GETTING AN EARLY START ON SEASONAL FOODS

Welcome to the dawn of local food season!

I love using fresh, local ingredients when they’re available. I still like to enjoy the best products from around the world, too… wine from Piedmont, olive oil from Sicily, cheese from France, salt from Trapani and oregano from the mountains of Greece. And let’s face it: if you love seafood as much as I do, it’s not coming from any waters near Des Moines.

But we live in a part of the world that is special to me; an area that offers huge access to fresh ingredients for a good portion of the year. There are so many amazing things we can do with what we can get in season; at Gateway Market, we are seeing the early-season bursts of green. Asparagus, stinging nettles, ramps, arugula, and spring garlic are all climbing to the stage. To me, spring garlic is like a promissory note that an onslaught of local veggies is on its way!

Speaking of spring garlic: many years ago Larry Cleverley (an area farmer well-known for his excellent produce) and I were on a nationally-televised show called “The Best of…” (I like to joke that it was my 15 minutes of Food Network fame). The program featured South Union Garlic and Potato Soup. This is one of my favorite soups and recipes; I still use today all these years later. Here’s the recipe… I think you’ll enjoy it, too!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/the-best-of/south-union-spring-garlic-and-potato-soup-recipe/index.html

 

This Ricotta Gnocchi recipe is ideal for showcasing early-season veggies.

This is a great time to start incorporating fresh produce into your meals. Even if a recipe doesn’t call for it, adding or substituting local veggies can give a fresh spin on some fantastic dishes. Early in the season, toss spinach and sliced asparagus in the gnocchi recipe below. Then change it up over the course of the summer using different ingredients, depending on what’s freshest.

Ricotta Gnocchi

This is one of those extremely easy and versatile dishes. I like to think of it as an easy “no recipe recipe” since it’s so easy to change up with different seasonal ingredients. For example if you can get your hands on morel mushrooms, definitely throw them in for a delicious treat. Also, you can add cherry tomatoes in with the butter, as I did here.

Ingredients (serves four)

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • 3/4 to 1 cup 00 flour
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups leeks, cleaned and chopped. (If they’re in season, try using chopped ramps)
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cups loosely packed stinging nettles, chopped (if nettles aren’t available, sub spinach)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus extra to season water for pasta)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved (or seasonal whatever seasonal tomatoes you prefer, diced)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese
  • And if you are not over truffle oil, feel free to drizzle a bit over each dish of gnocchi

Preparation

Line a strainer with three coffee filters or paper towels; place it over a bowl. Add the ricotta and let it drain for about an hour. (This can be done several days in advance.)

In a large bowl, mix the strained ricotta, egg, grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese and 3/4 cup of the flour until all ingredients are incorporated. Let it rest for about 15 minutes. Dough should not be sticky; if necessary, add additional flour a tablespoon at a time. Refrigerate dough for another 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove.

Sprinkle a baking sheet/cutting board, your work surface and hands with flour. Break off a ball sized piece of the dough and roll it on your work surface into a log about 3/4-inch thick.

Using sharp knife or a dough scraper, cut the log into ¾-inch pieces. You can leave them as is or shape them into the traditional grooved gnocchi by rolling them off the back of a fork with your thumb.

Transfer this batch to the baking sheet and toss with flour to prevent sticking. Repeat rolling process with the remaining dough.

Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water and half of the gnocchi. Gently stir the gnocchi to make sure they don’t stick. Once they rise to the surface, let them cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander set over a bowl to finish draining. Repeat with second batch of gnocchi.

Melt the butter; sear gnocchi in melted butter until lightly brown on one side.

Heat a large sauté pan or pot. When pan is heated, add olive oil. Then add nettles, ramps, mushrooms, garlic and salt.

Cook until all the liquid has evaporated and vegetables are done.

Toss in the seared gnocchi. Heat thoroughly and add the butter and grape tomatoes. Toss until butter is melted, then garnish with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil.

Toss the gnocchi with sauce and serve immediately, or sear in butter, let brown then add sage and parmesan, season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

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