Figgy plum gnocchi, pink pasta with pears and bacon, and some green beans on the side. Give it a try!
Figgy plum gnocchi in fruity bagna cauda sauce
Boil four medium floury peeled potatoes, not the waxy type potatoes, in cold salted water, Drain. Let air dry briefly. Rice the cooled, but not cold, potatoes. Ricing keeps the gnocchi light and fluffy, melt in your mouth tender.
Add two whole eggs and a half cup each of regular flour and hazelnut flour. Add a half cup of grated dry cheese. (I like a mix of Romano and Parmesan.) Work the dough just until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not overwork the dough.
Chop two brandied black mission marinated figs that have naturally macerated in the cognac and gently work the chopped figs into the dough. Drizzle just a few drops of your brandy marinating jus from the jar into the dough. Knead just briefly.
Chop fine, one very ripe fresh Italian plum. (You can use a frozen plum if you have them. Frozen plums get juicy and sticky sweet as they have released their natural juices.) Work the chopped plum into the dough.
Let mixture rest for 15 minutes.
Pull off pieces of the dough and roll by hand into long skinny sausage-like strips on a large wooden board.
Cut the dough roll into generous bite-size pieces. Have a pot of boiling salted water ready and just simmer the gnocchi until they float (al dente). When gnocchi float to the surface, they are cooked.
Make my bagna cauda sauce, using fresh cream and your favourite cheeses. When the sauce has thickened, stir in two firm chopped, but not minced, marinated black mission figs. Add a fresh juicy chopped Italian plum.
Add the poached gnocchi to the bagna cauda sauce just when ready to serve.
Place several gnocchi in a puddle of bagna cauda, in a flat deep soup plate that has wide rim sides.
Park a whole firm brandy marinated fig and a half pitted fresh plum on the rim, with a large basil leaf on the side, just when ready to serve.
A flute of Royal de Neuville Rose, or your favourite champagne is a good pairing here.
This is an entree dish best served alone, but if you want a salad, serve it after the gnocchi course; the French often serve salad as a final course. And a cheese fruit plate with the salad course closes the stomach.
Alternate 1: Perhaps offer my Hazelnut Watercress Pesto, served in a small dish with a little ladle, for those who might enjoy a drizzle on their gnocchi. The flavours match.
Alternate 2: Flambé sautéed fresh lobster, using Asbach if available, or substitute your favourite cognac, or if no fresh lobster is available, use a large tin of flash frozen lobster, very gently heated and flambéed. In a separate skillet, sauté in butter, a small chopped piece of celery and leaf, with a tiny bit of fresh chopped green onion. Stir into the bagna cauda sauce.
Break up the lobster pieces and add to the bagna cauda sauce. Serve the hazelnut fruit gnocchi in a puddle of the lobster sauce. When ready to serve, sprinkle with a little shredded fresh tarragon. Enjoy! (If you have made homemade lobster oil, now is a good opportunity to use it; drizzle a little very special lobster oil over each serving. Do not stir.)
St Michael’s figgy treats
Using my Stollen dough recipe, prepare to the stage of adding the fruits. Instead, paste a figgy plum mixture on the dough, fold and bake.
The figgy filling:
Put two cups of black mission figs, marinated in Asbach Uralt, into a stovetop saucepan. Add a cup of my plum conserve or your favourite plum jam.
Bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in a little figgy jus from your cognac marinating jar.
From your candied citrus peel sugar pantry jar, chop some orange strands very fine and add to the pot. Squeeze in the juice of a half lemon. Add the juice of a half sweet orange. Stir and let bubble just a little. Let the gooey paste cool to room temperature. Stir in a half cup of chopped candied walnuts. You want to be able to spread the mixture on the dough.
Now if you want to make figgy stuffed cookies, roll out your favourite pastry dough and cut into two long rectangles. Make a figgy sausage shape from the filling. Use plastic wrap and roll and shape the log and refrigerate for an hour.
Position the figgy log on the pastry rectangle and pull the sides of the pastry over the figgy log to wrap. Roll with your fingers and place seam-side down on the cutting board. Chop in pieces the way you would cut gnocchi. Place individual filled pastry pieces on a parchment covered cookie sheet and bake in a medium hot oven, middle rack just until the pastry is cooked. The figgy log is already cooked. Do not over bake. You don’t want the figgy filled pastries to dry out.
Alternate: If you would prefer, use fresh Medjool dates, chopped fine, mashed together with my plum conserve.
Pink pasta with pears and bacon: Surprise sauce is wonderful
Equal weight rough chopped cooked beets and “00” pasta-making flour. Add one whole egg. Mix in Cuisinart machine. Let rest in plastic wrap for half hour, at room temperature. Process three times in pasta machine until quite thin. Hang to dry.
While pasta is drying, make sauce. Fry bacon until quite crisp. Remove bacon from pan. In the bacon fat, add butter; sear fresh Bosc pears cut into thick slices, add a half cup of my candied salted large walnut pieces. Add two cups of watercress. Stir in just a tiny bit of oven-roasted garlic purée from your stored refrigerator jar. (Hint: Don’t store roasted garlic cloves in oil to prevent mould spores from attacking; the spores can kill. Seriously).
