs go into the freezer for future consideration.  Or, there may not be any dregs…we’ll see what the circling turkey-scarfing vulture dogs have in mind !

Yeah, THOSE turkey-scarfing vulture dogs.  Fresh from the doggie spa, replete with the frou-frou little ear bows.  Rosie rocked the look.  Lulu, ehhhh, not so much.  Sort of like putting a tutu on Peppermint Pattie.  Just….doesn‘t work somehow.

But Lulu most certainly DOES rock this look....

It's Mohawk Puppy !

But I digress.  Amazingly enough, this isn’t about leftover turkey, or even adorable vulture dogs.  It’s about tackling yet another food project *I Thought I’d Never Be Able To Make*.  The culinary bucket list.  We all have one, don’t we ?  Stuff we love, but think we can’t make at home for any variety of reasons.  Involved techniques, amount of time/effort required, exotic ingredients, there can be any number of excuses.  But most can be vanquished with just that little bit of the “courage of your convictions”.

This time around it was gnocchi.

Gnocchi.  Little, pillowy dumpling-ish nuggets of pasta/potato goodness.  Good gnocchi are very good.  VERY good.  Like dreamy, sublime good.  Like, go home and fantasize about gnocchi for a month or so good.   I’ve had that kind, rarely.  But often enough to know that’s what I aspire to.

Bad gnocchi are, well, really REALLY bad.  Leaden.  Heavy.  Dense, sodden little gut-bombs that sink to the pit of your stomach, not to mention your soul, and leave you not only with a bad taste in your mouth, and a sick feeling in your tum-tum, but a fear and loathing of ever trying to make them at home, let alone ever eating them again.

Because….they’re hard to make.  They have to be.  Because anything that’s THAT good (when they’re good) and THAT bad (when they’re bad) can’t be easy.  But after growing increasingly frustrated with the gnocchi I can find commercially i.e., frozen, dried/dehydrated and/or fresh/refrigerated (with nice green mold as an option, apparently, see an earlier post about a summer veg gnocchi dish…), I was toying with the idea of breaking down and trying to make them from scratch.  But it all seemed, so….daunting.

And then I was presented with another lovely, petite butternut squash from The Growing Experience.  Literally the same day, I was channel-surfing, and found a repeat of an ancient “Good Eats” (I *heart* Alton) episode on Cooking Channel.  It was about making…..butternut squash gnocchi.

I figured it was a Sign From Above.  Or sumpthin'.

A quick note.  This is not a dish for an "its 5:30 and I have no idea what to make for dinner" dinner.  See my Pasta with 3P's and Caramelized Onion Pasta or several other recipes around here for that.  No.  This *is* a project, with a capital "P".  A project that works on a day when it's cold and windy and inclement, and staying in the kitchen, babysitting food that's cooking and playing with dough and large pots of boiling water sounds like a good time.  Crank up the Ella and Louis (Armstrong, of course) on whatever passes for a stereo system at your place these days, pour a glass of your favorite adult beverage, and make some gnocchi to warm your soul and your pysche.

The first two required players are:

That’s my baby butternut squash, and a smallish Russet potato.  We’ve got to get them cooking way in advance of the projected dinner.  Cooking time, ya knows, then cooling time.  All that takes, well, time.

Cut the squash in half and scoop out those nasty, nasty stringies and seeds.  Put the halves on a baking sheet, and drizzle with some olive oil, some kosher salt and some pepper.

Helllllllooooooooo Mr. Small Skanky Pan !  You always have a place in my kitchen.

As does this:

I bought this at TJ’s, as you can see by the label, on a whim.  What I was going to do with it, I had no clue.  But it was cheap (less than 3 bucks, I think) and sounded interesting.  And it is.  Very interesting.  I can’t say I’ve used it a whole lot, but I CAN say it’s magic, absolute magic, on roasted winter squash.  I used it on the Kabocha I turned into risotto, and on the other butternut I used for my squash/red chile soup.  It’s a really cool product, a mix of black peppercorns and dried lavender, calendula, cornflower and rose petals.  So you get a pepper punch, with the floral background.  I would bet it would be stellar on roasted or baked sweet potatoes as well.

