Gnudi: What’s the Hub-Bub, Bub?

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Have you ever heard of something for the very first time one day…. And then all of a sudden, you’re hearing about it all the time as if it’s become an overnight sensation? Well, that’s what happened to me with gnudi.

The very first time I heard of them was about three weeks ago, as I was watching “The Best Thing I Ever Made” on the Food Network, while working in my kitchen. Scott Conant was sharing his recipe for gnudi.

Gnudi? Now that’s a word that I’ve never heard before. I know…I don’t know how that could possibly be, but it’s true. They’re new to me.  They kind of looked like big balls of gnocchi. I made a mental note to Google them later on, so that I could see what they were all about.

While I was researching them, I found that gnudi became popular around 2008, because of a restaurant called The Spotted Pig , in New York City. I’ve never heard of that restaurant either, but it looks wonderful, and when I make it back to the city, I’ll be sure to visit there. The photos make it look so quaint and inviting.

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Ok, back to the gnudi…

Pronunciation (so as not to butcher it as we say it…):
Gnudi: Ny-oodee
Gnocchi: Ny-oakey

Gnudi have been around for centuries, according to Oretta Zanini de Vita in “Encyclopedia of Pasta,” they’ve been around since the late 1200’s. Again, overnight sensation, as they’ve become quite popular in the last couple of years.

The difference between gnudi and gnocchi is the amount of starch used in the recipe. Gnocchi are made from potato and flour, while gnudi are made from ricotta and breadcrumbs. Gnocchi tend to be a little bit dense and chewy, whereas gnudi are fluffy and soft.

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My mom (Marsh) called me last week to tell me about an article in the Buffalo News … it was about…well, what do you know… Gnudi. She read the recipe to me over the phone, and then made a copy of the article for me, and sent it to me. This article contained a couple of variations of gnudi: plain, spinach, and butternut squash. Marsh made the spinach version, and was really disappointed. “I didn’t like them at all, but you make them and see what you think” she said.

According to the article, gnudi are much easier to make than gnocchi.

“We’ll see about that…” I said to myself this morning as I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I decided to make the butternut squash gnudi.

Well, about 20 minutes later… the gnudi were already in the saucepan, boiling. I admit, they are easier to make. Much faster for sure. They’d probably make a great 30 minute meal for after work, with a butter and sage sauce, or a quick pomodoro sauce.

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But the question is, do I like them better than gnocchi? No.

My reason? Texture. They’re just too fluffy for me. I prefer the chewiness of the gnocci.

Don’t get me wrong; you can really pick up the butternut in them, and with the lemon-sage butter sauce, they were really delicious. I will make them again, especially when I’m pressed for time.

I do think that they would make a great beginning, the first course to a meal, or an appetizer of sorts.

Anyway, I’m really glad I tried them… now I can get in on that hub-bub when they come up during a conversation…

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Butternut Squash Gnudi
Makes 16 gnudi

A quick note:
The recipe suggested that the ricotta and squash be drained for a half hour, so that the gnudi didn’t turn out watery.

It called for ½ cup of fresh breadcrumbs, but to add more if they were too mushy. I tried them with just ½ cup, and test boiled two of them… they broke apart in the water (see photo below). I added another cup of breadcrumbs, and that did the trick.

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It also calls for just ½ cup of parmesan. When a recipe calls for cheese, you can be sure that I’ll be adding more than what it calls for, just because I like it.

The recipe also suggested browning the gnudi in butter before serving them. Brown them in butter? You don’t have to ask me twice…

The Gnudi:
¾ cup whole milk ricotta, drained
½ cup frozen butternut squash, thawed and drained
1 cup parmesan (technically ½ cup)
1 egg yolk
1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (technically ½ cup)
½ tsp salt
dash nutmeg (optional, I didn’t use it)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread a layer of flour over the parchment.

In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, squash, parmesan, egg yolk, breadcrumbs, salt, and nutmeg until well blended.

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Using either your hands, or a cookie scoop, form balls with the dough, and roll in flour that is on the parchment. Gently shake the flour covered gnudi in your hands so that the flour falls back onto the parchment paper, and the gnudi is left with a thin layer of flour. This will prevent them from sticking. Line them on the baking sheet while you form the remaining gnudi.

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In a large frying pan, melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Remove from heat.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil over high heat, and cook the gnudi in batches. Do not crowd them. Once they float to the surface of the water, boil them for about 2 more minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, and place in the frying pan of butter. Repeat with remaining gnudi.

When all of the gnudi are in the frying pan, turn the heat back on to medium, and fry the gnudi until they’re golden brown.

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Move to a paper towel lined plate.

While the gnudi are browning, begin preparing:

The Lemon-Sage Butter Sauce:
4 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 sage leaves, whole
Juice of ½ lemon
Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste

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Melt the butter in a medium frying pan. Saute the garlic and sage leaves for about two minutes. Add lemon juice, and cook for another minute or so.

Place the gnudi on individual plates, and pour the butter sauce over them. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a sprinkle of grated parmesan.

