Category Archives: Italian

Ricotta Gnocchi

My mom gave me a cookbook a few years back – Rosalie Serving Italian. Rosalie is an Italian American woman who just decided that she needed to share her family recipes…and thank God she did.

The thing about authentic Italian food is that it’s not ingredient-packed. There’s not really a “secret spice.” Fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs and great cheese can all speak for themselves — its just mostly a matter of the technique used to combine them.

Gnocchi means “knuckle” in Italian, which makes sense because that’s kind of what they look like. I’ve been wanting to make gnocchi for a long, long time. The problem is that I don’t have a potato ricer, which you definitely need to make classic potato gnocchi (shameless buy-me-this plug). But Rosalie’s cookbook offers a recipe for ricotta gnocchi, a traditional Florentine dish. This was an attractive idea to me because a) it’s lighter, b) it doesn’t require kitchen equipment that I don’t have (shameless plug strikes again), and c) I’d never had it before. Also, the flavor of ricotta is so light that it can be easily melded with just about anything.

Since the ricotta flavor is so mild, I’d recommend flavoring them up a bit, like I did with basil. You can most definitely do that with a jazzy sauce, but I chose to let the gnocchi stand alone for the most part.

Ricotta Gnocchi 

adapted from Rosalie Fiorino Harpole

1 eight-ounce container of ricotta cheese

2 eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped

1/2 stick butter and 3 cloves garlic, chopped

1. Mix the ricotta, eggs, flour and cheese in a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let dough firm up.

2. When dough is firm, it should be a little sticky…but not too sticky to work with. Sprinkle flour on a clean surface and split the dough in half. Working in portions, roll the dough into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the ropes crosswise, making about 1/2 inch dumplings. Keep the gnocchi floured while you’re working to avoid them sticking together.

3. Boil a large pot of salted water and drop in the gnocchi. (I did this in two batches to avoid clumping). Cook the gnocchi while stirring gently until a few minutes after they’ve risen to the top of the boiling water.

4. To make garlic butter sauce, melt the butter in a sauce pan. Throw in the chipped garlic and saute until fragrant. Toss dumplings in sauce, garnish with basil and serve immediately.



>Buon Natale

>Merry Christmas!

I am home in Naperville for the holidays and here for a week.

Every year I make my dad’s favorite cookies: oatmeal raisin. A few Christmases ago, I tried to make them with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. He wasn’t thrilled…so now we stick to tradition.

Might I add, that they were particularly awesome this year.
We go to the Mertzes every Christmas Eve…so no cooking for me. Lynn makes Italian Wedding Soup from scratch.  It’s great – but last year my mom added something to the meal that everyone fell in love with: Italian sausage bread. It  came from a cookbook that I also own, Rosalie Cooking Italian. Check out the recipe here. (Ironically, her blog looks EXACTLY like mine!) It uses a basic yeast-based pizza dough recipe that you roll out, and then line with sausage and roll up into a crescent shaped bread, like so:

On Christmas Day, my dad had planned ahead to make a bruciuloni (it has several other names such as: braciole, involtini, and rollatini – all of which just mean rolled up stuffed meat in Italian).  He had asked that I share the recipe, so here goes:
Jimmy B’s Bruciuloni

1 lb flank steak, or round steak
(preferably VEAL but beef works because veal flank steak is tough to find)
enough bread crumbs to line your steak (1-2 cups)
extra virgin olive oil
shredded Romano cheese
sliced provolone or mozzarella
3 hard boiled eggs, cubed
prepared red gravy (tomato sauce to most people! 
make your own, or buy it in a jar —but we make our own!)
2-3 leaves fresh basil
1. Have your butcher run the steak through the tenderizer once or twice. When you get your steak home, pound it out with a handheld meat tenderizer.
2. Add breadcrumbs and cheese to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil until the mixture clumps together. line breadcrumbs over steak, but leave a little room around the edges so that when you roll your meat, you don’t lose your filling out the sides. Drizzle olive oil over the breadcrumbs to keep moist.
3. Layer prosciutto, cheese, 1/2 cup sauce, and eggs on top. 
4. Then, roll it up like so (notice we have kitchen twine underneath the meat already):
Make sure your knots are tight, and be sure to tie it lengthwise as well, as to keep all the stuffing inside.

5. Sear it in olive oil on all sides.

6. Cover with your sauce, Romano cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh basil.

7. Roast it low and slow – 275 degrees for ~3 hours.
8. Cut horizontally and serve with extra sauce and cheese.

And then, if you’re in the Brocato house, you have pecan pie for dessert! 
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends! 
Buon natale from the Brocatos!

>Christmas Our Way

>Tonight was d-day for the ravioli.

I made sauce last night because I wanted to cook it for a looooooooooooong time. The secret to a good marinara is carrots. I cook them down with garlic and the onions just to add some sweetness. Then I add: tomato puree, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (Italian style), and tomato paste to thicken. I also wash out the cans with some water and add that to the pot.

