Thursday, January 20, 2011

Homemade Gnocchi with Venison Stew

As you've seen in this post and that post, TWSF is really into making our own pasta. We like the taset, the texture, the challenge, and ultimately the satisfaction. Most recently, we tried our hand at homemade gnocchi and were extremely pleased with the results: light, fluffy pillows of potato and flour. Yum.

As always our recipe was borrowed from trusty Italian chef, Lidia Bastianich. TWSF had a feeling we'd be making this a lot and decided to purchase a potato ricer. Although unnecessary, this kitchen tool proved to be quite useful and we have used it several times within the past month (including awesome mashed potatoes).

For this meal in particular we paired our gnocchi with a hearty venison stew. On a cold winter night with a bottle of wine, the only thing that would have made this meal more romantic would be if Chuck hunted the deer himself in my honor (like in the movies).

Recipes after the jump!

Recipe from Lidia's Italian Table by Lidia Bastianich

3 large baking (Idaho) potatoes (approximately 1 1/2 pounds), scrubbed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed

1. Boil potatoes in a large partially covered pot of water until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, approximately 35 minutes.

2. Drain the potatoes and let stand until just cool enough to handle (the hotter the potatoes are when they are peeled and riced, the lighter the gnocchi will be). Peel the potato...VERY carefully. We don't want any of you burning your little hands, ya hear?

3. Press the potatoes through your new ricer (we purchased ours for $25) or a food mill. Spread the riced potatoes into a thin, even layer on the work surface, without pressing them or compacting them. Let them cool completely.

4. In a small bowl, beat the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together. Gather the cold potatoes into a mound and form a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well. Knead the potatoes and egg mixtures together with both hands., gradually adding the grated cheese and enough of the flour, about 1 1/2 cups to to form a smooth but slightly sticky dough. It should take no longer than 3 minutes to work the flour into the potato mixture - keep in mind the longer the dough is needed, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become. Use flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands as you knead.

5. Dust your hands with more flour and cut the dough into approximately 6 equal sections. Place one section of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and exerting light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope 1/2 inch thick (like making clay snakes in art class). Repeat with other dough sections.

6. Slice your ropes every 1/2 inch. Roll each piece in your hands to form a small ball. Hold the tines of a fork at a 45 degree angle to the table with the other concave part facing up. Take one ball of dough and with the tip of your thumb, press the dough lightly against the tines of the fork while you roll it downward towards the tips of the tines. Set on a baking sheet while you roll the rest of the gnocchi. At this point, freeze* the gnocchi or cook it.

*A really wonderful feature of gnocchi is that it can be made ahead and frozen until you are ready to cook it. We typically make a huge batch, so we can cook handfuls at a time for quick week night meals. The best way to do this is spread a layer of gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze gnocchi for 1 hour (this is called flash freezing - it keeps the gnocchi from sticking together). After an hour, transfer slightly frozen gnocchi to a freezer bag.

Assuming you've decided to cook the gnocchi, let's romance the damn thang.

Gnocchi with Venison Stew
Recipe from Lidia's Italian Table by Lidia Bastianich

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
1 small sprig fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 clove
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons minced pancetta or bacon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/4 pounds boneless venison from the leg or shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes (FYI...venison is pretty expensive unless you happen to hunt and live by some woods or happen to be a hillbilly and live by a highway. We bought ours frozen at Whole Foods. One pound of venison was $15, no joke.)
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 3/4 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 recipe gnocchi (see above)
6 quarts salted water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Soak the porcini in the hot water until softened, approximately 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Rinse and chop the mushrooms, discarding any tough bits. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or a sieve lined with cheesecloth and set aside.

2. Tie the bay leaf, rosemary, and clove securely together in a small square of cheesecloth and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a large heavy pot or casserole, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pancetta (or bacon) and cook, stirring, until golden about 6 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to high, and the venison, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the meat juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes.

4. Add the wine, herb bundle, and chopped porcini and cook, stirring, until the wine has nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the stock and the reserved mushroom liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Just a warning, this is going to smell realllllly good and make that 1 1/2 hours seem like eternity. Remove the herb bundle.

*This venison stew can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered).

Time to cook the gnocchi! Heat a pot of salted water and bring to a rolling boil. Drop a few gnocchi in boiling water at a time and cook until they pop up to the surface (approximately 1 minute).

Place gnocchi in a bowl and spoon venison stew on top. Sprinkle with parsley and grated cheese. Stir to incorporate and serve at a candle lit dinner. Enjoy!

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