Thursday, December 29, 2011

Parmigiano Reggiano "Flatbread" with Ribeye, Porcini and Heirloom Tomatoes

Almost all of the "Chef Bolek Original" recipes are posted after I have made them for the first time.  There is no test kitchen.  There are no repeats to see if I can do a better job.  Some recipes are complete disasters, and, those never see the light of day.  Other recipes are okay, and, I usually post them with a few caveats.  And, every one in a while, I have a very successful Chef Bolek Original.

Recently, I was trying to think of recipes for what we had in our refrigerator.  One thing that caught my attention was the bowl full of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  I knew of various recipes for Parmesan Crisps, but, I had way too much grated cheese to make crisps.  

So then my mind turned to a "flatbread" made entirely of Parmigiano Reggiano.  This idea was both intriguing and risky.  I had never heard of a "flatbread" made of anything other than bread.  Yet, Parmigiano Reggiano is rather salty, which means that you would need to make sure whatever tops the "flatbread" can offset the saltiness of the cheese.  Ultimately, I decided to plate a salad, with porchini mushrooms and slices of heirloom tomatoes.  I also decided that I would put slices of ribeye on top as well.  

Overall, this dish turned out well.  The one thing that I did not add to this recipe that I would definitely add the next time I make it is a good drizzle of aged balsamic vinegard.  The fruitness of the vinegar will offset the saltiness of the cheese very well.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

1 grass-fed ribeye steak, about 1 pound
2 cups of mixed greens
1/2 to 1 heirloom tomato
1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of Sangiovese wine
2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
Finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the marinade for the steak.  Add the red wine, garlic, rosemary, 1 teaspoon of the dried thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper to a bowl.  Add the ribeye and make sure that it is coated with the mixture.

2.  Rehydrate the Mushrooms.  Heat the chicken broth over medium heat.  Once the broth is heated, add the dried porcini mushrooms to rehydrate.  After about five minutes strain the mushrooms and set aside.

3.  Cook the steak.  Cook the ribeye under the broiler for about eight to ten minutes per side or until cooked to the desired doneness.  Let the steak rest for fifteen minutes.

4.  Make the Parmigiano Reggiano flatbread.  Line a cooking tray with parchment paper.  Brush the paper with extra virgin olive oil.  Place a spoonful of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano in the middle of the paper and use the spoon to gently spread out the cheese until it is a consistent thickness. Repeat along the edges of the cheese until you have reached the desired size of the flatbread.  Sprinkle the remaining thyme and crushed red pepper over the cheese.  Add the cheese to the oven.  Cook until golden brown, anywhere from five to ten minutes depending upon the size of the "flatbread." 

5.  Plate the dish.  Prepare the "flatbread" by placing it on a plate.  Place the mixed greens in the middle of the "flatbread."  Sprinkle the mushrooms and tomatoes over the greens.  Slice the ribeye and place slices over the greens.


The principal component of this dish is two-fold: ribeye steak and the Parmigiano Reggiano flatbread.  Given Parmigiano Reggiano is perhaps one of the signature foods of Emilia-Romagna, I think that the most appropriate pairing for this dish is a wine from that region.  A Sangiovese di Romagna is very much like a Tuscan Sangiovese, which can stand up to not only the "flatbread," but also the steak, which has been flavored with a marinade that draws from the flavors of Tuscany, such as rosemary and garlic.  The wine belows is one Sangiovese di Romagna that I have previously reviewed.

Collina dei Lecci -- Sangiovese di Romagna Reserva (2004).
85% Sangiovese, 15% other
Emilia Romagna, Italy
Flavors of cherries and raspberries


Monday, December 26, 2011

Monte Antico Toscana (2007)

IGT.  If you google that acronym, you are most likely find the American company that specializes in developing, manufacturing and distributing gaming equipment.  All of that is fine and good if you are looking to buy slot machines.  However, if you are like me and are trying to learn more about wine, then IGT means "Indicazione Geografica Tipica," one of the classifications established by the Italian government.   

These wines got this classification because of a "failing" on their part, namely, the wines fail to qualify for one of the two big classifications (DOC and DOCG) for Italian wine.  This failing is usually because of the blend of grapes used to produce the wine or because of where those grapes are grown.  Despite such a "failing," if you can really call it that, some of these wines are of high quality and are much more than any Vino da Tabola or red table wine.  (Personally, I think some of these wines are better than some DOC and DOCG wines out there.)  Therefore, in 1992, the Italian government created the IGT designation to give these particular wines their proper due.

One such "IGT" wine is the Monte Antico, which is a blend produced in Italy.  According to the label, this blend is the "result of the synergy" between Italian wine dspecialist Neil Empson and renowned winemaker Franco Bernabei.  Empson and Bernabei say that they pick the finest grapes from the best Tuscan hillsides.  The wine is aged 1 year in oak barrels and then six months in the bottle.

The Monte Antico is an interesting blend of fruity grapes, like Sangiovese, with darker, earthier grapes such as Cabernet Savignon.  In fact, the exact blend of the wine is 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot grapes.  these proportions have a lot to do with the appearance, aroma and taste of the wine.  The wine pours a dark crimson red. The wine has aromas of red cherries, with a little floral element to it.  These aromas clearly remind the drinker that the Sangiovese grapes are the predominant grape in this blend.  The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes contribute to the taste of the wine, providing some additional layers beyond the cherry flavors provided by the Sangiovese grapes.  There is a little earthiness in the background.  

Given the high percentage of Sangiovese grapes, this wine could be paired much like a Chianti.  More specifically, this wine could be paired with pastas with red sauces, as well as roasted chicken and pork dishes.   The Monte Antico could also be paired well with any of the hard cheeses from Tuscany, such as the Pecorino Toscano. 

The magazine Wine Enthusiast gives this vintage a score of 88, which is very respectable. This wine is available at most wine stores and grocery stores for about $8.99 to $10.99 a bottle. 


