Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gnocchi with Gin Pesto

The most useless leftover in the world is mashed potatoes. No one looks in the fridge and says "Mmm! Cold, dried out, old mashed potatoes!" But don't go throwing them out right away. Those sad little taters can be repurposed into a whole delicious meal. It's true!

Gnocchi has been around in many forms for a long time, but potato-based gnocchi came about in the 16th century with the introduction of the potato in Europe. The type of potato used is particularly important. Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes will give you a mealy texture. Other forms of white potato usually result in a more gummy or chewy texture. I always go with Red potatoes. They are a little firmer once cooked and they are delicious!

And pesto, where do I start? Pesto is a simple and delicious sauce all on its own. But one of the best basil pairings often goes unnoticed...gin. That's right, gin. The floral aroma of this spirit really brings out the bold flavor of basil. If you are a little hesitant, go ahead and skip the gin in the pesto. But at least have yourself a little gin martini with this dish and you'll see what I mean.

So next time you have some leftover red-skinned mashed potatoes, don't let them go to waste. Just remember to remove the skins from the mashers before you begin. You can even make a whole bunch of these and freeze them for later use.

Gnocchi with Gin Pesto


1 cup mashed potatoes (make sure these are well seasoned)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan

2 cups fresh basil
1/2 tbsp gin (trust me on this)
2 cloves garlic
2/3 cup olive oil (use the good stuff here, guys)
salt and pepper to taste

Let's make the pesto first. In a food processor, combine basil, gin, garlic and 1/2 cup olive oil. Blend until combined well. Add remaining oil and salt and pepper and puree until smooth. Easy right?

Now for the gnocchi. First, set a large pot of water to boil.

In a large bowl, knead all gnocchi ingredients together. (Don't overdo it. Just enough to get all the ingredients combined well.

On a floured surface, shape small portions of dough into 'snakes'. Then cut into 1" pieces. (Or cut smaller for Gnocchicetti.)

If your potatoes get too warm and won't roll properly during this process, pop them in the fridge for a couple minutes.

Make Ahead Tip: If you end up with more than you will eat, this is the time to freeze the gnocchi. Put uncooked pieces in a freezer bag in a single layer and lay flat in the freezer.

Once your dough is all cut up, put gnocchi in boiling water in small batches. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Once they start to float, they are done. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and toss with pesto.

Serve them right away with grated asiago or pecorina romano cheese.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mama mia! White lasagna!

This recipe makes me so happy. We've done southern Italian with our Parmesan Chicken Tartine, now its time for some northern Italian cuisine.

In northern Italy, lasagna's red sauce gets replaced with a cheesy, white cream sauce known as Mornay. I use this sauce in lasagna with red sauce as well. But today we are going all white veggie baby! No further explanation needed. This meal speaks for itself.

 Veggie Lasagna with White Sauce


6 oven-ready lasagna noodles
3 cups broccoli, chopped
2 cups carrots, diced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, pureed
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup asiago chese, shredded
2 cups milk
4 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dried basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Saute broccoli 8-10 minutes, until al dente.

Remove broccoli from the pan and heat 1 tbsp butter. Saute carrots, covered, for 5-8 minutes or until slightly softened.

Remove carrots from pan and heat 1 tbsp butter. Saute mushroom, onion and 1 clove garlic for 5-8 minutes.

Now we make-a da sauce!

In a large saucepan, heat 4 tbsp butter. Whisk in flour and cook until slightly bubbly. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat, still whisking. As sauce starts to thicken, add 1 cup mozzarella and all of the asiago. Keep whisking!

Add nutmeg, red pepper flakes, salt, basil and remaining garlic. Once sauce reaches desired consistency, remove from heat.

In an 8x8 casserole dish, pour pureed red pepper and top with two lasagna noodles. Then layer in the following order:

Mushroom and onion mixture
1/2 cup mozzarella
Two noodles
Carrot mixture
1 cup cheese sauce
Two noodles
Remaining cheese sauce
Remaining mozzarella

Bake, covered for 20 minutes. Then bake, uncovered for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sausage Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Ok, it is officially Fall and I'm skipping right ahead to winter squash season.

