Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Amy DiBiase's Ricotta Gnudi

I've known Chef Amy DiBiase for years, since we met when she was a guest on a radio show I co-hosted with Ron James and Robert Whitley at the U-T. Back then she was promoting the Point Loma restaurant Roseville. Since then she's made a number of kitchen moves, landing most recently in what was Baleen but has recently become Tidal, Paradise Point's restaurant on Mission Bay.

Amy, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, came to San Diego almost a decade ago to work as a chef at Laurel in Bankers Hill. She left five years later as executive chef to work at Baleen as chef de cuisine. Two years later  she opened Roseville. Amy then chefed at The Glass Door, Cosmopolitan, and The Shores before returning to Baleen and its transition to Tidal.

Now she's making Tidal very much a reflection of her culinary aesthetic: achieving bold flavors through local, seasonal ingredients. Much of her menu feels like contemporary comfort food but nothing that leaves you feeling loggy: Half Chicken Confit, Salmon Wellington, Olive Oil Poached Halibut, and a Chicken Liver Mousse so luscious you want to bathe in it (stay tuned; sous chef Kyle Bergman will be teaching me how to make this later in the summer). It's food that creates a wistful memory even weeks later. And, I, for one, couldn't shake the memory of her ricotta gnudi. So naturally I asked her to show me how to make them.

The last time I was in the kitchen with Amy was earlier this year when the restaurant was still Baleen and I was writing a story for the U-T on root vegetables. Amy shared with me her recipe for Rutabaga and Ginger Soup with Brown Butter Froth. This time we played in the open kitchen overlooking the Bay. Amy came out from the back kitchen, setting down a half sheet holding eggplant, diced zucchini, halved heirloom cherry tomatoes, a bunch of fragrant basil leaves, a container of braised lamb, and a another container of dark pureed Moroccan black olives. Then she retrieved three containers from the walk-in filled with the three cheeses we'd be using for the gnudi--ricotta, of course, but also marscapone and parmesan. A large pot on the stove was filled with simmering water.

To my carb-limited delight, this gnudi feels like pasta but really is cheese coated in flour. The recipe is astonishingly simple--beat together the cheeses with a sparkle of fresh lime zest and salt and pepper, pipe it into a bed of ground durum and cover it up with more of the durum.

Let it rest, refrigerated, for 36 hours so it forms a shell that encases the cheeses. Rub off the excess durum and pop into boiling water for about four minutes. Then serve with your sauce. The bite of gnudi bursting from the durum skin yields a warm, creamy texture with a mild flavor from the trio of cheeses. You could easily add fresh herbs like chives, thyme, or a touch of rosemary to create your own flavor profile.

And, also like pasta, your sauce can be whatever you like. On this day, Amy showed me her current menu sauce--roasted eggplant puree with zucchini, tomato, braised lamb, and black olives. While we made the dish, she warmed the puree in a shallow bowl in the oven. 
In a skillet, she sauteed the zucchini. Then she added the shredded braised lamb shank and a hank of butter. Once the liquid had reduced and the gnudi were cooked she dropped them into the pan briefly with the halved tomatoes. Out came the bowl with the eggplant puree and over that went the gnudi with the sauce. Then she added fresh basil before garnishing the dish with the Moroccan black olive puree.

That's what's at Tidal now. But the dish will change with the seasons and at home you could use pesto or fresh chopped tomatoes and herbs for the summer. It's the perfect dinner party dish. Make it ahead of time up to the point where you boil the gnudi. Then serve family style on a platter with a salad and perhaps big bowl of steamed clams or mussels, and a fresh loaf of sourdough bread.

Ricotta Gnudi
From Amy DiBiase
(printable recipe)

Serves six

1 pound ricotta
8 ounces marscapone
4 ounces grated parmesan
zest of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
1 bag fine ground durum wheat flour (you can substitute all purpose flour)

*Note, the proportions of the cheeses are 1 part ricotta to 1/2 part marscapone to 1/4 part parmesan cheese. Amy says the easiest way to measure is to buy a 1 pound container of ricotta. Empty that into a bowl, then use the container to measure the marscapone and parmesan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients but the durum wheat flour until they just come together.

Spread a one-inch deep layer of flour into a casserole dish. Using a piping bag, pipe the gnudi straight onto the flour in the shape of a large Hershey's kiss (don't swirl like a Dairy Queen ice cream cone). You'll probably need to use a clean finger to push the dough off the tip of the bag with each gnudi. Keep them about an inch apart.

When you've filled the dish with the gnudi, cover them completely with more durum flour. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 36 hours.

When you're ready to serve them, put a pot of water on to boil. Add salt to the water. Uncover the gnudi and remove them from the durum flour. Gently brush off excess flour. When the water comes to the boil, add the gnudi. They should boil no longer than 4 minutes (cook too long and they'll fall apart). The key is that they'll begin to rise to the top of the pot.

Drain the gnudi and add to your sauce. Garnish and serve.

Tidal is located at 1404 Vacation Road in the Paradise Point resort.

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