Enjoy!

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January Calendar Fun: Butter and Almond Shortbread and Homemade Vanilla Extract

IMG_8189I have what I believe is a very fun calendar for my desk at work.  It’s this Country Cooking calendar for 2014. I normally have a cupcake calendar at my desk every year, but for some reason, I chose this one instead this year.

I like to keep the element of surprise, so I don’t look ahead at the upcoming month until the first day of that month! I have to say that I’ve never been disappointed. They’re always really good recipes.  I guess they’d have to be, you have to look at them for at least 28-31 days in a row!  Since today is February 1st, and it’s Saturday, I won’t know what February’s recipe is until Monday.

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For the month of January, day in and day out, I’ve been sitting at my desk staring at these cookies, and yesterday I came up with the idea  that I should prepare the recipe at the end of every month.. and then write about it. Well..I will usually try to follow a recipe to the tee, but there are times when I have a strong gut feeling that it just doesn’t sound right. This just happened to be one of those recipes…

When I first read this recipe, I was a little worried that it didn’t call for enough wet ingredients.  I thought one cup of butter, along with the two egg yolks, and  3 tbsp brandy / to five cups of flour didn’t sound like a good ratio.  But what do I know?  I’m not a baker.

So, I did a little research.

It turns out that shortbread  is made with one part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour.  I did learn a little bit about shortbread… it originated in Scotland, but was made from medieval bread dough that was rolled in sugar and spice, and then twice baked into a hardened biscuit which is called a rusk.  Apparently Mary, Queen of Scots, took a liking to them with her afternoon tea, and ate shortbread flavored with caraway.   They were expensive to make, so they were considered a luxury, made only for special occasions such as Christmas or weddings.

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I went with my gut feeling, and decided to cut the flour down to three cups.  Instead of using brandy, I used orange juice, which gave the cookies a lovely orangey-citrus flavor.  I’m going to call my version: Orange and Almond Shortbread.

After making my own changes, this turned out to be a nice cookie recipe, one that would easily fit into your Christmas repertoire, or just to use as an everyday type of cookie. The most common shape for these cookies a circle of the dough cut into wedges named petticoat tails. They’re also popular cut into circles, or long rectangular shapes. You can use any shape, really. I chose hearts just because we’re so close to Valentine’s Day.

These cookies would be perfect for that cup of afternoon tea, or added as a little bit of dolce to go with a cheese platter and a glass of wine…

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My Version: Orange and Almond Shortbread
Makes 2 dozen cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking soda
3 tbsp orange juice
½ tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

2 cups powdered sugar, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To toast the almonds:
Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spread almonds onto a baking sheet, and bake for 5-10 minutes.  When you can smell them baking, they’re done. Mine took exactly 7 minutes.

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In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Add the vanilla and orange juice. Beat for another minute.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together.  Add to the butter mixture one cup at a time until fully incorporated.  Stir in the almonds.

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On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough to about an inch thick.  Using your favorite cookie cutter, press out shapes, and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining half of dough.

Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are set and a very light brown on the bottom.

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Add 1 cup of powdered sugar to a dish or a bowl.  As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, roll them around in the powdered sugar until they’re coated.

Let the cookies for about 15 minutes on a wire rack, and then using a fine mesh sieve, generously sift the remaining powdered sugar over the cookies until they are pure white.

Enjoy!

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Their Version: Butter and Almond Shortbread

225g/8oz/1 cup unsalted butter
150g/5oz/ 2/3 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 egg yolks
5 ml / 1 tsp vanilla
2/5 ml / ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda  (baking soda)
45 ml / 3 tbsp brandy (optional)
500g / 1 ¼ lbs / 5 cups all purpose flour, sifted with a pinch of salt
175g/6 oz/ 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
350g/12 oz/ 3 cups icing (confectioners’) sugar

  1. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar, until it is light and fluffy.  Add in the egg yolks one at a time, and then the vanilla.  Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the brandy (if using) and stir into the mixture.
  2. Add the flour and salt and mix to a firm dough. Using your hands, knead lightly, add the almonds, and knead again.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350F  Cover half the dough with clear film (plastic wrap), and set aside.
  4. Roll out the remaining dough on a lightly floured surface to 2.5cm/1in thick.  Press out shapes, using pastry cutters. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Place on lightly greased baking sheets and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until pale golden.
  6. Meanwhile, sift a quarter of the icing sugar onto a plate. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, dust them generously with  icing sugar. Let them cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.  Place them on the sugar coated plate.
  7. Sift the remaining icing sugar over them. The aim is to give them a generous coating, until they are pure white.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract 

Make your own vanilla…  it’s so simple, and so handy to have in the pantry, and in the end much cheaper than the store bought.

1 cup vodka or 1 cup bourbon
3 fresh vanilla beans
1 bottle or jar

Split the vanilla beans lengthwise down the middle from about ¼ inch from the top.  Place the three beans into your bottle or container.  Add the vodka or bourbon.  Close the container tightly, and place in a cool dark spot for about 2 months.  Give the jar / bottle a shake about once a week.   You can add more vodka or bourbon to the used vanilla beans a second time, once you’ve used up your vanilla.

