Homemade Gnocchi Reveals Signs of an Early Spring

Saturday, February 2nd was Ground Hog Day and according to Punxsutawney Phil, America’s most famous groundhog, it is going to be an early spring. Coincidentally, I drove to the North Fork of Long Island on the same day to gather my ingredients for my homemade gnocchi and experienced my own signs of early spring.

Ground Hog Day at Briermere Farms

A very happy customer who asked for a fork so he could eat his pie in the car. A man after my own heart.

The temperature was a frigid 26 degrees but that did not stop the hoards of people lining up outside of Briermere Farms to get their pies and vegetables. After being closed for 1 month, Briemere Farms opened February 1st—a sure sign spring had arrived. I grabbed a butternut squash and a few baked treats and headed on my way to Ty Llwyd Farms to get a dozen eggs, raw milk and kale for my gnocchi recipe. 

David and Liz Wines, owners of Ty Llwyd Farm with their basket of farm fresh eggs.

On arrival, David and Liz Wines, owners of the farm, just emerged from the chicken coop with a fresh basket of eggs. I overheard Liz state to a customer, “Sorry, we do not have any eggs, these are reserved for people who ordered a day in advance.” The customer and I at the same time said, “What!” I was desperate, “All I need is 1 egg, I can forgo the dozen, please!” The customer pleaded, “I drove 40 miles to get eggs for my daughter and if I return empty handed it will not be a good day.” 

Liz broke down and says, “I will give you both 6 eggs each, that is all I can spare.” I could not believe we were negotiating egg rations in the winter. How could this be?

Naively I said, “You must have raw milk.” To my dismay, they were out of this as well. “We have had a busy winter, you may want to reserve your milk and eggs in the future,” Liz says.

Thankfully, they had a hearty bunch of kale for my pesto and I remembered I made ricotta cheese from their raw milk that I had frozen.

As I drove home, I felt partially defeated, yet inspired that people are rallying around the farms in the wintertime.

Robin is a sure sign of an early spring

These swans are early this year in East Quogue, NY on the Shinnecock Bay. Possibly preparing their nests for an early spring.

There was no need for a Ground Hog to determine if spring was coming early this year on the East End. If you plan on visiting Ty Llwyd Farm of Briermere Farms you may want to reserve your items ahead of time or get there at the crack of dawn. 

Butternut Squash Ricotta Gnocchi with Kale Walnut Pesto

I have fond memories of my grandmother making homemade pasta. She would make different types; from her tuttaes (tortelli Piacentini), which were ravioli's from her hometown of Piacenza, Italy, to potato and ricotta gnocchi, which are Italian dumplings.

My grandmother's homemade pasta: tuttaes (tortelli Piacentini), which were ravioli's from her hometown of Piacenza, Italy.

Over the years, I have mastered a few of her pasta specialties especially her potato gnocchi. For some reason, I never learned how to make her ricotta gnocchi. The potato version are so delicious, why would I even bother? I now regret not learning her recipe; however, I recently took the leap into creating these pillows of love. I will be honest, my first hand at making these dumplings was a fail, and the worst part; I served them to friends who seemed to like them. The gnocchi were tough and floury. What would my grandmother think? The next day I persevered; adjusting my recipe that resulted in a perfect ricotta gnocchi. Let's just say I owe my friends a taste of this version, as they were not belly bombers but ethereally light.

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 cup of whole-milk ricotta, drained
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 cup of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt 
  • 1 teaspoon of white pepper
  • Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 375°.
    2. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender, about 1 hour.
    3. Once cooled scoop out the squash, discarding the skin and puree until smooth in a food processor.
    4. Transfer the squash to a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until liquid evaporates and puree thickens.
    5. Once squash cools place into a cheese cloth and squeeze out the remaining liquid. Then chill in refrigerator. This should equal out to 2 cups of puree.
    6. Place ricotta in a cheese cloth and squeeze out the liquid, then chill in refrigerator.
      It is very important that the butternut squash and ricotta are removed of their liquid the best you can. This keeps you having to add more flour to your dough which will cause the gnocchi to be floury and tough. Here is the recipe for homemade ricotta. Of course you can use store bought.
    7. In a large bowl, lightly fold the butternut squash, ricotta, parmesan, egg, nutmeg, white pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt with a spatula. Gradually and gently fold in 1 2/3 cups of flour, a 1/3 at a time, taking care not to overwork the dough. In the bowl lightly flour the dough and cover the bowl with a dishtowel, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
      The dough needs a gentle touch, so be patient. If you over mix you will wind up with a tough dough.
    8. To form the gnocchi: Flour your hands and the work surface lightly. Tear off a piece of dough about the size of your fist, returning the remaining dough to the refrigerator while you work. 
      There are many ways to shape your gnocchi. 
    9. Using a gentle back-and-forth motion, roll out the piece of dough into a rope about the thickness of your fore finger and cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Then proceed on: a) using the 1-inch pieces as is, b) using a floured gnocchi board or a fork, lightly press with your thumb and roll the gnocchi to form ridges, c) roll the dough lightly between your palms to make a chestnut size ball or d) use wooden cookie molds to create beautifully designed gnocchi. Be sure to flour the cookie molds and press lightly into the board.
    10. Transfer gnocchi to a lightly floured baking sheet and chill the gnocchi in the refrigerator while you boil a large pot of well salted water.
      You can freeze the gnocchi for later use by placing the baking sheet with the gnocchi in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a ziploc freezer bag for easy storage.
    11. Add the gnocchi in batches, and cook until they float to the surface and then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon. Drain off any excess water and reserve the pasta water to thin out your pesto if needed.

