Braciole’ and Ricotta Gnocchi


As I dig deeper into the launching my own small business, I am energized more and more. Soon I have a chance to practice cooking in front of people with an upcoming job. I’ll be cooking a dinner for a group of twelve wonderful people. These are people I’ve known my entire married life. They have invested many prayers for my family and been there with advice and hugs when needed. My husband grew up with their kids. I take it as an honor that they have asked me to cook for them.

When my husband and I were about to be married, just over 18 and a half years ago, we were financially strapped by all accounts. We both had minimum wage paying jobs, a ready-made family with my two daughters and a student loan. Ours was a very low-budget wedding and the reception was going to be no different. My soon-to-be in-laws and their group of friends didn’t seem to think the low-budget reception was a good idea so they took matters into their own hands. We were living in Pittsburgh at the time of our wedding but all these people were living in northeast Ohio so I really wasn’t sure how they could do much for us. They ended up coming into town, getting hotel rooms, spending their own time and money to provide us with a very nice wedding reception with real food, not just some cake and coffee.

Over the years I’ve wanted to repay them in some way but never could figure out how to do it. They are all still a part of my life, except for one couple who moved to another state, and now I get to cook for them. I presented a variety of menus to the hostess of the dinner and together with the other ladies, they choose this menu for their meal:

Rosemary and Parmesan Focaccia Bread
Asparagus, Cherry Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi
Braciole’ with Red Sauce
Tiramisu Martinis * for 10
Store-bought Cannoli * for 2
Today was testing day for the gnocchi and braciole’.  I made a batch of the gnocchi to take with me to my daughter’s when she delivers baby number five in the next few weeks. We had some for dinner but what I learned is the recipe I used does not have the correct ratio of flour to ricotta. I’m glad I tried this before the big meal for this group of friends. I also cooked the braciole’ in a new way, I braised it in a simple sauce on the stove-top instead of in a pot of sauce for 3 hours. It turned out delicious. I used a combination of my family’s recipe for beef braciole and one from Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino’s site.  She calls braciole’ “involtini al pomodoro” and it said to use veal. I used eye of round beef steak and made individual sized portions rather than the larger portions I make in the sauce pot around Christmas and Easter. Here are my modified recipes for both the gnocchi and braciole’.
Beef Braciole’

6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/3 cup bread crumbs

1-2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, sliced in thin slivers

1 pound, about 7 or 8 slices, of thin eye of round steak

1 cup dry white wine

1-28 ounce can of crushed plum tomatoes

1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves

toothpicks or kitchen string

Directions:

Cook bacon in a large skillet till crisp then remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool. Keep the bacon drippings in the pan and set the pan aside to cool. Crumble bacon and add to a bowl with the cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and enough olive oil to moisten the mixture. Add a bit of coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Pound out each piece of round steak so it’s almost paper-thin. Lay a heaping tablespoon or so onto each piece. Roll, cigar-style, each piece of steak, keeping the filling in by tucking it in at the edges as you roll. Secure the ends and middle with toothpicks or wrap with kitchen string. Reheat the drippings on a medium heat and slowly brown the rolls on both sides. Add the wine and allow almost all of it to evaporate. Add the can of tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. In the last few minutes, add the torn basil leaves. Serve with some thick yummy bread to enjoy the sauce for an authentic dish.

Italians in Italy do not serve pasta with the meat course so if you are so inclined to eat the Italian way, take some sauce out of the pan and serve it with your pasta ahead of the meat course.

Ricotta Gnocchi

16 ounces of whole milk ricotta cheese

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 large egg

1/3 cup of fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Drain the ricotta cheese in a fine mesh strainer in the refrigerator for one hour. Bring to room temperature along with 1 large egg. Mix cheeses and egg in a bowl. Add in 1 1/2 cups of flour and mix until no longer sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and work in the remaining flour, adding more than 1/2 cup if needed to keep the dough from sticking. Work carefully so the dough does not get tough as it can with this recipe. Pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll into a log, about 1/2 inch thick. Using a sharp knife or baker’s bench knife, cut off 1/2 inch pieces. Dust with flour and using the back of a fork, roll each piece along the tines causing an indentation in each piece. Put the gnocchi onto a floured pan. When finished making the batch, freeze until ready to use. When you are ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add in the gnocchi and stir gently. When they float to the surface, test one. If they are still too chewy, cook for another minute and test again. Don’t let them cook for more than a few minutes or they will become mushy.Using a spider strainer remove from the water and add to a bowl with a little sauce or olive oil to keep them from sticking. Serve with your favorite sauce and some grated cheese.

Buon appetito!

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