Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gnocchi Guru

A friend of mine asked me if I could make gnocchi this past winter.  She told me that her daughter had gnocchi at an Italian restaurant in New Hersey and had really enjoyed it.  She was hesitant to buy the dehydrated shelf stable gnocchi at our local grocery store for fear that it would not measure up to her daughter’s expectations.
I have made gnocchi before, and each time with different results.  I have poured over many a recipe, website and magazine article.  I even got a secret family recipe from a college friend once for his grandmother’s gnocchi.  But due to the mixed results I seem to produce, I was a little hesitant to volunteer to be a gnocchi guru.
In looking over even more recipes, I found one that included some egg, and seemed to give some step by step instructions.  The gnocchi could be produced in a grand total of 2 hours, which is the max attention span time limit when making food with children.  There was enough “waiting” time in which small ones can leave the kitchen and run around before coming back and getting to work.
I find that the most difficult part in making gnocchi; is making it look good.  You can gently roll the little sections of dough off the back of a fork and create a little groove with dimples or you can simply stick your finger into each piece and flick it to create a small hallow space.  Thankfully, a friend volunteered to do that part, which is why these gnocchi look good.  I lose patience after about a dozen segments and the appearance of my gnocchi deteriorate greatly as the process wears on.
This was a wonderful project to take on with friends, children playmates and a little booze.  It make the tedious turn into a joyful experience, and I think that is exactly the way almost every meal should be approached.  The adults here were so enamored with the gnocchi that several very picky children expressed excitement in trying the end result. 
And for the little girl who was to compare the homemade gnocchi with her restaurant version – she told me it was even better than that dish she had in New Jersey.  Now that is a pretty wonderful compliment.

Homemade Gnocchi
As adapted from  Jenifer Mangione Vogt found on

 1 ½ pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed and pricked all over with a fork
1 – 1 ¼ c flour
3 egg yolks (whites reserved)
Pinch of nutmeg
Large pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Roast the potatoes in their skins for about 45minutes to an hour (depending on their size).  They are done, when the skins appear to be a bit loose, and there are some darker brown spots on the potatoes.  Let the potatoes cool.

Peel the potatoes, removing the thicker tough layer just under the skin.  Grate the potatoes on the large holes of a box grater, and place in a large bowl.

Add in the egg yolks, flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Begin to stir this together to fully incorporate everything.  Once the mixture becomes more stiff, use your hands to fully combine into a dough.  If the dough won’t stay together easily when pinched, add some of the egg whites. Or if the dough seems too wet and sticky add a bit more flour – keeping in mind you will need some flour to roll the gnocchi out.

Once the mixture is combined, divide it into 4 even pieces.  Roll these pieces out into a ½” diameter rope.  Cut the rope into ¾” pieces.  Roll each piece off the back of a fork, pressing slightly to make groves in the gnocchi, or simply press your finger into each piece, roll it gently towards you and then flick it away.

Place the gnocchi on a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer, and freeze for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Once the gnocchi are frozen, drop 7-10 in the pot at a time.  Once they float to the surface, skim them out, and place on a kitchen towel lined sheet.  Repeat with remaining gnocchi until all are cooked.  At this point, you can refreeze the gnocchi to save them for later, or you can add them to a sauce. 

We baked ours in a mixture of cheese, spinach and heavy cream for an easy gratin.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Buns in the Oven

I hope you are marinating your corned beef from last year’s recipe.  Mine is right now, as we ‘speak’ slowly braising away in my crockpot at home.  I actually managed to corn it for the appropriate amount of time this year… I know I may be jumping the gun on serving the corned beef tonight rather than on the 17th, but why not right?  So this year, I have for you a hot cross buns recipe.  It comes from the cookbook as I got from a friend during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  I shared with you her fish pie recipe.  But, I neglected to tell you about her. 
Joyce McRaye was a presenter during the Scotland exhibit in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival during the summer of 2003.  Imagine Mrs. Doubtfire.  Yup that’s Joyce.  And although this may sound corny, her and I became instant friends during her two weeks spent with me in a tent kitchen on the National Mall.  And here’s where I get really corny; in the Anne of Green Gables series (I know, it’s silly but I love them) there’s a phrase that sums it up nicely: The race that knows Joseph.  In the books they don’t really even explain it, but there are some people in life that when you meet them you just know they are a kindred soul. 
Joyce may have been 50 years my senior but we were kindred souls.  We got scolded multiple times for giggling too loudly behind the stage when other people were presenting.  And when I had to interview her during a cooking segment we would just laugh and tell each other inside jokes –it was not my best interview. 
As a parting gift Joyce gave me her apron, oven mitt, and a cookbook she had helped develop with the Scottish Women’s Rural Association.  I have consulted that cookbook many times for various recipes.  And the oven mitt is the only one I use, every day.  The wonderful thing about the cookbook however is the bluntness with which the recipes are written.  As a rural Scottish woman you were expected to know some basics and these recipes are mostly just ideas in paragraph form for various dishes.
I decided this year for St. Patrick’s Day to make hot cross buns.  I know using a Scottish cookbook seems a bit heretical, but what the heck right? The buns were hearty with a nice flavor.  Not at all like the rolls you see in the grocery store around this time of year.  If you need something to fill you up prior to imbibing gallons of green beer on Saturday, this is a great way to get things started.

Scottish Hot Cross Buns
The recipe calls for the milk to be ‘blood-warm’. Which I love. You would never see a temperature of an ingredient having anything to do with blood or death here in America. But a Scottish rural woman would know exactly how warm that would be, having probably slaughtered many an animal for dinner. I will spare you and call the temperature lukewarm. Also, this recipe is in grams – there are some conversion tools online if you don’t have a scale.

250ml lukewarm milk
¾ package yeast
2 Tb butter
1 Tb sugar
2 eggs, divided
½ tsp. salt
350 grams flour, plus more for kneading
50 grams golden raisins
50 grams candied orange peel, chopped (if you have lemon or lime, that’s fine too)
1 dash cinnamon
1 pinch all spice
1 pinch ground cloves

For the Glaze:
2 parts powdered sugar to one part orange juice

Dissolve the yeast in half of the milk, add sugar and let sit for about 5 minutes. Melt the butter in the remaining milk and add to the yeast along with the salt and one egg. Stir together to break up the egg, and then add in the flour. As the dough comes together, move onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes, or until the dough is smooth and only slightly tacky.

Place dough in a clean bowl and loosely cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size. Once rise, punch down the dough and add in raisins, candied peel and spices. Gently knead together; you may have to push in any escaping raisins or bits of peel.

Cut dough into 8 equal pieces and form into balls. Place in a parchment paper lined 9x13 pan, cover loosely with a towel and allow to double, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450°. Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg prior to baking. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through until golden brown on top.

While the buns are baking whisk together the orange juice and sugar. Once buns are cooked and cooled slightly, brush lightly with glaze, and if you are so inclined drizzle a thicker x over the tops of the buns.