Another thing that makes a good sauce: cook it as long as possible. After it simmered on the stove for a few hours, I transferred it to the Crock Pot and went to bed. And then I let it cook all day while I was at work. So almost 24 hours later, all the flavors and seasoning (salt, pepper, basil, oregano) married together beautifully.
The other rule to live by…
When you’re cooking Italian, keep it simple. That’s true Italian — cheese, tomatoes, carbs of some sort. There’s always garlic, and there’s often basil or oregano – but there is not much need to add several spices to your sauce. Simplicity is perfection.

Moment of truth (drum roll please):
The ravioli were….ok. Really doughy. I know it takes a lot of practice, but I’m also blaming this on Colorado. The dryness at this altitude sucks. I think it turned my dough into cardboard. They were not inedible – but they weren’t Ethel’s. Jon says by the time I’m a grandma I’ll have it down to a science. I hope I don’t have to wait that long!

We opened presents, too. I’m spoiled. It’s ridiculous. Jon got me SO MANY cooking gifts, I think I’ll just have to make a career out of this. A spring form pan, Bon Appetit’s cookbook, Bon Appetit’s DESSERT cookbook, a cookbook called “Bon Appetit Y’all” – a gourmet take on Southern food, a ceramic baking dish (PERFECT for lasagna), individual ceramic soup pots (great for French onion soup and individual pot pies!), and a cookbook stand. (note: this does not include the perfume, the Bath and Body Works Ensemble, and the amazing bath robe set — I told you. I’m spoiled.)
The children did not go unnoticed.

 This thing made him crazy. He tried to kill it. Look at that handle, it’s like I’m fishing and caught the big one.

Santa stopped by and left some coal in Jack’s stocking. Much deserved. 
Zeus got several toys, but this is just my favorite picture. He’s technically not supposed to be on the couch. You try to resist him and get back to me.
So then, it was time for dessert. Last night I made a peppermint pie, a recipe that was ALMOST guilt free and stolen from Hungry Girl. Click here so you can steal it too.
I served it up with some REALLY rich hot cocoa. The recipe for the pie includes sweetened condensed milk and I had some left over. So I thinned it out with some skim milk, added some milk chocolate, whisked it together with some cinnamon and vanilla and topped it all off with whipped cream and crushed candy canes.
mmmm GOOD.
So that’s all for Megan and Jon’s Christmas Celebration 2010. Stay tuned for a Brocato family Christmas post including my dad’s famous bruciuluni (braciole, to all your main stream Italians – bruciuluni is the Sicililan pronunciation). 

I’m off to Chicago tomorrow – hopefully Jon has enough to eat! 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


>Tutti Mangia

>Tonight’s challenge: my grandmother’s ravioli.

First of all, I don’t plan on eating this ravioli until Wednesday 12/22 when Jon and I celebrate Christmas together. So, obviously another meal was in order to eat tonight. I made lemon chicken pasta: mini farfalle (piccolini), lemon juice, chicken, basil, and parmesan cheese. Really simple and light.
Maybe I just made myself something easy because I knew what was coming: a huge ravioli headache.
First and foremost, let me share with you my grandmother’s recipe (well, not the whole thing. Because then I’d have to kill you) 
That Ethel.  She’s so cute. I love the “little garlic” and “little onion” and “little salt” that I’m supposed to add. And that I’m supposed to wait “a little while”. Very precise measurements. The filling was easy. It tasted perfect, just like I remember. 

I’d just finished the filling when Erika came over. Unfortunately, Jon had to work tonight and was not available to be my muscle like I was counting on. 😦 But Erika and I had a good laugh trying to roll out that dough. First it was too dry. Then it was too sticky. Then I added more flour and it was too dry again (thank you, 5280 feet). Finally, I decided it might be easier to just work with smaller portions of dough at a time. And finally, I got it rolled out thin enough so I smacked on some of the ravioli paste, folded the dough in half and got to cutting.
This is where I had a near nervous breakdown. My mom has a pretty handy rolling pin with squares on it that cuts the ravioli perfectly and evenly, and seals them tight. She also has a fluted ravioli cutter (the one that Maw Maw speaks of above). I realized last night that I didn’t have these gadgets, but I thought I could wing it.
My first batch looked like this:
You see, when you fold over the dough and just use your average pizza cutter, this is what happens. I obviously knew this in the back of my head, but doing the smart, practical thing would have made it way too easy.
So then, I decided to just cut the dough into squares, and individually fill the ravioli and seal them tight with a fork and some egg whites. By the time I’d had this “genius” plan, Jon came home and dove right in (Thank God! My arms were getting tired from all that rolling pin action) So our finished product looks like this:
Pretty cute, right? I was pleased with them by the end. The bad news is: these look nothing like they’re supposed to. My mom’s are always much smaller and prettier. The other bad news is for all of you who asked for some: sorry, but since they’re so big, there’s really not enough to share! Maybe I will get the correct tools and make them another time (my birthday is March 28th, if you’re wondering).
Also, since Jen read my blog today and discovered my little blurb about fudge, she was a little miffed that she hasn’t received any and also conveniently mentioned that she likes chocolate peanut butter swirled fudge. In light of little Christmas gifts being passed around the office…

So I made dinner, I made ravioli, I made choco PB fudge, and now I’m exhausted. So feel free to come on over and take care of this…

Buona notte.