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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

GOAT CHEESE GNOCCHI

If you ever wanted to make pasta by hand but were too afraid to try, let me introduce you to gnocchi.  It’s a pillow-shaped pasta that the most timid cook can make without having to resort to a YouTube video.  The first step is to examine how different it is from flat pasta noodles.

The pasta we now buy dried and boxed was originally the preserve of live-in Italian nonnas who spent their waking hours mixing and rolling out dough with a slender tapered rolling pin.  These grandmothers knew how to wield this pin, modifying the pressure with each pass to create an impossibly thin sheet of dough which they then casually folded like a freshly laundered sheet and cut it into thin strips.  I’ve watched this process, and it is amazing.

Less well known is the dumpling-shaped pasta known as gnocchi.  Mashed potatoes replace much of the flour in this dough making it firm enough to roll into logs like cookie dough and cut into into individual pieces.  The soft malleable gnocchi can take on any number of shapes from round, to oblong, to furrowed and stamped.   You can purchase a wooden board to imprint the pasta if you don't have a nonna handy.

Today’s featured recipe is yet another, easier and unique gnocchi, called the gnudi, from the kitchen of Chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, IL.  In a recent Zoom session Sarah demonstrated her recipe that replaces mashed potatoes with artisan goat cheese from Judy Shad of Capriole in Greenville, IN.  Sarah blended goat cheese with flour, grated Parmesan and an egg in a stand mixer, but stirring the ingredients together by hand works just as well.  The dough required just little extra flour on the work surface to roll out and cut into pieces.  Like all fresh pasta, the gnudi cooked in 2 minutes and rose to the surface to be skimmed off  I complete the whole process at home in less than half an hour.

Gnocchi and gnudi are traditionally sauteed or baked in browned butter with fresh sage leaves.  Sarah substituted horseradish leaves and tossed the gnudi into a pan with browned butternut squash and pecan halves.  Once all the ingredients were hot and coated in butter, she squeezed on fresh lemon juice and scattered them over plates cover with salad greens.  Think tart, tender pasta, sweet, buttery squash and roasted pecans with a touch of lemon to accent the flavors and fresh crisp greens.

I can't think of a better combination for and early Fall meal. PS. The gnudi freeze easily and are destined to become a year-round staple at my house. (see note below.)

 
GOAT CHEESE GNOCCHI WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND PECANS

Pasta for 4 servings:

8 ounces (scant cup) Capriole goat cheese
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
1 large egg, beaten

Squash and Pecans:

4 tablespoons clarified butter or half butter, half vegetable oil
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
1/4 cup sage leaves, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Bring 4 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large pan.

Pasta:  Blend together the goat cheese, flour and grated cheese.  Mix in the beaten egg to form a cohesive dough.  Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide into 4 pieces.  Roll each piece into a log 1/2" thick and cut them diagonally into bite-size pieces.  Drop the pieces of each log in boiling water and wait for them to rise to the surface, about 2 minutes.  Remove them with a slotted spoon to a sheet pan and repeat until all the pieces are cooked.

Squash and Pecans:  Saute the diced squash in the hot butter turning the pieces until they are cooked through and have begun to brown.  Add the pecans and sage leaf slices and continue cooking to heat them through. Add the gnudi and continue tossing the ingredients as the pasta reheats and browns lightly.  Squeeze on the lemon juice and divide the mixture among plates covered with fresh greens.

Additional Notes:

Freeze uncooked pasta pieces on an oiled baking sheet.  Slip them into a freezer bag.  Transfer them directly into boiling water from the freezer and cook until they rise to the surface.

Sarah sautes cooked gnudi in butter for her daughter who prefers them fried.  

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

AN AMERICAN HARVEST GRATIN

This is the moment when cooks can feel closest to nature.  The bounty of freshly picked fruits and vegetables are piled high on tables at urban farmers market tables and rural farm stands. Some of us are harvesting from plants in our own backyard.  Cooking ingredients only hours out of the ground makes for the best eating.   It’s a difficult goal in our distracted lives, but worth the effort to try.

Few farmers markets specialize in sustainably raised and organic produce.  For the past fifty years  American agriculture has favored large corporate farms that serve as laundries for the federal government and the agrochemical industry.   Organic farms account for less than half a percent of total acreage today, although many of them grow foods that form the basis of our diet. It's worth seeking them out for the added nutritional value and flavor they contain.


My persistent search for the taste of what grows naturally in America defaults to plants native to the western hemisphere: corn, peppers, squash and tomatoes.  Native, in this case, is not the same as local.  These crops were originally cultivated by the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America.  Spanish explorers took them home as trophies, and a century later European settlers brought them to North America.  Never mind, we embrace them as our own.

The specific inspiration for this Harvest Gratin was a cylindrical, cream-colored squash, scored with thin green and orange stripes.  The arrival of the DELICATA is often overlooked among its larger, more flamboyant hard shell cousins.  To me it's a sign of fall as surely as the first robin heralds Spring's arrival.  It’s thin shell makes it easier to work with than most winter squash.  I wash it but never peel it.  And you don’t have to take my word alone.  On more than one occasion the delicata was my cooking students' favorite in taste-tests with acorn, butternut, buttercup, turban and spaghetti squash.

