Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gnocchi with Beer Braised Seitan Sauce

Happy Sunday, ninja readers!  Here's a delicious recipe for you that's perfect to make on a lazy weekend day when you've got nothing better to do but cook up a storm.  This recipe was inspired by an article in Philly Beer Scene magazine that talked about cooking with beer.  The original recipe was for non-vegan gnocchi with beer-braised lamb shoulder.  I tweaked it to make it both veg-friendly and to suit my own tastebuds.  I have to say, it turned out very well.  Both Mike and I found it delicious anyway.  Making the gnocchi does take some time, and it can get your kitchen pretty messy, but it's fun and easier than you might think - this was my first time ever making gnocchi and I think they came out perfectly.  If you don't feel like making the gnocchi, this sauce would be great on any type of pasta or even polenta (hm, now I might have to try that; I haven't had polenta in forever!) so even if you're now down for the gnocchi, try making the sauce because it comes together pretty quickly.  The sauce has a fancy-schmancy taste, but it's really super easy, so make it next time you want to impress someone with your ninja cooking skills.

A word on beer: please use a good, hoppy beer for this recipe.  I used an imperial black ale called Iniquity from Southern Tier brewery.  It's a nice, strong-flavored dark beer, which is what you need to bring depth to the sauce.  I know some vegans take issue with drinking alcohol, and if that's the case with you, you could try substituting white cooking wine or vegetable broth.  You definitely won't get the same delicious sauce though.  Oh, and please don't go using a tasteless, mass-produced beer in this sauce.  You need a craft brew.  If you're a foodie vegan who doesn't have any issues with imbibing every so often, I'd encourage you to learn about what good microbrews are available in your area.  Beer can play off of food just as well (or, in my opinion, even better than) fine wine.  Just a word of advice from this Fur Ninja who also happens to be a beer snob :)

Onto the recipe!

Gnocchi with Beer Braised Seitan Sauce


For the sauce:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon non-dairy butter
1 onion, diced
5 gloves garlic, minced
1 lb seitan, diced into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
1 cup strong, hoppy beer
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

For the gnocchi:
3 lbs white potatoes, baked and skin removed
2 cups flour + more for rolling the gnocchi
1/4 cup pureed silken tofu
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon non-dairy butter (for pan-frying the cooked gnocchi)

First, make your sauce.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the diced onion.  Cook for 2 minutes until the onion begins to soften.  Add the minced garlic and seitan and raise the heat to medium-high.  Add the rosemary, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper, crumbling the rosemary and thyme a bit in your fingers before adding to the pan.  Brown the seitan for 6-8 minutes, being careful not to burn.  A bit of sticking is ok (we're going to deglaze with the beer) but if it looks like things are sticking to the pan too much, add a small amount (a Tablespoon or so) of water and turn down the heat.  Once the seitan is browned, and there are some little crispy bits sticking to the pan, deglaze with the beer.  Make sure you scrape the pan with your spoon to get up all the delicious bits of seitan and spices off the surface of the pan.  Add the can of tomatoes and 1/2 cup of water.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if necessary.  Keep warm until you're ready to serve.
Next, get started on the gnocchi.  Mash the potatoes well in a large bowl.  Get them as smooth as possible; you want to make sure you don't have any large pieces of potato left in there.  Add the tofu, olive oil, salt, and spices, crumbling the rosemary and thyme in your fingers before adding.  Stir until combined.  Now add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Once the dough starts to form you can ditch the spoon and knead with your hands until it forms a dough.  Be sure not to over-knead; stop as soon as the mixture is a uniform and rather stiff dough.
Now the fun part!  Break a handful of dough off and roll it into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be about 1/2 inch in diameter.  Once you've done that, use a knife to cut the rope into 1/2" pillow-shaped sections.  Then take each little "pillow" and using your thumb, roll it down the tines of a fork until it reaches the end.  You should end up with a small impression from your thumb on one side, and little ridges from the fork tines on the other.  Set finished gnocchi aside on a large plate.  Don't stack them too much on top of each other or they may stick.  Repeat this process until you are out of dough.
Boil a large pot of salted water and add the gnocchi in 3 batches - don't overcrowd the pot!  Once your gnocchi floats to the top of the pot, it's done (this should take about 2 minutes).  Some will take longer than others to cook; just skim the cooked ones off the top of the water with a slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain.  Continue until all of your gnocchi are cooked.
Heat 1 Tablespoon non-dairy butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the gnocchi and fry for 6-8 minutes, just until they are lightly golden and crispy.  Remove from the heat.
Serve generous portions of the sauce over individual bowls of gnocchi.

Tips and Tricks:

1. As I've said before, I highly recommend making your own seitan over buying it pre-made, as it is very easy and much cheaper.  I recommend the "simple seitan" recipe in the amazing cookbook, "Veganomicon."

2. Crisping the gnocchi is a purely optional step.  If you don't feel like doing this, you can just serve them right after they are boiled.

3. Don't freak out about the gnocchi.  It's actually a lot easier than it sounds.  The dough is pretty much a no-brainer so really the only "hard" part is shaping them, and you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly once you try it.  And if they're not perfect?  So what!  I actually think mine came out too big and slightly oddly-shaped (the indent from my thumb wasn't very prominent - do I have weird thumbs??? - so they were kind of flat), but that didn't affect the taste one bit.  Jump in there head first and give it a try!

4. Serve the gnocchi with some of the beer you used for the braising - it will bring out the flavor perfectly!

Well, ninjas, I hope you try out this recipe and enjoy it as much as Mike and I did.  I definitely think I'll be making this again on a regular basis with pasta or polenta since it's so freaking easy.  I might try it topped with some chopped fresh herbs as well.  As always, comments and feedback welcomed!

More to come soon - "cheater" white bean curry, lemon-carrot muffins with blueberry filling, and Mike and I just got a huge grill for the back "yard" (a.k.a the fenced in concrete slab off the alley haha) so my mind is spinning with ideas for bbq tempeh, grilled pizza, and all sorts of other things.  Plus our garden is bursting with cucumbers so I'm probably going to have to make some pickles soon.  Thanks for reading and until next time, I'm wishing you bellies full of good food and hearts full of happiness.

Much love,

The Fur Ninja

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