Ricotta gnocchi with corn and chanterelles.

This is not the time, amid all this heat, humidity, and rain, to ask you to stand in your kitchen with the stove-top going—two burners—and roll gnocchi.  And it isn’t the time, quite frankly, to ask you to eat gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi, covered in brown butter; heavy with cheese and fat.

But it is the season for corn. And chanterelles are popping up here in New Jersey. And there’s lots of fresh summer herbs.  This gnocchi is perfect, really, for after one of those summer days of swimming and exercise; those days when you get home in good spirits with some adrenaline left and you can get to work rolling gnocchi. Then by the time dinner hits the table, you’ll be ravenous.

I think I just planned your Saturday.

You won’t be disappointed.  Homemade gnocchi is just better than anything you can get frozen or—gasp!—from a box.  (Though, to be honest, I’ve heard that Trader Joe’s frozen gnocchi is pretty good…)  It takes a little getting used to; you need to use the right amount of pressure while you roll each piece against the tines of a fork in order to make those pretty little grooves, and while that right amount of pressure can’t be taught by a recipe, it’s easily learned after you experience squashing your first few.

It’s a bit more labor intensive than rolling out pasta, but I think I mentioned, cheese is involved in this dough, so a little more labor is worth it.  And gnocchi is the perfect pasta fix for those without a pasta machine.

This gnocchi recipe is Suzanne Goin’s from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a gorgeous cookbook, organized by season. I want to make every single one of her recipes, but this was the perfect way to jump into the book.  The gnocchi cook up luscious and tender, only to be made more so by the brown butter used to cook each component of the recipe.  First the chanterelles are fried in the butter with thyme until they are crisp and ruthlessly seductive.  You really must work not to eat them all before the dish is done.  Then sage is added to the butter, and the house all of a sudden smells better than ever.  Corn gets tossed in with some shallots; the hot butter shines over each kernel of corn before slipping around to hug the gnocchi, which is added to the pan last.  Let everything saute for a moment and then serve with lots of fresh parsley, some chives, a grating of parmigianno, and some crispy toasted breadcrumbs.

We ate this alongside spare ribs from the local farm, from pigs we met last winter, using James Beard’s recipe for baking spare ribs.  His technique let the natural pork flavor sing and we couldn’t decide which we liked better, the ribs or the gnocchi, until we decided that it was useless, they were both so good, working so well together, that picking sides would be like choosing between chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes.  But everything about the gnocchi, we did agree, even with all it’s lusciousness and butter, epitomized summer.  It’s irrestible.  Happy-making.

Now get rolling.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Chanterelles, Sweet Corn, and Sage Brown Butter

adapted (ever so slightly) from Sunday Supper at Lucques

The only adaption I made was to add less salt than the original recipe.  During the last step, Goin advised us to add another 1 teaspoon salt, but I found I didn’t need that.  I recommend tasting before adding.

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 pound chanterelles, cleaned
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sliced sage leaves
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears)
2/3 cup diced shallots
1 recipe ricotta gnocchi (follows)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

Toss breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread them on a baking sheet, and toast 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown.

If the mushrooms are big, tear them into bite-size pieces.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and heat another minute.  Swirl in 1 tablespoon butter, and when it foams, add the mushrooms, half the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a health pinch of pepper.  Saute the mushrooms about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender and a little crispy.  Don’t be tempted to move them around in the pan too much in the beginning: let them sear a little before stirring.  Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a platter.

Return the pan to the stove, and heat on high for 1 minute.  Add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter to the pan, and cook a minute or two, until the butter starts to brown.  Add the sage, let it sizzle, and then add the corn, shallots, remaining thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and some freshly ground pepper.  Saute quickly, tossing the corn in the hot butter for about 2 minutes, until the corn is just tender.  Add the gnocchi and toss well to coat with the corn and brown butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the mushrooms.  Toss to combine, and heat the mushrooms through.  Add the parsley.  Arrange the gnocchi on a large platter, and shower with the breadcrumbs.  Grate over some parmesan cheese if you like.

