Ricotta Gnudi with Wild Mushroom Sauce

>> Monday, December 29, 2014

Ricotta Gnudi with Wild Mushroom Sauce

New to gnudi? These little dumplings are actually the filling of ravioli; because they don't have a pasta covering, they're called "nude" in Italian. Gnudi, nude, yum. Though we love ravioli, we haven't perfected the homemade process yet. These are simpler.

Though we're just now seeing gnudi pop up on menus in the U.S. (see this Chicago Tribune article, "Gnudi May Make You Forget Ravioli"), gnudi has been a long-time love affair in Italy.

Here's a recipe for gnudi that satisfies our winter cravings for hearty food while giving us a break from a week of heavy meat-eating - not that I'm complaining! Around holidays, I'm always thankful I'm a carnivore.

Most of the recipe can be made days in advance (like a weekend when you have time to do some extra cooking), then finished up on the day you want to eat the ricotta gnudi. By the way, if you happen to have some fresh sage in your garden, snip a few leaves and crisp-fry them with the meat, then arrange them on top of the finished dish. Yum!

Ricotta Gnudi with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Truffle oil or salt is a luxury item that's rarely in our budget. But this year, Joe found a bottle of white truffle cream among his Christmas presents. It has butter, parmesan, and a bit of garlic, along with white Italian truffles. The musky, intense flavor was worth the big splurge, and added amazing flavor to this dish.


For the gnudi

1 pound low-fat ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/3 cup Pecorino Romano (or Pamesan)  cheese, freshly grated
1/4 tsp thyme
Salt and white pepper to taste
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup flour, for coating

For the sauce

3 tbsp olive oil
4 slices pancetta or lightly cured bacon (omit if you want a vegetarian dish)
8 fresh sage leaves (optional)
1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as portabellas, button, crimini, oyster, and stemmed shiitake), sliced
1 cup onion, sliced and halved
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped sage
2 cups low-salt vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon truffle oil (optional)
4 tablespoons butter, diced


For gnudi: (note: the gnudi can be made several days ahead of time and chilled until ready to cook.)
Line medium bowl with up to 10 layers of paper towels. Spoon ricotta cheese into bowl. Wrap and squeeze moisture out. Re-line the bowl and repeat one more time. Finally re-line the bowl and let drain at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. This process removes a lot of the water that will prevent your gnudi from cooking up fluffy.

Beat egg, 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, thyme, salt, and white pepper in large bowl to blend. Mix in ricotta. Sprinkle 3/4 cup flour over and stir gently to blend. Cover and chill dough 1 hour. Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Place some flour in bowl. For each gnudi, gently roll 1 heaping teaspoonful of dough into ball, or roll between fingers and palm into a finger shape. Add to flour; toss to coat lightly with flour. Place on baking sheet. Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill at least 30 minutes.

Ricotta gnudi on prep pan

For the sauce (Note: this sauce can be made several hours ahead of time)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large pot or extra-large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon. Cook until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes per side. Let it drain on paper towels. Add whole sage leaves to pot or skillet; fry until crisp, about 1 minute per side. Let them drain with the bacon.

Heat the rest of the oil in same pot over medium-high heat. Add all mushrooms, onions, thyme, and chopped sage. Sauté until the mushrooms are brown and liquids evaporate, about 12 minutes. Add broth to same pot and boil until slightly reduced, scraping up the browned bits, about 5 minutes. Stir in the truffle oil or cream. Add the salt and remove from heat.

Cook gnudi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender and fluffy, 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Add the butter to the sauce and warm it to a low simmer. Add the gnudi and gently toss until the sauce coats the gnudi.

Serve in a large bowl with the crumbled pancetta and whole sage leaves scattered over the top.

Serves 4-6.


Marshall Field's Cinnamon Toast Hot Cocktail

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This drink is too good to not share again. Put something warm in your belly, and let the warmth of the season fill you up, in whatever way you celebrate.

Generations of Chicagoans have traveled to the Walnut Room in Chicago's downtown Marshall Field's shopping emporium for Christmas gifts and a very special meal. Even though Macy's took over the Marshall Field's property some years ago, if you go down to State Street and Randolph today you'll still find the luxurious service, Frango mints, and the stunning two-story Christmas tree in the walnut-paneled dining room.

Macy's Walnut Room Restaurant

I'm a relative newcomer to the Walnut Room; my first trip there I was interested in the handsome and elusive Joseph Duea who eventually asked me to marry him a few blocks away at the Art Institute. That year, the first Harry Potter book had blasted away all sales records, Marshall Fields' was still Marshall Fields', and the Walnut Room tree was decorated with hundreds of snowy owls from the novel.

This year I went for lunch with a few of my friends, and the menu has retained some classics while updating for today's tastes. The restaurant still serves a dish called "Mrs. Hering's 1890 chicken pot pie". It also offers "Field's special salad" which is similar to a club sandwich in a bowl, and is all that my friend Robin really remembers from holiday trips downtown with her Grandma.

Macy's (Marshall Field's), downtown Chicago

I'm guessing a more recent touch is the "fairy princesses" who travel the dining room offering you sparkling magic dust to help you when you close your eyes and make a wish. Their satin tip bags, with dollars dangling suggestively from the openings, were the only tacky touch of the entire experience, and I assure you my tack-o-meter has been finely honed over time.

Still, we all made our quiet wishes. My friends and I spent the rest of the day distracted by the glitter on our noses and eyelids, rather joyful from warming up with a signature cocktail they called "Cinnamon Toast".


