POTATO GNOCCHI – Dumpling Clouds from the Heavens!

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I love pasta but every once in a while I will make gnocchi, a fluffy potato dumpling that, when made correctly, will melt in your mouth leaving you wanting more and more!  This is not a difficult recipe.  Anyone can make gnocchi to die for, even you!

Our family didn’t grow up preparing gnocchi.  I don’t recall us ever eating this at home.  About 15 years ago I met a wonderful lady from Italy who lived in my neighborhood.  We became instant friends.  She invited us over for a gnocchi dinner and that was the end of it!  My children ranted and raved and wanted me to make it all the time.  My friend gave me her recipe and I did make it a few times but being a full-time working mom gave me little time to do it often.  Unfortunately I lost her written recipe but it remained etched in my mind.  The following recipe is to her credit with a few little additions of my own.

There are several creative ways to make gnocchi but most make it with a simple potato, egg and flour recipe.   Some may add ricotta cheese, Parmigiano or Romano.  Others may use different types of flour, including  all-purpose, superfine or semolina.

Gnocchi toppings and sauces vary widely!  Feel free to be creative with your accompanying sauce.  Gnocchi is extremely versatile when it comes to sauces and will go well with anything from simple tomato sauce ,  Bolognese, brown butter, etc. all the way up to complex sauces such as Gorgonzola cream sauce, wild mushroom or Vodka cream sauce.  Once you have your gnocchi making down to a science don’t be afraid to experiment with different sauces and/or cheeses .

 

DSC05324Today we will make a fail safe recipe from ingredients that anyone can find at their local grocery store!  Gnocchi goes perfect with my Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe. If you are planning to use a pre-made jarred sauce from the market do be sure it is one of the higher end brands.  The cost for a quality jarred sauce is between $7.00 and $10.00 per jar, sometimes even higher,  but it is well worth it if you aren’t making your own sauce from scratch.

The following recipe makes approximately 80 to 85 Gnocchi.

Ingredients

2 pounds of baked russet potatoes – about 5 medium

,(oven baked at 425 degrees F for approximately 45 minutes or until a fork passes through easily)

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Table

Additional Pecorino cheese

Crushed red pepper

Variations

Substitute Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for Pecorino Romano cheese

Add 1/2 cup pitted, halved Italian olives to your Marinara sauce such as Calamata or Castelvetrano

Directions

Bake potatoes at 425 degrees F for 45 to 60 minutes, until a fork passes easily through the potatoes.   Let cool.  Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and place them in a bowl.  I usually just cut them in half and scoop the potato meat out with a spoon.   Discard the skins.  Mash potato meat very well or put through a potato ricer.

Run ;potatoes through a ricer or mash well.  I have a masher that also rices!

Run ;potatoes through a ricer or mash well. I have a masher that also rices!

Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, Pecorino cheese and salt to the potatoes and gently mix together until completely incorporated.  Add beaten egg, a little at a time, just until the dough is able to bind together.  You will have some egg left over.  Mix gently but well.  If the mixture feels too sticky add some more flour a little at a time.  If it is too dry add more egg, a tsp at a time.   Do not overwork the dough.  Gnocchi dough doesn’t feel like bread dough.  It should be bound together but still feel light and fluffy.  If the dough is overworked there’s a good chance that you could produce dense, rubbery gnocchi.  The aim is for soft, fluffy dumplings.

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Potatoes, flour and salt, before adding the beaten egg

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The gnocchi dough, ready for cutting and shaping along with the egg and flour I had left over. Use the flour on your board.

Once you have your dough formed, turn out onto a floured cutting board (use your remaining flour) or counter top.   Cut dough in half then in half two more times.   You will now have 8 pieces of dough.

Cut dough into 8 even sections

Cut dough into 8 even sections

 

Roll the sections into 3/4 to 1 inch thick strands

Roll the sections into 3/4 to 1 inch thick strands

Roll out each section of dough into long strands about to 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick, adding more flour onto your board as needed to prevent gnocchi from sticking together or adhering to your work surface. Cut strips into 1 1/2 inch pieces and gently roll over fork tines to make ridges in the gnocchi pieces.

If you have a large amount of gnocchi and don’t want to cook it all at once simply place  gnocchi  in an air tight container and store in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or freeze for later use.(see below for storing and freezing instructions*)  I like to make large batches and freeze some for later use because it’s a moderately time consuming recipe.

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Cut gnocchi before rolling over fork tines

Place gnocchi, one piece at a time,  in a pot of salted boiling water. Gently stir to keep gnocchis from sticking together.  Cook in several batches, about 15 to 20 pieces at a time.  It takes a short amount of time for gnocchi to cook, about 3 or 4 minutes.  When the gnocchi floats to the top it is done.