Ricotta Gnocchi

2 extra-large eggs (I used eggs from my friend’s chickens, which were smaller than extra-large, but didn’t notice a difference)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 pound whole milk ricotta, drained if wet
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beat the eggs together in a small bowl.

Place 2 cups flour, 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and the ricotta in a large mixing bowl.  With a dinner knife in each hand, cut the ricotta into the flour.  When the flour and ricotta are combined, make a well in the center and pour in the eggs.  Use a fork and, starting in the middle of the mixture, incorporate the eggs into the flour and ricotta.  Knead the dough with your hands briefly, just to bring together while being careful not to overwork it.  Shape the dough into a ball, and place it on a lightly floured cutting board.  Cut the ball into four pieces, and cover with a clean kitchen towel.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.

One by one, take each piece of dough out from underneath the towel, cut it in half, and roll it into a 3/4 inch thick rope on a lightly floured cutting board.  The amount of flour on the board is very important:  if you have too much the dough is difficult to roll, and if you don’t use enough, the dough will stick to the board.  Cut the ropes into 1-in-long pices, and sprinkle a little flour over them. Using your thumb, roll each piece of dough over the back of those tines of a fork, leaving an indentation from your thumb on one side and the marking from the fork on the other.

Plunge the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches.  Once they rise to the surface, cook them for 1 minute more.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a baking sheet or platter.  Drizzle the cooked gnocchi with the olive oil, and toss to coat them well.

When soup ain’t cuttin’ it.

I had started out making Manhattan Clam Chowder, the tomatoey, sea-scented soup that’s far removed, and much healthier, than the cream version from Bahston.  After all that pork belly (I had a few bigger-than-average sized portions over the weekend), I had put myself on a diet. I wanted something flavorful, spicy, and light.  I was even planning to leave out the potatoes.

But as my diets go (why-oh-why do I think starving will work?), I hadn’t eaten a thing past a banana with black coffee for breakfast, and when it got around to dinnertime, I was famished.  What had I been thinking?  Clams?  Vegetables? Tomato broth?  Why didn’t I buy those potatoes?  I hadn’t even bought a loaf of bread for dipping.  I needed substance.  Or I would starve. (Stop rolling your eyes, ok, ok, I can be a little dramatic.)

Thankfully, I remembered I had some egg pasta in my cupboard. Manhattan Clam Pasta was born and, like most inventions created by necessity, it was even better than the original chowder would have been.  The egg noodles added a buttery-starchy component that is usually absent in the chowder, thickened only by potato starch.

Being that the soup was already made and simmering (sans clams) on the stove-top, I cooked the pasta right in the liquid.  Perfect, I thought as the pasta soaked up some of the liquid, making the remaining less of a soup and more of a sauce.  Sometimes (however rarely) things just come together in my kitchen.

And while I’m sure I wouldn’t have starved on the clam chowder alone, I sat down to my plate of crisp bacon, buttery noodles, salty clams, earthy celery, carrots and onions, and sweet, acidic tomatoes knowing that I’d be sleeping well that night.  It filled my belly but didn’t leave me stuffed—the perfect combination for a healthy diet.

Manhattan Clam Pasta

serves 4

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound good, fresh chopped clams (Whole Foods sells a good brand)
  • 1 (14-oz) can whole San Marzino tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 sprig or two of fresh thyme
  • a good pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 pound egg noodle pasta
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Drain clams, reserving liquid.

Add bacon into a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Once bacon fat has rendered, remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve on a paper towel.

Add celery, carrots, and onion to the dutch oven.  Saute until translucent and beginning to brown.  Add reserved clam liquid, tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Add egg noodles and cook until tender.

Add chopped clams, reserved bacon, and parsley.  Simmer for another minute or two.  Serve.

There’s good pasta, then there’s…

Great pasta. It’s something I don’t come across often; great pasta is hard to come by because, let’s face it, most pasta is delicious. There’s just something about a good noodle, some sauce, and a bunch of cheese that just can’t be bad (excluding, maybe, spaghetti-o’s.) Pasta is practically fool-proof, and so easy, that most of the time when I’m making it, it’s because I want something quick, satisfying, and ahem, sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano. I hardly put any real effort into my pasta—and I’m always happy with the result.

