Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Tomatoes and Dumplings Marry.......On a Sunday

I know, the title sounds ridiculous, but to my non-existent readers, don't turn away, you'll be missing the piece de resistance of this roasted tomato trilogy.  So, if you haven't guessed it, this last recipe will have roasted tomatoes in it, but it will also have one of my most favorite things in it as well, gnocchi.  For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of trying gnocchi, or just have never heard of the stuff, gnocchi is basically an Italian dumpling (hence where the dumpling part of the title comes into play).  They are made from a combination of potato, flour, and eggs.  Now I can go on and on about how light and pillowy and delicious they are, how they can be served with browned butter, or ricotta, or Parmesan, or tomatoes, ya, ya, ya, ya (actually maybe more like a Charlie Brown show, wah, wah wah, wah wah wah), but this time I'll keep it simple and just say they are damn good, and are not even that difficult to make, however, if you want to skip the trouble of making them, luckily they are pretty much available at most supermarkets.
When I was contemplating how to incorporate dumplings and tomatoes I think I was at the butcher (yes, he was open this time) and he was telling me how they had just got some very nice short ribs.  So I decided that maybe a short rib ragu would be a nice way to marry these two things. 
So, I don't know about all of you out there, but I am a big fan of making a nice Sunday dinner, therefore, this ragu was tackled for that very day, and well, it does take a little bit of time to make, but it is worth it, and I think my husband, who mind you has NEVER had gnocchi, would definitely agree.........

Short Rib Ragu with Gnocchi

4lbs Short Ribs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
8oz bacon diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions diced
4 cloves garlic minced
5 large carrots diced
4 cups roasted tomatoes
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

2 1/2lbs russet potatoes (usually two or three does it)
3/4-1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 extra large egg beaten

For the ragu, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium high heat and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season the ribs with salt and pepper.  Brown ribs on all sides and set aside.  Drain any excess fat that is left in the pan and add the diced bacon.  Cook the bacon until crispy and remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Again, drain excess fat from pan and add the butter to the pan.  Once the butter is melted add the onions, garlic, and carrots.  Cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the carrots are starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the bacon, tomatoes, red wine and beef broth and bring to a simmer.  Add the bay leaves and then the reserved ribs.  Cover and place pot in preheated oven and cook until the ribs are starting to get tender, about 1 1/2 hours (I know this is long, but hey, put it in the oven, grab a beer, and watch a little Sunday football while its cooking......any men in the room will appreciate the smell of meat simmering).  Take the pot out of the oven and cook the ragu, uncovered, over medium heat for another 45 minutes, until the sauce is reduced and the meat is literally starting to fall off the bones.  Remove the ribs from the pot and place on a platter to cool until you can handle them without scalding the skin off your fingertips (this is something I failed to contemplate.......yah, painful).  Pull all the meat off the bones and return it to the pot.  Add the fresh herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and cream, give it a stir and your ready for dumplings.  This ragu goes really well with pasta as well if you're a little nervous about the gnocchi, and freezes well too, so you can make it ahead of time and freeze it.  It also gets a little better the next day, so don't be afraid to prepare it the day ahead.

Now for the gnocchi, which is not as daunting as it might seem, you just have to remember, feather light hands.  For me, baking the potatoes versus boiling them gives the best result, and the result you want to look for is a light, pillowy dumpling that does not fall apart when you put it into the water.  OK, here we go, its gnocchi time............
Rows of yummy dumplings
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, cook potatoes with peels on until incredibly soft, about an hour.  Once the potatoes are done peel them while they are hot, and place them into a potato ricer.  You can use a fork or a cheese grater for this step but I find a potato ricer gives the best results.  Rice the potatoes into a shallow dish, and allow them to cool just until the potato is comfortable to handle and is at a temperature that won't turn the egg into a scramble when you add it.  When the potatoes are cool enough, spread 3/4 cup flour onto your work surface and layer the potatoes on top.  Using a fork, fork the flour over the potatoes, incorporating it until it looks like a coarse meal.  Drizzle the egg over the top of the potato/flour mixture and fork again until the egg is incorporated.  Gather the dough together and with light hands gently knead the dough, adding enough flour to keep it from sticking to your work surface and your hands, until everything looks pretty well incorporated and the dough looks smooth.  You don't want to overdo the flour, this will make the gnocchi too dense and doughy, you want just enough to bind the potato.  The dough shouldn't feel like a stone, it should still have a lot of give to it.  Divide the dough into equal parts and roll into logs that are about an inch wide.

 Cut dough logs into 1/2 inch pieces or dumplings and roll each dumpling down a floured fork.  I have seen other people just press a divot in the center, and this is a little less time consuming.  You are just adding texture to the dumplings so that all that saucy goodness will stick to them.  Once you have all your dumplings cut and ready, heat a pot of salted water on medium high heat.  Add the gnocchi to the water in small batches, cooking them until they float.  Once they start to float let me float for maybe 15 seconds then remove them with a slotted spoon and put them on your serving platter. 

After all these little babies are cooked just spoon the ragu over the dumplings and you're done.  Trust me, if you ever questioned whether heaven existed on earth, after eating this you'll know that heaven might just visit us all from time to time. 

Oh, and be forwarned, gnocchi may pop up on this blog again because quite frankly...........I love it, so freeze some of these little guys because you're gonna need them!

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