Green Ricotta Gnocchi

At least once a week I find myself in the situation of having way too much of something that won’t last another couple of days, or, more often, several things. This week’s culprits all came from my garden. It was one of those weeks when the artichokes and radishes were both about to bloom, and needed to be eaten or wasted. And in the case of the radishes the situation was even more dire as they seed prolifically and I’d already decided their mediocre taste wasn’t worth all the work to remove all the dirt from the roots (so their mediocre taste isn’t dominated by dirt taste). So I had about a quart of blanched radish greens and three artichoke hearts on my hands. (I ate the leaves this weekend with some garlic lemon butter. I’m one of those who finds it tastier and more fun to eat the leaves than to deal with a whole heart or two.) Even though they were older plants, the radish leaves were as mild as spinach, but a bit more fibrous. Luckily I also had a tub of ricotta and decided to make ricotta-radish green gnocchi. And, since I had the artichoke hearts to deal with I decided on an Provençal-ish sauce.

Green Ricotta Gnocchi

1 ~15 oz. tub ricotta, drained (or not if fairly firm)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed (optional)
the zest of 1/4 lemon (optional)
2 cups blanched, strained greens
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup flour plus flour for shaping

  • Squeeze as much water as possible out of the greens and chop as finely as possible. Then chop one more time–large chunks really interfere with the shaping and cooking
  • In a bowl, combine everything but the flour and mix to combine. Add the flour and mix until just combined. If the mixture seems too loose add a bit more flour.
  • Lightly flour a surface and your hands. I usually roll out a rope about a the diameter of a nickel and cut into pieces, but the fibrous nature of these greens made it difficult to cut through the roll without completely deforming it. So I just shaped them by hand, pinching off a bit and rolling into an egg or flying saucer shape.
  • Drop into plenty of salted, boiling water and cook until all gnocchi rise to the top, 5 or so minutes
  • Drain, or remove with a spider, and place in single layer. Can be kept overnight at this stage.

Ricotta gnocchi, boiled and a bit bland

Provençal style gnocchi

The leftovers

1 T butter
1/4 cup or more olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence
Leftovers–for me, artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, even more radish greens, and roasted chicken
I can imagine lots of other ingredients on this theme working with/instead of mine–olives, capers, walnuts, basil, zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, tomato
If I’d had a tomato and olives, I would have added them.
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Cheese for topping–I used Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a relatively young pecorino

  • Heat 2 T olive oil in skillet, add garlic and cook over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add artichoke hearts or anything requiring a longer cooking time along with the herbes de provence. Add remaining ingredients  and warm through. Deglaze with white wine and when bubbling subsides remove to a large serving bowl.
  • Heat butter and enough olive oil to cover bottom of the same skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi in a single layer and cook until browned on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Cook in multiple batches if needed.

    Most gnocchi taste much better browned

  • Add reserved topping back to skillet and toss to combine over heat. When everything is warmed and mixed return to serving bowl and squeeze lemon over the top. Add at least 1/4 cup cheeze and mix thoroughly.
  • Serve with additional cheese, parseley, and black pepper.

    The finished product

The Porky Grail

It's like I've figured out how to have my very own taco truck in my kitchen.

Carnitas are generally my favorite taco filling–I usually order one at any new taqueria to see if I like their style (while ordering a 2nd, backup taco in case I’m disappointed in my favorite). To be clear, what I’m looking for are meat chunks that are crispy yet still moist and tender and very, very porky. This can be screwed up in many ways, most commonly a long stewed version, which ends up being liquidy yet still dry, with the occasional cardboard flavor thrown in.

In my quest to create my own carnitas I went through many, many recipes. Some call for a spice rub, others flavor the cooking liquid with things like citrus. Early in the quest I decided that the best technique was to just cover the chunks of meat in enough water to cover, simmer off, and let the remains fry in their own oil. I spent more recipes than I care to remember trying to perfect the seasoning mix, or mix ingredients from different recipes to get that perfect mix, but I often found that the spices were distracting, the citrus made it a bit less porky, and both had a tendency to start to burn during the frying stage, often foiling plans for perfect crispness. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that if it is pork flavor I am after I should eliminate all ingredients that don’t enhance the pork. What it came down to:  pork, salt, bay leaf, and water. That is all. After making it this way once I realized I didn’t have to experiment further.

As an added bonus, the remaining fat, infused with bay leaves, can be made into a version of the bay leaf butter from the Momofuku cook book. Just strain, cool, and whip with an equal volume of butter. Add salt if needed. It is great on noodles, toast, or, as recommended in the cookbook, English muffins. Or just shove it in someone’s face if they try to tell you that bay leaves have no flavor or purpose.

Carnitas

As much pork shoulder as you care to eat (it freezes well, I recommend as much as your pan has room for)
~1 bay leaf per pound of pork
Salt
Water

  • Chop the pork shoulder into about 3/4 inch cubes. Don’t even think of cutting off the fat or collagen, these are what make it great later on.
  • Salt the meat chunks as if they were a steak you are about to cook and place in large, sturdy, flat bottomed pan with the bay leaves. Add water to cover and bring to a simmer.
  • Let simmer until water has completely evaporated, about and hour and a half. Test meat for tenderness with a knife and if not yet tender add additional water and simmer until tender.

    The water has fully evaporated and the meat has just started to fry.

  • Once water has evaporated and meat is tender, allow meat to fry in its own rendered fat until desired crispness, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to check for even browning.

Tacos

  • When carnitas start frying prepare the taco toppings. I like my onions slightly pickled to add a little sweetness. Chop a medium red onion finely and place in a small serving bowl. Add the juice of 1 small lime, or 1/2 large lime and mix.
  • Chop cilantro finely and mix in to onions. Cut at least 1 lime wedge per taco for serving.
  • Toast tortillas individually in a skillet, or on a comal, and keep warm for serving in oven or tortilla warmer.
  • Drain fried meat on paper bags or towels and serve as tacos with onion/cilantro topping and possibly some hot sauce. You can add roasted tomatillo salsa or guacamole if you want, but I like to keep it pure and simple, like street tacos. With a cerveza, of course.

Don’t forget your vegetables, kids!