Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Weekend Dinner Parties--Meatballs, Grilling & Roman Gnocchi

Wow, hard to believe that almost a month has gone by! Sorry I am so behind and that I have not cooked much the past few weekends, apparently!  Things have been very busy, we have been out and about, and this weekend was the first weekend I really spent a lot of time in the kitchen again. Last weekend, J & I went to the Pittsburgh Folk Festival with fellow blogger Red-Headed Traveler and her husband, D. They also introduced to the Latin American Festival at Pitt a month or two ago, and we immediately made plans to venture out to the Folk Festival together. We all had A LOT of great food!  Too many choices! I had amazing stuffed grape leaves from the Turkey booth, falafel from the Lebanon booth, a wonderful cold soup from the Iran/Persia booth (yogurt, cucumber, and mint), and for dessert, rose tea from the Slovakian booth and pastries from the Scotland booth. We even took some cheddar dill scones home from the Scotland booth for breakfast the next morning! We all had great time and easily could have continued to eat our way through this festival!

On Sunday we had J's friends, J & A, over for dinner. We did a more simple menu of easy foods: I made the mushroom and rice stuffed portobellos from a previous post, pepperoni bread, J made cheese stuffed meatballs, and on the grill did small (toothpick) skewers of organic ham steak and fresh pineapple. For dessert, I used mini phyllo cups, goat cheese and cherry pie filling to make mini cheesecakes. We had a great night, and were blessed to have a beautiful, rain-free night to sit on our patio the entire time.

Sunday, our friends B & K came over for dinner. Since we had a little more time to play with, we did a more advanced dinner menu than the casual menu of the night before. B is on a no-carb diet (God  bless her, I could NOT survive that!), so I purchased some organic steak and chicken from Whole Foods. We did both on the grill, J added crumbled blue cheese to our steaks, and the chicken we had let marinate in a mix white wine, rosemary and black pepper. I made a salad out of my new favorite--broccoli slaw! I simply added some dried cranberries and crumbled blue for those who wanted it, and we all had it with red wine vinaigrette dressing. I also used one of my staples--crescent dough--to make some herbed goat cheese puffs. But the hit of the night with K--who is inadvertently on a low-carb diet since B is--was the Roman Gnocchi. B was admiring it, and I promised her I would make it for her when she is able to have carbs again because it is indeed amazingly delicious. (I also made this for The RHT & D after the Latin American Festival!)

Months ago, I took a gnocchi-making class with my friend T, taught by her friend, M. M teaches the classes in her home, so they are small and private. My friend T & I took the class with an older couple we are friends with and had a blast! We learned how to make potato gnocchi, pumpkin gnocchi (a delicious variation of potato gnocchi) and this Roman Gnocchi. This was my staple for pot-luck for our Christmas gatherings this past year. The hardest part is mixing it--as opposed to a potato base, it is actually made with seminola flour and milk. It reminds me some of a polenta-type dish. After the mix is cooked and pressed into a cookie sheet, it is refrigerated for a couple of hours until firm. Then I use a biscuit cutter to make small rounds. Once those are laid in the baking pan, the gnocchi is finished off by brushing some melted butter over them and sprinkling grated Parmesan over them. (I get almost all our cheese at Trader Joe's, their prices are the best for cheese. I get packed full tubs of fresh grated Parmesan and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese for less than $4 a container.) The reason I love this dish for pot-luck is once the hard part is done, the dish travels very well and only needs to bake for about 15 minutes. Topped with just a little marinara sauce and some Parmesan, wow, I could eat a whole batch myself! 

Usually with a whole batch, I have some leftovers for lunch. Not this time! K loved it and the sauce--he had three servings and J &I each had two! Not a single gnocchi was left! This is what it looks like out of the oven:

And from a previous meal, with a side of garlic Parmesan bread:

Delicious! The red sauce I use is none other than M's own marinara sauce. She was wonderful enough to share her recipe with us in the class and has given me permission to share it here. It is easy and delicious. There is always a bowl with some of this marinara in my fridge now!

M's Marinara

1 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in food processor or blender
1tbsp EVOO
Hot sauce to taste (couple of drops)
1 tbsp dried basil leaves
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup Parmesan
salt & pepper to taste

1) Heat oil in a large saucepan.

2) Add pureed tomatoes, hot sauce, dried basil, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30-60 minutes.

3) Add butter and Parmesan in the last 15 minutes of cooking to finish sauce.


It is the perfect companion to any pasta!  If you are local (Pittsburgh) and have any interest in M's gnocchi class (she does other cooking classes as well), send me a private message here and I will get you in touch with her. Class is only $25 and really the only way to learn how to make gnocchi is to make it first-hand with someone who knows. Contact me if you are interested, M is a wonderful lady and an amazing cook!

Til next time, Happy Eating!