Stir in a quarter cup of brandy figgy marinating jus and one finely chopped fresh black mission fig. Crumple the bacon on top and incorporate.
Squeeze on a bit of fresh lemon. Top with small chunks of room temperature blue cheese just when ready to serve.
In boiling salted water, cook the beet pasta for just one minute. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly. Twirl a serving onto a large dinner plate.
Toss the warm pear sauce over top the hot beet pasta pulled fresh from the boiling water. No need to drain the pasta, just take from the pot, wrapping the pasta around the tines of a large fork. The water attached to the pasta just enhances the sauce. Grind fresh peppercorns, spritz with just a little olive oil and serve.
Some people like to use pesto on all pasta dishes. If that’s you, you will want to use my watercress pesto recipe.
Might seem an odd choice to some, but the fruity tones in French label George’s Beaujolais is a nice pairing here.
Remember to let it breathe before you serve the wine in a large bowl-shape glass on a thin stem, with a wide rim, not a tapered bowl (this shape is sometimes referred to as a Chardonnay white wine bowl); you want the Beaujolais to come in contact with the oxygen to enhance the bouquet.
Never fill a large bowl wine glass more than half full; it’s ideally best only a third full in such a glass. You can always serve more later.
Here is a great link that explains different types of glasses and their preferred uses.
It’s my gnocchi: Making it gourmet style
Wipe the skins of dry baking potatoes with butter and bake. Split in half and scoop out the skins. Choose large potatoes. They are baked when a knife inserted comes out clean. Do not over-bake as that will change the flesh texture.
At 400 F in a preheated oven, this could take one hour. Check periodically after 45 minutes. Set your timer(s). Your smart phone timer comes in handy, especially if you are multi-tasking.
Cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Press through a ricer. It’s the only way to get the potatoes to a flour-like consistency. Add salt and pepper and whatever you like into the dough at this point, such as cooked spinach, mashed beets, or really fresh chopped herbs. You could even add a little grated cheese.
For three large potatoes you will need a half cup of flour and one large egg yolk. (Save the whites, never toss them; freeze them in an ice cube tray and reserve the frozen cubes in a plastic bag.) Work the dough with your hands, just gently until the mixture forms a ball. Divide the dough in segments and roll each into a thin long sausage shape using your hands, working on a lightly floured surface.
Using a knife, cut the sausage shape dough into one-inch pieces and tip each piece with the tines of a fork to make little indents to hold your sauce.
Place the gnocchi on a lightly floured cookie sheet, not touching one another. Let the dough air dry in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
Using a spider, tip the gnocchi into a pot of softly boiling cold salted water. Never use water from the hot water tap. It could contain sediment from the hot water boiler tank. The process is like making spätzle. The gnocchi will float to the surface quickly.
In the meantime, melt a knob of unsalted butter in a sauté skillet. Do not brown the butter unless it is your intention to serve nutty (noisette) flavoured gnocchi. But the butter does need to be very hot. Use just enough butter to coat the gnocchi.
Using a spider to remove the gnocchi will allow the liquid to stay in the pot. Place the gnocchi in the hot butter and toss to coat each piece. You might decide to serve the finished gnocchi as is with a sprinkle of grated Sartori BellaVitano Raspberry cheese and chopped fresh basil or parsley.
Or you could add your cooked gnocchi to your favourite tomato sauce or a rose sauce. Or even to an Alfredo sauce.
For a totally different gnocchi experience, just when ready to serve, drizzle each low, wide soup plate with a little brandy figgy jus from your black mission fig marinating jar. You could even chop a couple of the marinated figs and sprinkle over top. Totally gourmet… Totally wonderful.
See my rose pasta sauce recipe.
Green beans on the side
I usually cook green beans starting them in salted, cold water, bringing them to a boil just until fork tender.
But for this recipe, I boiled the water first in a covered pot. Salt the boiling water. Toss in “frenched” green beans. Frenched is simply split each green bean, individually, lengthwise, top to bottom, so you have a bowl of green bean strings.
Par boil. Using tongs, remove the quickly cooked green beans and transfer them into a bowel of ice cube filled water. Watch the green colour come to life.
In a skillet in the few minutes it takes to cook the green beans, sauté chopped shallots in hot, but not brown, sizzling butter just until translucent. Sprinkle with salt, fresh ground peppercorns, and chopped fresh mint. Toss the iced frenched green beans into the sautéed shallots just to mix and heat through.
Remove and put the mixture into a serving bowl or onto a large platter.
Drizzle with just a bit of my watercress pesto and top with coarsely chopped candied walnuts or candied whole hazelnuts from your pantry jar.
Sprinkle with minced citrus rinds from your panty citrus sugar jar. Sprinkle just a few grains of the citrus sugar from the jar over top, and a sprinkle of salt. Do not toss or stir.
This fresh, crunchy vegetable green bean side can be served with many entrees. Enjoy!
To serve the frenched green beans as a salad, refrigerate when completed and bring to the patio to serve with your barbecued steak or tender yummy fish cooked in barbecue papillote. You might like to sprinkle the finished salad, just when ready to serve, with hot chilli flakes, as much or as little as you prefer.
© “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks” Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience