Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pasta Caprese

Thinking of things to make for dinner can sometimes be such a chore. Of course there's always our favorites like chicken Parmesan or pasta but sometimes we're just looking for something new. Usually by midweek I am pulling at straws trying to figure out what to make. This past week wasn't any different. By Wednesday I had completely run out of dinner ideas. Then I came across the "Leftover Tuesdays" challenge being hosted by Project Foodie and was inspired. I knew if I looked in my pantry or fridge I was sure to find something I could throw together. That's how I came up with Pasta Caprese. A few weeks ago I had purchased some flavored pasta from Decio Pasta. I found some of the spinach and tomato pasta still in the pantry. I decided to mix those together and toss with some chopped fresh tomatoes that I sauteed slightly to release some juices. I added basil and some mozzarella I had leftover from the last time we made chicken Parmesan. I allowed all the flavors to mix and the cheese to melt and then topped with a drizzle of olive oil. Dinner was ready.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The New Addition

After many days of deliberation and several emails to friends and family for advice we finally decided to purchase the new GE Cafe Series Freestanding Gas Range. We'd been thinking about upgrading for awhile but hadn't been able to find a 30 inch stove with all the options we were interested in. My husband and I stumbled across the GE Cafe by accident one day when we were out looking at other GE models. It seemed perfect except for the all stainless cooktop. I had heard some horror stories about how hard it is to keep a stainless cooktop clean and looking nice. I've always had enamel cooktops so I really had no idea.

We've had the stove for a week now and we're extremely happy. So far so good as far as the clean up goes. I'm sure eventually it will look worn but that is something I will deal with when the time comes. I love having all of the extra options like the double oven and the griddle pan.

Thanks to all of you that provided feedback and helped us make this decision.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ricotta Gnocchi

I know what you're thinking Gnocchi are potato not cheese. Well you're right, but as I found out this weekend they can also be made with ricotta. Sometimes called Gnudi these pillowy gnocchi remind me of ravioli filling without the pasta shell. They are a lighter and, I think, an easier to make version of the gnocchi. The recipe below is adapted from Mario Batali's cookbook, Molto Italiano and is my submission for this week's Presto Pasta Night. Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage and Fennel Gnocchi 1 1/2 lbs ricotta cheese 1 cup unbleached flour, plus more as needed 2 large eggs, beaten 1 Tbs chopped Italian parsley 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg Olive oil Sauce 2 lbs sausage, removed from casings and crumbled 1 Tbs fennel seeds, toasted and finely ground 1 Tbs hot red pepper flakes 1/2 red onion, finely chopped 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and finely chopped 1 carrot, finely diced 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 2 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe below) 1. Put the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. The cheese will become firmer and drier. 2. To make gnocchi, in a medium bowl combine the drained ricotta, flour, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir together gently until a soft dough forms. Add a little more flour if the dough is sticky when poked with a fingertip. 3. Dust your hands with flour and shape the dough into balls, using about 1 tbs of dough for each one. Place the gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with lightly floured parchment paper. 4. Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 Tbs of salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove top. 5. Gently slip only as many gnocchi at a time as will float freely into the boiling water, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to separate them and cook until they rise to the surface, about 7 minutes. Test for doneness by cutting into the center; it should be the same color and consistency all the way through. Scoop them out of the pot with a wire skimmer as soon as they are cooked and transfer to the ice bath. As soon as the gnocchi are cooled, drain and transfer to an airtight container. Toss with olive oil to coat and refrigerate until ready to cook. 6. In a heavy bottomed 10-12 inch saute pan, cook the sausage over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate. Add the fennel seed, red pepper flakes, onion, fennel, carrot, celery and garlic to the pan and cook until the vegetables are well browned, about 10 minutes. 7. Return the sausage to the pan, add the tomato sauce, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper and remove from heat. 8. Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 Tbs salt. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water, and cook until they float to the top. Drain. 9. Add the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce, return to medium-high heat, and toss gently for about 1 minute to coat. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl, top with pecorino and serve immediately. Basic Tomato Sauce makes 4 cups 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/2 Spanish onion, diced 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 3 Tbs chopped fresh thyme 1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded 2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes salt 1. In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook until the carrot is quite soft, about 5 minutes. 2. Add the tomatoes, with their juice, and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer until as thick as hot cereal, about 30 minutes. Season with salt. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for 6 months.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Italian Love Cake

Yesterday was my friend Gretchen's birthday so I decided to bake her a cake. She told me that she likes anything with chocolate or cheese in it. I didn't like the idea of an ordinary chocolate cheesecake so I started scouring through recipes until I found the Italian Love Cake. Basically it's a layer of chocolate cake topped with a layer of cheesecake before baking. The two layers switch positions in the oven so you end up with cheesecake on the bottom and chocolate on top. The final product is iced with a chocolate whipped cream. I was a little nervous at first because the cheesecake was made with ricotta cheese not cream cheese. I'm ok with this; having made ricotta cheese pie quite often, but I wasn't sure what Gretchen was going to think. So I didn't tell her until after she told me how much she liked it. She swears she couldn't tell the difference. This is easy to make and can feed a lot of people. Ingredients 1 box fudge chocolate cake mix (and ingredients necessary to prepare the cake) 2 pounds ricotta cheese 1 cup sugar 4 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 box (3 3/4 oz.) instant chocolate pudding 1 cup milk 8 ounces non-dairy whipped topping, thawed Directions Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cake batter as directed on box and pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. In separate bowl, combine ricotta, sugar, eggs, and vanilla; mix well. Spoon over unbaked cake batter. Bake for 1 hour. Cool completely.

To make icing, mix instant pudding with milk; fold in whipped topping. Spread over cake, and refrigerate until ready to serve.