As the gnocchi float to the top, remove with a slotted spoon and place over a layer of sauce on your serving vessel. Once all the gnocchi has been placed in your serving dish add a little cracked pepper then toss with your remaining sauce. Top with 2 Tbsp of Pecorino cheese and do offer more cheese along with some crushed red pepper at the table.

Cut gnocchi after rolling over fork tines

Cut gnocchi after rolling over fork tines

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Remove gnocchi individually with a slotted spoon as they float to the top of the boiling water

*To freeze gnocchi:    Place gnocchi in a single layer on a parchment or wax paper lined cookie sheet and place sheet in freezer.  Once gnocchi is completely frozen transfer to a zip up freezer bag or container and place back into freezer.

*To store fresh gnocchi in the refrigerator:  place gnocchi in an air tight container with a piece of parchment or wax paper between each single layer of gnocchi.

I hope you enjoy making home made gnocchi from scratch.   Ciao for now!

On the cookie sheet and ready for freezing!

On the cookie sheet and ready for freezing!

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Stuffed Artichokes Italian Style – Simple Yet Delicious!

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It’s artichoke season!  Big, beautiful artichokes are plentiful in local markets and I was able to pick them up for $1.50 each. This recipe has been handed down through at least 4 generations in our family and whenever I just start thinking about it my mouth begins to water. Our family stuffed artichoke recipe is a simple yet wonderfully rich and flavorful recipe without too many bells and whistles.

In the past I’ve tasted stuffed artichokes made for my by other Italian families and, although good, I find that our family recipe is my absolute favorite!

Start with a large stock pot, one large enough to hold all your artichokes at the bottom.  If you are making a big batch you can always use more than one pot.   Always be sure that however many artichokes you are cooking in one specific pot they will all sit at the bottom to ensure even cooking.  You’ll also need a baking pan for the final stage of oven baking.

 Ingredients

4 Large Artichokes, preferably Globe

Equal parts of seasoned Italian bread crumbs and freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, enough to generously stuff artichokes (1 to 1 1/2 cups each depending on the size of the artichokes – for this recipe and these sized artichokes I used 1 1/4 cup each)*

*note -you can save any remaining stuffing in an air tight container for up to a week for later use

1 tsp Onion Powder

1/4 tsp Garlic Powder

Approximately 1/4 cup olive oil for drizzling before baking

Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

You can make your own bread crumb mixture but I actually prefer to buy the Progresso brand.  It’s easy and actually cheaper in the long run.

Directions

Wash and trim artichokes, cutting off the stem.  If the artichokes are fresh you can trim and peel the stem and include them after steaming in either the stuffing or on the side.  Sometimes the stems can be tough if the artichoke is too old but most times they render almost the same quality as the bottoms – smooth and creamy!

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Trimmed raw artichokes – top view

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Trimmed raw artichokes – bottom view

Put the trimmed artichokes in a stock pot and fill the pot with hot tap water  to reach approximately 1/3 of the way up the artichokes.  Sprinkle a few pinches of salt evenly over the artichokes.

Bring the artichokes to a boil then lower to simmer and cover.   Steam the artichokes for approximately 30 to 45 minutes until outer leaves are tender but not falling off of the artichoke. If the leaves fall off the outer portion of the artichoke you have overcooked them.  The artichokes will continue to cook during the baking step ..  Alternately you can simmer them for 30 minutes and turn off the heat.  Let them sit in the covered stock pot for another 10 to 20 minutes before removing.  Please note that cooking times will vary depending on the size of the artichokes.

 

 

Fill stock pot with warm water to cover approximately 1/3 of the artichokes

Fill stock pot with warm water to cover approximately 1/3 of the artichokes

Check the water frequently to make sure it is still simmering, and to also check water level in the stockpot every so often.  If the water level is low add a little more hot water.  There have been times that I’ve forgotten to check my water level and have ended up with burned artichoke bottoms in a dry pot!   While you check the water, check the artichokes at the same time for doneness.

Once the artichokes are cooked remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside, reserving the remaining liquid in the stockpot.  You will need the water to moisten the stuffing.

Place bread crumbs, Romano cheese and spices into a bowl  Mix dry ingredients together well.  Be careful not to over salt as you have already steamed the artichokes in salted water and the cheese has a good amount of salt in it already.

Once the artichokes are cool enough for you to touch, gently spread open the leaves just enough to allow for stuffing.

Gently "fan out" steamed artichoke to prepare for stuffing

Gently “fan out” steamed artichoke to prepare for stuffing

If you prefer you can now remove the choke.  I prefer to leave the choke intact because the stuffing is very rich and too much of it in one place can ruin the dish.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Tuck the stuffing by spoonfuls into each layer of the artichoke so it can layer the inside of the leaves.  This way you get a bit of stuffing in every tasty bite!

