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Donatella Arpaia offers 'naked gnocchi' recipe at food festival

Chefs Aonatella Arpaia, left, Masaharu Morimoto and Scott Conant participate in a discussion at the Mahaffey Theater.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Chefs Aonatella Arpaia, left, Masaharu Morimoto and Scott Conant participate in a discussion at the Mahaffey Theater.

ST. PETERSBURG — She changed out of her cranberry-red shift dress and into crisp chef whites for her 4 p.m. cooking demonstration at the Mahaffey, one of the last events at the Nov. 15-17 food and wine festival called Enjoy Arts and Tastes St. Pete. Donatella Arpaia was one of nearly a dozen celebrity chefs to preside over demos, parties and tastings for the festival. As head judge on both Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef, her reputation as a forceful and opinionated taskmaster preceded her.

Enlisting the assistance of audience members, she launched into a "naked gnocchi" recipe, not her justifiably famous meatballs because, "I'm not giving away my recipe, no way."

The gnocchi is a great do-ahead first-course recipe for Thanksgiving and all holiday entertaining, she said, because it can be made and frozen, going directly from the freezer to the boiling water and cooking within minutes.

One assistant was promptly sent packing for being too slow on the job of rolling out the ricotta dumpling dough, another swiftly taking his place as Arpaia educated the room.

"What's the trick to making perfect pasta that doesn't stick?" she asked, grimacing when folks yelled out "olive oil."

"No, olive oil in the water makes the sauce not stick to the pasta. The mistake people make is choking the pasta and not giving it room to dance," she explained poetically, adding that what's essential is starting with lots of cold water and lots of salt.

Expertly rolling long snakes of dough between floured hands, she said quality sheep's milk ricotta is important ("this is not a recipe for Polly-O"), as is using the Caciocavallo cheese, available at stores such as Mazzaro's. "This recipe should be done like this or don't do it at all," she intoned.

Because, as she says, "there must always be a reason for a garnish," the gnocchi in this rich, creamy dish are topped with bread crumbs "because I wanted to give a little crunch."

The chef who the New York Post named one of the "most powerful women" in Manhattan demurred about rumors that she's thinking about opening a St. Petersburg restaurant. In keeping with her Iron Chef judging persona, she ended her festival session by focusing on the plate, stressing the simplicity of the dish because she's a proponent of using only "ingredients that count."

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Psssst

We asked some celebrity chefs at Enjoy Arts and Tastes St. Pete: Tell us something people don't know about you. Here is what they said.

Masaharu Morimoto, star of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America:

"I don't cook anything at home. My wife (since 1979) cooks. (He said he travels so much, he only spends about half the time in his own bed in New York.) And, I don't watch cooking shows. That's my work. When I come home, I just want to relax."

Curtis Stone, host of Top Chef Masters:

"I was a nerdy kid at school, not very studious. And here I am selling products on HSN. Guess it all worked out for the best."

Donatella Arpaia,

head judge on both Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef:

"I make a brown paper bag lunch for my husband (a heart surgeon) every day. I elevate the sandwich. Even when he just wants a PB & J, I step it up. I use good bread and put peanut butter on both sides and jelly in the middle." (Her assistant said she's a speed demon and loves to go fast in her Lamborghini and on a Jet Ski.)

Scott Conant,

host of 24-Hour Restaurant Battle and a regular judge on Chopped:

"I change my beard length according to the music I'm listening to. I had a full beard when I was listening to Kris Kristofferson but now that I'm into hip-hop, I'm trying to get it to a length so I can trim it to get thicker at the bottom."

Ming Tsai,

of Simply Ming:

"I try to eat only vegetables until dinner. It's not a diet; I just think you don't need that much protein in you." (Oh, and also, "I'm a huge lover of golf.")

Patti Ewald, Times staff writer

>>MODERATE

Gnudi "Naked Gnocchi"

With Fonduta Di Caciocavallo

For the gnocchi:

2 pounds sheep's milk ricotta

100 grams (a little over

3/4 cup) "double zero" flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk

Flour for dusting

For the sauce:

1 ½ quarts Caciocavallo cheese, shredded

1 quart heavy cream

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

2 to 3 cups beechnut mushrooms

Toasted bread crumbs

Vincotto, for drizzling (Italian cooked wine, available at Italian markets)

Truffle oil, for drizzling

Drain ricotta in cheesecloth for several hours to remove excess water. Put drained ricotta in a stand mixer at medium speed with flour, salt and yolk. Mix until fully incorporated, about 3 or 4 minutes. Be sure no strands of egg yolk remain. Dust a little flour on work surface and dust a little flour on top of dough ball and roll into log. Cut manageable pieces and roll back and forth into ¾-inch-thick worm. Then cut across into 1-inch pillows. Freeze and keep frozen until ready to cook.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the frozen gnocchi; stir gently to prevent them from sticking together. Cook until they rise to the surface, about 3 to 4 minutes.

To make the sauce, combine cheese and cream in a saucepan and melt over very low heat. Once melted, strain and press out with a ladle to remove graininess. In a pan, with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, add crushed garlic clove and then sear beechnut mushrooms. Remove from heat. Drain the olive oil, remove garlic and add cheese sauce and toss in gnocchi and add freshly ground pepper, top with vincotto, a drizzle of truffle oil and sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs.

Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Donatella Arpaia

Donatella Arpaia offers 'naked gnocchi' recipe at food festival 11/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 5:57pm]

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