Friday, December 23, 2011

Almond Crusted Tilapia

We had a bag of sliced almonds lying around after Clare made the Warm Cheese Tart with Cinnamon and Sliced Almonds. Looking to work a little creativity in the kitchen, I decided to use the leftover almonds as breading for a couple of fish fillets.

I first ground the almonds into "bread crumbs."  Then I consulted The Flavor Bible to decide what I could add to flavor the almond crumbs.  I decided on three additional flavors ... green cardamom, paprika and cayenne pepper.  All three flavors work well with almonds.

As I prepared the almonds, I realized that the texture of the ground almonds presented some issues when it came to breading.  The ground almonds tended to clump together, as if there was some moistness in the almonds.  I feared that this would present some difficulty when it came to cooking the fish.  I had planned on sauteing the fish in a pan with only a little oil; but I became concerned that the breading to come off of the fish.   I ultimately decided that, rather than sauteing the fish, I would increase the amount of oil and basically fry the fish.  The additional oil would cook the breading faster and help keep it bound together during the cooking process.  

I should note that the almonds created a rather thick breading, which was fine for both Clare and myself.  If you would like to lighten the breading, I would suggest adding a cup or two of flour in place of a cup or two of ground almonds. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

2 Tilapia fillets
4 cups of sliced almonds, ground into powder
8 green cardamom pods, toasted and ground into powder
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of paprika powder
Salt, to taste
Pepper to taste
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

1.  Make the breading.  Put the ground almonds, ground cardamom, cayenne and paprika on a plate, salt and pepper to taste.  Mix all of the breading ingredients together. 

2.  Bread the Tilapia fillets.  Beat the egg in a bowl.  Dip the tilapia fillets in the egg and then in the breading mixture.  Let the tilapia fillets sit for five minutes or so before cooking them.

3.  Cook the Tilapia fillets.  Heat the oil on high heat.  When the oil begins to shimmer, reduce the heat to medium-high heat and place the fillets in the pan.  Cook for about four minutes and then flip.  Cook for about four minutes more or until the fillets are opaque and begin to flake.


Looking at this recipe, the pairing must take into account, not only the fish, but also the almond breading.  Given the richness and weight of the almond breading, a lighter wine or beer seems appropriate. Here are a couple of suggestions:

100% Riesling
Mosel Valley, Germany
Flavors of apples and bartlett pears

Pinot Noir
Corsica, France
Light body with strawberry and raspberry flavors

Pub Dog -- Hoppy Dog Pale Ale.
India Pale Ale
Gaithersburg, MD
Lighter than average hop flavor


Thursday, December 22, 2011


One of my favorite Italian dishes is a seafood stew that varies region-by-region.  I have made a couple versions of this stew, inspired by the brodettos of Abruzzo.  The Tuscans have their own version called "Cacciucco" (kah-CHOO-koh).  I thought it was time to learn a little more about the Tuscan stew and try to make it for myself and my beautiful Angel, Clare.

The word "Cacciucco" comes from the Turkish word, Kϋçϋk, which means "small."  This is a reference to the fish used to make the dish, all of which are usually small, boney fish.  These fish are the pesce povero or "poor fish," which were left over from the catch.  The fish were left over because they were too small or too boney to sell in the market. The pesce povero usually included Black Scorpionfish, Atlantic Stargazer, Dogfish and Weeverfish. 

Few of those fish are available around where I live, so the suggested fish for this recipe include sole, mullet, catfish, eel, hake, monkfish, and John Dory.  Many of these fish -- such as sole, hake and monkfish -- are endangered because of overfishing or are unsustainable because the fishing methods used to catch the fish result in an unacceptable amount of bycatch or environmental damage.  I try hard to make sure that I follow the guidelines for sustainable seafood in my cooking.  Therefore, for my Cacciucco, I decided to use Rockfish and Vermillion Snapper, both of which have been designated as sustainable. I also used some squid and some cherrystone clams.  This dish was very good and, like the brodettos, I will definitely make it again.

Adapted from LivornoNow
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds of fish and shellfish
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 small handful of parsley, chopped
1 can of San Marzano, whole peeled tomatoes 
8 thick slices Italian bread
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bayleaf
Chile pepper
2 teaspoons of vinegar
1 glass dry red wine (e.g. Chianti)
Salt and pepper
2 cups of seafood broth

1.  Prepare the seafood.  Wash all the fish. Clean the squid and wash shellfish.  Wash shellfish carefully and place in a large pan to open them.  Conserve the liquid and half of the shell with the clam or mussel.

2.  Prepare the base of the Cacciucco.  In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and lightly fry the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and parsley, all finely chopped. Add the chile, thyme, sage and bayleaf.

3.  Add the squid, followed by the vinegar, red wine and tomatoes.  Add the squid to the base and cook for a few minutes.  Add the vinegar. When the vinegar has evaporated, add the red wine and cook til this has evaporated as well. Add the tomatoes, chopped, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4.  Add the remaining ingredients.  When the  squid is tender, add the fish stock (strained), the remaining fish, and in the last few minutes the shellfish.  Cook until the fish and shellfish are cooked through, with the fish about to flake apart and the shell fish are opaque/

5.  Plate the dish.  Toast the bread and rub with garlic. Place the slices in the bottom of a dish and pour the Cacciucco over the bread. Serve hot.  (there should be plenty of sauce, but the Cacciucco should not be too liquid).


For more information about Cacciucio, check out LivornoNow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Roasted Apples and Fennel with Walnuts

Every dish deserves a good side.  When I made my Garlic-Fennel Rubbed Pork Loin Roast, I struggled mightily to come up with a good side dish.  At first, I thought about mashed potatoes, and then truffled mashed potatoes.  Potatoes did not seem to be the best side for the dish, at least for me. 

My thoughts then turned to what is traditionally linked to pork ... apples.  Maybe it was all of those images of a whole pig with an apple stuffed in its mouth.  Wherever that image came from, I had the start of my side dish. 