Bread crumb, spices and cheese before thoroughly mixing

Bread crumb, spices and cheese before thoroughly mixing

Once the artichokes are stuffed, spoon the reserved cooking  liquid over each artichoke until stuffing is wet but not saturated.  If the stuffing is too wet it will become soggy!   Place artichokes in a roasting pan and drizzle each artichoke with a generous amount of olive oil.   If you love butter feel free to substitute it for all or part of the olive oil.  Pour the remaining reserved cooking water into the bottom of the roasting pan and roast on 325 degrees F for 15 minutes.  Cover artichokes loosely with aluminum foil after 10 minutes to keep them from drying out and roast for another 10 to 15  minutes or until artichokes are heated through,

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Stuffing the artichokes

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Stuffed, moistened, drizzled with olive oil and ready for the oven

Serve warm out of the oven, either alone or as a side dish.

Tips:  Have a leaf discard plate on the side to discard your eaten leaves.

Enjoy with a glass of  light red table wine or Cabernet.

Serve with a side of vermicelli topped with fresh tomato basil sauce.

If you are unsure as to how to properly eat an artichoke here is a really fun demonstration video from Food Network.

Ciao for now!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

I”m back again with a really quick, easy and fun recipe for making your own organic Ricotta cheese.  This simple and easy recipe will be a hit with all your recipes calling for Ricotta.  As soon as you prepare this you will never used store-bought ricotta again.

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homemade ricotta finished product

Rich and creamy, this cheese can be made in about 30 minutes and the recipe can be altered to provide for preparing either savory or sweet ricotta.  If you plan to use your ricotta for a cannoli recipe be sure to leave out the salt.  Also, you can experiment with salt amounts depending on your taste.  The trick is to add or not add some salt during either the cooking process or the drying process.  I never add salt when I am making Ricotta cheese.  The salt can always be added later but I know that there are many people who like to add salt before boiling so do what makes you happy!   If you are making a harder cheese like paneer and want salt integrated within the liquid do add some when boiling.

Depending on how creamy you like your ricotta you can also alter this recipe by substituting a cup or two of milk with a few cups of heavy cream.  The recipe below is made with whole organic milk and organic Meyer lemons yielding a wonderful organic cheese for half the price!

Note:  You can also wrap the drained curds, flatten a bit and place a weight like a pot or pan over it for an extra 30 to 45 minutes to squeeze out excess moisture which will yield a harder cheese.   The result will be paneer/farmer’s cheese/curd cheese.  Note that if you decide to make a harder cheese you can also add the salt after your cheese is fully drained and before it is weighted by kneading it into the cheese.

If you are using raw milk be sure to use a thermometer and bring milk up to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit.  When preparing Ricotta, the lower the temperature the better.  The curds will remain softer and yield a creamier cheese.

When using pasteurized milk be sure it is not UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized as UHT milk will not separate into curds and whey after adding acid.

 

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simple ingredients

Ingredients

8 cups of whole organic milk (NOT UHT))

1/4 to 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice*

2 to 3 Tbsp salt (optional)

*(You can substitute lemon juice with vinegar if you prefer a more tangy cheese.  The amount of vinegar needed will be approximately 1/3 less than the amount of lemon juice.   Also note that depending on the ripeness and acidity of  the lemons you use the amount of lemon juice will vary.  The key is to use a smaller amount of acid at first and add more as you are stirring until you obtain a separation of curds and whey.)

 

Directions

Bring milk to a simmer, stirring often to avoid a milk film.   Once your milk is simmering or at about 165 degrees F, start slowly pouring in 1/4 cup lemon juice while stirring the milk.  If you don’t see the milk start to curd add your reserve lemon juice a little at a time until the curds start to separate from the whey.

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measure out your lemon juice and keep some on reserve in case you need to add more

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separated curds and whey

Once separated, remove from heat.

Drain cheese in a colander lined with at least 3 or 4 layers of cheesecloth for 15 to 20 minutes.  Alternately you can use a cotton handkerchief or thin cotton kitchen towel.  If you want your Ricotta to be on the creamy side, drain for less time.  Ricotta cheese should have whey left within the cheese.    The longer you let it drain the thicker it will become. Transfer ricotta to a bowl or plastic container and use immediately or store in refrigerator.  This cheese will keep for approximately 5 days refrigerated.  If you decide to use less draining time and store your cheese for a few days you will most likely see whey settling on the top when you are ready to use your cheese.  Simply mix the whey back into the cheese before using.

