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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Purging For Gnudi

I have been purging the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for a few days now.  Weeks of over shopping have finally resulted in bulging cabinets, stacked frozen items, and buried perishables.  Lately, the vegetable bin has become a huge swathe of intermingled plastic bags hiding everything I wanted, but didn't really need.  Last night I was determined to clean it out and use some of the vegetables.

The obvious choice was a soup of some kind.  With a chill in the air and a misty rain coming down, soup sounded comforting.  Chicken noodle soup? Nah, we've eaten tons of pasta lately.  I was toying with the idea of matzoh ball soup when I came across a container of ricotta cheese hidden behind containers of gorgonzola cheese, creme fraich, and mexican crema.   Hmm. Gnudi. Ricotta cheese dumplings!  Perfect.

Gnudi is italian for nude.  Ricotta cheese dumplings are nude, fragile, delicate, and sensual. 

I wrestled a leek, a few carrots, garlic, and celery from their plastic prisons inside the vegetable bin and started prepping them for soup. Diced, sliced, minced, and set aside.

I had brown chicken stock in the freezer leftover from a lazy Sunday afternoon stock-making day., so I pulled it out of the freezer and thawed it in the microwave to make a basic chicken soup base. Either one of my choices would have worked with the soup base:  noodles, matzoh, or gnudi.  I had a hankering for something different. I went with the ricotta dumplings.

It was really simple.  I sauteed the vegetables in olive oil for 10  minutes to soften before adding salt, pepper, fresh dill, parsley,  fresh bay leaf, and the chicken stock.  I brought the stock to  a boil , reduced it to a simmer, and let it bubble away for 45 minutes.

While the soup simmered, I prepared the ricotta dumplings.  I plopped a cup of ricotta cheese into the food processor along with 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, 1 large egg, salt, and pepper.  I blitzed it for 10 seconds, scraped it into a bowl, and set it aside. Because I wanted  brightness and freshness to permeate the dumplings, I folded lemon zest, lemon juce, and fresh parsley into the ricotta dough.

After flouring my hands, I tried desperately to roll them into perfectly round dumpling balls. It didn't happen  because the dough was so delicate and soft. Thomas Keller would not have approved.  They were cute little dumplings.  They weren't perfect little dumplings. It didn't matter. It was dinner, not a cooking competition.

I slid the dumplings into the refrigerator to set up, made a shaved brussel sprout slaw to accompany the soup, and retired to the parlor for a few glasses of wine.

About an hour later, I pulled the dumplings out of the refrigerator and carefully dropped them into the simmering soup. They fell to the bottom before slowly rising to the top to finish cooking for 10 minutes.  As with any dumpling, they swelled to twice their original size.  Fine with me. The bigger, the better. More gnudi for both of us.

I ladled the soup into large pasta bowls, placed the dumpling into the broth,  and showered the top with fresh dill and parsley.

To echo the flavor in the soup and to gild the lily, I topped the dumpling soup with fried jullienned leeks.

The full bodied stock had deep flavor with  leached sweetness from the simmered carrots, celery, and leeks.  The vegetables were like candy, soaked with savory goodness.  The ricotta dumplings were divine. They were soft, earthy, unctuous, and bright with assertive lemon undertones with the fried leeks providing sweet onion crunch.

Bite after bite, flavor and texture happily danced together.  Mouth party.

What could possibly follow that meal?

Michael torching the creme brulee.


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