Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Handmade Gnocchi and Balsamic Braised Beef

I haven’t been feeling very inspired lately. Even the kitchen, my happy place, has felt just a few steps too distant. I just haven’t been motivated. Maybe it’s a little bit of the winter blues, maybe it’s a little something more. When it comes to cooking, I've been preoccupied, plain lazy, and full of procrastination. You know the feeling. Just, blah.

I've wanted to do a gnocchi post for so long, but even this was something I had questioned scratching all together and putting off for another time. Why should I? I don’t feel like it. Who cares? I don’t care. Stop lying. Blah! When I eventually did decide to get up and do it, I ended up creating a dish that turned out to be quite inspiring after all.

Gnocchi was just what I needed. The feeling of squishing the soft dough in my hands, the trance of cutting out little pillow after little pillow, then rolling over each with the tines of a fork to make those signature gnocchi ridges; it was pasta-making bliss. Of course, that all came after the part where I got about a month’s worth of unsolicited cardio in trying to shove cooked potato through the holes of a fine strainer (note to self: invest in a food mill for future gnocchi-making bliss.) Ricing or milling the potatoes to fine confetti is an important step for fluffy, delicate gnocchi.

A take on classic meat and potatoes, I topped the gnocchi with shredded beef, which I braised for about two hours in a flavorful vegetable balsamic broth to tender fall apart perfection. I then strained the braising liquid and thickened it into a savory sauce that I tossed with the meat and ladled over the potato dumplings. The finishing touch: a dusting of lightly salty, tangy Ricotta Salata cheese. Talk about comfort food. It took most of the day to make, but my heart was in every bite.

Preparing and serving such a delicious, hearty meal ignited the spark of excitement that I needed. It roused my love of cooking and helped me to appreciate the dark cold days of winter, if only for the fact that it is the best time to enjoy such a cozy meal. Even better was the fact that I got to enjoy it in the best way possible—with family.

Gnocchi & Balsamic Braised Beef
Yield: 6 dinner portions
- 1 pound cooked potato, pushed through a ricer/food mill or fine sieve
- 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1, 2 pound semi-boneless beef chuck roast (or similar), seasoned with salt and pepper
- 2 cup onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 cups beef stock
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 sprigs thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 ounce butter (by weight)
- 1 ounce flour (by weight)
- Ricotta Salata cheese, grated, for garnish
1) For the gnocchi: In a large bowl, mix the cooked potato, flour and egg yolks until a dough forms. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into long, thin logs, and cut into ½” pillows. Roll the tines of a fork over the pillows, if desired. Place the gnocchi onto a lightly floured tray; cover and freeze (freeze partially if cooking immediately and fully if saving for another day.) Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water until they float, about 1-2 minutes.*
2) Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sear the seasoned beef on both sides, then remove and set aside. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minute more. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, 2 minutes. Add the beef stock, balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper. Add the seared beef to the mixture and bring to a boil. Cover the Dutch oven and place in the oven for about 1 ½- 2 hours, turning the beef occasionally, until the meat is fall-apart tender.
3) Remove the beef from the liquid and shred with two forks, making it as fine or as chunky as desired. Strain the braising liquid. In a small saucepan, cook the butter and flour into a roux. Whisk the strained braising liquid into the roux until thickened into a sauce. Ladle some of the sauce into the shredded beef; mix well.*In the meantime, cook the gnocchi.
4) To serve: Place the cooked gnocchi in bowls and top with the sauced shredded beef. Add extra sauce over the gnocchi, if desired. Top with the grated Ricotta Salata.