gnocchi tinged memories

When I was a little girl nothing would please me more than a trip to the local G. Fox & Co. department store. I’d talk my mother into taking the escalator upstairs to the housewares department and that’s when the fun would begin. I would wander around the department reading the little bridal registry cards attached to each place setting, imagining which espresso machine or serving platter I would choose and dreaming of the day grown-up me would finally be able to register for all the housewares my little heart desired. I wasn’t dreaming of being a bride mind you, I was dreaming of having a fully stocked kitchen. Funny right? But true none the less.

My love of housewares hasn’t diminished at all over the years, which would explain why I own: Five sets of dishes (we had a yard sale a few years ago and I sold my two “extra” sets), enough serving pieces to easily set a buffet for a hundred, a ridiculous number of tiny antique aperitif glasses, a crazy collection of water pitchers, just about every size and shape cocktail glass imaginable, a huge variety of pots, pans and steamers, a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven and griddle, a kitchen scale, stand mixer, potato ricer and several sizes of box graters, not to mention an array of blenders and hand mixers, a waffle iron, espresso machine, regular coffee maker and a set of individual serving ice cream makers, plus all your standard whisks, spatulas, spoons and whatnot. (Yes I realize my love may border on obsession. We all have our vices.) However, believe it or not there is actually one cooking implement that I do not have but have seriously considered… a pasta maker. I thought more than once about buying an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, but one thing always stopped me. What if I found making pasta to be just as frustrating and disastrous as my attempts to make bread?!? Those attachments can be quite pricy and that just wasn’t a financial (or emotional) commitment I was ready to make. But that didn’t mean I was willing to give up my desire to make fresh pasta— come now silly reader, you know me better than that! No instead I decided to approach pasta making in the simplest fashion possible, one that required limited special equipment and with a recipe that seemed nearly fool-proof. My recipe of choice— gnocchi.

I first discovered gnocchi in college when my boyfriend (now husband) took me to dinner at Louis Seafood on E. Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. The restaurant has been around since the 40’s and it was and still is the epitome of good Italian comfort food with a side of Bronx attitude. I had considered myself fairly well versed in pasta (being half Italian and all) but somehow gnocchi had never made it on my radar. The gnocchi at Louis Seafood was unlike anything I had ever tried, it was dense and filling (especially with the Bolognese sauce he always seemed to order) but at the same time I couldn’t stop myself from snitching forkfuls off his plate. For years the term gnocchi make think of college, the Bronx and Louis Seafood. Then we traveled to Florence, Italy and my perception of gnocchi completely changed.

We arrived in Florence late one afternoon after a long train ride from Rome, and we were starving! So hungry in fact that once we physically found our hotel we didn’t even step foot inside it. Instead we dragged our luggage to the little cafe next door in hopes of getting something to eat. “Oh, mi dispiace signora.” the waiter said “La cucina è chiusa.” We looked at him in disbelief, we were starving and the kitchen was CLOSED?!? This was Italy for peat’s sake, they were soposta feed us till we popped! Thankfully the waiter sensed our desperation and decided that he could in fact offer us a few limited selections off the menu. We collapsed in our chairs, ordered a few glasses of vino rosso, looked over the menu and placed our lunch order. I’ll be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I ate that day. The only thing I remember of the meal is my husbands gnocchi. It was like air, little puffs of loveliness, amazing and unlike anything I had ever imagined gnocchi could be. It’s been quite a few years since that trip to Florence yet every so often one of us still wistfully mentions that gnocchi.

When I decided to try my own hand at homemade gnocchi I truly didn’t anticipate stellar results. It seemed like the opportunity for heavy little lead sinkers was just too great. So imagine my delight when they turned out light, airy and delicious. There not quite Florence quality gnocchi, but then nothing could ever possibly be, they are however the closest we’ve ever come to replicating that amazing Italian meal. Buon appetito!

Simple Potato Gnocchi
These were as wonderful as the ones we always reminisce about eating in Florence, as evidenced by the nearly clean plate below.

gnocchi3

4 cups riced russet potatoes, (about 2 large)
4 egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
sauce of your choice, for serving
optional special equipment: potato ricer, gnocchi paddle

  1. Place potatoes (skin on) in a large pot of salted water and boil until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, let them cool just enough to handle and then peel. Cut each in half and place in a potato ricer. Rice into a large bowl. Stir in the egg yolks and salt, then add the flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Knead gently until a smooth but slightly sticky dough forms.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface and roll each piece into a 3/4-inch-thick rope, then cut each rope into one-inch pieces. Place each piece against the gnocchi paddle and gently roll with your pointer finger to make ridges on one side and a small indentation on the other; drop onto the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the other ropes.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the raw gnocchi, 36 at a time. Allow to cook until they rise to the surface, then simmer for another 2 minutes longer. Add to a bowl with you’re favorite sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

To Make Ahead: The uncooked gnocchi pieces can be frozen on the prepared baking sheet, then transferred to a resealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Boil without defrosting.