So, toss the squash into the oven until it’s tender and brown in spots.  While that’s going down, peel and quarter your potato, and boil that in salted water until it’s very tender, almost ready to fall apart, and let it cool a bit.  Then, while it’s still warm, run the spud through one of these:

No, that’s not a garlic press on steroids.  That’s a potato ricer.  This will take your normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill Russets and turn them into potato fluff.

See all those itty-bitty teeeeeny holes?  They do good work, baby.

Cool that potato fluff completely.

When the squash is done, it should come out of the oven with a nice roasty glow.

When it’s cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the skins,

and toss the flesh into a Cuiz.

I suppose you could puree the flesh by hand, or in a blender.  Certainly, a food mill would work.  You want to get the flesh nice and smooth, and break up any fibers that might remain.

Then you’re going to dump the pureed flesh into a pan and stir it over medium heat until it thickens and any liquid evaporates.

Mine didn’t have much liquid…..but my squash was a little weird, not that I’m a particular expert on butternut squash.  It had a little hard “knob” of core up around where the stem attached to the body.  It was very fibrous and dry, and I’d never seen it before in a winter squash.  So maybe my squash was drier than normal to begin with.  At any rate, dry the pureed flesh.

Prep a couple of sheet pans by lining them with parchment and dusting the paper with flour.  Set them aside.

So, here’s the balance of the class picture.

Pretty simple.  Actually the dish, while involved, is dead-bang simple, and that’s part of what makes it so good.  Just good, simple, EXCELLENT flavors, properly blended together.  But I not only digress, I wander….

Egg, flour, Parmesan cheese, salt and nutmeg.  But use good stuff here, please.  With so few ingredients, any flaws in what you use will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Take some of the potato, some of the squash puree and mix with the cheese, fresh grated nutmeg, lightly beaten egg and salt, and mix together in a large bowl.  Gradually add in some flour until you get a dough that holds together, and is almost smooth.  No pix of these steps, we get the gloppy hand syndrome going again, and I do try to protect my poor camera from that.  But you get the drift, I’m sure.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface.

Ahhhhhhh, clean hands !

But not for long.  Knead the dough gently and briefly, just until it gets smooth, and then divide into equal parts (8 for the full recipe, I did 4 for the halved version).  Roll them out, one at a time, into a long, snaky rope, about 1/2-inch in diameter.

Now.  I had a HUGE problem getting my ropes even.  A couple of reasons, I think.  First I think my dough (and we’ll confirm this in a bit), was a bit too soft.  I should’ve probably blended in just a smidge more flour to firm it up.  But remember, it’s a fine line between not enough flour and too soft, and too much flour and way heavy.  As always, adjust with a light hand……And, apparently I also have a problem rolling those snaky ropes.  Next time, I’ll cut each rope in half and work from there.  I did that for the last set, and got much more even results.

Using your trusty bench knife, cut each rope into roughly 3/4-inch pieces.

Using the back of a fork, dipped in flour, roll each little nugget over the back of the tines of the fork, making little ridges.  As you do so, transfer the gnocchi to the prepped baking sheets.

As you can see, some got the ridges, some not quite.  Again, I think the dough was a wee tad soft (Wee Tad, I think I dated him once…..) so the ridges didn’t hold (no.  I’m not going there).  But they tasted good (not there either).

At this point, the little plump pillows of yumminess need to chill in the fridge for a while.  Stash them, on the baking tray, covered loosely with plastic wrap, for at least an hour, and up to 6.

Time to cook and serve !  YAY !  At this point, it does become a very easy meal.

Bring a large, and I mean LARGE pot of salted water to a furious boil.  This is my stock pot.  I think it holds, like 2 or 3 gallons.  I can easily boil a pound of dried pasta in it.

Dump in your little gnocchi puffs, and cook until they’re light, fluffy, ethereal and tender.  NOT until they float.  Homemade gnocchi, as you can see from the above picture, float almost immediately.  They need to go the full time to become the puffy delights they should be, and not the undercooked, doughy gut bombs they can be.  No, they won’t fall apart.

