It is February in Boston. It is incessantly grey. Moldy grey. Grey beyond grey. It is during short grey days like these that I am so very appreciative of simply having supper with people. Whether it’s just Joel and me, or dinner with friends, that little evening ritual of sitting in each other’s company and sharing a meal together really keeps me going. This weekend we were lucky enough to have dinner with friends both Saturday and Sunday (especially lucky because we’re painting the kitchen, which is going at about the rate of cold molasses, and it was pretty out of commission on Saturday). On Saturday we were treated to the most spectacular meal! Our friend Jamie must have spent the entire day in the kitchen. Maybe the day before too. While we sat like lumps – albeit talkative, appreciative, hungry lumps – he paraded out pizzas, artfully topped with creative combinations of fine cheeses, greens, and nuts; homemade sweet potato ravioli with brown butter, crème fraiche, and prosciutto; and dense, decadent chocolate pots de crème dribbled with freshly made caramel sauce, dollopped with caramel whipped cream, and dusted with just a hint of fleur de sel. I mean seriously! Wow! Thank goodness we at least we brought a nice bottle of wine. I decided right then and there a) I might just refuse to leave, or at least show up every evening for the rest of my life demanding to be fed, b) his wife is really lucky she has a fast metabolism, c) I really need (not want, need) to buy The French Laundry Cookbook, d) there’s really something to putting a lot of time and care into preparing food for friends. Although the meal was transcendently delicious because the combination of ingredients and preparation were so perfectly executed, I am absolutely convinced that it also tasted that good because it had been sprinkled with the fairy dust of care.
Now, I have a bad habit of inviting friends over, and then cooking for the dinner party very similarly to how I cook for myself. That is, I look at what I already have and figure out how to piece it together so that it is pleasant and tasty. But, I rarely go out of the way to purchase special ingredients or really plan what I’m going to prepare for people. Which, overall, is fine because it’s lovely to have friends you can treat as family, and not fret over performing or living up to some standard. Yet, these are the people that matter to me, and in fact, I would love to show them the care of preparing a carefully crafted meal, at least some of the time. So, I was inspired to (on a semi-regular basis) cook snazzier meals for the people I love…
And then the next day found me shopping to prepare Sunday dinner for friends, with no list of what I needed, and no plan except hopefully at least to make it home from the store in time to start cooking something before they arrived. Oops. But, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll be darned if I won’t at least try to prepare something that takes a little something extra.’ I still had ravioli on the brain from the night before, a wisp of thought that slithered into thinking about the goat cheese and artichoke ravioli I used to buy regularly when I lived next door to a pasta shop. I grabbed goat cheese and artichoke hearts and cream for a cream sauce. I love a little extra tang and acidity to cut the heaviness of cream sauce and to complement the tangy artichokes, so I threw a lemon into my basket. Then, as I perused the pasta, my moment of inspiration came. I didn’t have time to make ravioli from scratch, but I had once made gnocchi with ricotta cheese which came together in minutes (I believe the little oval pasta that goes by the difficult to determine how to pronounce name, gnocchi, is usually made with potatoes, however the recipe I had used some years before called for flour, eggs, and cheese instead. Perfect!). And so I had my plan.
As our guests arrived, I finished rolling and cutting the gnocchi (to which I had added a bit of rosemary because the piney-ness of rosemary goes with both tangy lemon and earthy goat cheese), and melted goat cheese into a bit of cream with lemon zest (I used zest because I thought using lemon juice might curdle the cream). It wasn’t transcendent – few things in this world are – but damn was it creamy and good! And, of course, sprinkled with caring fairy dust.
Ricotta gnocchi with creamy goat cheese, artichoke, and lemon sauce (serves 4-5)
Gnocchi (recipe adapted from Epicurious):
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ¾ cup grated fresh parmesan
- 1 ¼ cup flour
- 1 tsp. crushed dried rosemary (or minced fresh)
- A pinch of salt
- A large hunk – about 3 oz – soft goat cheese (chevre)
- about 3/4 cup cream
- 1/2 cup artichoke hearts (I used canned), chopped
- 1 tsp. lemon zest (that being the very outside, yellow part of the peel, in case you weren’t sure!)
- salt and pepper to taste
- To make the gnocchi: Stir together the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, rosemary, and salt. Add the flour and stir to form a soft dough.
- Cover a counter, cutting board, or some work surface with a layer of flour, and flour your hands as well. Then, take chunks of the dough and roll them into logs, about ¾-1 inch thick. Then use a knife to slice the logs into 1 inch long pieces – they’ll look a bit like pillows.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Carefully add half the gnocchi to the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes. As it cooks it should rise to the surface. Scoop the cooked gnocchi out with a slotted spoon and put in a colander in the sink to drain. Add the second half of the gnocchi and repeat.
- To make the sauce: Put cream and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the goat cheese and allow to melt.
- Stir in the chopped artichokes and salt and pepper. Allow to heat for about one more minute, then toss the gnocchi and sauce together in a large bowl. Serve with a fresh green salad with vinaigrette.