But every once in a while, a pasta dish gets made with some extra time, thought, and love. The ingredients are paired with care, the cooking of everything is closely watched. Bacon is involved. The happy result of these pastas is greatness. You sit your friends down at the table, and they’re thinking cool, pasta. Can’t be bad. And then they eat… and they are like, totally wowed. Like, oh my gosh this is the best pasta ever and I can’t believe everything works so well and it doesn’t even need anything else and Robin you are the coolest girl in the world will you marry me?

Now that’s pasta greatness. It doesn’t come around often, nor should it, or you’d have the neighborhood banging down your doors. But great pasta should be made every once in a while and you’d be smart to make this one. It takes a bit longer than your everyday pasta dish but not much longer—it’s still an easy-enough recipe to be suitable for these late, lazy, Summer days.

The pine nuts are toasted to enhance their flavor, the sliced zucchini well-salted (and cheesed) before roasting, and, if you are too lazy (like me) to make your own pasta, the good stuff should be used—either fresh from your local market or fancy, dried pasta imported from Italy. Both options will be a dollar or two more than the cheap stuff but since this pasta doesn’t have a tomato sauce, it’s really worth it.

And please, don’t shy away from the bacon grease, it simple must to be added to the dish. Great pastas are rare luxuries and calories are not to be counted.

Great Pasta

serves 4

  • 4 small-medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 cup parmigianno-reggianno, grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 6 slices good bacon, cut crosswise into three pieces
  • 1 pound good dried or fresh spaghetti pasta
  • another 1/3-1/2 cup parmigianno-reggianno
  • small bunch of basil, cut into a chiffonade
  • generous pinch of red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place zucchini slices on a big baking sheet (you may need to use two) and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and cheese. Drizzle olive oil over slices. Roast in oven for 20-30 minutes, or until tender and beginning to crisp up.

Meanwhile, start cooking your bacon in a pan over low heat. In a small skillet or saucepan, toast pine nuts over medium heat until fragrant. Fill a pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions.

Drain pasta and place back into the pot. When done, add in the bacon (with the grease!), pine nuts, and zucchini. Throw in the basil and red pepper flakes. Stir around so everything gets coated in that beautiful sheen that is bacon grease. Serve topped with extra cheese.

A Few Days Before Thanksgiving Pasta

Thanksgiving is tapping her foot impatiently on the doorstep. She’s poking me, inquiring why I haven’t started preparing yet—I haven’t even shopped! She’s rolling her eyes and hurrumphing at me as I flip through my cookbooks, looking at Christmas cookies.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m excited—ecstatic—about Thanksgiving this year. My sister and her husband recently bought their first home, and she’s hosting Thanksgiving for our family and his, somewhere around 20 people. We’ve divied up the tasks (living 2 hours away and not getting there until Thursday morning, I don’t have many) and decided who cooks what. Everything is planned and ready to get started on, but unfortunately I just can’t cook on Monday what we want to eat on Thursday. And in anticipation for the big day, I don’t feel like cooking much of anything else.

The thought of having a kitchen full of dirty dishes on Wednesday afternoon—when I have to start, in a frenzy, to cook my part of the dinner—is terrifying, so I’ve been trying to cook as cleanly and organized as I can this week. Thankfully, this paranoia about keeping a clean kitchen in prep for the holiday begat a wonderful, simple, and calming dinner of pasta with spinach, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sausage. The spices, which remind me of everything wonderful about the holidays—sans any stress—are warm and snuggly. Because you are saving so much time with a practically effortless dinner, I suggest eating by candlelight or a crackling fireplace—tell Ms. Thanksgiving to shove off and enjoy some relaxation before the big day!

Easy Pasta with Spinach, Nutmeg, and Sausage

adapted from Bon Appetit, Dec 07

serves 4

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1½ pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper, white peppercorns if you have them
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 pound cavatelli pasta, fresh or frozen if possible
  • 12 oz (2 bags) fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano (or Parmesan) cheese, with more for sprinkling

Heat oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add sausages. Sauté until cooked through and beginning to brown, breaking up with back of spoon and occasionally scraping bottom of skillet, about 10 minutes. Stir in pepper and cinnamon, then cream; bring to simmer.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite.

