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.

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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.

Behind the Dish: Roast Duck with Cherries and Wild Rice

Our Roast Duck with Cherries and Wild Rice is, we think, something quite special. As always at the Bistro, we like to improvise a little on any recipe we use, and that’s the approach we took to making the cherry sauce for our James Beard-style roast duck. The cherries we’re using are a combination of summer sour cherries we’ve had saved up in the freezer from back during the warmer months and canned Oregon Bing cherries. The base for the sauce is a veal demiglace we just prepared last week from 50 pounds of veal bones! To that we’ve added some spice in the form of rosemary, cinnamon sticks, and a little ground nutmeg and cloves, along with some Ohio honey.

Keeping our roast duck company are wild rice with wheat berries and some of our roasted fall vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, squash, and both Peruvian blue and redskin baby potatoes. Stop in tonight to try this marriage of the savory to the sweet — and enjoy a little taste of this past summer, too.

BEHIND THE DISH EXTRA: Another cold-weather delight that makes a great starter is one of our Soups of the Day, Chestnut Soup.

If you’ve never had chestnut soup before, you should give it a try and find out why, every holiday season, you always hear Nat King Cole singing about the pleasures of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. This is why — it’s one of the best things that can happen to those chestnuts after they get roasted. And it makes a great accompaniment for our duck dish…or just about anything else on the menu.