I then consulted The Flavor Bible for additional ingredients to use in this side dish.  The first ingredient that jumped out at me was fennel, which is a good ingredient to pair with apples.  I was a little cautious at first because the pork roast used both fennel seed and ground fennel in the rub. However, I came to remember something I learned a long time ago ... the taste of the seed and the taste of the fruit or vegetable are not always the same.  Fennel seed and ground fennel provide strong anice flavors, which include some flower, spice and peppery notes.  While fennel itself also provides these flavors, roasting the fennel helps to mellow them. When roasted apples are added, the fennel does not stand out as much. 

In the end, I scoured the Internet to see if there was a recipe that I could use as a guide.  I found one from Country Living and adapted it for my dish.  I also added walnuts to the side dish, which was a suggested pairing for both apples and fennel.  When I served this dish, I added some walnuts, but, in the rush of things, I forgot to toast them.  I would suggest toasting the walnuts and sprinkling them over the apples and fennel just before serving the dish.

Recipe adapted from Country Living
Serves 4-5

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch wedges
1.5 pounds of apples, such as gala apples
1 tablespoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 cup of walnuts

1. Prepare the apples and fennel.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and toss.  Lay the apples and fennel out on a baking sheet in a single layer.

2.  Roast the apples and fennel.  Roast the apples and fennel for twenty minutes.  Turn the apples and fennel.  Roast for twenty minutes more until they are golden and cooked through.

3.  Toast the walnuts.  Heat a pan on medium heat.  Add the walnuts.  Toast the walnuts for a minute or two, shaking the pan to prevent any burning. 

4.  Plate the dish.  Sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the apples and fennel just before serving the dish.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Elk Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc (2010)

I am still amazed, not only by the fact that Maryland has a wine movement, but also by the quality of the wines.  I never knew that Maryland had a budding wine movement.  My introduction to Maryland wine was with the Slate, which is an excellent blend produced by a local Maryland winery called Black Ankle Vineyards.  And, when I was recently strolling the aisles of a local grocery store, I came across the wines of another Maryland winery called Elk Run Vineyards.

Elk Run Vineyards is named after a local river, but the vineyards have a lot of history.  The winery is located on a pre-revolutionary farm in the Piedmont region near Frederick Maryland.  Elk Run has two vineyards ... the Liberty Tavern Vineyard and the Cold Friday Vineyard.  The name of the latter vineyard  comes from the description on a deed.  It is not just any deed, but the deed given by the King of England to Lord Baltimore.  The property on that deed is described as "Resurvey of Cold Friday," and, hence, the Cold Friday Vineyard.   

The old world also finds its way, not only into the names of the vineyards, but also in the practices of Elk Run's wines, including its Cabernet Franc.  The inspiration for this Cabernet Franc are the wines of Bordeaux, which stand in stark contrast to the Cabernet Franc wines found in the Loire Valley or other parts of France.    Bordeaux-style Cabernet Franc wines are fuller bodied wines with darker fruit both in the aroma and tastes.  The difference between a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Franc and a Chinon-style Cabernet Franc became very clear when I tasted this wine and the Domaine Gouron Chinon.  

The Elk Run Cabernet Franc pours a dark red, with aromas of dark fruit and minerality greeting the nose.  The winemaker describes this wine as having "rich raspberry and currant flavors, and a cassis nose with pungent, spicy and black olive like aromas."  I think the aromas are more mineral than spice, but that could just be my olfactory senses.  As for the tastes, the description is spot-on, definitely raspberry and current, along with dark cherry flavors.  

Like many Bordeaux-style wines, the Elk Run Cabernet Franc can be paired with red meat dishes, such as many of the dishes that I make as part of my Steak Nights.   This wine could also be paired with pork or chicken dishes, particularly if there are earthy ingredients, such as mushrooms, squash, and/or pumpkin.  If you want to pair this style of Cabernet Franc with a fish, tuna is probably the best option, but it would depend upon the other ingredients used in the recipe. 

This wine is available in local wine stores or grocery stores (you can check availability on the winery's website).  I found this wine at Roots Market in Olney, Maryland.  A bottle sells for $21.99.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bridgeport Brewing Company's Ebenezer Ale

With the holidays quickly approaching, craft brewers have begun to roll out their Christmas Ales, Holiday Ales, and Winter Ales.  I have reviewed a few of them last year, such as the Great Lakes Christmas Ale, the Abita Christmas Ale and the Breuwerij Huyghe Delirium Noel.  This year, it is Bridgeport Brewing Company's Ebenezer Ale. 

Bridgeport Brewery is Oregon's oldest craft brewery. The origins of the brewery lie with one of the families in Oregon's well established wine movement, the Ponzis.  Richard and Nancy Ponzi worked with brewer Karl Ockert to establish Columbia River Brewing in 1984.  Columbia River Brewing eventually became Bridgeport Brewing Company.  Today, Bridgeport Brewing Company has grown in size and capacity, producing more than 100,000 barrels of beer per year.

My beautiful Angel and I visited the Bridgeport Brewpub and Bakery during our honeymoon. When I planned our honeymoon, it was to be a foodie, craft beer and wine experience.  The craft beer part of the experience appropriately began with the first craft brewer in Oregon.  We stopped in for a couple of beers, such as the India Pale Ale and the Blue Heron.  We both enjoyed the beers a lot.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to enjoy Bridgeport beers since our honeymoon because the craft brewer does not distribute to the East Coast.  However, I was able to find Bridgeport Brewing Company's Ebenezer Ale during a recent trip to Chicago.  So, I bought a six pack for the holiday. 

The Ebenezer Ale is a beer produced in the Winter Warmer Ale.  The brewer uses four different roasted malts and a few different hops. The beer pours an orangish-brown in color with a thin layer of foam.  The aroma of the beer highlights the roasted malts, with hints of the hops.  There is also an aroma of caramel.  The taste of the beer suggests cinnamon and, perhaps, a faint cardamom, nutmeg and/or clove flavor.    The flavors of this beer are lighter and more subtle than I expected.  This is not a bad thing, because it provides a contrast to other holiday ales or winter warmers that I have tried. 