Whilst the morsels are cooking, get the sauce ready.  Lop off a goodly-sized knob of butter, and put it in a heavy skillet.

Let it melt, and get nice and browned.  Sadly, no pic of the perfect browned-ness, the action got going pretty fast there.  When it smells “nutty”, you’re there.

While the butter is browning, chop up some fresh sage.

I LOVE fresh sage.  I think it’s my favorite fresh herb.  Well, except for cilantro.  And rosemary.  And mint.  And dill.  And maybe thyme.  But sage, sage is it.  Plus, the leaves are so cool, with their velvety texture…..

Dump the chopped sage into the pan with the browned butter and stir it around for a minute or so.  When the gnocchi are done, fish them out of the boiling water with one of these:

THAT is a “spider”.  You’ve heard me speak of these before.  It’s a marvelous tool.  See how far apart the wire tines are?  Water drains from it instantly.  You can find them everywhere.  Asian markets, culinary stores, discount houses, etc., etc., etc.  If you don’t have a spider, you should get one.  Especially if you do any amount of deep-frying.  NO residual hot oil lurking around to a) hurt you or b) slime the food or c) HURT YOU.  They’re dirt cheap, last forever (the handle is bamboo) and really do a great job of simultaneous scooping and draining.

Or you could use a slotted spoon to fish out the cooked gnocchi.  At any rate, fish the little babies out of the water.  You could put them back onto your same, parchment-lined baking pans (and hold them for another few hours), or do what I did, and put them immediately into your pan with the butter.

Toss that around to brown the gnocchi a bit, season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to warmed serving bowls.  Add more grated Parmesan and fall face-first into the goodness.

Here’s the real recipe, via my current culinary icon, Lidia Bastianich.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
6 servings

1 pound butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
12-14 ounces Russet potatoes, peeled, quartered
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1&1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1&3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Freshly ground black pepper
Additional Parmesan cheese for service

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out and discard seeds and strings.  Place, cut side up, on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (TJ’s flower pepper if you got it).  Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with a skewer or knife, and brown in spots, about 1 to 1&1/2 hours.  Cool slightly.  Scoop flesh from skins into processor, puree until smooth.  Transfer to medium saucepan.  Stir constantly over medium heat until any liquid evaporates and the puree thickens, about 5 minutes.  Cool.  Measure out 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve excess, can be frozen). (Circling Vulture Dogs like cooled, cooked squash puree, just sayin’.)

Meanwhile, cook potatoes in medium saucepan of boiling, salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain.  While potatoes are still warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl and cool completely.  Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) of the riced potatoes.  Reserve any remaining potato for another use (no potatoes for Vulture Dogs).

Mix the squash puree, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.  Gradually add 1&3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until the dough holds together and is almost smooth.  If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls.  Some stickiness is OK.  Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly until just smooth.  Divide dough into 8 parts.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.  Sprinkle the parchment lightly with flour.  Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll dough out on a floured surface to about a 1/2-inch thick rope.  Cut the rope crosswise into roughly 3/4-inch pieces.  Roll each gnocchi over the back of a floured fork, pressing the dough gently down onto the tines to create ridges.  Transfer the gnocchi to the prepared baking sheets.  Cover the sheets loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour, and up to six.

Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling, salted water until very tender, about 15 to 17 minutes.  Gnocchi may float to the surface before being fully cooked.  Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked gnocchi to the same parchment-lined baking sheets and cool.  Can be made up to 8 hours in advance.  Cover and chill if doing so.

Cook butter in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until browned (and smelling slightly nutty), stirring often, about 4-5 minutes.  Add chopped sage leaves, stir 1 minute.  Add drained gnocchi.  Cook until just heated through and coated with butter, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Transfer to heated serving bowl, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Serve in heated bowls, passing additional Parmesan.

1 comment:

  1. Kill me now. The last two butternuts from the Farmers Market season are on my kitchen island. I believe one of them is destined for this. BTW, I've had good luck with ricotta gnocchi, vs. potato gnocchi. And if you have a gluten-challenged person in your life, GF baking flour is a reasonable sub.