Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Potato Gnocchi

I've been making potato gnocchi (pronounced nyawk-kee) for almost 40 years. My Nonna originally taught me how to make it and then, once I was living away from home, I tried experimenting with her recipe. Although her's is amazing I recently tried using baked potato rather then boiled potato and found the resulting gnocchi to be light and tender. If you've tried gnocchi and found it too heavy give this version a try. Of course, I still like to make Nonna's version, especially when I'm thinking of her.

Gnocchi can be served with an almost endless variety of sauces (
ranging from simple butter to Alfredo to a spicy chorizo-tomato sauce) and various toppings such as roasted red peppers or crispy bacon or olives, whatever sounds good at the time.

• 6 medium sized potatoes
• olive oil
• 1 large egg
• 1-2 cups all purpose flour
• ½ cup semolina flour
• 2-3 tbsp unsalted butter

• potato ricer or masher
• fork or dull knife
• large cookie sheet
• large pot
• slotted spoon
• large glass bowl

Wash and remove any eyes from the potatoes. I like to use a combination of red and white potatoes but most potatoes will do (yes, even sweet potato but I won't be covering that here).

If you are planning to bake the potato try using Russet or Yukon Gold, both bake up light and fluffy.

Preheat oven to approx. 425 - 450°.

If you are planning on boiling the potatoes you should first peel and then quarter them. Add quartered potatoes to a large pot of boiling water. Cook until tender - a fork can be inserted easily.

If you are planning on baking the potatoes start by using a fork to stab deep into each potato several times, from all sides.

Now coat the potato with olive oil. I usually put a little olive oil in the palm of my hand and rub it all over the surface of the potato. Place potatoes into a preheated 425 - 450° oven and bake for about an hour.

Once the potatoes are cooked (and have cooled a bit) use a spoon to scoop out the center and discard the skins. Place the potato (baked or boiled) into the ricer and squeeze into a large glass bowl. A potato ricer is great for this because it eliminates any lumps making a very smooth mashed potato. If you don't have a potato ricer use a food processor or a potato masher. Work out as many lumps as you can.

Add a little salt and pepper to the potatoes. Add the large egg (some people prefer to separate the egg yoke from the white and only use the yoke - I'm fine with using the whole egg). Mix thoroughly.

Add white flour in small amounts and continue to mix with a fork. Do this until the mixture starts to form into a ball of dough. The amount of flour required will vary on how moist the potatoes are. Once the dough can no longer be mixed with a fork turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and start to kneed the dough, add more flour if it is too sticky or a little water if it is too dry.

Once the dough can be pinched without sticking to your fingers or crumbling it is ready for the next step.

Divide the dough into 3 or 4 equal pieces. Take one piece and put the others under a dish towel to keep them from drying out. Roll out the piece until you have a long tube about as thick around as a nickle (or smaller if you prefer). I find the easiest way to do this is to roll the dough between the palms of my hands (your hands will be held in front of you in a manner similar to how people hold their hands when in prayer) and let the dough slowly slide down onto the counter top. Do this two or three times until it is the thickness you are looking for.

Laying the 'snakes' of dough on the floured counter top use the side of a fork or a dull knife to cut the dough into bite sized pieces (anywhere from ½ to 1 inch long). On a cookie sheet sprinkle 1/8 cup of semolina flour and put the cut noodles on the tray. Lightly roll the noodles in the semolina flour. At this stage you can try to fancy up the gnocchi by pressing it lightly with the tines of a fork or pressing lightly in the center of the noodle creating a slight depression. This can help the final sauce to cling better to the gnocchi. Personally I just give the noodles a slight pinch with my fingers so it isn't too smooth. Place the tray of gnocchi in the refrigerator and allow to cool for 15 minutes of so to let them set. This helps to firm up the gnocchi, making it easier to handle.

Repeat with the remaining dough.

Put a large pot of water on and bring it to a rolling boil. Drop the chilled gnocchi into the boiling water one or two at a time until you have a couple of dozen in the pot.

Allow them to cook in the boiling water until they rise to the top. Scoop the cooked gnocchi out with a slotted spoon and put into a large glass bowl. Add a little unsalted butter and coat the gnocchi. Keep in a warm place while you repeat the process with the remaining uncooked gnocchi.