Generally speaking, winter warmer ales are meant to be enjoyed alone, not necessarily paired with food.  These ales are usually a digestive, enjoyed after a good meal. Nevertheless, if you have some Christmas cookies, there is nothing wrong with having a couple with a beer like the Ebenezer Ale. 

Bridgeport Brewing Company's Ebenezer Ale has an ABV of 6.4% with an IBU of 40.  I found this beer at a Binny's outside of Chicago, Illinois, where a six-pack sold for about $8.99.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Garlic-Fennel Rubbed Pork Loin Roast

A pork loin roast can be an amazing cut of meat to work with.  The most important thing to consider with respect to this roast is the rub.  Recently, I decided to prepare a pork loin roast, but I did not know what rub to use.  I scoured the Internet to find the right rub. I ultimately stumbled across a recipe provided by Chef Ryan Hardy to Food and Wine Magazine.

Hardy's recipe draws its inspiration from his personal experience eating roasted pork served by a street vendor in Siena, Italy.  The principal ingredients of the rub are garlic and fennel seeds, with ground fennel and crushed red pepper also being used.  The combination of garlic and fennel give this roast a very earthy and flowery aroma as it cooks in the kitchen, which is very nice.  I prepared the rub ahead of time, rubbed the roast, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before I began to cook.  You could also let the roast sit in the refrigerator overnight, but make sure that it has returned to room temperature before you begin cooking.

The recipe calls for the use of a ten rib pork loin roast.  I opted to go with a pork loin roast without the bones, because it was cheaper. Although a boneless piece of meat tends to cook faster, the particular cut I bought took a little longer to cook than what was called for in the recipe.  It took about one hour and fifty minutes from start to finish, rather than the one hour and thirty five minutes.  For this reason, it is always important to watch the temperature of the roast to ensure that you do not undercook or overcook the meat.  In the end, I think it turned out well and I would make this recipe again.

Adapted from a recipe by Ryan Hardy, provided to
Food & Wine Magazine
Serves 10

6 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of rosemary, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon of whole fennel seeds
1 teaspoon of ground fennel
2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons of ground black pepper
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 ten rib pork loin roast (about five pounds), bones frenched.

1.  Prepare the rub and marinate the meat.  Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit.  In a food processor, combine the garlic, rosemary, fennel seeds, ground fennel, crushed red pepper, black pepper and olive oil.  Process the ingredients to a past.  Set the pork roast on a large rimmed baking sheet and cut shallow score marks all over the fact.  Spread one tablespoon of the paste on the underside of the roast and the remaining paste all over the scored fat and meaty parts of the roast.  Season all over with salt.

 2.  Roast the pork.  Roast the pork, fat side up for one (1) hour.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325° Fahrenheit for about thirty-five minutes longer or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 150° Fahrenheit.  Transfer the roast to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes.  Carve the roast and serve at once.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chef Bolek's Catfish "Curry"

My experience with curries comes primarily from eating them, not cooking them.  I love Indian curries and one of my personal culinary goals is to learn how to make various types of curries and to learn the differences between the curries of the different regions of India, as well as learn the differences between curries of India and other countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia.

For this particular recipe, I drew from my limited experience in making Lamb Korma.  I bascially borrowed the spice ingredients, with a few tweaks.  I made this dish for my beautiful Angel, who does not eat meat.  This led to the first change ... I made it with catfish instead of lamb.  The Lamb Korma recipe I made called for two masalas ... a curry masala and a garam masala.  For the second change, I used the garam masala, but used a sweet curry powder (with fenugreek and turmeric powders) instead of the curry masala.  The third change was the addition of some vegetables, like eggplants and bell peppers.  Finally, I decided to use Sanaam chiles, which are chiles from India, to provide a little heat to the dish.

Overall, this dish turned out well, but it falls short of being a curry.  It is more like a "Chef Bolek-ized" curry. Still, I have to start somewhere.  And this was a tasty starting point.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

1 pound of catfish, cut into even sized pieces
1 small eggplant or 1/2 of a large eggplant, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1 cup of bell peppers, diced or thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
1 teaspoon of garam masala powder
1 teaspoon of sweet curry powder
1/4 teaspoon of fenugreek powder
1/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder
2 dry Sanaam chiles, ground into a powder
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
2 cups of water
3 tablespoons of non-fat yogurt

1.  Saute the vegetables.  Heat the vegetable oil in a deep skillet.  Add the onions and the shallots, sauteing the vegetables for about ten minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to saute for a minute.  Add the bell peppers and the eggplant, along with the garam masala and sweet curry powders.  Continue to saute for about eight minutes.

2.  Add the tomato and liquid.  Add the tomato and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for eight minutes.  Add the remaining cup of water, cover, and simmer for twenty minutes.

3.  Add the fish.  Add the catfish and continue to simmer for about five minutes or until the catfish is cooked.  Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coq au Beaujolais

As I was writing this blog post, I came across the episode of Good Eats, aptly titled "Cuckoo for Coq au Vin."  The dish Coq au Vin is a French dish that traditionally requires a whole rooster.  With a meat cleaver in hand, Alton Brown approaches a caged rooster, menacingly stating, "hey, Mr. Rooster, it's time to learn about your place on the ol' food chain...."  Ultimately, nothing was learned, as Alton Brown did not kill the rooster.  Instead, he went to the grocery store.  And, while Alton should have left the store with a whole roaster or stewing hen, he chose chicken thighs and legs instead. 

