April 25, 2010

Gnocchi alla Romana...and confidence found in a new technique

Yesterday was a good day. There are some days where I decide to really venture out with my cooking abilities, and there are others where I like to stay right in my comfort zone. Yesterday I decided to venture out a bit. I really like to try new recipes, but usually it is just a spin on something I have made before, but yesterday for some reason I felt the urge to try something I have never made, or ever even eaten before. I found this recipe (well a version of it), in a cookbook I rented from the library. Actually it is a cookbook I have been looking everywhere for, and have not been able to find it, and I was at the library (in a hurry), and somehow I stumbled upon Heidi Swansons's "Super Natural Cooking". I found Heidi by accident one day when I was reading a cooking blog, and the author had mentioned her. Her blog is by far one of my favorites! She has the most amazing and unique recipes, and her approach is making everything with natural ingredients. Nothing processed, stripped, or tainted. Since reading her blog we have actually changed a lot of the way we cook and eat in our house in an attempt to be more "natural", and we have been pleasantly surprised with how good natural foods can be. Anyways, the cookbook. I was glancing through it yesterday and wanted to pick a recipe to make for dinner. It might be wise to note that she is a vegetarian, so whatever I make of hers I usually add some kind of protein to it. As I was looking at the recipes I saw the Gnocchi alla Romana, and I knew that was going to be that nights side dish. After quite a process, that almost turned into a mess rather than a success, I pulled the gnocchi out of the oven, and was extremely happy with the results. 

They are "large, rustic, coin-shaped semolina disks layered and baked until brown ridges of butter-infused Parmesan form a crunchy crust"(I could not word it better than the master chef herself.  Luckily for you, I have made all of the mistakes I could while making this recipe, so hopefully I can tell you how to avoid them. It is actually quite easy to make, although it does make quite a mess to clean, but it is really worth it. Her recipe calls for the addition of sundried tomatoes, which I forgot to get from the store (that's what I get for thinking I left my grocery list in the car when it was sitting in my diaper bag all along), but hopefully you won't forget them because I think they would have been even better with the sundried tomatoes added. Don't get intimidated by the recipe. It seems hard, but if you have your ingredients out and ready, it is really not that bad, and you will feel a huge burst of confidence after you set these in front of your guests. I mean who really makes homemade gnocchi? And just so you don't feel discouraged, remember I seriously made nearly every mistake, and mine still turned out amazing! I served mine alongside grilled flank steak and steamed broccoli...

Gnocchi alla Romana
Serves 6-8
Also I forget to mention, this recipe made way too much for just me and Toby, and I ended up throwing away half of the dough before I even cut them out and baked it. So if you are only feeding 2-4 people you may want to consider cutting the recipe in half. And for those who are unfamiliar with Semolina flour, it is mostly used to make homemade pasta, and you don't want to substitute any other kind of flour for it...

5 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cups finely chopped dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes 
3 cups Semolina flour (I used Bob's Red Mill brand which you can find in most grocery stores)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
6 egg yolks (I saved my whites, and made an egg white omelet the next morning)
1 1/2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt (I used fine grain Kosher salt, you want to avoid table salt)
3 cups Tomato Sauce (you can use your favorite brand, or I have added a recipe below) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, clear a lot of counter space (you will place the dough on the counter to pat out), and slather a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with butter.

Combine the milk and sun-dried tomatoes in a large saucepan over medium heat, bring to a simmer (don't boil), and simmer gently for 1-2 minutes until the tomatoes have softened and rehydrated a bit. Gradually stir in the Semolina (use a whisk and add in slowly), mixing until it begins to pull away from the side of the pan, this only takes about 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and quickly stir in 1/4 cup of the butter, 3/4 cup of the Parmesan, the egg yolks, and the salt. You really want to stir quicly, because the egg yolks can scramble if they are not worked in quickly. Once everything is mixed let cool for 10-20 minutes. 

Put a layer of cold water on the countertop, or in a large jelly roll pan. I put enough to just glaze the counter, not so much a puddle. With wet hands, turn the gnocchi dough out onto the damp counter and spread into a 3/4 inch thick slab. I used my hands, but you can use a spoon if you prefer. Cut the dough into 1 1/2 to 2 inch circles with a biscuit or cookie cutter (I wetted mine). Gather up the scraps and pat out the dough, keep cutting disks out until all dough is used. Place disks in the buttered dish, overlapping each circle on the previous one-similar to a fanned deck of cards. 

Melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter and drizzle it over gnocchi. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and bake, covered, for 25 minutes, then uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
To serve, cut gnocchi into individual sized portions, and top with more grated Parmesan cheese, and ladle a good serving of warmed Tomato Sauce on top. I like to garnish mine with a bit of fresh basil as well. 
 Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (or fine-grain kosher salt)
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

Combine olive oil, pepper flakes, garlic, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until garlic begins to slightly color (be careful not to burn garlic). Stir in he tomatoes, and return to a simmer, cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and season with more salt to taste. 

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