Once all the gnocchi is cooked you can add any other ingredients you like and serve. I've used a tomato-meat sauce and a little shredded mozzarella.

One word of caution, if you eat a sizable serving of gnocchi don't drink too much water. I've over-indulged in the past and then drank a large glass of water and I would swear that the gnocchi expanded, causing me to feel significantly fuller then I had intended. Remember, you've been warned.

PS This recipe was requested by Leah, a good friend and talented musician. Check out her music at www.leahmorise.com

I thought I would try adding the nutritional values for this recipe, in case you are concerned about calories, fat or sodium. These values are for the gnocchi with unsalted butter only.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chicken Paprikash

I don't know about you but when I hear the word "paprikash" I immediately think of the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally. You know the scene — no, not the famous deli scene — I'm referring to the one just before Billy Crystal asks Meg Ryan out for the first time. Crystal is talking with a silly accent, encouraging Ryan to repeat everything he says in a similar voice.

Crystal: Repeat after me. Pepper.
Ryan: Pepper.
Crystal: Pepper.
Ryan: Pepper.
Crystal: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Ryan: Waiter, there is too much pepper...
Crystal: On my paprikash.
Ryan: On my paprikash.
Crystal: But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.

Can you picture it? Regardless, what (you might ask) has When Harry Met Sally got to do with this recipe? Well, believe it or not this was the first time that I had ever heard the word "paprikash". Prior to that I didn't even know it existed. Then, a couple of months later, I was at an eastern European restaurant and there, on the menu, was Chicken Paprikash. So, of course, I had to try it. And it was wonderful.

Since then I have tried a few variations at home and this recipe is the end result.

• ½ cup flour
• 2 tbsp sweet paprika (Hungarian)
• salt to taste
• black pepper to taste
• 3-4 chicken breasts cut into bit-size pieces
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 onion, sliced or diced
• 1 tbsp smoked paprika
• 2 tbsp sweet paprika (Hungarian)
• ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
• 2 large tomatos, diced + ¼ cup tomato juice (or 540 ml can diced tomato)
• 2 cups (or more) chicken broth
• 1 cup sour cream

• large, deep sided frying pan or dutch oven
• Wooden spoon (or a heat proof spoon/spatula)
• Large bowl, ceramic or glass preferred
• Colander or spätzle maker (optional)

Combine the the first four ingredients (flour, paprika, salt and black pepper). Cut up the chicken and dredge in the flour mixture. Reserve the remaining flour mixture.

Using a large fry pan or dutch oven set to medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the chicken and brown on both sides. Once browned remove chicken and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot. Cook the onion until tender (partially transparent). Then add the cayenne, smoked paprika, sweet paprika and a little salt. Mix thoroughly.

Return the chicken to the pot and add the diced tomato/tomato juice (or canned tomatoes). Add enough chicken broth to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer for approximately 40 minutes.

At this point you should put on a pot of boiling water to prepare whatever noodle you plan to serve with the chicken. I like orzo or spätzle but any small pasta will do. Put the pasta in just before the 40 minutes is up.

If you are making spätzle you should mix the following in a glass bowl - 2/3 cup flour or semolina and 1 egg - mix thoroughly until the flour is moistened through, then add 1/4 cup warm water, and stir briskly. Let the mixture sit for 25 mintues.

About 5 minutes before serving use a spätzle maker or a metal colander and force the mixture through the holes and into the boiling water (don't get to close to the boiling water or the steam might cause the mixture to start cooking before it drops through the holes, clogging up the colander). Once the "noodles" float to the top remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl with a little unsalted butter.

Combine ½ cup of the sour cream with two tbsp of the reserved flour/paprika coating. Put a couple of tbsp of the liquid from the pot and whisk until smooth. Add to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes (if you are making spätzle, start dropping it into the boiling water now).

If the paprikash is too thick add a little chicken broth and stir. The paprikash should be thick enough that it will cling to the noodles but not so thick that you cannot pour it... like a good gravy.

Serve the paprikash over the noodles/spätzle and add a tablespoon of sour cream to the top, if you're feeling decorative.