Alton Brown's choice provided some after-the-fact vindication for my first effort to make Coq au Vin.  This dish is traditionally a fricassée made with an old rooster, browning the broken-down pieces of the bird in pork fat and then stewing it a liquid of wine and aromatic vegetables. I wanted to make Coq au Vin  a main dish for a Christmas Party.  However, using an old rooster was not an option.  In fact, a whole bird was also not an option, because, absent some freaky mutation, a whole bird provides only two legs, two thighs, two breasts and two wings.  For a party of twelve or more people, that is just not pragmatic.  So, I decided to use chicken breasts and thighs, providing guests with the option of white or dark meat. 

To make this dish, I used a recipe called Le Vrai Coq au Vin from Anne Willian's book The Country Cooking of France.  Willan describes her recipe as the true way to make Coq au Vin, and, she even goes on to describe the different versions of Coq au Vin, which, as one would expect, vary based upon the "vin" or wine used to make the dish . One such style is Coq au Beaujolais, which has, in her words, "a light tawny sauce made with the local Gamay."  Based upon Willian's recipe, I   decided to make Coq au Beaujolais for a Christmas party.  To make this dish, I used a wine that I have previously reviewed on my blog ... the Domaine Pignard Beaujolais (2009).  This wine is made entirely with Gamay grapes and very drinkable, which makes for the perfect wine to cook Coq au Beaujolais.  If you cannot find a Beaujolais wine, you can substitute a Pinot Noir or Syrah, preferably one from France.    

Adapted from The Country Cooking of France at 113-114
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients (for the Marinade):
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 bottle of wine (e.g., Beaujolais)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Ingredients (for the Chicken):
1 five to six pound stewing hen or roasting chicken
      (or pieces of chicken equaling five to six pounds)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
6 ounces of lean smoked bacon
3 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of chicken broth
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bouquet garni

Ingredients (for the Garnish):
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
16 to 18 baby onions, peeled
1/2 pound of button mushrooms
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon of chopped flat leaf parsley

1.  Make the marinade.  In a medium saucepan, bring the onion, carrot, celery, 1 clove garlic, peppercorns and wine to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, and then cool the marinade completely.

2.  Marinade the chicken.  Rub each piece of chicken with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Pack the pieces in a deep, non-metallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade and flavorings over them. Spoon the olive oil over to keep the chicken moist. Cover with plastic wrap and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning the pieces from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied flavor of wine.

3.  Prep the chicken and reserve the marinade.  Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain and reserve the marinade liquid, keeping the vegetables separate.

4.   Fry the lardon or bacon.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the bacon into lardons -- small cubes or sticks. If you're using thick-sliced bacon, cut the bacon crosswise into thin sticks.  Heat the oil in a braising pan and fry the lardons until browned and the fat runs. Transfer the lardons to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside for the garnish.

5.  Brown the chicken.  Add the chicken pieces to the pan, skin-side down, and sauté over medium heat until well browned, at least 10 minutes. Turn, cook until the other side browns, 3 to 5 minutes, and remove them. Do not overcrowd the pan; if necessary, fry the chicken in two batches.

6.  Add the vegetables and liquid.  Add the reserved vegetables from the marinade to the pan and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Simmer 2 minutes, then stir in the broth with the shallots, the remaining two garlic cloves (chopped) and bouquet garni.

7.  Simmer the chicken.  Return the chicken to the pan, pushing the pieces down under the sauce. Cover the pan and cook in the oven, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Some pieces may be done before others -- if so, remove them so they do not dry out from additional cooking, and continue cooking the rest.

8.  Prepare the garnish.  Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onions, sprinkling one-eighth teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper, and brown them over medium heat, about 5 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time so they color evenly. Lower the heat, cover and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon and add to the reserved lardons. Add the mushrooms to the pan, sprinkling a pinch each of salt and pepper and add a little more butter if needed. Saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add them to the lardons and onions.

9.  Prepare the sauce.  When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces from the sauce and set them aside. Strain the sauce into a bowl, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Use a ladle to skim any fat on the surface. Wipe out the pan and add the garnish. Stir in the sauce; if it seems thick, add a little more broth. If it's too thin, reduce over high heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the chicken pieces, pushing them well down into the sauce, and heat gently 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend. Coq au vin improves if you keep it, covered, in the refrigerator at least a day and up to 3 days so the flavor mellows before serving.

10.  Plate the dish.  To serve, reheat the chicken with the garnish and sauce on top of the stove. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates and spoon over the garnish with a little sauce. Sprinkle the chicken with chopped parsley and serve any remaining sauce separately.

Overall, the dish turned out well, although I wish I had used chicken with the skin and bones.  I think both the skin and the bones would have provided more flavor to the dish.   Still, it was a good effort for my first attempt at making Coq au Vin or Coq au Beaujolais.  Anne Willan also includes instructions for making Coq au Riesling, using white wine instead of red wine.  I will definitely add that to my ever-growing "to do" list for cooking.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Warm Cream Cheese Tart with Cinnamon and Almonds

I am not the only one who cooks in our family.  My beautiful wife, Clare, is also a great cook and a great baker.  Every once in a while, I ask my Angel to provide a guest blog post so that I can share some of the amazing and delicious things that she makes for family, friends and, of course, me.  She has already provided guest blog posts about Cuban Bread, Loyalist Bread, Salmon Burgers, Peach Cobbler and Parmesan Soufflé.  So, without further ado,

A Guest Blog Post by Clare ...

For a couple of recent parties, I have made a warm cream cheese tart with cinnamon and almonds.  The recipe comes from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita, which is a cookbook of recipes from Frank Stitt's restaurant, Bottega, in Birmingham, Alabama.  I first made this recipe as part of our wine club dinner.  The warm cream cheese tart was an excellent dessert course that provided a sweet ending to the meal.  I made this recipe again for a Christmas party.  Both times that I have made this recipe, it has turned out well (so, well in fact, that Keith insists that there be some left over for him to eat).

