Helloooo out there!
Writing the very first post on a new blog is a curious thing. It reminds me of when I used to perform at music festivals as a teenager. You would awkwardly step out onto the stage, blinded by the spotlight, and squint out into the darkness, trying to make out a familiar face in the audience. You couldn’t see a thing in that pitch black ocean but you knew people were out there by the rustling of papers and the occasional cough. And so you took a deep breath and began to play. So hello dear mysterious reader, wherever you are, whoever you are, welcome to Kitchen Vignettes on PBS! Please visit often, don’t be a stranger, and say hello or leave a comment below. That way I’ll know you are indeed out there, even if we can’t meet face-to-face.
I’ll be blogging here on a weekly basis, sharing stories and recipes from my garden and kitchen. Every few weeks, I’ll have a recipe video for you like the one above. I hope you’ll join me in this visual celebration of farm-to-table home cooking.
I wanted to start things off with an asparagus recipe, even though those handsome tender spears are so perfect just as they are that it seems somehow wrong to do much of anything to them, other than perhaps sauté them in a little garlic and butter or lightly steam them. But this stuffed baked gnocchi is one exception to my usual minimal treatment of asparagus.
When I was little, the pride and joy of my grandfather’s garden was his asparagus patch. I remember him ambling up his garden path beaming with pride, the basketful of asparagus on his arm heralding the beginning of another growing season. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate spring than plucking those juicy green shoots right out of the earth. Since I don’t have my own asparagus patch yet, I reached out to a nearby friend who gladly harvested a basketful for me.
A few words about this recipe. First of all, you may be thinking this recipe will involve hours of tediously stuffing tiny little potato gnocchi with asparagus. But wait, stop! Don’t go anywhere. These gnocchi are not the gnocchi you may already know and love. These guys are actually not made with potatoes at all but with a buttery wheat semolina porridge, similar to polenta. Also known as Gnocchi alla Romana, this type of gnocchi is baked in a casserole dish and then cut into individual servings. And trust me, they are every bit as loveable as the classic potato gnocchi, if not more. They vaguely remind me of the cream of wheat porridge I used to relish for breakfast as a kid. Such a comfort food!
As a one-casserole dish, this is a good one to bring to a dinner party. Served with a salad, it makes a hearty and filling main course, or it can be served as an accompaniment to meat or fish. It’s also a great way to get picky eaters to eat their vegetables, if you have any of those in your household.
As a final note, I’m a firm believer in not following a recipe to the letter. I believe a recipe should serve as a general guideline and be adapted to suit individual tastes, budgets, and whatever is seasonal in your area. So please feel free to make this your own: use another kind of cheese if you wish, or stuff this gnocchi with whatever vegetables you like: zucchini, broccoli, or whatever you have on hand. If you’re gluten-intolerant, simply substitute the semolina for cornmeal, which makes an equally delicious polenta baked casserole.
Semolina Gnocchi Stuffed with Asparagus
Learn how to make this semolina gnocchi recipe in a video on the Kitchen Vignettes blog.
- 6 cups milk
- 2 1/8 cups semolina (I use Bob's Mill. You can also use cornmeal for a gluten-free alternative)
- 8 tbsp butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 pound fresh local asparagus (about 3 cups chopped)
- 1 pound crimini mushrooms (about 4 cups chopped)
- 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 cup grated swiss cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Wash and cut the asparagus and mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. In a frying pan on low heat, sauté the mushrooms in the butter and garlic for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook for a another minute, just until asparagus has turned a deeper shade of green but is still crunchy. Remove from heat.
- Heat the milk in a medium saucepan. Just before it starts to boil, gently sprinkle in all of the semolina, using a whisk or wooden spoon to stir vigorously and ensure there are no lumps. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat and incorporate the butter, egg yolks, and 1 cup of the parmesan (reserving 1/2 cup for the top). Mix well.
- Immediately pour half of the mixture into a buttered 9" by 13" pan and spread evenly with a rubber spatula (or your hands, if the mixture has cooled and is too thick). Place the asparagus and mushroom on top of the gnocchi dough and spread evenly. Sprinkle the grated swiss cheese on top of this. Add the last half of the gnocchi batter on top, carefully spreading it to cover the vegetables and cheese. If the batter has cooled and gotten too stiff to spread well, you can always a tablespoon of milk, mix it in and reheat it before spreading. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of parmesan on top.
- Bake in a 350 F oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is a golden color. Cool for 45 minutes to an hour before slicing into servings (otherwise the slices won't hold their shape as well). Serve warm.
Tips/TechniquesWhen buying asparagus, look for healthy green spears with tightly-closed buds. Check the end stems and don't buy them if they are dry or woody. To prepare them, simply rinse under cold water and snap off the stem by hand, about an inch from the bottom. It will easily snap off where the tender part begins.
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series was nominated for a 2014 James Beard Award. In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.