My Basil Pesto Gnocchi Is Too Green!

Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!
Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!
Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!

Olive Garden, Romano’s Marcaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo — I don’t eat in these joints and if you love authentic Italian food you shouldn’t either. The food they serve has been engineered to appeal to the bland American palate that prizes grease, calories and volume. Most of what they serve is a disgrace and has no connection to the healthy simple dishes that Italians and Italian-Americans enjoy.

The Wall Street Journal had a piece in today’s paper about how these chains struggle to keep and grow their middle America clientele with low-brow tastes.

Olive Garden sends its chefs to Italy to taste the real deal. Unfortunately, when they return to their test kitchens in Orlando the chefs reverse-engineer the dish and bastardize it so that it appeals to their customers.

They stopped making basil pesto for pasta because it was too green for their clientele. A great pasta dish they enjoyed in northern Italy was too “rustic” so they added a cheesy sauce and meat to make it more “normal” and to convince their customers that it was a good deal. They don’t use capers often because the salty and pickled flavor is too out there for their diners. Gnocchi was a bit too adventurous so they only serve it in soup. My delicate gnocchi would never hold up in this water bath.

Please, please, please! Do not equate what you get at these chain restaurants with authentic regional cuisine in Italia or with the food that I celebrate on Gianni’s North Beach. Visit Italia, and until you do, cook up some of my dishes for yourself. You’ll feel better after you eat and, even at chain prices, you’ll save money too.

Buon appetito!

Basil Pesto–The Genoa Way?

Spaghetti with Basil Pesto

Don’t know why but I’ve been putting off making basil pesto–a simple salsa verdi (green sauce) from Genoa. I couldn’t wait any longer when I got a deal on a couple of bunches of small leaf organic basil this morning. By early afternoon, the kitchen was sweetly perfumed by the fresh basil marinating in the morning sun when I returned to make the pesto.

Yeah the Genoese insist you must use a mortar and pestle to make this pesto. I don’t have one so if you don’t either, use a food processor to mince the basil, garlic and pinoli and then mix in the grated cheeses and the butter to give the pesto more texture. Not the authentic Genoa way, but taste is never sacrificed.

Just a few ingredients and you’ve got this pesto in 10 minutes. Use it to dress fettuccine as they do in Genoa (they call the dish trenette) or with spaghetti as I did this time. This pesto is really versatile. Use it as a sauce with roasted meats, as a pizza topping with fresh mozzarella and grated pecorino romano, or add a dollop to a soup like minestrone.

Ah, summer!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:39]

Sweet Grilled Shrimp on a Hot Summer Day

After a work week in Manhattan I gathered in Clifton, NJ with friends on Saturday for a day of grilling, eating and drinking on the backyard deck. It was one of those lazy days–90 degrees and beautiful, to be enjoyed outside and not in a steamy kitchen. We planned to eat for hours, so a simple, fresh menu was in order.

I thought it was too early in the season but we scored some Jersey tomatoes. Ever had a Jersey tomato? Big, fat, juicy, and deep red. They call them beefsteaks they’re so meaty. You can slice them up and eat them like a steak. Heirlooms are great but Jersey beefsteaks are best. Slices of freshly made mozzarella alternated with a fat slice of the sweet tomato and a basil leaf sprinkled with a little sea salt and a drizzle of EVOO and we had Caprese to die for as our antipasti.

Also at hand: a bag of fresh organic basil, had to be used. Pesto, presto –to be served over trifole, the traditional small twisted pasta from Liguria where this pesto was invented. When basil is fresh and abundant in the summer months, liberally is the only way it should be used.

You know me I get these “woolies”, these cravings for a certain food. Well, one came over me in Jersey: shrimp on the grill basted with a Calarian chili paste, honey and EVOO glaze. The shrimp are crunchy with a hot/sweet exterior and a juicy succulent interior. Simple and quick.

We also had some early sweet peaches so I had to make a chilled Neapolitan “sangria”. It’s a standard for hot summer days. When the peaches are fat and juicy just soak slices in a robust red wine. The wine picks up a hint of peach flavor–a perfect accompaniment for our summer lunch. Then eat the wine-soaked peaches for dessert.

Enjoy caprese, sweet grilled shrimp, pesto and pasta, and sip home-made sangria for your next meal on a sultry summer day.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:31]

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:32]

 

 

 

 

 

Potato Gnocchi with Three Sauces

Potato Gnocchi with three sauces

Gnocchi Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds Idaho potatoes
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1 ½ cups flour, plus more for the work surface
  • At least 1 tablespoon of sea salt for the cooking water

