Monday, December 5, 2016

April Bloomfield's Ricotta Gnudi

Here I am, almost a month into the new job, and I'm still breathing, still employed! I say it as a joke, but after my recent disastrous shift (which you can read about here) I was a little concerned that I was about to get the boot. Thankfully I followed my nightmare shift with two weeks of work that I can be proud of. I feel relatively good about walking into my shift tomorrow evening, though I know it's going to have a whole new string of challenges. 

So what is this mysterious new job that I keep alluding to? While I like to keep some things private on here, I will say that my new gig has me acting as an assistant teacher in the cooking classes at a fantastic food studio in downtown Toronto. What makes these classes so exciting is that they are very hands-on, which means getting my very own group of students to myself (which can be anywhere from 2-12 people!) for an hour, while we work through our assigned dish. It sounds simple enough, but there is so much work that goes into the preparation for each class (washing, chopping, making stocks, blanching, preparing appetizers and charcuterie boards, pre-baking, and so much more!) all within a strict time limit. Not to mention the stress of guiding a group of strangers of varying degrees of expertise and experience through a recipe that they are unfamiliar with, while working within our hour of cook-time, and all the while worrying about people burning and cutting themselves...oh and the dish has to actually taste good too, because guess what? Our students get to sit down at the end of the class, and enjoy the beautiful meal that we have all prepared together. Us assistants and teachers, plate and style each individual dish so the students can also get a little lesson in restaurant plating. Pretty cool, right?
The scariest, but also probably the most exciting part of the job, is that almost every class I will be given a new recipe to work on, oftentimes that I have just received the previous day, and may have never made in my life! That's what happened last week when I was responsible for teaching my group how to make the appetizer in our Rustic Italian-themed meal. I was in charge of guiding the group through making Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with Sage & Walnut Pesto, something I had never made nor even eaten before! If you're unfamiliar with gnudi, think of them like naked ravioli. They are like the ricotta filling of ravioli, but without the pasta shell. Or another way of thinking of them is like gnocchi, but instead of potato, you're using ricotta. Having never made nor eaten gnudi before, I made sure to give myself enough time prior to class to do as much gnudi research as possible. This led me to learning about what is often considered to be one of the top 50 dishes to eat in New York, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig's Ricotta Gnudi.

The moment I first saw an image of Chef Bloomfield's gnudi, I could think of nothing else. It looked like pure heaven. Fluffy little balls of ricotta, resting in a bath of buttery, cheesy, thickened pasta water, with a few crispy fried sage leaves, and a light drizzle of browned butter...sigh...perfection. You would think that getting to make the delicious Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with my class would have satisfied my craving to make and eat them, but no. I was so wildly intrigued by Chef Bloomfield's bizarre method for forming gnudi, that I would literally lie awake each night until I finally got my butt outside to the market to buy some good quality fresh ricotta, to replicate her infamous dish at home. 

What I found so alluring about Chef Bloomfield's gnudi was that it only contained ricotta, parmesan, and salt. That's it. To prevent the gnudi from breaking apart when boiling, Chef Bloomfield has created an unusual method that requires lightly tossing the gnudi in semolina, and then allowing it to rest in what I like to call a "semolina sandbox" for three days. This semolina sandbox step encourages the ricotta dumplings to form a natural shell around them, keeping the soft and fresh ricotta contained within. 
I have to say, though the final dish looks incredibly labour-intensive, Chef Bloomfield's gnudi are actually very simple to prepare. The trick was following Serious Eats slightly adapted method, which kept my hands relatively clean, and got all of my gnudi rolled out in just a few minutes. While Chef Bloomfield used a piping bag to pipe her gnudi mixture into the semolina, and then cut them to size using scissors, Serious Eats recommended spreading out the gnudi mixture in a shallow dish, and setting it aside to chill in the freezer for 15 minutes. This quick chill in the freezer allowed the mixture to firm up just enough so it was easy to handle and form into balls. The other tip they gave was to use a small quick-release cookie scoop to scoop the mixture into the semolina. Genius! This method made making April Bloomfield's gnudi so wonderfully easy to prepare!

After hanging out in their "semolina sandbox" for three days, my gnudi were finally ready to be served! Following Bloomfield's recipe (as shown in this video from Mind of A Chef), I boiled the gnudi for about a minute, and then quickly tossed them in a mixture of pasta water, butter, and parmesan cheese. By gently shaking the pan, the remaining semolina clinging to the gnudi will break off and naturally thicken the pasta water and butter sauce. After only about a minute the gnudi are ready to be plated! Served with a light drizzle of browned butter, crispy fried sage leaves, and a dusting of parmesan, April Bloomfield's Ricotta Gnudi were just as heavenly as expected. Melt in your mouth, fluffy, little balls of heaven! De-lish! The only thing I would change for next time would be to add more fried sage, and perhaps add some sage to the brown butter to infuse its flavour into the sauce, as well as garnishing the dish with toasted pine nuts for crunch.

I encourage you to check out Serious Eats method for making April Bloomfield's Gnudi and give them a try in your own kitchen! Remember to let me know how it went and tweet me on Twitter: @thisgingerrose.

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