Hearty Sides for Summer Evenings
We all strive to stay outdoors and enjoy the nice weather, especially after such a long winter. The salmon are running, crab season is open, and the farmers’ markets are flourishing. Our sailing and boating trips are all about spending time with family and friends. Naturally, we’re doing a lot of entertaining, and it’s nice to have some hearty side dishes ready to go. Side dishes can be stashed in the freezer or made earlier in the week so that they are ready for the weekend. Dinner isn’t difficult if the dishes are quick and easy to assemble; such as grilled fish, a tossed salad, and a light pasta dish. If you prepare some delicious side dishes in advance during the week, then freeze the dishes, and transport them to the boat (or if you have a boat large enough for a deep freeze, keep them on the boat), then you are ready for some long tasty trips!
I don’t know what it is about being on the water in the sun and weather, but I am always hungry at night and crave some type of rich delicious side dish to go with my grilled steak, or a warm, cheesy, layered-potato dish to go with the rest of dinner. The warm dishes that come to mind include a layered potato gratin that can be baked, cooled, wrapped tight, and frozen for reheat. Make two; have one for dinner warm out of the oven, then freeze the second for a later dinner. Or possibly a cauliflower gratin made the same way as macaroni and cheese, with a rich béchamel sauce and cheese, could satisfy. The only difference is the cauliflower instead of the pasta. A large batch of béchamel can be made, and half can be used for the cauliflower dish and the other half for a mac and cheese. Once both are assembled, they can be frozen immediately for reheating later.
Another dish, similar to mac and cheese, is a Gnocchi alla Romana made with cooked semolina (a grain similar to polenta) that is cooked, poured into a baking sheet, cooled, and cut into shapes that are layered in a baking dish with cheese; then it can be frozen for later use. All these dishes require only 30 minutes to an hour of reheating, which will give you enough time to assemble the rest of dinner.
Other recipes included below are for two types of gnocchi-style dumplings that can be assembled, frozen, and reheated in a dish of tomato sauce covered with cheese. It is nice to have some fun variations to dinner, we all get in a rut at home, so these recipes are a good way to expand your knowledge and prepare some new dishes. Regardless, the best part of it all is that we are out enjoying the amazing weather and the reason we live in the great Pacific Northwest. Get cruising and savor summer!
Spinach & Ricotta Dumplings in Tomato Sauce
Combine the cooked spinach and ricotta in a mixing bowl. Add the parmesan, two egg yolks, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Then add half of the flour. Using your hands or a rubber spatula, mix until just blended. Do not over work. To test if your dumpling is the right consistency, drop a dollop of the mixture from a soup spoon into boiling water. If the dumpling starts to break apart, add another quarter cup of flour and another egg yolk. Scoop heaping tablespoons of the mixture and drop into rapidly boiling salted water. As the dumplings float, allow to cook for one minute. Remove the dumplings and add to a sauté pan filled with sage and brown butter sauce. Gently coat the dumplings with butter. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper, parmesan, and Italian parsley. Once the dumplings are blanched they can be frozen and reheated in sauce.
Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large deep saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring or swirling occasionally, until the garlic is deeply colored and fragrant, add onions, season with salt and pepper, leave to sweat on low. Add the tomatoes and stir well. Turn heat up to medium, get the sauce simmering at a gentle pace, not aggressively, and simmer for half an hour. Stir from time to time. When the sauce is finished and has thickened slightly, remove from heat and press through a food mill, or puree using an immersion blender (not too much!) until the large pieces are gone. Check the sauce for salt at the end. The sauce can be cooked with meat at this point, or stored, covered, in the fridge for at least four days or frozen for up to a few months.
Blanch the cauliflower in a large pot of boiling salted water. When the cauliflower is tender, refresh in cold water and drain in a colander. In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the onions, salt, and pepper, and sweat until soft. Once soft, increase the heat and add the garlic. Cook until the mixture starts to brown, spread on a plate, and cool in the refrigerator. Add the drained cauliflower to a food processor in batches, process the cauliflower to a coarse texture. Add to a bowl and stir in ricotta, eggs, onion mixture, nutmeg, and parsley. Spoon the mixture into small oiled ramekins or an oiled baking dish, and bake in a hot water bath for 20 – 30 minutes.
Gnocchi alla Romana
Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, bring to a boil, and whisk in the semolina, stirring until it pulls away from the edge of the pan. Cook on low heat 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter, cheese, egg yolks, and prosciutto. Season with the nutmeg and salt. Wet a countertop or baking sheet, and pour out the semolina to 1/2 inch thickness, allow to cool, and cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Arrange the rounds in a buttered baking dish in rows and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Dot with butter and bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper and Italian parsley.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, and salt then bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; lower heat and stir until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about two to four minutes. Scrape the dough into a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle; beat mixture for one minute to let cool. Beat the eggs into the dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each egg. Add the cheese, cayenne salt, pepper, herbs, and the Dijon mustard. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip.
To cook: Over a pot of rapidly boiling, salted water, pipe the mixture into the pot, cutting one-inch pieces with a paring knife. Once the pot is sufficiently crowded, allow the dumplings to cook, then remove to a sauté pan of butter, then complete another batch. Once the sauté pan is full, heat the pan, and toss the gnocchi with the butter.