Add pasta to sauce. Add nutmeg.* Cook over medium heat, adding spinach in batches and tossing until wilted. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese; serve.

*Nutmeg gets a slightly off taste when heated for too long, that’s why I added it in after the other spices. The original recipe added the nutmeg during the first step, so the cooking time might not have been enough to give the nutmeg this off flavor, but I didn’t want to chance it.

Saturdays are the Best Days: Farmer’s Market Pasta.

When you’re living with someone, it’s easy to forget how much you enjoy quiet nights at home. You spend so much time with one another during the week that when the weekend rolls around, you want out of the house, cold drinks, and conversation with strangers. You don’t realize that all that time during the week was the stressful, just-got-off-work type of time, harried and worn. You get fed up with rushed dinners, the messy house, curt conversations between tired partners, the prospect of another day of work, and you think going to a party will help all that.

Then it’s Saturday morning, you’re hungover and ghastly. You realize that the tiff you had with your partner, over whether margarita’s should be made with salt or sugar, was impudent, and telling him if you prefer salt, I simply just don’t know you at all, was down-right ridiculous. You cuddle up in the bed for a spoon, and before he has the time to realize he may still be mad, he’s cozy and has forgotten everything. That’s when you realize, undoubtedly, that nothing is better than snuggling up alone, together.

Of course, a good farmer’s market must follow.

The West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market is my favorite farmer’s market in Central Jersey. They have it all, almost. Farm-raised quail, poussin, grass-fed beef and lamb, heirloom pork and smoked bacon, fresh caught seafood, all the veggies you could ever (seasonally) need, fruits, plants, pies, kick-ass donuts and cider, and live entertainment—what more could you ask for? Well, farm-fresh chicken eggs, but I don’t want to nit-pick.

Jim, Champ, and I journeyed the 1.3 miles to the farmer’s market early Saturday morning, grumpy and sloth. At first sight, though, our spirits rose, and almost 2 hours and 100 bucks later, we were happy as hogs in mud.

Of our purchases, I knew I wanted to use the heirloom pork smoked bacon from Cherry Grove Farms for dinner. Heirloom pork is also known as “heritage pork” and is from genetically unmodified pigs who haven’t been selectively bred. They don’t have to commit to new standards set in the 1970’s to lean pork out, marketing to a population searching for leaner meats. Supermarket pork today is much leaner than pre-1970’s, but taste and texture has suffered from the change. If you want pork that doesn’t dry out and tastes, well, like pork, than heirloom is the way to go. Also, heirloom pork is raised humanely and the pigs are treated like living, feeling, in-need-of-fresh-air-and-exercise animals, instead of those poor things factory-farmed across America.

The bacon we purchased was smoked by the farm, and the taste was out-of-this-world—nothing even remotely close to “smoked” bacon in the supermarket. You could taste the wood-fire, the effort that went into it. We would’ve eaten the whole package by itself, but I forced myself to make a proper dinner. Having bought basketsful of red peppers and three gargantuan leeks, I found some pasta and creme fraiche in the fridge and decided on a carbonara-esque dish. It’s absolutely fabulous, roasting the red peppers matched the sweet, smoky flavor of the bacon, but if you’re feeling lazy, try sauteing the peppers fresh, or use the bottled stuff. Crème fraîche isn’t necessary, though it lends a richer taste than you get using only eggs and Parmesan cheese in a carbonara. Make enough for left-overs—it’s even better the next day.