I have to say that it is important to make your own tart shell rather than buying a store bought one.While it takes extra effort, it really pays off in the end.  The tart shell recipe that is in Bottega Favorita is fairly easy to make, with one exception.  While the recipe says that you can refrigerate the dough overnight, I would recommend that you only refrigerate it only for an hour.  If you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, it will take quite a while before the dough becomes workable again. 

The sweet pastry tart shell recipe will produce two tart shells.  You should double the filling and glaze recipes.  The outcome is two very delicious tarts that make great desserts for parties, and, of course, leftovers for Keith. 

Recipe from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita at page 122
Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients for the sweet pastry tart shell):
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 pounds (2 sticks) of unsalted butter
     cut into cubes and chilled
Scant 1 cup of confectioner's sugar
3 large egg yolks

Ingredients (for the filling):
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the glaze):
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons hot water
1 cup sliced almonds
Whipped cream

Directions (for the sweet pastry tart shell):
1.  Combine the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Add the sugar and egg yolks and pulse again, just until the mixture comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, divide in half equally, shape into two disks, and wrap in plastic.  Chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

3.  Roll the pasty rounds out on a lightly floured surface into two twelve inch circles.  Fit the dough into two 10 1/2 to 11 inch loose bottomed tart pans with fluted sides, pressing it evenly over the bottom and up the sides.  Line the tarts with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights.

4.  Bake the tart shells for 20 minutes, or until the edges are very light brown.  Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake until lightly golden, about five to ten minutes more.  Cool on a rack before filling.

Directions (for the tart):
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  To make the filling, combine the cream cheese, butter and sugar in a food processor and process until light and creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla extract and process until smooth.  Spread the filling evenly ni the prepared tart shell.

3.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the center is set and the edges and light golden.  Remove the pan from the oven and allow the tart to stand for 2 to 3 minutes, while you prepare the glaze.

4.  Whisk the confectioner's sugar, cinnamon, and hot water together in a small bowl until smooth.

5.  Spread the glaze over the top of the tart.  Garnish the top with the sliced almonds.  Serve warm, with whipped cream.

Finally, I should note that although this is a warm cream cheese tart, it is also very delicious after being refrigerated for a while. As Keith would say ...


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Domaine Gouron Chinon (2008)

François Rabelais, a Renaissance writer, doctor and humanist once remarked, "Je ne bois pas plus qu'une éponge," or "I drink no more than a sponge."  The fact that Rabelais was born near Chinon may provide some insight into that quote.  While Chinon was home for Rabelais, it is also home to Chinon wine.  A light-to-medium bodied wine that has a remarkable ability to pair well with food.  

Nearly ninety percent of Chinon wines, i.e., wines produced within the Chinon AOC are red wines.  The principal grape used to produce these wines is the Cabernet Franc grape. The Cabernet Franc grape is lighter than the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and is usually used for blends.  Bordeaux wines often incorporate Cabernet Franc grapes with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  But, in Chinon, the blend is reversed, with Cabernet Franc grapes standing alone (or with as much as ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes). 

The Gouron family has been producing wines for five generations at an estate in Cravant les Coteaux.  The estate includes thirty hectare of fives, which range in age from fifteen to thirty-five years of age, growing on gravely and sandy soil.  In 2008, the weather created difficulties for the family, with hail and frost damaging many of the vines. Still, the winemaker was able to produce a limited amount of wines, including a Chinon that I recently purchased from a local grocery store. 

The label on the bottle describes the wine as inky purple, blood-red, fresh and fleshy with perfumy cassis, menthol and eucalyptus typical of the grape.  By contrast, the display described the wine as offering raspberry, leather, violets and a hint of green pepper, along with raspberry and cherry fruit on the palate with a finish of herbs and mineral nuances. I think that the display's description is largely accurate.  The wine is light to medium bodied,  and there was a good presence of raspberry and cherry fruit.  The only thing I did not really sense was the leather or green pepper.

I paired this wine with the Garlic-Fennel Rubbed Pork Loin Roast.   The medium body of this wine, as well as the fruit-forward taste of the wine worked well with the earthiness provided by the garlic, along with the floral aromas and anise flavors of the fennel.  Cabernet Franc wines, like the Domaine Gouron Chinon, can also be paired with chicken dishes and even some lighter beef dishes, such as grilled steaks, flatiron steaks.  I do not think this wine would work well with beef roasts, but it definitely works well with pork roasts and whole roasted chickens. 

This wine is available at wine stores and grocery stores like Roots in Olney, Maryland.  It sells for about $18.99 a bottle.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pan Roasted Duroc Pork Chop with Marsala Mushrooms and Fresh Sage

Duroc.  It was originally known as the Duroc-Jersey; but, today, the Duroc pig is one of the largest breeds of pigs raised in the United States.  Often referred to as the "red pig," the color of a Duroc pig can range from golden to a deep red.  The breed of pigs has its origin in the Eastern United States during the early 1800s.  The breed arose from the breeding of Jersey Red pigs and Duroc pigs (hence the name of Duroc-Jersey).

Duroc pigs, with their flappy ears, are very sociable pigs and, hence, are often cross-bred with other breeds of pigs. Cross-breeding is often done, I think, to obtain the best characteristics of two breeds in one.  However, the Duroc pig itself is known for having juicy and tasty meat.

So, when I recently saw Duroc pork available at a local grocery store, I decided to buy some and try to make a recipe around the meat.  The pork is rubbed with fresh herbs, namely rosemary and thyme.  It is first seared on the stove top and finished in the oven.  While the pork is cooking in the oven, a garnish of sliced portabello mushrooms and Marsala wine is prepared.  Overall, this is a good dish that, like most Chef Bolek originals, probably still needs a little tweaking.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

2/3 pound of Duroc pork chop
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves, garlic
1/2 tablespoon of fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
1/8 cup olive oil, plus four tablespoons of oil
4 tablespoons of Marsala wine
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.   Prepare the rub.  Combine the rosemary, thyme, black pepper and sea salt in a bowl.  Add the olive oil and stir to create a wet rub.  Apply the rub to all sides of the pork chop.  Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees.