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with water about 2 inches above the top of the potatoes. Bring the potatoes to a gentle boil.
  2. Boil the potatoes until they are knife tender about 30-40 minutes. Try to keep the skins from rupturing so the potatoes don’t absorb any water and don’t overcook them.
  3. Let the potatoes cool a bit so that you can handle them. Peel them. If they’re too hot to handle use a kitchen towel to hold the hot potato when you peel them.
  4. Put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill while the potatoes are still hot. Mashing the potatoes works in a pinch but the gnocchi won’t be as light.
  5. Spread the riced potatoes on a cookie sheet or a flat baking pan in a single layer to cool and allow some of the moisture to evaporate. The drier the riced potatoes the lighter the dough will be.
  6. Bring a big pot of very well-salted water to a boil.
  7. Put the riced potatoes in a mound on a flat work surface. Create a well in the middle.
  8. Crack the egg onto the work surface in the well. Beat the egg well. (I don’t salt fresh pasta doughs including gnocchi because I think salt toughens the dough. I’d rather the gnocchi absorb salt in the boiling cooking water. But, if you want add about 3/4 teaspoon of salt to the egg before you beat it.)
  9. Slowly start to incorporate the egg into the ring of riced potatoes.
  10. When fully incorporated spread out the mixture and sprinkle some of the flour over the top.
  11. Knead the flour into the potato mixture.
  12. Repeat with another dusting of flour until the dough holds together and is smooth and soft. Try to use as little flour as possible for light gnocchi.
  13. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface so the dough doesn’t stick. Knead the dough to create a smooth dough ball.
  14. Cut the dough ball into 6 pieces.
  15. Flour the work surface again if necessary and roll each piece into a rope of 1/2 inch diameter.
  16. Cut the rope into ½ inch pieces. Make sure you have enough flour on your work surface so that the pieces don’t stick together.
  17. Using the back of a fork press the piece over the tines with your thumb and press downwards to push the gnocchi off the fork. You’ll create indentations from the tines on the back of the gnocchi and a concave indentation on the other side from the pressure of your thumb. Great shape and texture to absorb the sauce.
  18. Spread the gnocchi on a floured cookie sheet or flat baking pan as you make them.
  19. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, gently stir to make sure they don’t stick together and gently boil the gnocchi until they rise to the top of the water.
  20. Remove the gnocchi with a spider or mesh ladle and place them in the sauté pan with the sauce of your choice.

Makes about 48 gnocchi.

Don’t get interrupted when you’re making the gnocchi. When you finish making them all put them in the boiling water and eat them right away! Or, you can freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Make sure they not touching one another! When they’re frozen store them in a freezer bag. Boil them still frozen. They’ll take a little longer to cook.

Pesto Trapanese Recipe

Basil pesto ain’t the only one. Small ripe tomatoes and roasted almonds are the stars of this pesto. Basil is only a minor player. This uncooked sauce made in a blender or food processor takes only a few minutes. The aroma and taste of the almonds is front and center supported by the sweetness of the tomatoes and the sparkle of the hot pepper as you swallow.

Good for 1 pound or 500 grams of spaghetti or the yield from one full potato gnocchi recipe or your favorite pasta shape.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups or ¾ pound of the ripest and sweetest cherry, pear or other small red tomato
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed
  • 10-12 large fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup whole almonds, roasted or lightly toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup EVOO
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

Cooking Directions

  1.  Put the garlic, almonds, pepper flakes, basil leaves, tomatoes and then the sea salt in a food processor or blender.
  2. Blend for about a minute or so, scrape down the sides and then blend again until no large bits are visible.
  3. While the machine is running gently stream in the EVOO until the pesto is smooth and well blended.

Use the pesto at room temperature to dress the pasta. Top the dressed pasta with the grated Parmigiano Parmigiano. You can store it in the refrigerator for a few days.

Gorgonzola Sauce Recipe

A quick delicious piquant sauce you can make in less than the time it takes to boil the water for the pasta. The flavor of this noble blue cheese from northern Italia is the boss in this sugo. You don’t need a lot of the sauce. Just a thin coating on the pasta is what you want.

Good for 1 pound or 500 grams of pasta or the yield from one full potato gnocchi recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces gorgonzola dolce
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

Cooking Directions

  1. Heat the cream stirring frequently so a skin doesn’t form on top.
  2. When the cream is reduced and thickened add the gorgonzola and stir until the gorgonzola is melted and well blended with the cream.
  3. Mix in sea salt and pepper to taste.

Top the dressed pasta with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano.

Pizzaiola Sauce Recipe

Named after the pizza-makers of Napoli this sauce is just San Marzano tomatoes, garlic infused olive oil and oregano, a typical topping for a pizza. Simple and quick but a rich and robust sugo. I use this sauce for pasta, my eggplant parmigiano and other dishes that call for a flavorful tomato sauce.

Good for 1 pound or 500 grams of your favorite pasta or the yield from one full potato gnocchi recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup grated pecorino

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the olive oil and garlic in a cold sauté pan big enough to hold the cooked pasta your using.
  2. Heat the pan over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles and the garlic just begins to take on some color.
  3. Add the tomatoes and salt and mix with the EVOO and garlic.
  4. Simmer to evaporate some of the liquid and the sauce thickens.
  5. Stir in the oregano.
  6. Continue cooking for about 30 minutes.
  7. Remove the garlic before using the sauce, or not. Your choice.

Top the dressed pasta with the grated pecorino.

Hint: Sometimes things go wrong. Don’t be discouraged, forge ahead!