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The Ricotta Gnocchi Project

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Last week I hosted my monthly Cookbook Club meeting, which focused on Canal House Cooking, Volume 7. I love the simplicity of The Canal House books, and I particularly love this volume because it focuses on my favorite cuisine: Italian. I was determined to make a pasta from this book, and settled on the Gnocchi Verdi because I thought it would be easier than making hand-rolled pasta (not so… but I’ll get to that). I sent the group a wide selection of recipes and declared I would be making the gnocchi; we quickly determined the rest of the menu would consist of minestrone soup, shrimp risotto, sausage and apple stuffing, prosciutto wrapped figs, and ricotta cheesecake.

figs

Prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic reduction

I started preparing the gnocchi a couple days in advance, beginning with the homemade ricotta that goes into the dough mix. I was nervous to make my own ricotta, but it seemed pretty straightforward so I went for it. After securing a double boiler, candy thermometer, and a skimmer (How did I not have a skimmer before now? It’s my new favorite kitchen tool!), I turned on Game 4 of the World Series (yay Giants!) and got to work.

Whole Milk Ricotta (makes 1.5 cups)

  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt

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Make a double boiler out of two large pots, with enough water in the bottom pot to come at least halfway up the sides of the top pot. Pour the milk into the top pot and heat over a medium-high flame until the temperature reaches 190 on a thermometer*. Add salt, yogurt and lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to mix everything together. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes, maintaining at 190 degrees. Do not stir, as it will disrupt the ricotta curds. Once done cooking, use a skimmer to carefully lift all the ricotta curds out of the whey and transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for about 1 hour, then transfer to a covered container and use within 4 days.

*The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to reach this temperature, but it took me more like 45 and it was still not entirely 190 degrees. Eventually I just gave up and continued with the rest of the process, and it gradually reached 190 after I added the other ingredients. 

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Gnocchi Verdi (serves 6)

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup finally minced basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1 TB melted butter
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 TB flour, sifted

Sage Butter

  • 8-12 TB butter
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • Parmigiano-reggiano

Mix together the spinach, basil, ricotta, butter, Parmesan-reggiano and eggs with a rubber spatula in a large bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, then sift the flour through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer into the spinach mixture. Mix it just enough to incorporate the flour. The dough will be soft, sticky and slightly moist. Refrigerate in a covered container overnight.

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About 2 hours before you’re ready to cook the gnocchi, form into cone shapes by hand (make sure your hands are constantly wet to avoid the dough sticking to you) and lay onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1.5 hours.

Make the sage butter about 20 minutes before serving. Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, turn off heat, cover and keep warm until serving.

When ready to cook, fill a deep, wide pan with water to a depth of about 3 inches. Season with salt, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat to keep the water barely simmering. Using a spoon, place the partially frozen gnoccho into the water, sliding it off the spoon. Cook 6-10 at a time. When they float to the surface, cook them for about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel covered plate to drain for a minute, then place onto serving platter. Once all gnocchi are done and on the platter, pour the sage butter over the pasta and season with salt, pepper and a shower of Parmigiano-reggiano.

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The gnocchi were well-received, which I was very happy about because they were quite a labor of love! I DEFINITELY recommend test-cooking a few gnocchi before getting into the whole batch; that way you have an idea of how hot the water should be, and how long to cook them. The first few I made fell apart in the pan, ether because the water was boiling too hard or because they weren’t formed well enough – or both. I started to panic and thought I would have to give up all together, until Miriam suggested freezing them. Since the dough was so soft and moist, freezing the gnocchi firmed them up they stayed more in tact when cooking. Thank goodness!

I had quite a bit of leftover gnocchi, and wasn’t quite sure how to reheat them. During some alcohol-influenced late night cooking on Halloween night, I decided to pan fry the gnocchi on a dry nonstick pan. That tasted magical. Or maybe I was just buzzed? Nope, pretty sure it was magical.

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

But the best use of the leftovers was the morning after Halloween when I incorporated some gnocchi into the egg mixture for my frittata. Usually I add ricotta to my frittatas, but since I didn’t have any actual ricotta the spinach gnocchi was the PERFECT substitution to my bacon-mushroom-pepper concoction. So perfect that I would consider making Gnocchi Verdi again just to have a batch around for morning frittatas. Though, I suppose I could just continue to make my own ricotta for that purpose!

Mini Spanish Frittatas

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This weekend I was invited to a fall-themed pumpkin carving potluck brunch. Initially I had planned on bringing a frittata with autumnal vegetables, but then decided that I wanted to try out some mini frittatas that I had been eyeing for a while. They were super easy to make (I brought all the ingredients and my muffin tins to my friend’s house) and worked perfectly for serving a large group. Everyone gobbled them up very quickly!

Mini Spanish Frittatas (makes 18)

  • 12 large eggs
  • 8 oz. mixed mushrooms (oyster, bella, shiitake), chopped
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 poblano or California chili pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated Manchego cheese
  • cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large non-stick pan over a medium-high flame and coat with cooking spray. Add mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Add onions, zucchini, pepper and scallions and continue to sauté for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium size mixing bowl. Add cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray, coating the bottom and sides of each individual tin.

Add vegetables to mixing bowl and stir to combine. Use a ladle to scoop the egg mixture into the muffin tins. Do not fill to the top, as the frittatas will expand as they cook. Leave about an inch of space between the eggs and the edge of the muffin space.