2.  Sear the pork. Heat an oven-proof skillet on medium heat, and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the pork chop and cook for about four to five minutes.  Flip the pork chop and cook for four of five minutes more.  Sear all other sides for one to two minutes. 

3.  Continue to cook the pork.  Place the oven-proof skillet into the oven and continue to cook the pork chop.  Cook for about three to four minutes on each side, depending upon the thickness.  Using a tong,  push on the pork chop.  If it begins to feel firm, remove the pan to the stove top.  Remove the pork chop and cover with foil.  

4.  Cook the mushrooms.  Add the mushrooms to the skillet and saute for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to release their water.  Add one to two tablespoons of oil and the garlic.  Continue to cook for two more minutes. Add the marsala wine and continue to cook for about two to four more minutes, stirring, until the wine has mostly evaporated.  

5.  Plate the dish.  Plate the mushrooms on a plate.  Slice the pork chop and place four to five slices over the mushrooms.  Garnish with the fresh sage.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Castellana Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (2010)

Although Vino Nobile di Montepulciano may be my favorite Italian wine (at least for the moment), Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a close second.  Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines are much cheaper than some of the more well known and prestigious Italian wines, such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino or Chianti Classico.  Yet, the Montepulciano d' Abruzzo wines can be just as enjoyable as those wines.  Another thing I like about these wines is that they can be a little more rough and rustic, much like the Abbruzese and their countryside. 

The Montepulciano d'Abruzzo has its own DOC, which covers most of the Abruzzo region, from the foothills of the Apennine Mountains to the shores of the Adriatic Sea.  This large area covers parts or all of Abruzzo's four provinces: Chieti, L'Aquila, Pescara, and Teramo.  There is also separate DOCG for the wine that is produced with grapes originating exclusively from Teramo, where the wines are called Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane.  The rules for making Montepulciano d'Abruzzo require that at least 85% of the grapes be Montepulciano grapes.  The remainder of the grapes must be Sangiovese grapes.  The wines must be aged a minimum of five months, and, wines aged for two years in wooded barrels can be classified as Vecchio.

The Castellana Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is made with 100% Montepulciano grapes.  The wine pours a cranberry red color, with a well defined water line along the edges of the glass.  I am told that the line along the edge is a sign of good aging, but I do not know if that is actually true.  

The label describes the Castellana Montepulciano d'Abruzzo as a medium bodied, vivid red wine with cherry fruit and subtle spicy flavors.  The aromatic elements of this wine do suggest vivid, ripe cherries.  This is an interesting contrast to the San Lorenzo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, which had elements that suggested dark cherries and darker fruit, like plums.  And, with regard to the taste of the wine, where the San Lorenzo could be compared to a Syrah, the Castellana was more like a Merlot. 

The label suggests that this wine could be paired with grilled or roasted meats, rice, pasta dishes and pizza.  Personally, I like to pair Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines with traditional Abruzzese dishes, like Maccheroni alla Chitarra and brodettos.  

This wine is available at wine stores.  I do not recall how much the wine cost, but these wines generally sell between $9.99 and $14.99 per bottle.  


For more about the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC and DOCG, check out Wikipedia

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lamb Spiedini with Sicilian Couscous and Yogurt Sauce

Sicily has a long, interesting culinary history.  One of the most interesting periods in that history is the period of time in which the Saracens (Arabs) controlled a good part of the island.  The Saracens brought advanced irrigation techniques, which improved the ability to grow fruits and vegetables.  The Saracens also brought a wide arrange of foods and ingredients, including peaches, melons, dates, rice, sugar cane, oranges, lemons, and raisins.  They also brought cloves, cinnamon and saffron.  

However, the one of the most influential ingredients introduced by the Saracens during the time they controlled western Sicily is couscous.  Like many types of pasta, couscous is made from semolina.  Unlike those pastas, the semolina is not ground fine, but left coarse so that, when water is added bit by bit, little clusters begin to form.  The clusters ultimately become the couscous. 

Generally, couscous would be served as a primi or a first course.  However, in this dish, it is served alongside spiedini (skewers) of grilled lamb.  In many Italian regions, families could not afford or did not have access to beef.  For protein, they would raise lamb or pigs.  This recipe calls for the use of boneless leg of lamb, which is marinated for at least one hour or overnight (I chose overnight) in olive oil, basil, rosemary and garlic.  This marinade provided a lot of flavor to the lamb, as well as helping to curb the gaminess that turns off many people. 

Personally, I love lamb and I really liked this recipe, which comes from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita.  The lamb turned out very well and so did the couscous.  I made one alteration to the recipe.  Instead of using red and yellow bell peppers, I also used orange bell peppers.  The the color of peppers, along with the red onions, which actually had a purplish hue after cooking, provided a lot of color to the dish. And one last note: I forgot to make the yogurt sauce.  I guess I have to save something for the next time....

Recipe from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita at 178
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the lamb):
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 rosemary sprigs
3 basil sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds of boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2 inch cubes
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredients (for the Sicilian Couscous):
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups of Israeli couscous
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced into 2 inch pieces

2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced into 2 inch pieces
1 red onion, cut into 1 inch dice
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 rosemary sprig
1 basil sprig
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
Scant pinch of cayenne pepper
1 bunch basil, leaves removed and torn into pieces

Ingredients (for the Yogurt Sauce):
1 cup of plain yogurt
1 tablespoon of mint, chiffonade
Squeeze of lemon juice
Kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
Minced scallion or garlic

1.  Combine the garlic, rosemary, basil and olive oil in a shallow bowl.  Add the lamb, massaging the marinade into the meat.  Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

2.  To make the rosemary skewers, remove most of the leaves from each sprig, leaving 1 to 2 inches of leaves at the very top.  Cut off the very bottom of each sprig on an angle to create a sharp point.  Thread 4 to 5 cubes of lamb onto each skewer and set aside on a platter to come to room temperature.