There are many varieties of squash and they all have very distinct flavors. Today we are making spaghetti squash. This yellow beauty is low in calories (about 45 calories per cup) and high in Vitamin A, potassium and beta carotine. When raw, the inner flesh of a spaghetti squash is solid like other squash. When cooked, the flesh pulls away in strands that look just like spaghetti. It has a mellow flavor and is an excellent, healthy pasta substitute.

Today's recipe is sort of like a casserole and the best part is, you serve it right inside the squash itself.

Side note: It was brought to my attention that there are no pork recipes on Bon Vivant (yet). This recipe uses pork sausage but can easily be made with turkey sausage or no meat at all. Happy John Calandra? ;)

Sausage Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

1 large spaghetti squash, halved and cored
1/2 pound breakfast sausage, crumbled
4 cups fresh spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup parmesan or asiago cheese, finely shredded
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Fill a roasting pan with about 1/2 inch of water or just enough that the water level is below the roasting rack. Place squash open side down on roasting rack in the pan and bake for 30 -35 minutes or until insides are soft. (This will vary based on the size of your squash.)

While your squash bakes, heat a large non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned. Remove sausage from pan but leave the drippings in there.

Saute garlic in sausage drippings until lightly golden. Add spinach and saute until wilted.

Remove squash from the oven and using a fork, scrape the strands from the sides into a large bowl.

Add butter, parmesan, spinach and sausage and toss well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mixture right back into the squash and serve warm.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cookie Contest Winner

The cookie contest is over! You guys really put up a big fight!

And the winner is...
Liz Chepul!

Liz is a lovely southern girl (as you can see by this picture) with a talent for being adorable. What's that you say? She seems to have some beefcake on her shoulder? No, that's just her awesome, monacle wearing hubby Michael. And they won some cookies! Congratulations!

Now don't you worry, we will have another contest soon. The next one is a doozy so watch out!

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Pancakes are a Sunday breakfast staple. A perfect pancake can really make you feel like a kid again. When you forget all of your grown up manners and use your fingers to swipe the last piece across a golden pool of syrup; that's pure joy. And making pancakes from scratch requires just as little effort as making them from a mix and they'll taste better!

For a long time, I hated making pancakes. Mostly because I am a perfectionist in the kitchen and I could not get them to look 'pretty' and have a fluffy texture. After much perseverance, and many failed experiments, I have a deep respect for a good pancake.

The secret lies in the flour. Many people aren't exactly clear on the differences between bleached and unbleached flour. Over time, flour naturally bleaches to white and develops a finer, softer texture and helps with the development of gluten. But nowadays, manufacturers are not interested in waiting 6 months for this process.

Manufacturers use bleaching agents to achieve this process in weeks instead of months. Products like benzoyl peroxide, calcium peroxide and chlorine are the most commonly used. For those with a delicate palate, a slightly bitter aftertaste can be detected in products made with chemically bleached flours. And even if you don't have a very sensitive palate, try eating foods made with unbleached flour for a month or so and then switch back. You will taste the difference.

Today's pancake recipe uses a blend of whole wheat flour and unbleached flour. These bad boys have a light, airy texture and are high in protein (as flour processing affects protein levels). And one of these pancakes has about as many calories as a bowl of Special K cereal (about 110 calories). Enjoy!

A few tips before you get started:
  • Heat your griddle or skillet to 375 degrees for ten minutes before you begin to cook. (If you put a drop of water on the griddle and it begins to jump around, you've got it right).
  • If you are not using a non-stick or well seasoned griddle, you can lightly grease your cooking surface with a teeny tiny bit of butter. (If you use too much, you will get a chewy crust on your pancake.)
  • Make your batter in a large measuring cup so you can pour it right onto your cooking surface.
Now go make pancakes!

Light, Fluffy Pancakes


1 large egg
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1 cup buttermilk (See Ingredient Substitutions page for alternatives)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl, beat egg until fluffy (foamy). In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add all dry and wet ingredients to the egg and whisk together. If you would like to add nuts, berries or chocolate chips, this is the time to do it. Let the batter rest for about three minutes.

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. As soon as bubbles form across the top of the pancake and the edges begin to cook, use a large spatula to flip. One side will always brown better than the other.

Serve immediately with warmed syrup.