*adapted from food & wine

No, I Haven’t Cracked Up!

With Christmas right around the corner I’ve been giving some serious thought to my holiday menu. We usually have some type of beef roast for our Christmas Eve dinner, (yes I know, how very un-Italian of me) and this year it will be a tenderloin with horseradish-blue cheese sauce on the side. I’m thinking of serving it along with creamed spinach, roasted carrots and parsnips, baked artichokes and simple mashed sweet potatoes. (Stop snickering those of you who know I have a history with holiday potatoes— this year they will be fully cooked!)

Whenever we entertain I like to start with an array of yummy appetizers; some made from scratch and some lovingly doctored up store bought. I always serve shrimp cocktail, some veggies with dip (hummus, baked spinach & artichoke, pesto-yogurt) perhaps a soup and some delicious cheese and crackers. But I’m not talking about any old crackers, oh no no! I’m talking about homemade cheddar crackers.

I know what you’re thinking, “What kind of crazy person makes crackers rather than just buying a box?” Even my husband gave me a look of exasperation the first time I announced I was making crackers. Now he says to me in the most nonchalant way, “So when do you think you’re going to make those crackers again?” These lovely and effortless little crackers could seriously be the most tasty thing to have ever come out of my oven. The dough comes together in a matter of minutes and it’s crazy easy to work with. So easy in fact that than even my kids are able to roll out and cut their own crackers. (But only after squabbling over who’s turn it is with the rolling pin and who had the star cookie cutter first. Sigh… kids.)

Easy, delicious and engaging for all— that’s a Jan Greco recipe trifecta!

Cheddar Snaps
Sometimes I make these crackers large enough to support a slice of cheese or dollop of dip, sometimes I make them snack size and sometimes I even make them goldfish size. No matter the shape or size they’re delicious! 

crackers

2 cups finely grated sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Put all the ingredients except the milk into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor until the dough resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Add the milk and process until the dough gathers together into a ball.
  4. Lightly flour a cutting board and pat the ball of dough into a circle. Use a rolling pin to flatten it out the rest of the way, roughly an 1/8 of an inch thick.
  5. Cut the dough into shapes using a cookie cutter of your choice. Place the crackers on a baking sheet and use a fork to poke a series of holes in the top of each cracker.
  6. Bake for 12–15 minutes, until the edges are just starting to brown.
  7. Cool the crackers on a rack and devour along some tasty cheese, soup or just by the handful.

* adapted from rural housewife

Play-Doh Trickery

My daughter likes to play with play-doh. And by that I mean she LOVES play-doh. I on the other hand do not particularly enjoy it (which is of course ironic since I majored in sculpture in college). But I like to see my children happy so when she asks to take it out I usually agree and become the official play-doh pancake maker/spaghetti cutter.

I’ve seen recipes for homemade play-doh before and I’ve always thought to myself “Why bother? The folks at Hasbro do a fine job.” Well I’ll tell you why; good ‘ol fashioned girl-time time dammit. I’m always trying to entice my daughter to spend a little quality time baking with me, but the minute the measuring is done she’s off to smother the dog, annoy her brother or get herself into some “Santa’s not going to bring you any presents” kind of trouble. However, since she’s the type of little lady who’s never met a craft she doesn’t love, I imagined that making play-doh might actually hold her interest for more than 5 minutes. We could whip up a batch and then we (she) could play with it till her heart’s content. Kinda like cooking, kinda like crafting, kinda like tricking her into enjoying my company. Ha ha, score one point for Mom!

This play-doh recipe was crazy simple to make, required ingredients that most everyone already has on hand and went from slop in a saucepan to dolphins, pancakes and outrageous orange spaghetti in no time flat. If you’re looking for a way to occupy a few hours one afternoon I highly recommend making play-doh. Then kick back with a little online shopping or that book you’ve been wanting to read while the kids enjoy their creation.

Homemade Play-doh
You can make this play-doh in just about any color you can imagine. We decided to go with green, orange and blue.

new play-doh

1 cup water
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
food coloring*
1 cup flour

  1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar and food coloring in a saucepan and heat 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until it’s warm.
  2. Remove from heat and add the flour, stir until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a cutting board and knead until fully blended and smooth. (The dough will be quite hot so it should be kneaded carefully and by an adult.)
  3. Form the finished dough into a ball and let cool for 5 minutes before exploring your creative side. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.

To make orange = 10 drops red food coloring 14 drops yellow
To make blue = 20 drops blue food coloring + 3 drops red
To make green = 15 drops green food coloring + 5 drops blue

*adapted from family education