Dietschtoberfest Dinner

pillows

I decided to surprise him this year. His office wasn’t closed for the Columbus Day holiday, and mine was, so I had the apartment to myself and it would be easy. The plan was to make gnocchi – I haven’t done it in over a year, and a friend recently asked for some tips, so I’ve had gnocchi on the brain lately.

I’ve made dozens of batches of these little dumplings over the years, with varying degrees of success. The ones I made last night were my lightest yet, though I think they were almost too delicate. Still, I was pleased overall with the result and more importantly, Mike loved them.

My creation

I’m not going to print a recipe here, because I think gnocchi are something you just need to try and try and try again until you get a feel for them. I’ve always used Lidia’s recipe as a base, and I referred to Heidi and Elise this time around as well. I would estimate that I ended up using about 2 cups of potato, one egg seasoned with about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, and about a cup of flour – far less flour than I have ever used before.

Dinner:  October 8, 2007

As I said above, this made for extremely light gnocchi, but a few of them just barely held together in the sauce. It’s possible that gnocchi like this would do better in a lighter sauce – sage brown butter, perhaps – as opposed to the wild mushroom cream sauce I served them with last night.

Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (2004)

The birthday boy had no complaints, though, and he happily downed two helpings between phone calls from our families passing along their well-wishes. We opened a bottle of Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with our meal, and drank a toast to the year ahead.

Super Sized

Dinner:  September 4, 2007

This meal was inspired by a couple of different dishes: the first, a lovely house-made ravioli with a light, fresh tomato sauce we had at Chez Lola recently, and the second a garden tomato “elixir” prepared by Lidia Bastianich on one of her television shows. Since we had a few heirloom tomatoes that were near-overripe, I liked the idea of preparing them as Lidia did her elixir and using that to sauce some (almost) homemade ravioli.

filling

Lola’s ravioli was stuffed with shredded duck, and while it was absolutely delicious, after all the meat we ate this weekend I wanted to prepare a meatless version. I combined about 8 oz. each of sheep’s milk ricotta and soft fresh goat cheese (Consider Bardwell’s yummy Mettowee), blended in an egg, a pinch of salt and some chopped opal basil from our garden, and that was our filling.

pasta sheets

I decided to go for really big ravioli (which I guess are technically raviolo). I laid out a sheet of pasta on a floured board and made three little mounds of the cheese filling, a couple of tablespoons each, then brushed water around the edges, laid another sheet of pasta on top, pressed and sealed. I cut the pasta into three squares using a pizza cutter, set them aside on a floured platter, and repeated the process with my remaining pasta and filling. (Full disclosure: I did not make the pasta for this. When we have more than a 2 foot by 2 foot square of counter space to work with, I’ll happily get out the old pasta machine and make it from scratch again. For now, store-bought will do the trick.)

elixir

While I got a big pot of water boiling to cook the pasta, I made the sauce. I cored and roughly chopped three really ripe heirloom tomatoes and set them in a sieve over a bowl, squeezing and pressing them to extract their juices. I added a pinch of salt and several opal basil leaves and let it sit while I sautéed a few smashed Rocambole garlic cloves in olive oil. I added the tomato elixir and warmed it just briefly while the pasta cooked. I spooned a little of the sauce onto our plates, and as each of the raviolo finished cooking, I gave them a quick dunk in the pan of sauce before plating them, grating a little Pecorino Romano on top.

The raviolo were a bit unwieldy, but the flavor of both sauce and filling was excellent, and we somehow managed to polish off the entire batch. I plan to make this again while heirloom tomatoes are still in season, but I’ll likely downsize our pasta pillows – this is a case where bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Tomato Risotto with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

tomato basil mozz risotto

Risotto is probably one of my favorite fallback dishes. It’s easy to prepare, comes together quickly and can be dressed up or down in a multitude of ways. I love playing with flavorings and add-ins for it as the seasons change – I’m anxious for Spring’s first peas and favas to show up at the Greenmarket so I can make one favorite version.

mozzarella di bufala

I had a package of fresh Mozzarella di Bufala that I had purchased for a dish we didn’t end up making, and as I tried to think of a way to use it (other than just eating the whole thing straight, which is quite easy to do), I remembered an episode of Lidia’s Family Table I saw recently where Lidia focused on risotto. The version she made in that episode was enriched with a basic tomato-basil sauce, and little chunks of fresh mozzarella were stirred in at the end so that you’d get little gooey pockets of cheese with each bite. I had, unfortunately, deleted the episode from the DVR already, so I had to go from memory, but what I ended up with was pretty darn tasty.

Tomato Risotto with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1 cup tomato-basil pasta sauce (I had some homemade sauce on hand, but you can always use a good-quality jarred sauce)
1 pint chicken stock
3-4 cups water
12 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, plus additional whole leaves for garnish
Fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano

Melt butter into olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add shallot and a pinch of salt and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the butter/olive oil mixture. Allow to cook a few minutes more until the rice begins to become translucent. Add wine and stir, allowing to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in tomato-basil sauce and half of the chicken stock and again allow to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Continue adding the remaining liquid (stock and water) a cup or so at a time, stirring often, and allowing the liquid to cook into the risotto as described above. You may need more or less liquid than I have listed above, but what you want is for the risotto to be creamy and the texture of the grains of rice to be al dente. Taste often as the rice cooks so you can monitor the texture of the rice, and also adjust for salt.

Once the risotto is creamy and al dente, turn off the heat and gently fold in the basil chiffonade. Add a bit of freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano and stir that in, then fold in the mozzarella cubes a little bit at a time immediately before serving. Spoon into shallow bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves.