Behind the Dish: Gnocchi Verdi

Did you know that gnocchi, the famous form of Italian pasta, are sometimes referred to in Italy as malfatti — or “badly made”? James Beard himself says so in his cookbook Beard on Pasta. Why? Because “they are so delicate that when they are cooked they are quite uneven in shape. You have to skim them out of the water very, very carefully because of their fragility, but they well repay the care: they just melt on your tongue when you eat them.”

That’s the idea behind Gnocchi Verdi (“green gnocchi”), a type of gnocchi made out of spinach (that’s where the green comes from), ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, butter, eggs and flour, spiced up with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Kind of like a ravioli filling — only without the ravioli! The finished gnocchi are topped with a simple cream sauce of Parmesan cheese and butter.

We’re keeping pretty much to the original recipe for this one, with a touch of garlic added. When you try our Gnocchi Verdi, we don’t think you’ll find it malfatti at all — or, at least, your mouth won’t, anyway.

Behind the Dish: Baked Salmon with Ginger Sauce

This is the time of year when thoughts of cooking with ginger usually have to do with gingerbread. Well, while ginger is wonderful for baking cakes and cookies, it also works wonderfully with fish — and we don’t just mean sushi.

James Beard’s Baked Salmon with Ginger Sauce is a perfect example of just that. The tender, moist baked salmon is perfectly enhanced by a sauce made with ginger. And to make our sauce, we didn’t use just fresh ginger, but also pickled ginger (the kind you eat with sushi, or our Asian-style crab cakes) and ginger extract. It’s even topped with a sprinkling of candied ginger for more flavor and a little crunch. Definitely not your ordinary salmon dish!

We’re serving our Baked Salmon with Ginger Sauce on a bed of sweet potato mashers with some freshly crispy battered tempura vegetables alongside. Taste it and we think you’ll agree that while gingerbread is a great dessert, gingered salmon is one treat of an entree.

Behind the Dish: Spaghetti with Clam Sauce and Chorizo

Here’s the only real scoop behind tonight’s James Beard featured dish: It’s based on his straightforward spaghetti-with-clam-sauce recipe, only we’re tweaking it by adding chorizo sausage and serving it on shell pasta instead of spaghetti. Not too complex, right? But it does sound delicious, no? Taste it and see. You’ll find the hot and spicy chorizo sausage brings the fire as well as the flavor — a guaranteed sinus-clearer and snowflake-melter for your cold winter night!

The James Beard Project: Week 6

Here’s the lineup for Week 6 of the James Beard Project:

Monday, Dec. 7 — Spaghetti with Clam Sauce and Chorizo (Beard on Pasta, p. 97)

Tuesday, Dec. 8 — Baked Salmon with Ginger Sauce (James Beard Celebration, p. 178)

Wednesday, Dec. 9 — Gnocchi Verdi (Beard on Pasta, p. 62)

Thursday, Dec. 10 — Crab Louis (James Beard Celebration, p. 62)

Friday, Dec. 11 — Portuguese Fish Stew (Beard on Pasta, p. 69)

Saturday, Dec. 12 — Seafood À L’Américaine (The New James Beard, p. 222)

Behind the Dish: Roast Duck with Peaches and Bourbon

James Beard’s Roast Duck with Peaches and Bourbon is definitely not an everyday kind of dish. For each serving, we’re roasting up a half duck, nice and crispy, and glazing it with a sauce made of brown sugar, a splash of Madeira, bourbon and peach halves. We’re enhancing that basic recipe with a touch of apricot preserves and ginger. The duck is served with an accompaniment of long grain and wild rice and root vegetables. Get ready for a unique and flavorful experience!

Behind the Dish: Le Plaisir’s Truffled Pasta

Here’s all you really need to know about tonight’s James Beard dish: it’s pappardelle pasta with truffle paté, truffle oil, Madeira or Marsala, and a touch of cream — to which we are adding four lovely shrimp. Simple, and yet rich, creamy and special. Order it and start your weekend off right!

Behind the Dish: Navarin (French Lamb Ragôut)

James Beard’s Navarin is a French lamb ragôut, or stew — and it’s hearty and rich. It requires first browning and then braising lamb meat (his original recipe calls for shoulder or breast; we’re using leg) in beef broth while caramelizing turnips and onions in butter and sugar. After the lamb is done braising, the fat is skimmed from the broth, the broth is strained and the caramelized vegetables and other veggies are added, along with some spices, for the final simmering. The recipe calls for leeks, carrots, new potatoes and peas, spiced with cloves, salt and pepper; we’re adding purple potatoes and rutabagas with some parsley. This is a sure heartwarmer for cold weather; give it a try!

Behind the Dish: Filet of Sole Casanova

Why is tonight’s James Beard entree called “Filet of Sole Casanova”? Really not sure. There’s not much about it that will make you think of the 18th-century Venetian adventurer reputed for his romantic skills. But it is kind of a romantic dish — at least if you love cuisine inspired by India. This dish really brings Indian flavors to the fore in a delightful way.

The fish is simply sautéed; it’s the sauce that makes the difference. Beard’s original recipe calls for celery root, but we substituted fresh fennel and celery, sliced super-thin, and sweated these along with mushrooms in butter, then added artichoke hearts for texture and flavor and chopped Golden Delicious apples for a touch of sweetness, flavor and crunch. All of this was cooked down and reduced with heavy cream and curry to create a rich and delicious sauce.

Our sauced filet of sole is accompanied by a mound of Indian jasmine rice, steamed with cardamom seeds, sautéed onion, cinnamon stick, star anise and cumin. The finished dish is aromatic, flavorful and a delightful change from the ordinary. Try it — you just might fall in love.

Behind the Dish: Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Tomatoes

Tonight’s James Beard special is another heartwarmer for wintertime. It gets its flavor not only from corn, shrimp and tomatoes, but from bacon and mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery). The mirepoix is sautéed in the bacon fat after the bacon is cooked; then potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, clam juice (or water or fish stock) and white wine are added, as well as corn on the cob. (The cobs get removed later and the corn scraped off and added to the chowder, sometimes with more corn added.) This mixture gets cooled down, fat skimmed, and then some of the solids are puréed so it has a part-creamy, part-chunky texture. Milk, salt and pepper are stirred in, and the bacon, shrimp, tomatoes and chives are added for the final minutes of simmering time.

To make this more of a main dish, we’ve also beefed it up a little by adding a combination of large and small shrimp; pearl onions; some green peas for color and flavor; and topping it off with a trio of crispy little corn-bacon fritters.

A bowl of this chowder will bring warmth to your evening for sure. Don’t forget to ask for bread!

Behind the Dish: Old-Fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Shell Pasta

For tonight’s James Beard featured dish, we’re going to get the blogging train back on the tracks by posting about a dish which, in Mr. Beard’s recipe, calls for a form of pasta called rotelle. What are rotelle? Sounds fancy, but it’s just Italian for “little wheels.” In his original recipe, the dish is served over what generations of Cleveland children came to know and love as “Choo Choo Wheels.” Maybe you even remember the train printed on the back of the box of Ideal Macaroni that you could cut out and glue some uncooked Choo Choo Wheels onto, if you got the chance to swipe a few before Mom used them all to make your lunch.

Well, nostalgia is fun, but given that most of our diners here at the Bistro are past the age of sitting at the table playing with their Choo Choo Wheels, we’re substituting shell pasta in our Old Fashioned Chicken Fricassee. Trust us, it’ll still taste the same. Our chicken is a mixture of white and dark meat, with some of it thigh meat still on the bone for richer flavor. And you’ll get a lot of chicken along with this rich sauce that includes butter, flour, heavy cream, onions, celery, shallots, egg yolks, and some spicing courtesy of salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg and lemon juice.

This is dinner just like Mom used to make…assuming Mom used James Beard’s cookbooks, that is. If not, you owe it to yourself to taste what you’ve been missing, especially on a day like today on which the snowflakes are starting to flutter down. Put your wheels down at the Bistro tonight, and enjoy some real comfort food.