Maybe this Super Bowl season you want to class things up a bit. Or maybe you just need a break from giant subs, heavy pizza, fried ravioli and a bowl of potato chips. Or maybe you’re like my friend ‘Fesser who emailed me the other day looking for recipes that would work for the Texans-Pats game and for the Golden Globes later in the evening.
Fortunately for my friend I already had a few items up my sleeve for this month that fit his request perfectly. Ficelles, thin French sandwiches typically made with only a few ingredients, these small bites are easily made in batches for an impressive sandwich platter. Roasted gnocchi with rosemary make for unusual addition to party buffet instead of a bowl of nuts. Tortellini for a much more satisfying pasta salad, especially when tossed with wilted spinach and pearl-sized balls of soft mozzarella.
My favorite new treat this season? Pizza gougeres, an Italian take on a classic French cheese puff. Easier to make than you think and incredibly addicting just out of the oven.
Super Bowl Recipe Month: Pizza Gougeres, Ficelle, Oven Roasted Gnocchi, Tortellini Salad
To the recipes!
Don’t let this recipe intimidate you. French choux paste — the basis for eclairs, cheese puffs, cream puffs – is shockingly easy to make at home. By adding herbs, cheese and sun dried tomatoes, you’ve just made one of the fanciest pizzas rolls around.
You will need:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon oregano, minced
1 tablespoon basil, minced
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, or parmesan, romano, asiago cheese mix
6-8 sun dried tomatoes, diced (approximately 1/2 cup when reconstituted and diced)
Ingredient notes: Many chefs prefer to make their choux paste with all water and using more butter or all water with less better, depending on how chewy they want their pastry to come out. I was taught whole milk for baking puffs (and reinforced by my favorite cookbook since then), so that is how I’ve always made gougeres. If you prefer an all-water dough, that is up to you the chef.
Plain sun dried tomatoes that need to be steeped in boiling water to soften are used over sun dried tomatoes packed in oil to keep the correct balance of fats in the dough.
Preheat oven to 400º and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In combine the water, milk, butter and salt together in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, add the flour and stir until the mixture is smooth and starts to form a dough ball. Reduce heat and cook for another minute or so to release the last bit of moisture from the dough.
Remove the dough from the heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool for five to ten minutes. The dough needs to be warm, but not hot enough to curdle the eggs when they’re mixed in.
While the dough is cooling, mix together the herbs, cheese and diced sun dried tomatoes in a small bowl.
Working one egg at a time, mix in eggs and combine until the dough is smooth. Fold in the herb, sun dried tomato and shredded cheese blend until evenly combined.
Using a spoon or a medium sized cookie scoop, form the dough into roughly 1 1/2 – 2 inch balls and evenly space about an inch apart on a lined cookie sheet. (I suppose if you want to be a classicist you can put the dough into a pastry bag and pipe on the sheet, but unless I’m making longer eclairs, I’ve always found that particular technique too labor intensive when dealing with choux paste.)
Bake at 400º for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350º and bake for 10-15 more minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and turn over the gougeres, giving each one a small prick on the side with a sharp knife. Return to the oven and bake for 5 more minutes for maximum chewiness.
If working in batches, the dough can be refrigerated between each batch going into the oven.
Yields approximately 30 puffs.
Wilted Spinach and Mozzarella Tortellini Salad
Over the past six or seven months I’ve brought this pasta salad to two football gatherings, a baby shower and a picnic, where it has disappeared every time. I usually find pasta salad, well. Hollow. Pasta and herbs. Bah. Nothing very satisfying there. By using tortellini in place of plain old corkscrew pasta, you suddenly get a very hardy side dish.
You will need:
18-20 ounces cheese tortellini
6-9 ounces (4-6 cups) fresh baby spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pint (10 ounces) cherry tomatoes, halved
8 ounces pearl mozzarella balls, drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
four basil leaves, chopped (1-2 tsp)
Kosher salt and cracked pepper
Boil tortellini with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt for time recommended on package directions. Once the tortellini is cooked, drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool.
While the tortellini is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and saute for a minute and then add the baby spinach. Reduce heat and cook until the spinach has completely wilted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. If desired, you can roughly chop the cooked spinach or you can leave it whole.
In a large bowl, toss together the cooked tortellini, spinach, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, basil, red wine vinegar, remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon each.
Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve.
Serves 6-8 as a side.
Ficelle is a type of thin sandwich named for a thin baguette-style bread of the same name. (Ficelle means “string” in French if your guests ask.) If you can think of the combination, you can put on a ficelle, but the key to a good ficelle is not going overboard on sandwich filling since the bread is thinner. You want to pick just a few things and use the ingredients sparingly.
What’s great about these sandwiches is that you can mix and match a bunch of different types and then slice them in to smaller portions, giving everyone a chance to sample a variety a different flavors.
Goat cheese, oven roasted sliced figs, honey: Slice fresh figs and bake them at 325º until soft. (About 8-10 minutes should due.) Spread goat cheese on the bottom of sliced ficelle, top with figs and honey. You can even give them a shot of cracked pepper if you really want to make them pop.
Prosciutto, arugula, shaved parmesan: Because the prosciutto is really going to standout, be sure to spend the extra couple of bucks on the nicer prosciutto in the deli case that is freshly sliced instead of the prepacked stuff at the back of the store. Layer with shaved parmesan (use your vegetable peeler for a nice thin slice) and a few pieces of arugula.
Country ham, Camembert, sliced cornichons, stone ground mustard: Probably one of my favorite ficelles to make. A fancy ham and cheese sandwich with tiny pickles, three ingredients that always go well with beer.
Diced heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper: Your basic bruschetta mix makes for a great ficelle.
Goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes: So easy and yet so delicious. Tangy cheese with bright, sweet tomatoes.
Oven Roasted Gnocchi With Rosemary
In the back of one of the fashion magazines I get they had one of those silly, “Let’s ask a bunch of different celebrities a dumb question so they can answer and we can make a montage of answers because we need something for the back page.” (Or maybe they’re all outtakes from interviews. I have no idea how magazine creation works.) Anyway, in this particular magazine they asked everyone’s favorite English chef (behind Gordan Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Two Fat Ladies and that other guy) Nigella Lawson what her favorite snack was. She replied pan fried gnocchi, which was just gnocchi cooked in a small amount of olive oil until firm when I looked up her recipe online. Nothing else. Bland. City. (Again, English.)
What gives you a firmer gnocchi is roasting them in the oven and tossing with olive oil, and what makes them addicting is a bunch of minced rosemary and a very, very generous amount of kosher salt. Very snackable and finger friendly.
One package of store bought gnocchi is good for about four people.
On a lined baking sheet, toss the gnocchi with a tablespoon or two of olive oil until coated. For each package of gnocchi, use about a tablespoon of minced rosemary and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bake at 375º for about 20-25 minutes until the gnocchi turns golden, being sure to toss once or twice while roasting. Add more salt if desired at the end of baking.
These golden little savory bites became very popular with us this season, especially for Thursday night games when there wasn’t a lot of time to spend in the kitchen.
And that’s it. We’ve classed up your playoffs-and-Golden Globe-affair this weekend.
I want more like this!
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