Place the muffin tins in the oven on the same rack, and cook for 12-14 minutes. Once cooked, remove from oven and add a TB of Manchego to the top of each frittata. Turn off oven and turn the broiler on high. Put the muffin tins in the broiler and continue to cook for 2 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Remove from broiler and use a spatula to take each frittata out. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

Ricotta Frittata

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My roommate, KD and I invited some friends over for brunch yesterday. Being the baker of the house, she whipped up some delicious orange poppy seed scones and banana bread (in muffin tins). I created a new frittata made of ricotta cheese, fig goat cheese, onions, pancetta, spinach and asparagus. The ricotta was sort of an experiment that I did, but it turned out perfectly. The frittata was super soft and moist, and very savory… ideal for a hangover brunch.

  • 12 eggs
  • 1/2 cup low fat ricotta
  • 8 oz soft goat cheese (I used one with fig bits in it)
  • 1 tb butter
  • 6-8 asparagus spears, trimmed*
  • About 1 cup of chopped pancetta
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • salt and pepper to taste

*If using thick asparagus, slice vertically down the middle, and chop into 2-inch pieces. If using thin asparagus, just chop into 2-inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine first three ingredients and whisk until cheese is blended into the eggs. Add spinach, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

In a cast-iron French oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onions, asparagus and pancetta, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes or until Pancetta starts to brown. Add the egg mixture and stir to combine ingredients, then let it set for about 2 minutes.

Once set, line the outer rim with cherry tomato halves, flat side down. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes, checking to make sure it’s cooked through (put a knife through the middle, if it comes out clean than it’s cooked). Let it rest for a few minutes, before serving. If you’re waiting on your guests to arrive, cover the pot until ready to serve so it retains it’s heat.

As I mentioned, the texture was soft and moist, which I’m sure had to do with the addition of ricotta. I selected fig goat cheese because I thought it would go well with the pancetta, but in the end you couldn’t really taste the figs that much. I also thought the tomatoes were a cute touch. Of course we paired this with Prosecco and fresh orange juice (mimosas). I even used the juice of a blood orange I had leftover in my fridge… so refreshing!

More Fittata, Please

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This morning I made a delicious frittata for myself and my friends. I think it’s becoming one of my favorite brunch items to make, because it’s so easy, cheap, and always different from the last one. Since Lactard was at the brunch, I decided to use goat cheese in this particular frittata. The goat cheese gave the frittata a softer texture, which I loved.

  • 1 dozen eggs (I used 9 whole eggs, and 3 whites), whisked
  • 1 bunch of basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups of spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz plain goat cheese, crumbled
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 8-10 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 Campari tomatoes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients and set aside.

Use a large cast-iron or ceramic pan (or something that is oven-safe) to cook the vegetables. Place the pan over a medium flame and heat the oil. Add the garlic and the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes or until they start to soften. Add the pepper and asparagus and sauté for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes and continue to sauté for 2 more minutes.

 

Add the egg mixture to the pan and stir lightly to combine the ingredients. Let the eggs set for about two minutes. Place the pan into the oven, uncovered, and cook for fifteen minutes or until the eggs have cooked (time may vary based on oven).

Check it a few times to make sure the eggs are not runny on the top. When you take it out of the oven, there will still be a little liquid on top, but that’s okay because it will continue to cook when you take it out of the oven.

Let the frittata rest for a couple of minutes before cutting into slices. Serve with sliced hearty bread (warmed in the oven, of course) and bacon or chicken sausage. These portions serve 6 or 8 people, but you can refrigerate leftovers and reheat in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 275 degrees, or in the microwave for 2 minutes.

Frittata Brunch

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We all know how important the weekend brunch is. Whether it’s eggs benedict at your favorite eatery or a delicious homemade frittata in your warm kitchen, the weekend is just not complete without a hearty brunch.

essential ingredients for a perfect Bloody MaryOn Saturday Frenchie’s lady friend (who will be known as ADee from this point forth) and I decided to cook brunch for MM and Frenchie. On the menu was a vegetable frittata, black forest bacon and Bloody Mary’s (because no brunch is complete without a little booze). ADee used pickled green beans that she made last year, garlic stuffed olives, Tito’s vodka, low sodium spicy hot V8, and a selection of other spicy condiments.

For the frittata we used a head of kale and fennel from ADee’s vegetable delivery box, garlic, onion, sun dried tomatoes, organic eggs, fontina, and parmesan. The combination of flavors was fantastic, and the sun dried tomatoes added a great texture to the frittata. First preheat the oven to 425 degrees, then heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add and sauté chopped fennel (just the bulb), garlic, and onions for about ten minutes over medium heat.

Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a large bowl. We used twelve eggs, but for three of the eggs I just used the whites. Add salt and pepper, grated fontina, and half a cup of chopped sun dried tomatoes. Fontina can be hard to grate because it’s semi-soft, so use a microplane grater and if bigger pieces break off it’s not a big deal.

Once the onions and fennel are cooked and somewhat charred, add the chopped kale. Kale cooks down very quickly, so you only want to sauté for a couple of minutes. Once it’s cooked, add it to the bowl with the eggs and mix together. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish (Le Creuset is great for this because it retains the heat, but you can also use any baking dish or pan that is oven safe). Top with 1/4 cup of grated parmesan and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the eggs are fully cooked when you put a fork in the middle.

Once it’s cooked, run a spatula along the side to separate the egg from the baking dish and let cool for five minutes before slicing and serving. ADee also cooked the bacon in the oven on a rack with a pan underneath to catch the fat. She cooked it for about the same time as the frittata and it was perfect. I’ve never had black forest bacon before, but I’m definitely a fan! Though MM seemed a little confused when he asked, “Is it supposed to be black? Is it burning?” Even though I assured him it was supposed to be black, he was only convinced after ADee told him it was okay. But all in all, it was a very yummy breakfast and MM and Frenchie were definitely impressed with our culinary skills – as they should be!

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