Pumpkin Gnocchi with Arugula and Tomatoes

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New blog template for my return to food blogging!  I think it is much cleaner and more fun.   Plus, I find change is a good thing, especially when starting new stages in my life.  Current transition:  grad school to unemployed and searching.  (Anyone need an environmental health professional?)  At least unemployment allows me time to spend cooking and blogging in between job searching.

Time is good since this pumpkin gnocchi – though tasty – does take some time. But it was a great vehicle for my homemade ricotta and leftover pumpkin puree from the fall.  Another bonus is that it freezes well and makes a bunch (10-12 servings),  which allows you to impress multiple groups of people.  Also, don’t worry about the ridges.  I try, but it never seems to work.  Nonetheless, the gnocchi is still scrumptious.

One final note: I’ve tried making gnocchi fresh and cooking it directly after making it, but it doesn’t work for me.  The gnocchi explode into a gooey mess and all my hard work is gone, leaving us with PB&J for dinner.  Therefore, I actually recommend freezing your gnocchi (“flash freeze” in a single layer – such as a on a cookie sheet – until solid then bag up) before cooking them.  They just seem to like me better when I do that.  Okay, now it’s your turn to try your hand at pumpkin gnocchi.

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Pumpkin Gnocchi

Adapted from Love and Olive Oil
 
3 cups pumpkin puree
1-12 oz container of fresh ricotta cheese (or 1 1/2 cup homemade ricotta cheese)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 3/4 to 3 cups all purpose flour 

Line two baking sheets with foil, parchment paper or wax paper and set aside.

In a large bowl add pumpkin puree, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt and nutmeg.  Blend together.  Mix in the flour about 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and divide into 6 equal parts. Take one part and roll it between your palms until it reaches about 8 inches in length.  Divide this log in half and set one half aside.  Continue to roll the other half until you have about a log that’s about one inch in diameter.  Cut the log (I use my pastry scrapper) into about 1/2 inches pieces.  Roll each piece on the cut sides over the tines of a fork to indent.*  Transfer each piece to the baking sheet.  Continue with all the dough.

Now you can either freeze the gnocchi or boil and cook it.  I have had trouble when I go straight to cooking after making it, so I freeze mine.  But if dumpling-making comes naturally to you go ahead and cook it right away.

To cook the gnocchi (frozen or fresh), boil a large pots of water to boil and season with the reamining 2 tablespoons of salt.  Working in batches (do not over-crowd the pot or you will reduce the water temperature), add the gnocchi (fresh or frozen) and boil until the gnocchi floats to the top, for about 2-3 minutes.

While the water is coming to a boil, saute the onion and garlic over medium heat until beginning to caramelize.  Add the cooked gnocchi directly from the pot, along with arugula and tomatoes.  Toss together and allow the flavors to marinate and gnocchi to slightly toast for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and serve with a little fresh Parmesan on top.

*I am not great at this and my indents were mostly absent.  Fortunately this step doesn’t really matter when it comes to flavor.  Sure, my gnocchi isn’t beautiful marked, but it is still tasty.

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Homemade Ricotta

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I’m done!  I have officially made it through graduate school, with only a few mental scrapes and a slight aversion to writing (the reason I haven’t posted lately … that and a total lack of time).   I will tell you, I surely underestimated the amount of energy grad school would take.  I thought I could continue my cooking blog and still have ample time to research, write my thesis and do coursework.  Apparently, I was wrong.

Oh, I also adopted a cute hound mix during my semester of thesis writing (bad timing?).  This has also taken far more of my time then I realized.  Perhaps I should recalibrate my time management skills.  Don’t worry though, our cute little beagle/foxhound/coonhound mix has adjusted to us (and we have adjusted to him).  He has also given me a new friend (obstacle) in the kitchen.  He seems to enjoy the smells of everything I make, even though I keep telling him tofu isn’t meat.