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pour the separated curds and whey into a colander lined with cheesecloth and drain whey

To make farmer’s cheese, continue to drain for 5 to 10 more minutes and tie up the corners of the cheesecloth.  Slip a wooden spoon through two of the tied ends and hang to dry for another 30 minutes over a tall container.   I use a flower vase  and have also hung on a kitchen cabinet knob over a bowl.  Remember, the more whey that drains off the harder the cheese will become.  Feel free to occasionally gently squeeze out more whey from your cheese during the hanging process.  Once the cheese is fully drained to your desired consistency (about 20 to 30 minutes later) remove it from the draining receptacle and place on a flat surface.  Untie the corners.  If you would like to add salt or minced herbs to your cheese now would be the time to knead them in.   Next, wrap the cheesecloth around the cheese.  Flatten a bit with your hand and place a weight over the cheese for another 30 to 45 minutes or up to 1 hour.  The result will be a delicious farmer’s cheese or a tasty paneer for your Indian dishes.  You can use immediately or refrigerate for at least an hour for a firmer consistency.  I happen to love Indian food so I often make paneer and mix it with a homemade makhani sauce.  Alternately you can make sweet treats like baking it with toasted walnuts, raisins, cinnamon & sugar, etc.  This cheese won’t melt at higher temperatures and will have a consistency similar to firm tofu.

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For a harder cheese – step 1 – hang to drain for approximately 30 minutes

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For a harder cheese – step 2 – flatten cheese with your hand

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For a harder cheese – step 3 – weigh down (I used a flat pan with the bowl of whey) for approximately 30 to 45 minutes

Finally, you will be left with a good amount of acid whey.    I use it to water my plants and lace my dog’s food but there are many culinary uses for whey.  If you feel ambitiously inspired by all this leftover whey in your  bowl do a web search and you will find many creative ways to utilize whey!  Here is a website with some great ideas for utilizing leftover whey 16 Ways to Use Whey .

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leftover whey

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beautiful finished block of farmer’s cheese/paneer

 

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  Let me know how your cheese turns out!

 

Penne Rigate with Broccoli

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My mother cooked us this dish often.  She would use frozen broccoli florets and, most times, they were too soft and fell apart by the time the entire dish was brought together.  Over the years I have changed this recipe just a little to incorporate fresh broccoli in place of frozen which exponentially elevates the quality of taste and texture.

Sorry for the steamy pictures!  Some of the pictures came out a little foggy because of the steam on the camera lens.  

Once you make this recipe you will want to take your own pictures!

Ingredients

1 pound fresh Broccoli florets, cut into bite sized pieces approximately the same size

10 oz good quality Penne Rigate

1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1/2 tsp dried Crushed Red Pepper*

1 tsp Dried Sweet Basil

3 cloves Fresh Garlic

1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Kosher Salt and fresh Cracked Pepper to taste

*the amount of red pepper you use depends on your taste.  1/2 tsp is just enough to get that bite of heat.

Directions

(cooking and prep time approxmately 30 minutes)

Blanch broccoli in boiling water for approximately 1 minute.  Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled.  Set aside.

(you can boil the pasta in the broccoli water if you prefer.  It will add flavor to the dish.  I prefer to boil pasta in fresh water)

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

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you can see a bit of oil on the water

You can substitute mostaccioli  rigati for penne rigate.  Rigati/rigate pasta has horizontal ridges which help to absorb and hold the flavor of thinner sauces and oils.  You can also use plain mostaccioli or penne but the taste and texture will differ slightly.  Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water before boiling pasta for better flavor and a quick drizzle of olive oil to help keep pasta from sticking together.

After adding pasta to water,  heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a separate skillet over low heat until hot.  Low heat will prevent the garlic from browning too much or burning.

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garlic, after 2 minutes (should not be brown)

Add 3 pressed or minced cloves of fresh garlic and saute for approximately two minutes, stirring constantly.  Raise heat to medium and add blanched broccoli to the pan, stirring constantly for 1 minute.  Add the crushed red pepper, dried basil, salt and pepper.  Continue to stir until well coated.  Turn heat to medium high and stir frequently for 2 minutes.

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broccoli, right before adding pasta to the pan

Pasta should be ready after broccoli is added to the skillet.  Drain pasta making sure to reserve and set aside 3 Tbsp of pasta water.

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crushed red pepper and sweet basil

While pasta is draining, add the 3 Tbsp of reserved water to broccoli pan and cook on high for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add pasta to the broccoli skillet and stir together.  Cook on high for another minute or two then transfer to a pasta bowl.   Top with a generous amount  of pecorino romano cheese.

Buon Appetito!

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Your final dish