Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Gnocchi Experiment

Homemade Gnocchi

A staple meal a lot of my great cook friends make is homemade gnocchi with pesto and a grilled steak. I believe the tradition was started by Sarah and Chris Swanson at one of their incredible New Year Dinner parties. I have never made homemade pasta before, but I heard gnocchi was a good place to start. Our guinea pigs were close friends Jessica Lee and Gary Marburger.

Besides a desire to stretch my boundaries as a cook, I was also inspired by our grill and the promise of fresh rosemary. Spring is starting to show up in Austin and there are green things growing all over – including a lot of weeds.

Yogurt-Based Cesar Salad

Yogurt-Based Cesar Salad

We started the meal off with a very light Cesar Salad. It’s actually a yogurt-based dressing with garlic, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. I toasted some old crusty baguette and made croutons and then threw on some black olives and Parmesan cheese. It’s so light and tasty.

Filet and Pesto with Gnocchi and Marinara

Filet and Pesto with Gnocchi and Marinara

After the salad, the main course was ready! Because of our new grill ( a present from Chris’s parents!) we have started to throw almost all our vegetables on the grill. This evening was no exception. Chris made a stuffed artichoke and then grilled it along side the filets. I will admit this was the one disappointment of the night. I adore artichokes and add stuffing to them, well forget about it. But for some reason they were a little hard to chew and not very tasty. So I will not share this recipe. And I will be on the lookout for better ideas. Because I cannot believe that grilled, stuffed artichokes are all bad.

The steaks on the other hand were cooked perfectly! Chris sometimes overcooks on the grill. But not this night. It was perfect. the center was a little bloody, but not too rare and there was such a nice flavor from the olive oil, sea salt and rosemary marinade.

I also whipped up a homemade pesto sauce. Pesto sauces are pretty easy to make and are always a winner. So if you are looking to impress.  Below is a standard recipe. But feel free to mix it up and parsley or even cilantro. Have fun with it.

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Makes 1 cup.

For the gnocchi I used a Eating Well recipe, which I liked a lot. They turned out fantastic. But I will admit half way through I freaked out and had to hand over the dough to Chris. I kind of fault the recipe, here’s a snippet of the instructions “Be careful not to overwork the dough: overworked dough will yield tougher gnocchi.” So I kept softly trying to deal with the dough. The last thing I wanted was tough gnocchi. At least according to this recipe anyway. After checking the clock and realizing our guests were going to arrive shortly I just handed the dough over to Chris, who promptly pushed and pulled that dough into submission. And it was just fine. So I learned a lesson. Do not let the dough scare you!

The marinara sauce was actually a last-minute, fortuitous decision. We had a friend make us this sauce the weekend before and we loved it. So I really thought it would be a great addition.  This should be a staple in all Italian chef’s repertoire. It is simple and divine.

  • 28 ounces  whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano, if you can find them)
  • 5 tablespoons  unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • Salt to taste

1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat.

2. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.

3.Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste (you might find, as I did, that your tomatoes came salted and that you didn’t need to add more) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

I cannot tell you how awesome this sauce was. But how can you go wrong with all that butter???

Panna Cotta with a Berry and Red Wine Syrup

Panna Cotta with a Berry and Red Wine Syrup

The final masterpiece was a panna cotta with a red wine syrup. I had never make a Panna Cotta before and it is a delight to make. My only real problem is that the recipe calls for gelatin. If you read the comments under the recipe in the blog link I hyperlinked I believe there are some vegetarian options for gelatin. I am not a vegetarian, I just really hate the idea of gelatin.  The panna cotta was easy to make, a crowd pleaser and just a pretty dessert. So if you are looking for something striking and simple this is perfect.