3.  To prepare the couscous, combine the water and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, toast the couscous in a large dry skillet over medium heat until nutty brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.

4.  Prepare the grill.

5.  Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the red and yellow bell peppers, onion, garlic, rosemary, basil and cinnamon.  Saute until the vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl with the couscous and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, chickpeas, cayenne and torn basil.  Toss well, then taste and adjust for seasoning. 

6.  Season the lamb spiedini with salt and pepper.  Grill, turning occasionally, for 6 to 7 minutes total for medium rare.  Transfer to rank to rest.

7.  Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt sauce by combining the yogurt, mint, lemon juice, salt to taste, and white pepper or Tabasco in a small bowl.  Transfer to a serving bow, and sprinkle with the scallions or garlic if desired.

8.  Spoon the couscous onto one side of the dish and place the skewered lamb on the other side, flanked by a bowl of the yogurt sauce.


For more about the culinary history of Sicily, as well as the role of couscous in that history, check out Foodmaven and Recipes4Us.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Firestone Walker Brewing Company's Double Jack Double IPA

Paso Robles is not only home to vineyards and winemakers, but it is also home to one craft brewer with a rather impressive portfolio of beers.  The brewer is Firestone Walker.  Beginning in 1996, two brothers-in-law began to brew their own beer.  Nearly sixteen years later, they have earned multiple awards for their brewery and their beers, including the Champion Mid-Size Brewery in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

Like most brewers, Firestone Walker has brewed a "series" of beers, which it calls its "Proprietors Reserve Series."  One of the beers in this series is the Double Jack Double IPA.  Firestone Walker brews the Double Jack in the style of an American Imperial Pale Ale.  The brewer uses Premium Two Row Malts (Metcalf and Kendall varieties), Munich and Simpson's Light Malts, as well as a range of hops.  The hops include Warrior and Columbus hops as bittering hops; Centennial and Cascade hops as late kettle hops; and Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe hops for dry hops.

The Double Jack pours a golden color, with orange hues.   The aromatic elements are very interesting, ranging from bright citrus fruits to grass.  These aromas result from the use of different hops. The citrus aromas carry over to the taste of the Double Jack, with flavors of grapefruit, tangerines, and lemon leading each taste.  The lemon carries over to the finish of the beer, along with a warm alcohol feeling.  That alcohol is reminiscent of caramel, providing a little unexpected sweetness in the finish.

Double IPAs like the Double Jack are very strong beers.  This beer has an ABV of 9.5% and a high IBU.  For this reason, the beer should be paired with strong foods, like roasted meats, hard cheeses, and grilled vegetables. 

The Double Jack is available in fourteen states across the United States.  It is available in twenty-two ounce bottles. 


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gnocchi with Prosciutto and Sage

Gnocchi is a very old form of pasta, with some saying that it originated during the Roman Empire.  However, the first written recipe for gnocchi dates back to the fourteenth century.  It comes from a cookbook written in the Tuscan dialect.  "Se vuoi i gnocchi, logli lo cascio fresco e pestalo; poscia toglia la farina et intridi con tourla d'uova a modo di migliacci."  Or, as we would say, "if you want gnocchi, take some cheese and mash it, then take some flour and mix it with egg yolks as if you are making flour."  Hundreds of years later, that still remains the basic recipe for gnocchi, with one noteworthy exception.

The "keystone ingredient" can be something other than cheese.  Indeed, the most well known type of gnocchi is potato.  This type of gnocchi is popular in the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, where potatoes are common.  Other Italian regions have their own version of gnocchi, such as Malloredus, which is a Sardinian dumpling made only with semolina.

Gnocchi are traditionally a prima or first course. These dumplings can be served with a variety of sauces, such as a traditional red sauce, an Amatriciana sauce, a ragu or a brown butter sauce.  For this recipe, which comes from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita, the gnocchi are served in a brown butter sauce and garnished with pieces of proscuitto. 

Recipe from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita at p. 119
Serves 6

3 Russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 ounces)
2 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh ground white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
9 tablespoons of unsalted butter
About three cups of all-purpose flour
3 large egg yolks
12 medium sage leaves
6 thin slices of Proscuitto di Parma, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated.

1.  Preheat the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Let cook slightly.

2.  Bring a pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil.

3.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and place the warm (not hot) potatoes in a ricer.  Add the salt, pepper, a grating of nutmeg, 3 tablespoons of butter and a handful of flour and press through the ricer onto a large cutting board or marble pastry board,  Make sure the potato is not too hot, because it will cook the egg yolks.   Using a fork, begin working in the egg yolks and remaining flour (you want an approximately equal volume of flour and potatoes).  Using a pastry scraper or spatula to gradually incorporate the flour into the potato mixture.  The gentler you are during this phase, the lighter the gnochhi will be.

4.  Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan and keep warm over low heat.

5.  Divide the gnocchi dough into several pieces.  Roll each one into a long 1/4 inch thick rope and cut into 1 inch pieces.  Press each piece with the back of a fork to create ridges.  Once they are all shaped, cook the gnocchi about 15 at a time.  Drop them into the boiling water and then once they float to the surface, 30 seconds or so, remove them with a slotted spoon or skimmer and transfer them to the pan of melted butter.  When all of the gnocchi are cooked and tossed in the melted butter, transfer them to a platter. (You can save the gnocchi to serve later by transferring the cooked gnocchi to an ice bath to cool rapidly and then place on a baking sheet and cover.  Set aside for several hours at room temperature or refrigerate overnight.

6.  Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter (or 6 tablespoons if you cooked the gnocchi ahead) to the saute pan and cook over medium heat until it melts and takes on a rich brown color, and gives off a nutty aroma.  Add the gnocchi to the pan, add the sage, and toss to coat and heat through.

7.  Serve the gnocchi on a warm plate, garnished with proscuitto and a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano.


For more about the history of gnocchi, check out Anna Maria's Open Kitchen.