Gnudi = Nude Morsels?

November 29, 2016

I was there to see beautiful naked women. So was everybody else. It is a common failing.
~Robert Heinlein

Well, it appears the title says all because gnudi are simply translated from the Italian language into nudity. (The word means just how it sounds in English — naked “pasta.”) Really, need one say more as you cavort about in nakedness together and then prep, serve, and gorge on fine fodder and perhaps have some quaff alongside. Sounds like a sublime day/evening.

Unlike their dumpling cousins gnocchi, gnudi are not made with potatoes, but with ricotta and semolina fused/buried overnight to create a more silky dish.

Ingenious, shrewd, perhaps sublimely lewd (thanks to The Spotted Pig, a gastropub in the West Village, NYC).

Gnudi

1 C fresh ricotta cheese
1 C parmigiano-reggiano, grated+
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolks, local
1 t nutmeg, grated
2 T fresh chives, minced

1/2 C all purpose flour
4 C semolina flour
3 T unsalted butter

12+ sage leaves
Parmgiano-Reggiano, grated
Black pepper, freshly ground
Capers, drained (optional)

Combine the first five (5) ingredients in a glass bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. The mixture should be airy, fluffy.

Fold in the 1/2 C of flour until it is combined with the ricotta mixture, adding more flour by the tablespoon if needed so that the mixture is not too sticky to roll into 1″-2″ or so oblong balls.

Roll the ricotta mixture into balls (dumpling shaped) and place in a glass dish that has 1/4″ of the semolina sprinkled on the bottom. When there is a layer, cover the balls completely with flour and begin another layer by way of wax or parchment paper. Finish by completely burying the ricotta balls in an even layer and transfer to the fridge and leave overnight, so the ricotta fuses with the semolina to form a delicate skin, leaving about 1″ or so between each.

Allow the gnudi to come to room temperature, and prepare the brown butter (otherwise known as beurre noisette). In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. When the butter solids begin to brown and the butter is foamy, add the sage leaves until the mix turns a nutty brown color.

Meanwhile, bring a well salted heavy pot of water to boil. Gently plop the gnudi into the boiling water. Cook for about 1-2 minutes or so. They do not need long to boil at all, then drain with a slotted spoon.

Place a heavy skillet over medium high heat and cook, shaking the pan and gently stirring the gnudi until the butter and pasta water emulsify into a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt.

Transfer gnudi and brown butter to deep bowls. Top with fried sage leaves and drizzle with browned butter. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano-reggiano, ground black pepper and strewn capers. Serve promptly.

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Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

The pen was put to rest for due cause. The delay since my last posting has been far from a case of writer’s cramp. Instead, my eldest, the bona fide chef of the family, was found to have a pernicious and rare lung carcinoid which necessitated a harrowing open surgery followed by a rather lengthy and agonizing hospital stay in LA. The tumor had been insidiously residing within him for several years before becoming symptomatic. As much as he tried to avoid it, the surgeon had to get medieval on his ass, leaving him with a shark bite sized incision emblazoned on his chest. Excruciating pain became a way of life for him. And now, recuperation is ongoing and long term. But, I have faith that with time his inertia will be restored, regained and will not wane.

While there is no need to belabor the details, suffice it to say the entire process has been an ordeal for all and a living nightmare for him. As parents, these somber, reflective times have been a tumult of chaotic ideas and sensations…the stuff that makes your fingernails and toenails ache.

Above all—and I mean above all—thank you dear friends and family for your benevolent, unflagging support.

The only silver lining in these dark skies was fortuitously tripping across a recently opened local LA trattoria (or perhaps osteria), Della Terra Restaurant. Affable and urbane, Della Terra also exudes that rustic but often elusive Tuscan simplicity. I already miss the preamble olives, oranges and flatbread, to make no mention of the scrumptious brick oven grilled pizza. Della Terra will no doubt soon make it on “must go” lists in sprawling tinseltown. Thank you Franco, Michael, Gerry, Renato (and the back of the house) for your gracious hospitality and eloquent eats during troubled times. To say your service was accommodating would be a gross understatement. Never once did I enter the door without a warm handshake and hearing—“How is your son?”

As you will be serving Sunday brunch in the near future, I humbly offer this radicchio with eggs & proscuitto fare as a thought and a means of thanks.

GRILLED RADICCHIO WITH EGGS & PROSCUITTO (RADICCHIO CON UOVA E PROSCUITTO)

3 heads radicchio, any imperfect outer leaves removed and quartered
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 T fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/2 T fresh thyme leaves, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

1 T unsalted butter
4 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 lb. (Parma or San Daniele), cut into thin julienne
1/4 lb. shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar

4 large eggs, hard boiled and finely chopped
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Whisk together olive oil, herbs and pepper.

Prepare barbeque grill to medium high heat or use grill pan heated to medium high on stove top. Brush radicchio quarters with herbed olive oil, then arrange on grill or grill pan. Cook on each side for approximately 2-3 minutes per side. You are looking to achieve slightly wilted edges. Once cooled to room temperature, roughly cut into strips.

In a large bowl, combine the radicchio, prosciutto, walnuts, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper, to taste, and toss well to coat.

Then, in a large heavy non stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over high heat until it foams and subsides. Crack 2 egg into the pan and cook, sunny side up, seasoning with salt and pepper and removing to a plate as they finish cooking. Repeat this process with the remaining 2 eggs and butter.

Divide the salad evenly among plates and top each serving with a sunny side up egg and a hard boiled, finely chopped egg and a light grating of parmigiano-reggiano.

A world devoid of tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato ketchup and tomato paste is hard to visualize.
~Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

On President’s Day—watching pre-dawn documentaries detailing their lives—I was again struck that we have yet to elect a head of state with Italian heritage. Curious. It seemed a proper day to post a tomato sauce recipe.

This sauce is fundamental, versatile and ever so simple to create. It is great to have on hand for kith and kin at a moment’s notice any time of the day. Although the fresh tomatoes in my clime are fabulous, the season is unfortunately narrow (usually mid July through early October, with the most flavorful in September). Fresh tomatoes out of season just do not make the grade…they can even be on the verge of inedible. So, I usually turn to the canned whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes that perpetually inhabit the pantry. Luckily, some of the tomato vendors at the local farmers’ market also can their own, and they are exquisitely flavorful.

If the season is on, you may substitute 2-3 lbs of fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped. But, then again, why would you not slice a gorgeous heirloom tomato with fresh mozzarella and basil…or even just a little sea salt…and savor?

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Two 28 oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, finely chopped (retain juice)
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded
1 small rind of parmigiano reggiano
A quick splash of red wine
Sea salt
Bouquet garni* of fresh parsley, thyme and basil sprigs

Using kitchen scissors, chop tomatoes while still in can.

Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring some, until softened and slightly goldern, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic, saute and stir occasionally another 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir in the tomatoes with juice, carrot, salt, rind, red wine splash and bouquet garni. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. The sauce will thicken to a porridge consistency. Remove and discard the rind and herb bundle. Adjust seasoning to your liking with salt remembering that tomatoes demand liberal amounts of salt.

A silkier version can be made by finishing the sauce in a food mill or blender.

The sauce will keep refrigerated for one week or frozen for 3 months.

*Bouquet garni: herb sprigs bundled together with kitchen twine.

Pourboire: when serving with a pasta or fish, it can be gently toned down with a little cream to make a “pink” sauce. The sauce can also be jazzed up with drained capers, chopped olives, diced peppers, red pepper flakes…you name it.