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Pesto Gnudi…and My Cooking Class Musings

Woo-hoo!  I have been invited to write for yet another swanky publication!  Status Magazine recently attended my cooking class and gave away tons of freebies to my loyal students.  I am so very excited to be a part of this incredible magazine!  Below is the article and gnudi recipe!

For years I have frolicked in kitchens all over Chicago whipping up meals to please old school palates and finicky foodies.  From cooking for a multi-million dollar catering company to creating one of a kind events, I have spent the last 10 years of my life embarking on new adventures in my career; happily sticking my nose and my knife into every opportunity that was handed to me.

About a year ago I had been volunteered by a friend of mine to host a cooking class in her house.  “Just a few girls getting together for some cooking and wine and all you have to do is lead the brigade.”  With my rolling pin and pasta making machine in tote, I put together a simple class based on some of my favorite dishes from my culinary adventures. 

The girls huddled around me in my friend’s gorgeous kitchen and together we created homemade fettuccini, crème brulee and focaccia,  Bottles of wine were finished, sauces were mopped up with rustic pieces of baguette and smiles adorned the faces of all of my students.  “We should do this again,” my friend said.  And so with this, my monthly cooking classes were born.

Themes ranging from “Midnight in Paris” to “Moroccan Memories” I brought my experience, some ingredients and a smile multiple times a month to several people’s homes and we created an intimate and memorable experience in their kitchens.  Gals and guys cooked, ate and laughed as they produced dishes which were once unfamiliar to them.  It was within those few months that I realized I felt most comfortable in the kitchens of home cooks, and could bring something special to both beginners and veterans; teaching them how to create their favorite and most inspirational dishes.

So, when an opportunity came up to take over one of the most beautiful kitchens I have ever seen, I could not pass up the offer.  On March 21st I took my lessons public and hosted a Rustic Tuscan cooking class at the Sur la Table kitchen in Northbrook.  I used some classic Italian recipes that I had collected over the years, with some of my own tweaks added.  The class filled up with eager students, some novice and some experienced in the kitchen.

While some people worked diligently on every detail of the recipes, a few were happy with just being able to roll out a ball of dough.  The biggest gift to me was watching my “chefs” relax and melt into the simplicity of the evening; for one night a group of complete strangers became friends over creamy caramel and delicate pasta.  No matter whatever else happened that day, they were able to forget their worries and just get lost in the moment of apple crostatas and pesto sauce.

One of my chef’s said to me at the end of the class, “I was in such a terrible mood when I got here and my back and head ached but now I feel like a new person.  I’ve done more in 3 hours than I have done all day and I have more energy than I have in a long time!”  Music to my ears.  I set out to share my love and passion for food with perfect strangers.

I ended up with a class full of people who were giddy with joy at the beautiful foods that were formed by their own two hands.  They left the class excited to share their new recipes and skills with their friends and family and become chefs in their own kitchens.  A simple event that I decided to do on a whim now has a following of eager students, ready and willing for their next adventure in the kitchen.  Leaving me to believe that this girl’s kitchens are going to need to get much bigger.

Ricotta Gnudi with Pesto Sauce   (Gnudi literally means “naked” in Italian and refers to a naked ravioli, meaning the ravioli filling without the pasta wrapper. Gnudi is in the same family as gnocchi but are much lighter and fluffier)

Ricotta Gnudi Ingredients:

1/2 to 3/4 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for your work bench

1/4 cup (28 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)

Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup (250 grams) ricotta cheese

1 large egg

  1. To make the gnudi, combine the ricotta, egg, and Parmigiano-Reggiano,in a large mixing bowl and use a rubber spatula to gently fold the ingredients together.
  2. Sprinkle the flour over the ricotta mixture and gently fold in the flour from the edges inward, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you work; you are not really working the dough as much as you are simply allowing the ricotta mixture to absorb the flour.
  3. When all the flour has been absorbed and it is no longer visible, use one hand to gently bring the dough together into a ball, dusting the sides of the bowl and the dough lightly with flour as you work. Roll the dough around in the floured bowl so the outside isn’t sticky.
  1. Cut off slices of dough like cutting a loaf of bread and roll into ropes thumb size thick by spreading hands and fingers and rolling from center out to each edge of the rope.
  2. Line one rope parallel to another and cut 2 at a time into 1-inch pieces.
  3. Transfer gnudi pieces to a lightly floured or non-stick baking sheet so they don’t stick together. *If you plan to save any gnocchi for future use, allow them to freeze entirely on the baking sheet before storing in a ziplock bag to prevent sticking together.
  4. When ready to prepare, bring a large stockpot of generously salted water to a boil.
  5. Heat up a large sautee pan over medium heat with some olive oil in it.
  6. Add gnudi to boiling water and gently stir once with a wooden spoon to create movement and prevent gnudi from sticking to the bottom. As gnudi rise to the top {a sign they are done cooking} scoop them out with a mesh strainer or a bamboo wire skimmer and immediately place in sautee pan shaking off excess water.
  7. Sautee the gnocchi until slightly browned.  Pour pesto sauce over gnocchi and toss to combine.  Toss in diced tomatoes.  For a little extra richness, pour in some heavy cream.
  8. Generously grate parmesan over the top and serve.

Pesto Sauce Ingredients: 

3/4 cups Fresh Basil Leaves

1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

1/4 cup Pine Nuts

2 cloves Garlic, Peeled

Salt And Pepper, to taste

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 cup Heavy Cream

1/4 cup Grated Parmesan

12 ounces, gnocchi

2 whole campari Tomatoes, Diced

  1. Add basil leaves, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to a food processor or blender.
  2. Turn machine on, then drizzle in olive oil while it mixes. Continue blending until combined, adding additional olive oil if needed. Set aside.

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