Thursday, July 14, 2011

Use your Noodle! (Daring Cooks Cook Noodles…)


Our Daring Cooks’ challenge this month was homemade noodles. Our hostess, Steph, of Stephfood was more than generous in her definition of pasta, imposing only the rule that it be made without the aid of powered machinery.

We make pasta most weekends (with extras for quick midweek meals) and have posted about it before. However, we’d never made it fully from scratch, so it was a fun challenge to try. Certainly very simple, though even this month we made pasta again and chose to use the food processor instead (and so aren’t counting it in the challenge)

As mentioned before, Steph was a very gracious hostess, so included in the noodles category were gnocchi, spaetzle, rice noodles and more. As ever, we were inspired by the variety and quality of the dishes produced by our fellow Daring Cooks, which can be found here

We made 3 dishes for this challenge, representing 3 kinds of noodles/dumplings; follow the links below for the recipes and gory details. First up was Duck and Spinach Cannelloni (cannelloni being a favorite pasta form factor of Mrs. Monkeyshines.) Next, we returned to a perennial favorite – Potato Gnocchi, paired on this occasion with a selection of seasonal vegetables. And last but by no means least: Buttermilk Spaetzle with Herbs, which were the perfect foil to a ribeye steak and roasted broccoli. Thanks, Steph, for an entertaining and tasty challenge!

Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks' July hostess.  Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine.  She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

Duck and Spinach Cannelloni

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Many years ago in a country far, far away, The Monkey grew up in South Wales, close to a famed restaurant called The Walnut Tree. The chef/owner at the time, Franco Taruschio, was renowned both locally and nationally for his pasta dishes, and his collection of 100 great pasta dishes has become a favorite in our household. So when Steph of challenged the Daring Cooks to make homemade pasta, we immediately thought of Franco. We made a recipe based on his Lasagne con Sugo d’Anitra (lasagne with duck sauce), but adapted it for cannelloni based on Mrs.Monkeyshines’ predilection for this pasta form factor. Also, our pasta was based on Jamie Oliver’s recipe: however instead of making it in the food processor as usual, we adhered to the challenge stipulation of not using any sort of motorized accessory. (Our basic introduction to pasta making can be found here.) We also wanted to use some Asian spinach, which has appeared at our local farmers’ market this year and has a really rich spinachy flavor.


For the pasta (makes enough for leftovers):
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour

For the duck sauce:
1 duck breast
2 oz bacon, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup white vermouth
1/2 large bunch spinach, shredded
2 1/2 oz tomato puree
fresh parsley, salt and pepper to taste

For the veloute sauce:
1 oz flour
1 oz butter
1/2 pint chicken stock

parmesan cheese for topping

Start by making the duck sauce. Sear the duck breast, starting skin side down and pouring off/reserving the duck fat that is rendered. When the skin starts to get crispy, turn over and cook the other side, then remove to a plate and mince finely. Using some of the reserved duck fat, render the diced bacon then add the diced carrot, onion and celery to make a mirepoix. When the vegetables are soft, add back the duck meat and the vermouth, and cook until the liquid is reduced. Add the tomato puree and enough water to make a thick sauce, then reduce to a paste (about 15 minutes). Add the spinach and cook until it’s wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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For the veloute sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes. Gradually add the broth and mix in, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming.

To make the pasta, we followed our basic recipe but this time used our hands instead of the food processor to mix the ingredients together. We have the photos to prove it!


From top: Eggs and flour ready to mix; mixing the dough; kneading the dough; rolling out the pasta; cutting into cannelloni-sized squares

To assemble the lasagne: Cook each sheet in boiling water for a few seconds, then quench under cold water. Roll up a few spoonfuls of the duck and spinach filling in each square, and pack them into a pre-greased baking tray. Pour the sauce over and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.


From top: Cooking and cooling the noodles; rolling the lasagne; assembling the lasagne

Bake in a 400ºF oven for 30-40 minutes until bubbling; remove and rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Buttermilk Spaetzle with Herbs

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Finding a reliable spaetzle recipe became a bit of an odyssey Chez Monkeyshines. We love the little gems, but, as is common with many simple dishes, couldn’t manage to make them without ending up with a) gummy gooey sludge on the plate and b) a monumental mess in the kitchen.

After months of research and trial and error, followed by more error, it was clear that there are several classes of spaetzle recipes and there are also several methods of forming them. You not only have to find the right recipe, but you must also use the right cutting technique for that recipe or heartbreak calls again.

There’s a very thick dough which you can cut by hand or using a spaetzle cutter. Some recipes yield a batter that I still don’t quite know what you do with. The recipe I finally settled on is somewhere in between: not thick enough to cut, but liquid enough that it presses easily through a ricer. If you see a recipe that suggests pressing the mix through a colander, run. There are few activities in the kitchen less fun than wrangling either thick sludge or runny batter through a colander set over boiling water. Ask me how I know..