I recommend making two bottles at a time, so that you have a second bottle waiting in the wings for when you’ve gone through the first bottle twice, so that you don’t have to wait a full 8 weeks for it to steep.   Once it’s emptied, make another batch of vanilla, so that it can steep while you’re using up your other bottle.

Cranberry Pancakes

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your day is relaxing and delicious…

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My daughter Katie and her boyfriend Ryan inspired me to make the recipe that I’m about to share with you…. Cranberry pancakes…. And they gave me their blessing to post about them.

Every year my mom will make a double batch of her cranberry relish a couple of days before Thanksgiving. And then the day before Thanksgiving, she and I will start preparing the stuffing, bake the pies, etc… and we will sneak a spoonful of her cranberry relish here and there while we are cooking. On Thanksgiving, she will put it in a pretty dish for dinner, and then afterward, she will split the cranberry relish for the both of us and put my half in a jar to take home. I love to bring that jar home, it’s readily available for me to just take a spoon and eat right out of the jar when the mood strikes me, which is pretty much all day long!

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But last year…Katie and Ryan came along and announced that they love it too. And then… they took it one step further…

It was a few days after Thanksgiving last year when I received a text from Katie. She and Ryan were making pancakes for breakfast one morning, and they decided to add some cranberry relish to the batter.

Cranberry Pancakes?!
Genius.

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I didn’t get to taste them, but Katie talked about them all year long, and just how delicious they were. I could only imagine, because I love cranberry anything.

And then….

A couple of weeks ago, she informed my mom that she would like to take a jar of the cranberry relish home too, so that they could make the pancakes again.

Ok….What??
I mean, seriously?
You’re treading on my territory, Kathryn.
Yes, you’re my daughter, but I’M supposed to get that jar of cranberry relish….

My mom always comes to the rescue…

My parents made a five gallon bucket (I exaggerate, it was more like four batches..) of the relish to meet the needs of her one and only daughter, and her eldest granddaughter. I do have the recipe, which I’m about to share with you… but you know, nothing tastes as good as your mom’s cooking… and this relish is high up there in the food rankings of one Marcia Bucolo.

For the record…I would have given my jar to Katie without a second thought… but I think you already knew that..

I do believe that this is a common recipe, but this is the one that my mom has been making ever since I can remember, pretty much all of my life…

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The Cranberry Relish
1 – 12 oz package cranberries
1 large orange cut in wedges
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Blend cranberries in food processor till chopped. Add the orange wedges and process till finely chopped. Pour into a bowl and add sugar to your taste.
And then Marcia says: Add nuts and enjoy!

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The Pancakes
This recipe will make about 8 to 10 large pancakes.

When I asked Katie how they made them last year, she told me that they made a basic pancake recipe, and then added a spoonful to the top of the pancakes while they were cooking. I made them with my own pancake recipe for the first time this past Monday night. Of course, my laziness compelled me to stir the cranberry relish into the batter, rather than add it to the pancake while it was cooking. Yeah, it didn’t work. The pancakes were really dense rather than the light and fluffy texture that they usually have.

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So tonight, I tried them again. This time I followed Katie’s advice, and added a spoonful to the raw side of the pancake while they were cooking. They turned out so light and fluffy…absolutely perfect!

If you know me, then you’ll know that I started building on this recipe with a ton of last minute thoughts… While I was cooking the pancakes the other night, I started thinking that it would be really delicious to have cranberry syrup to pour over the pancakes. Better yet, wouldn’t it be really delicious to have cooked cranberries to pour over the pancakes? And…wouldn’t it be really lovely to have some orange butter to melt over the top? While we’re at it, let’s just add a little whipped cream to top it off.

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Honestly? The pancakes are perfect for any holiday breakfast!!

3 cups cake flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Vegetable oil for greasing pan

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk and vegetable oil just until the ingredients are moistened and blended. If you want really fluffy pancakes, don’t over mix the batter.

Grease the frying pan with a little bit of vegetable oil, and heat over medium-low heat. It’s ready when a drop of water dances when splashed onto the pan. For each pancake, add 1/3 cup pancake batter to the pan. Sprinkle two teaspoons of the cranberry relish on the raw top of each pancake while it is cooking. When the top of the pancake begins to bubble, it’s ready to flip. Cook for about another minute and a half. Remove from the frying pan to a dish. Repeat until the batter is gone.

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The Cooked Cranberries
1 – 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add the cranberries, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until thickened into a jam type consistency, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl to cool. Serve this cranberry sauce cool, or while it’s still warm with the pancakes.

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The Orange Butter
¼ cup butter, room temperature
½ tsp orange zest

In a small bowl, mix the butter and orange zest until well blended. Serve with the pancakes.

The Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, whisk or with a hand mixer beat the heavy cream until peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla, and mix until blended. Serve a dollop with the pancakes!

Enjoy and Stay Safe this Holiday!!

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