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Wednesday, January 28, 2009


As suggested by one of my friends, maybe I should let y'all know how everything panned out.

This was easily one of the most fun meals I've ever made.

First and foremost, the gnocchi. I formed my recipe from two different recipes I found online. One by Mario Batali was a little more complicated than I'd wanted, calling for parsley, pepper and nutmeg in addition to the egg, ricotta, and flour. I liked the simplicity of the gnocchi made on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" - egg, flour, ricotta, parmesan. Every ingredient seemed to speak for itself. However, I did like the nutmeg, a pinch of which wakes up the cheese in pretty much anything1. So I figured nutmeg was fair game. Granted, I am fond of nutmeg and add it to almost anything, to the extent that my fiancee chides me for it. The other recipe was much, much simpler. I took its proportions of ricotta, parmesan, and egg as the base of my recipe, added in Batali's nutmeg and voila! Gnocchi.

The gnocchi were very easy to make, if a little labor-intensive. First, one must strain the ricotta to get rid of some of the milk. I wrapped mine in a very clean, very new t-shirt, tied it in a ball and hung it over a bowl in the fridge overnight. Having never worked with ricotta, I was a little concerned to have only gotten a quarter cup out - the ricotta was still just the other side of "moist," and very soft. But judging by the end results, this was just fine. Then, I mixed the ricotta with the eggs (double recipe and glad I did,) mixed, then grated in the parmesan2 and added a generous pinch of nutmeg and some salt. It was so soft and liquidy, though, that I got spooked and added flour until it firmed up a bit. Seems to have worked, although I've never made 'em before. That's it for the dough, which as a friend of mine likes to say, was stupid easy.

Then it came time to roll the gnocchi, which is where the "labor intensive" stage began. The recipe said I could do this with teaspoons, or I could do it with well-floured hands. The latter sounded much more fun to me. I had my bowl of dough and a big cookie sheet I'd covered with foil, and a small dish of flour. The flour proved to be essential, as I was basically rolling especially sticky cheese in my hands. I'd take at least a teaspoon in my hand even before scooping up gnocchi dough. Through some experimentation, I found that raking one fingertip through the dough would give you about a large grape's worth of proto-gnocchi, which ended up about right for bite-sized morsels. It's hard to describe on the intertubes how I actually rolled them, but... with my hands perpendicular and the dough between them in my palm, I moved my hands in identically-rotating but out-of-phase circles in their frontal planes, shaping the knocchi with my MCP joints and thenar/hypothenar eminences. Whatever, nerd. Basically you're going for a vaguely oval shape - do what works.

You want to roll until there are no fissures (a matter of applying enough pressure to force it together) but you don't want to over-roll or the dough will absorb all the flour and make a sticky mess on your hands (a matter of total rolling time.) Here's the trick I figured: when you first start rolling, your palms will only feel the flour. But as the flour gets absorbed, more moisture will hit your palm and the dough will start to feel cooler. Roll until your hands feel cool, but not until they feel actually wet. Boom! One gnocchus3. Repeat as necessary - I probably made over a hundred out of two pounds of ricotta. For the record, this took a long time, but was worth it.

Now they have to go in the fridge so they firm up. When you're fiddling with the things, you'll immediately see why: they're just so soft. After about two hours, they'll be ready to rock. Bring a big pot of salted water like for making pasta to a boil, and boil them until they float. It's easiest to do this in batches of ten or fifteen. Remove floaters to a collander - they are immediately ready for eating. You could, however, brown them in a little canola oil.

Let me tell you that those gnocchi really are succulent. Perhaps this is because they have little to do with actual gnocchi, which are most often made from potatoes, and more in common with gulab jamun. Proof of fact is that I intend to try them with maple syrup later today. Mmmm, nerd food... Needless to say, they were a hit.

The rest of the meal was more simple in execution. But first, a brief word about Meyer lemons. If you ever come across a Meyer lemon, buy it and just use it somehow - in your tea, in a pie, on fish, whatever. They're absolutely delicious, less astringent than a regular lemon and sweetly fragrant. For ideas of what to do with them, go read the bald paean to Meyer lemons 100 Things to Do With a Meyer Lemon.

One of their suggestions was Meyer lemon confit, which I decided immediately to put on top of the salmon. Fancy as it might sound, it was very simple to make. Slice a Meyer lemon and a half in quarter inch slices, and arranged them in a single layer in a heavy saucepan. Cover them in olive oil and cooked them over very, very low heat for about an hour and a half. In the end you get these gelatinous, vibrantly flavorful pieces of lemon that you can put, say, on salt-and-cinnamon salmon. I have leftovers that I can't wait to use somehow. Moreover, I strained the oil and now have about two cups of olive oil, subtly flavored with Meyer lemon.

As for how to season the salmon, I again went back to that article. They suggested making Meyer lemon and cardamom ice cream - this combination of fragrant lemon and sweet spice sounded ideal. While I didn't have any cardamom, I did have some cinnamon. So, the non-skin side of the salmon was coated liberally with and laid on a bed of sea salt, cracked black pepper, generous amounts of cinnamon and - yes - a hint of nutmeg. It marinated (cured?) for about forty minutes give or take, after which I seared it on the salt side and then the skin side, and then threw it in the oven at 350 for about twenty to thirty minutes. I served the salmon with a couple slices of lemon confit on top. Unfortunately, I let the salmon dry out just a little bit which wasn't ideal, but the salt and cinnamon worked beautifully with the lemon.

For the spinach, I finely sliced two shallots and minced a small clove of garlic, sauteed them in the oil from the lemon confit until soft, and then wilted the spinach into the oil in handfuls. Stupid easy.

The wine we had with dinner was an AlbariƱo. It was very light - my fiancee remarked that it almost melted or turned to air when you drank it. I'm not very good at picking out specific flavors in wines, but it had a lighter version of the "wet stone" you get from a Riesling, while still being pretty fruity. Supposedly the AlbariƱo grape was cloned from the Riesling, so take that as you may. It was a good wine that we will probably drink again, but it wasn't exactly right with the rich gnocchi, spinach, and salmon.

I said we were going to have cherries for dessert (found 'em cheap at The Fresh Market) but I just didn't have time to make anything out of them. Probably I'll make a compote and we'll have them on brie later this week.

Speaking of cheap at The Fresh Market, I'm going there later today to see if they have any whole ribeyes left. They're running a special - $4.99 a pound if you buy roughly ten pounds. That's roughly thirteen steaks for about $50. If you take the normal price of ribeyes ($12.99 a pound) you could get 3.85 pounds - five steaks - for about $50. This is better than half off if you have the freezer space but hell, if we eat steak three times in the next couple weeks it'll have paid for itself. I balked at first, but doing the math... and with the Super Bowl coming up...

1 A classic fondue is gruyere and kirschwasser with a little bit of nutmeg. Or, try adding cheddar cheese and a hint of nutmeg to your grits.
2 If you ever have a nice hunk of parmesan, cut yourself a bite-sized piece and dunk it in balsamic vinegar before you eat. You'll be glad you did.
3 Gnoccha? Gnocch? Gnocchum? Hell, I hardly knew 'im!

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