Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Italian Night

This actually happened right before our trip.

We'd been meaning to catch up with our friends Steve and John for a while. A bit of urgency was introduced when we found out that they had vacationed in Barcelona a couple of years back. We really wanted to pick their brains before we went. In the various planning emails, we were going towards a dinner out in the 'hood, but then Steve suggested an Italian place. That kicked off a domino chain of thoughts which prompted me to volunteer.

It was a perfect storm of Italian dishes colliding in my head. In thinking about local Italian places, I remembered I wanted to try the Lemon Pannacotta like I had at Ante Prima. Also, I had a recipe for Pizza Bianca from Cook's Illustrated I needed to make that weekend. Then there was my general plan to make some more tomato sauce for the house also that weekend. Finally, I was zeroing in on my target of making Gorgonzola Stuffed Gnocchi for Channing, having just bought gorgonzola to have on hand for when I finally got around to it. No time like the present.

Fortunately, they bit. So, the menu was:

  • Gorgonzola Stuffed Gnocchi with Broiled Chicken in Tomato Sauce

  • Roasted Broccoli

  • Pizza Bianca

  • Zucchine Sfrante

  • Lemon Panacotta with Lemon Sauce
So, the blow-by-blow:
  • The gnocchi pretty much worked great. I used my standard recipe, properly made with Russet potatoes this time instead of Yukon Gold. I did forget to drain the potatoes while they cooled and left them sitting in the water, which made the texture a little off. But not a disaster, by any means.

    My made-up method for stuffing them with the cheese worked pretty well. I rolled out the cylinder of dough a tad thicker then usual and then rolled that flat. I then placed a chunk of cheese at about every inch, rolled the sides of the tube back up and then cut the pieces in between the cheese chunks. I then rolled the individual dumplings, being careful not to puncture the dough with the fork. The results were pretty large and I think I could have been more efficient, so I'll have to look up how to do this right. But for now, this was fine.

  • For the red sauce, I made the Chopping Block sauce again, but used the canned tomatoes per the option given in the recipe. I let it simmer and reduce for a good 2 hours, which was a big, big mistake. That sodium in the canned tomatoes I mentioned before? Well, when it's reduced, you can really taste it. I had added none to the recipe at all, but the end result was way too salty for me. Channing, John and Steve didn't seem to think so, but I thought it overpowered the gorgonozla.

  • The Roast Broccoli was a big hit, even with Channing. Recipe: Toss broccoli with with olive oil and kosher salt, roast at 450F for 20 minutes. That's it.

  • The Pizza Bianca gets its own entry.

  • The zucchini was supposed to be an appetizer, but I got a late start with it and just served it with dinner. Though it was a half-assed effort (no fresh basil available, for instance), it went over well.

  • With the Pannacotta, I just added lemon extract to taste to the plain recipe, about 1/2 teaspoon. It could have taken a little more, but I wanted to keep it delicate. For the coulis, I used the lemon sauce from the Treebeards Gingerbread recipe.

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