    House on the Hill: Walnut Cookie Mold

    Kale Walnut Pesto

    You can make pesto with any type of  leafy green. The classic pesto we are all familiar with and adore is made with basil and pine nuts. Basil is a summertime herb here in the Northeast so in honor of the winter months I decided to make a nutrient rich, super green pesto made from kale and walnuts.

    Ingredients

  • 3 cups of kale, chopped
  • 3/4 cup raw walnuts, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Directions

    1. Heat a frying pan over medium-heat. Add the walnuts and gently shake the pan until they are toasted. About 3 minutes. Remove walnuts from heat and let cool.
    2. Place the garlic clove in a food processor and pulse until it is finely chopped. Add kale, 1/2 cup of the toasted walnuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse until chopped.
    3. With the food processor running add the olive oil in a steady stream. 
    4. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
    5. Taste the pesto before you add any salt. The cheese naturally is salty. Then add some black pepper to your liking.
    6. Use the remainder 1/4 cup toasted walnuts for garnish.

    Note: The pesto should be completed before you make the gnocchi. If you want to thin out the pesto, place a dollop of the pesto in a large bowl, with the gnocchi and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and fold gently.

    Here is hoping for an early spring.

    Potato Crust Quiche with Ricotta Kale Filling

    Typically, when making a quiche we think about the buttery flour crust which coddles our precious concoctions and I am sure there are crust critics out there who will state their opinions. I decided to go against the grain and challenged myself to a potato crust. What inspired me not to indulge in the luscious, flaky, buttery crust that we all go Yum over?  

    Long Island Potatoes!

    I was inspired by the fact that Long Island Potatoes are one of a few landmark ingredients which has contributed to the American Cuisine. There are many varieties of potatoes which have rooted it's way through the east end. To name a few: russet burbank, yukon gold, red chieftain, red norland, rosa, superior, green mountains, reba swedish peanut, the list goes on. 

    I am still in process of developing a perfect potato crust and will share with you my findings thus far. I also could not help myself and made my own homemade ricotta to add to the mix. I was inspired by Chris Wines', raw milk at the Ty LLywd farm. I know I have mentioned these folks before but I am obsessed with their product and quite frankly, I will never stop being obsessed. 

    Potato Crust

    ingredients

    • 3/4 cup grated onion
    • 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper
    • 1 tsp fresh thyme
    • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled (about 3 russets)
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
    note: I found the whole wheat flour to create a crispy crust as well as spelt flour. If you are gluten sensitive you can substitute with a gluten free baking product or possibly can try potato with an egg which might be interesting.
    A non-stick spring form pan works best for easy removal however the bottom can stick and you may want to spread some butter on the bottom lightly with some flour to ensure this does not stick. 

    directions

    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    2. In a bowl place the flour, thyme, salt and pepper.
    3. Grate the onions into a strainer and press out the extra liquid. 
    4. Grate the potatoes into a strainer, rinse quickly under water and squeeze out the extra liquid.
    5. Then place the onions, potatoes and  1/4 cup of olive oil into the dry mixture and combine. Form dough into a ball and should be slightly tacky yet firm. Let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes before pressing into the 10 inch springform pan.
    6. Pat and press the mixture into the springform and up the sides. If dough seems to wet lightly press with a paper towel.
    7. Bake the crust for 25 minutes to let the steam escape and the crust should be golden brown.

    Ricotta Kale Filling

    ingredients

    • 2 1/2 cups of chopped leeks
    • 1 large onion
    • 10 cups of chopped Kale, any variety about 3 large heads. Be sure to remove the stem the runs up the middle and set aside for another use. I typically juice with the stems.
    • 1 cups of parmesan
    • 6 large Eggs
    • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese. (recipe below)
    • 1/4 tsp of nutmeg
    • salt and pepper to taste

    directions

    1. Bring oven temperature down to 350 degrees.
    2. Over medium heat put the olive oil in the pan and sauté onions and leeks until tender.
    3. Add the kale and cook until wilted and the liquid has evaporated, but do not burn. 
    4. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste then turn off heat and let cool.
    5. In a large bowl combine the eggs, parmesan and ricotta.
    6. Slowly add the kale mixture and fold together.
    7. Pour the filling into the potato crust. Filling should sit just under the sides of the crust.
    8. Place quiche on baking sheet and cook for 30 - 40 minutes until the center is set.
    9. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

    Homemade Ricotta

    This recipe is an adaptation of the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Instead of white wine vinegar I used lemon.

    ingredients

    • 4 cups whole milk
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 1 tsp of sea salt
    • 3 tbl lemon

    items needed

    • 2 layers of cheesecloth
    • sieve
    • large deep bowl

    directions

    1. Place sieve over very large bowl and place cheesecloth over sieve.
    2. Pour milk and cream into a large pot. Then place salt in and stir occasionally. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
    3. Turn off heat and stir in the lemon juice.
    4. Allow mixture to stand for a few minutes or until the mixture curdles. (It will separate into thick parts curd and milky parts whey).
    5. Pour the mixture into the cheeseclothed-lined sieve and allow to drain. The longer you let the mixture strain the thicker the ricotta.
    6. Enjoy!

    note: You can substitute with the whey which is leftover in any baking recipe that calls for water or milk. We made pancakes the next day with the leftover whey and it was light and sweet

    Transient

    The ricotta is so delicious that you may eat the entire thing before it even makes it to any gathering or dish.