Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Side Dishes make the Meal

When I'm testing recipes, sometimes the main course isn't a fave, or it can be bland, and in order to save the dinner, I've got to come up with a side dish that will knock the socks off Dr. C.

Tonight I'm testing a braised chicken in the slow cooker for the next book, and the side is looking pretty darned delicious, without a lot of work. 

I have to admit that gnocchi have never been my go-to side dish, but this recipe, written on the back of a card in my mom's old Settlement Cookbook where I have found lots of recipes with a "pinch of" and "dash of" sounded way too easy, and delicious. You can actually make up the gnocchi ahead of time, then boil (it takes less than a minute for them to be done) and then roll them around in the butter sauce. I think I'm in love!

Spinach Gnocchi with Butter and Parmigiano Reggiano

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

One 10-ounce package baby spinach

Salt and pepper

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup whole milk ricotta

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1/4 to 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter

In a 10 to 12-inch skillet, heat the oil, and swirl the garlic in the pan for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until the spinach is wilted, and there is no more liquid in the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmigiano and 2 tablespoons of flour, pulsing on and off until the mixture comes together. Transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate if not making immediately.

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Form the gnocchi into small ball—I use a small cookie scoop using about a teaspoon of the dough—better to have more gnocchi, than lessJ Roll the ball in the remaining flour, and transfer to the boiling water a few at a time. The gnocchi are done when they float to the surface. While the gnocchi are boiling heat 1/2 cup unsalted butter in a skillet and keep warm. Transfer the gnocchi to the skillet, and turn to coat the gnocchi. Serve the gnocchi garnished with the butter and remaining Parmigiano.

Let's talk ingredients for a minute: My mom always used to say the better the ingredients, the better the dish, and even though Papa John says the same thing about his pizzas, it still holds true today. Use whole milk ricotta; it will make these gnocchi so much more delicious. Freshly grate your nutmeg; there is night and day difference between the pre-ground and the freshly grated. Use imported Parmigiano Reggiano; this cheese has been made according to traditional methods for hundreds of years—that's why it's expensive, and so delicious. Grand Padano is what they discard---don't buy the Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich Kool-Aid---Grand Padano is a poor imitation—they are paid to say it's as good as Parmigiano but I'll bet one look into their fridge at home and you will find the real thing, and no Grand Padano in sight. Use fresh garlic, no peeled and pureed pulp in some chemical concoction—a head of garlic won't break the bank, and the flavor will come through in this dish. 

Just a side note, as I've gone through the day today I've thought and prayed for the victims of the tragedy in Arizona, mourning the loss with the survivors, and with the citizens of Arizona.  Tragedy is tragedy...loss and sadness and grief...those of us who are old enough, and I am, we have seen leaders assassinated too many times...this day is for the victims, their families, and the survivors, rather than the self-aggrandizement of pundits and politicians who would use this time to make more points or cover themselves.  I celebrate the heroes in Tucson and pray for all those that have suffered loss and those that are recovering from this trauma...they are what this day is about. 

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