48 ounces apple cider
2 cups Amaretto
1 cup whipped cream
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
4 cinnamon sticks, to garnish


Heat the cider until near boiling, then stir in the amaretto. 
Stir together the cinnamon and sugar on a plate. Wet the rim of a large mug, then swirl the rim in the cinnamon mixture. Pour the cider mixture into the mug, stir in the whipped cream, then garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Makes 4 cocktails.


Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad

>> Friday, December 19, 2014

Roasted beet and citrus salad

This is a recipe we've been refining since we tried it at an outdoor wedding this summer. Our breakthrough came when we roasted carrot spears and whole shallots with the beets. With caramel-y roasted root vegetables and a tart citrus dressing, this salad fits right into a fall/winter menu.

If you haven't tasted any beets you like, this recipe may help. Something about the combo of salty feta, sharp grapefruit, and sweet carrots mellows out the earthy taste of the beets, which has always reminded me of the smell of new-plowed fields, or that pervasive fermentation smell that comes out of Baxter and Abbott laboratories by the lake on particularly busy days.

Yes, I said mellowed out. I'm not necessarily proud of that, but it's out there now and that's that. Pass the beets!

Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad Ingredients:

1/2 pound small beets
1/2 pound carrots
4 shallots (substitute 2 onions and 2 garlic cloves if shallots are not in your budget - they usually aren't in ours!)
2 tbsp oil
1 grapefruit
2 oranges
6 cups mixed greens
2/3 cup soft feta cheese

For the dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup canola oil


Preheat oven to 400°.

Peel the beets, carrots, and shallots. Place them in an oiled baking pan and drizzle the rest of the oil over the vegetables. Bake at 400° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally.

Pour the dressing ingredients into a pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Let cool.

Cut the carrots and shallots into spears and the beets into bite-sized cubes. Peel the grapefruit and oranges until all white pith is gone, then cut into thin slices.

Arrange the lettuce on 6-8 salad plates, then add the vegetables, fruit, and cheese. Drizzle the dressing over the salads before serving.

Serves 6-8.


Cranberry-Bourbon Glazed Ham

>> Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cranberry Bourbon Glazed Ham

This recipe came about accidentally, when an afternoon of cooking with friends turned a little boozy and silly. What was left was a jar of bourbon-soaked cranberries and some tamales that went terribly wrong.

Luckily we found a way to use both the tamales and the leftover cranberries, which had become little red booze bombs. If you want a more authentic moonshiner taste, use some kind of real moonshine and make sure you add dark molasses to the glaze. It magnifies the sweet smokiness of the ham like you wouldn't believe.

Note: start your cranberries marinating in bourbon a week ahead if you can. If not, just whip it all up together and let the oven sort it out.


1 cup of your favorite bourbon
2/3 cup fresh cranberries
1 – 12-16 lb. bone-in ham
¼ cup honey
¼ cup molasses (or dark brown sugar dissolved in a little very hot water)
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dry mustard


Soak the cranberries in the bourbon in a jar in the refrigerator for several days to one week.

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a blender puree the cranberries with a little of the bourbon until they are all pureed. Whisk together the bourbon, pureed cranberries, honey, brown sugar, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

Remove any skin from the ham and score the fat with ½” deep cuts about 1” apart. Put the ham, cut side down, in a large roasting pan with 2 cups of water in the bottom. I like to put it on a low rack in the roaster. Baste about ¼ of the glaze on the ham and bake with no lid.

About every 30 minutes baste the ham with the liquid and drippings in the pan, and then baste with more of the glaze. Make a foil tent over the ham if it begins to brown too quickly.

Bake for about 2 to 2 ½ hours until it reaches a temperature of 155° with a meat thermometer in the meaty part of the ham, not near the bone. Remove and let rest 15 minutes before carving and serving. Save the pan drippings and mix with the ham bone and vegetable scraps to make a delicious ham stock for soups or other recipes.

Serves about 8 hungry people.


Braised Beef Shanks, Northern Germany-Style

>> Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Braised Beef Shanks, Northern Germany-Style

If you were traveling along the northern coast of Germany, on the North Sea side or the edge of the Baltic Sea, you might come across this creamy and substantial meal of beef shanks, bacon, vegetables, and sour cream. You might need a meal that fortifies your belly, too - the winds and snow hitting coastal towns make one crave something hearty for dinner.

This dish satisfies, and it's one you can prepare and then braise until you're ready to serve it, depending on the temperature of your oven or crockery cooker.


1/4 pound thickly-sliced bacon, diced
3 pounds beef or veal shanks, cut about 2 inches thick
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp marjoram
1 cup beef broth
1 cup sour cream
3 tbsp flour

Sauté the bacon until tender but not crispy. Set on paper towels to drain. Put the beef shanks in the pan and brown on all sides. Place in a Dutch oven, roasting pan, or slow cooker. Add the vegetables, bacon, and herbs. Pour the beef broth over the meat and put the lid on the pot.

Cook at an even temperature until you are ready to eat. The meat should be fork-tender but not falling apart. With a 250 degree oven, or a crock pot on low heat, you could cook this for 6 to 8 hours, or it will be done in 1 1/2 to 2 hours in an oven at 375 degrees.

When done, take out the meat and put it on a platter, covering it with foil to keep it warm. Leave the vegetables in the pan. Skim the fat from the pan drippings and add 1 cup hot water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until barely simmering.

Whisk the sour cream with the flour until smooth, then stir into the pan drippings until smooth. Heat this sauce without boiling for 3-5 minutes, then pass the sauce with the meal.

Serves 4-6.

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