But now I’m done with graduate school and have my dog routine figured out (mostly).  I can cook and blog again, especially since I have found myself with some free time while I look for a job.  My first post since school is a little ambitious.  It isn’t difficult, but it does take time (which I currently have).  Believe me, you will be happy you take the time.  It is also a great way to impress a friend, special someone or in-laws.

My homemade ricotta is creamy, luscious and has a hint of lemon flavor.  It is delicious spread over crusty bread with a little honey, olive oil or balsamic vinegar drizzle on top.  However, I used it in pumpkin gnocchi and Swiss chard lasagna.  This caused my husband to ask if there was any leftover ricotta for bread.  “Sorry, no, but don’t worry you can enjoy it in these dishes,” which we did (and soon you can too).

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Homemade Ricotta

From Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 1 cup of ricotta*
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt in a 3-quart, non-reactive saucepan.  Attach a candy thermometer (or digital meat thermometer as I did).  Heat the milk to 190 degrees F, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom.  Remove from heat and add the lemon juice.  Stir slowly and gently, only once or twice!  Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth (or one layer of a thin, clean dishtowel) and place over a larger bowl or your sink.  Pour the curds and whey (watery liquid) into the colander and let the curds strain through for at least an hour**.  (I prefer 2 hours and I move it into the refrigerator to strain.)  Discard the whey and enjoy your fresh ricotta.  If not using immediately, put it into an airtight container and store in your refrigerator until use.

*I doubled this to have enough for the pumpkin gnocchi and lasagna

**After one hour the ricotta will be spreadable and soft.  After two hour it will be firmer, like cream cheese.

Sesame Noodles with Chopped Peanuts and Fried Eggplant

It’s the middle of summer and my farmers’ market box is overflowing with eggplant, summer squash and zucchini.  Therefore I have been cooking a plethora of eggplant, summer squash and zucchini dishes.  Why haven’t I shared more with you?  The answer is writer’s block, vacation and research.  Also, I blame Netflix, specifically Friday Night Lights, Weeds and various BBC series.  Finally, I admit that there have been multiple times that I have started taking pictures of a dish, and then only remembered to take a final shot after I’d eaten it (yeah, I mean you, peach crisp and peach jam).  Therefore, along with the recipe below I’m giving a short list of cookbooks, websites and blogs to help you find recipes, while I’m caught up watching Coach Taylor and Mrs. Coach help Dillon, Tex.; analyzing stacks of data; and trying to get more sun before summer ends.

So where do I find my vegetable recipes and ideas?  Smitten Kitchen, Love and Olive Oil, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (index) and Plenty do a great job of organizing recipes by vegetables.  Joy the Baker, Simply Recipes and Epicurious are other treasure troves of great recipes.  There are others, but these are my go-to spots.  The recipe below is from Bon Appetit by way of Epicurious and Love and Olive Oil.  Enjoy!

Sesame Noodles with Chopped Peanuts and Fried Eggplant

adapted from Bon Appetit
 
4 tablespoon of canola oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Sriracha
6-12 sliced green onions (depending on preference)
1/3 lb thin rice noodles
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
1/4 cup sliced fresh Thai basil leaves
3-4 Japanese eggplant, sliced
salt
 

Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the ginger and garlic.  Saute for 1 minute then transfer to a large bowl.  Whisk in the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, Sriracha and green onions.

Cook rice noodles according to package directions.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Allow to dry slightly by placing noodles on a clean dish towel and gently patting down.  Add to bowl and toss to coat.  Set aside.

Wipe out the medium skillet, add 3 tablespoons of canola oil and increase the heat to medium high.  Carefully add enough eggplant slices to fill the pan without crowding it.  Cook the eggplant on both sides until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.  Move the cooked eggplant to a draining tray or plate lined with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Continue to cook the rest of the eggplants slices in batches.

Add the sliced Thai basil to the noodles and stir to combine.  Place the eggplant on top of the noodles and serve.