Farmer’s Market Carbonara

  • 5 slabs smoked heirloom bacon (or the thickest cut you can find)
  • 1 large leek, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, roasted, skinned, and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz crème fraîche
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1 pound linguine or fettucini pasta
  • generous grating of Parmesan cheese
  • knob of butter (about 1 Tbsp)
  1. Chop the bacon slabs into slices of 4 (about 2 inches long.) Fry in a skillet over low-med heat until crispy. Remove bacon onto paper towels, reserving about 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease.
  2. Roast the red pepper directly on the gas flame or cut in half and place halves on a baking sheet and broil until the skin is charred and black. Remove from heat, let pepper cool a little and then peel off the skins until a cool tap.
  3. Thoroughly wash leeks, place slices in a skillet over medium-high heat with a knob of butter. Cook until leeks start to become tender. Add roasted pepper slices and garlic, continue to sauté until tender and the flavors have begun to meld.
  4. Boil water in pasta pot. Cook pasta al denté. Drain.
  5. Add pasta back to the pasta pot. Place pot over medium heat. Pour in the reserved 1 Tbsp bacon grease, the vegetables, crème fraîche and grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine evenly.
  • Drop in egg. Stir or whisk briskly until the egg is just cooked but still very creamy. Remove from heat. Plate and devour. Give your loved ones a kiss.
  • Cremini Marscapone Spaghetti (PPN18!)

    Sometimes it’s just too much. Finding recipes, cooking, eating, and taking pictures? And all after a hard day’s work? (Okay, I work from home with no commute and in my PJs most of the day, but I’m really trying to make excuses for not having great pictures here so cut me some slack!)

    While cooking up some pasta to celebrate Presto Pasta Night and my working out for a whole hour on Monday and Tuesday, I became so hungry that I gobbled dinner up before snapping a decent shot. Wrenching myself out of a carb-induced frenzy, I realized before my last few bites were gone that I needed a shot and I photographed my mostly empty plate. I almost decided to throw this post out, but I really wanted to participate in Ruth’s event, so I’m writing it anyway! I did get a nice shot of the mushrooms before the grumbling in my stomach took over my brain.

    This dish is light and perfect for summer nights. Arugula contrasts with the creamy marscapone cheese and woodsy mushrooms. I’ve made this before, adding some chopped bacon to give it more oomph, but on hot summer nights, I enjoy this light, vegetarian version.

    Cremini Marscapone Spaghetti (partially pictured)

    • One bunch arugula (about 4 cups) coarsely chopped
    • 2-3 Tbsp. marscapone cheese
    • 1 ¼ cremini mushrooms, slices
    • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 1 lb. spaghetti
    • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for sprinkling
    • Good olive oil
    • ½ tsp. salt
    1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are soft. Add garlic and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
    2. After pasta is cooked, add back into pot and toss pasta with some added olive oil, mushrooms, arugula, and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

    Triumvirate Pasta

    Very easy to make, and even easier to shop for, in this pasta three equal parts make up the main ingredient list. Nothing to write down, the shopping list can fit in my head. I find it very exciting.

    In this dish, broccoli rabe bites through the plump noodles and parmigiano reggiano cheese cools the spicy sausage. For some reason (maybe because I’m immersed in history books–my new hobby), I think of ancient Rome* when I eat this pasta, so we’ll call this Triumvirate Pasta–my first submission to a blog event (yay), Presto Pasta Night.

    Triumvirate Pasta

    Time: 20 minutes at most

    Details: Boil the broccoli rabe in the pasta pot, make sure you have a slotted spoon to take it out without draining the water.

    • 1 lb broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
    • 1 lb spicy Italian sausage, without casings
    • 1 lb cavatelli pasta (or any small noodle)
    • garlic cloves to liking (I use 4 cloves)
    • parmigiano reggiano cheese to liking (I use two–or maybe a bit more–handfuls)
    • Olive oil for coating pan
    1. Boil water in pot. Add in broccoli rabe and cook until tender but still firm (2 minutes maybe)
    2. Meanwhile, break up sausage in a pan coated with olive oil over medium heat. Add in whatever amount of chopped garlic you choose.
    3. When broccoli rabe is done transfer it to sausage pan, don’t worry if water gets in the pan, that is needed later.
    4. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain. Add back to pot, over medium to medium high heat. Add in contents of sausage pan. Stir and add in cheese. Stir until well mixed. Serve!

    *Whatever the reason, I shouldn’t be associating ancient Rome with pasta; they didn’t know what pasta was, and the lasagna-type noodle that they did eat was roasted rather than boiled. Here’s one for perpetuating the stereotype!