Anyhow, hope we haven’t scared you off by now, because they’re so worth it. They’re even easy enough for a weeknight and won’t trash the kitchen. As always, this recipe comes from significant adaptation of an existing recipe, this time from Bon Appetit.  On a whim, we added buttermilk and love the gentle tang it lent. But often we use milk if we didn’t plan in advance or are too lazy to go to the store. And we vary the herbs to pair with whatever else is going on the plate and of course with whatever’s on hand.

Buttermilk Spaetzle with Herbs

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry ground mustard
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh herbs, minced (if you substitute dried herbs, reduce the volume by about half)
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
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Salt and several quarts of water for boiling the spaetzle

2 Tbsp butter

  1. Add the flour, salt, mustard and pepper in a medium sized bowl and mix to combine.
  2. Add the herbs and stir again
  3. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl, then add the buttermilk. Mix until all there is no dry flour remaining. You should have a moderately stiff dough. pasta 048                           dough just after mixing
  4. Cover the bowl and let it rest for an hour. None of the recipes I’ve read do this, so maybe you can skip it, but I did it once and for the first time was pleased with the result, so now I always rest the dough.
  5. Bring water and salt in a large saucepan to a boil. You’ll want the water to be fairly close to the top of the pot to make the next bit easier (not at the top, but not way down either). About halfway to the boiling point, start warming a skillet over medium heat. If you don’t preheat the skillet, your lovely spaetzles will all stick to the skillet and uncontrollable sobbing may ensue.
  6. When the water boils, raise the heat in the skillet and melt the butter.
  7. Use a spatula to scoop half of the batter into a potato ricer and, hovering just over the water level, press the dough into the stockpot. You might need to slice them off using a table knife. I know they look like they’re all going to clump together but somehow they don't. Give the pot a gentle stir if you’re really concerned. When the spaetzle float, skim them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet. Repeat with the rest of the dough. pasta 052             dough being pressed into the boiling waterpasta 050  a minite later we skim the spaetzle out and transfer to the skillet
  8. Stir the spaetzle around in the butter and cook until they’re just browned.  pasta 051
  9. Serve and enjoy!

We certainly hope that you like the spaetzle and find that this recipe works for you too!

Potato Gnocchi alla Primavera

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Many years ago we attended a course called ‘Hands on Gnocchi’, given by Chef Staffan Terje, who at the time was at Scala’s Bistro in San Francisco and is now chef/owner of the wonderful Perbacco. We covered all kinds of gnocchi (which, as we learned, can be any one of a diverse range of small dumplings), including semolina gnocchi, spinach ricotta gnocchi, butternut squash gnocchi (which can be found elsewhere in the Monkeyshines archives) and potato gnocchi. We find ourselves often coming back to potato gnocchi, as they are a great vehicle for all kinds of sauces and flavorings – so the latest Daring Cooks challenge was a perfect excuse to break out the recipe again. We almost always pan fry our gnocchi rather than boiling them; the crispy shell seems to be the perfect foil for the soft, pillowy interior.


4 cups of baked potato (we use Russets)
1 whole egg + 1 egg white, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp each grated nutmeg and white pepper
1/2 tbsp Kosher salt

Extra flour for dusting and olive oil for pan frying
Basil cut into thin strips (chiffonade) for serving

For the Primavera:

Assorted spring/summer vegetables, cut into bite-size cubes where appropriate. We used zucchini, pattypan squash, squash blossoms, grape tomatoes, leek and corn:

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First, bake the potatoes until they are soft (about 40 minutes at 425ºF). Cut the potatoes in half lengthways, then leave in the over (with the heat off) for a further 10 minutes to dry them out. Rice the potatoes using your favorite ricing implement.

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Place the riced potato and all the other dry gnocchi ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix together – we lift the dry ingredients in a motion similar to running your fingers through someone’s hair.  Then fold in the egg until a soft dough has formed. It’s important not to mix too hard, or the gnocchi will be heavy and gummy:

Next, dust your work surface with flour and gently roll out the dough into a thick rope (again, taking care not to press too hard) – there may be spots that break or aren’t 100% incorporated – this is preferable by far to over-mixing. Cut the rope into delicious bite-sized pieces:


Cook the gnocchi in batches a hot skillet with a little oil, turning as each side gets brown. (Be careful – as the pan gets hot, the later batches will cook faster than the first!)

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To make the vegetables, saute lightly in a little oil, seasoning to taste. Keep it simple – the beauty of this combination is the fresh vegetable flavors paired with the rich, cheesy gnocchi.

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Serve the gnocchi with the vegetables scattered over them, and if you like finish off with a little basil chiffonade. Enjoy!