This gratin is tests the old adage: ‘plants that grow together, go together’.  How much affinity will these ingredients that originated in the wilds of Central America have for one another?  How does that work, and does it matter as long as its delicious?  You can decide for yourself, and enjoy!

AN AMERICAN HARVEST GRATIN: DELICATA SQUASH, TOMATOES, PEPPERS AND CORN
Ingredients:
1 pound delicata squash
1 tablespoon salad oil
1 pound fresh tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
Kernels from 1 large ear of corn
2/3 cup homemade Tomato Sauce*
Kosher salt
1/2 cup fine Panko crumbs
1 tablespoon nut or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.

Squash: Halve the squash and scrape the seeds out into a strainer.  Place the squash halves cut side down on the foil.  Rinse the seeds free of their fiber and pat them dry.  Toss them with 1 teaspoon of oil and spread them out around the squash halves on the foil.  Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove and turn over the squash halves.  When cool enough to handle, cut them in to 1/2” slices.  Toast the seeds in 1 teaspoon of oil over medium heat until they are deep brown.

Assembly: Oil a 1 1/2 quart baking dish with the remaining teaspoon of oil.  Make a layer with half of the tomato slices.  Lightly salt.  Follow with 1/2 of the diced peppers and 1/2 the corn kernels.  Scatter on 1/3 of the toasted squash seeds and the slices of one the squash halves. Lightly  salt again.  Drizzle on 1/3 cup of Tomato Sauce.  Repeat this layering ending with the squash seeds and a light coating of Panko crumbs.  Cover the dish and bake for 45 minutes in the 350 oven.

Finish:  Remove the dish and lift off the foil.  Drizzle on a remaining tablespoon of nut or vegetable oil.  Return to the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until top is browned.  Dust with paprika before serving.

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

REDISCOVERED RECIPES: JACKIE SHEN'S CRAB CAKES AND JALAPENO CREMA

Blog reader Bonnie Rabert wrote to thank me for posting a steady stream of recipes during the recent lockdown.  They inspired her to sort through the favorites she compiled during career as a food stylist in Chicago.  I asked if she would send me a few to share with my readers, and she did.

Among Bonnie’s “rediscovered” recipes was one that teased my memory.  It was a Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Crema from chef Jackie Shen, a name from the past that I couldn’t quite place. Thanks to Google, I did not have to agonize very long.

Jackie Shen came to the States from Hong Kong to study at the age of eighteen and rose to celebrity status on the Chicago food scene in the 90’s.  Her namesake restaurant in Lincoln Park introduced the city to French/Asian fusion cuisine.  Her best known creation, however, was a dessert, the chocolate bag, made by painting the inside of a popcorn bag with dark chocolate.  The bag was filled with white chocolate mousse and garnished with fresh berries.  When asked, Jackie claimed the idea came to her after watching a Julia Child program.

Jackie’s crab cakes and their crema turned out to be as delicious a combination as I’d hoped.  I used half lump crabmeat and half backfin to keep costs down.  The results were just as successful when I substituted a pound of canned wild salmon for crab My modifications to the recipe were minor.  I dissolved the dry mustard in a tablespoon of water before adding it to allow its flavor to develop.  I also replaced breadcrumbs with Panko.  By the way, the jalapeño crema makes an excellent base for salad dressing and a condiment spread on sandwiches.  That is, if there is any left over.

In 2012 Jackie ‘retired’ to New Buffalo, MI where she has opened Jackie’s Cafe for breakfast and lunch.  Thanks to Bonnie, I’ve rediscovered Jackie and am curious to know how her new career running a place where the locals can gather.  She’s one of those remarkable cooks whose cuisine makes you want to move next door.   Anyone up for a field trip to New Buffalo? 

 

CHEF JACKIE SHEN'S CRAB CAKES

2 eggs, beaten

¾ cup mayonnaise

½ teaspoon finely chopped garlic

½ teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon cayenne

1 pound lump crabmeat, drained, sprinkled with lemon juice and broken into small pieces

¼ cup finely diced red pepper

¼ cup finely diced yellow pepper

2 green onions, white and light green, finely chopped

¾ to 1 cup dry bread crumbs 

Mix eggs and mayonnaise together in a bowl; add garlic, mustard and cayenne.  Add crabmeat, peppers and green onion.  Add ¾ cup dry bread crumbs to crab mixture.  If too moist, add more bread crumbs. Use a #40 scoop to portion mixture into a ring to shape.  Cover and refrigerate.  To cook, brown in a little olive oil over medium heat, turning to brown on both sides.  Finish in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes.  Makes 12. 

Source: Chef Jackie Shen. First prepared in 1996

 

JALAPENO CREMA

1 small clove garlic, peeled, halved and any core removed

1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons mayonnaise 

In a blender, with motor running, drop garlic through opening in lid to chop finely. Repeat with the jalapeno.  Add parsley, cilantro, oil, vinegar and salt.  Cover and blend until smooth. In a bowl, combine sour cream and mayonnaise.  Whisk in jalapeno mixture until fully incorporated. Cover and chill to blend flavors. Makes 1 cup.