Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stracciatella, The New "It" Food and a Recipe

When you take your first bite of fresh-made stracciatella (pronounced strahtch-ah-TELL-ah), thin strands of fresh mozzarella bathed in cream, you’re transported to a dreamy, milky place.  Hailing from Puglia, stracciatella is the new “it” cheese: one that provides the wow factor of burrata (a ball  of mozzarella stuffed with, well, stracciatella) but with a casual, homey twist. At Tre Piani we make it fresh every day.

You can smear stracciatella on bread and top with some fruity olive oil, fruit preserves or ripe summer tomatoes. When freshly made it is so tender and delicious you’d want to eat it as is with a spoon. It also melts beautifully: perfect for pizza or a standout cheeseburger.

Stracciatella , like so many “slow” foods, was born as a clever way to use leftovers, in this case the odd bits that remain after mozzarella is stretched. Cheesemakers in Puglia used the excess stretching them into long ropes. They then tore those into thin strands and soaked in fresh cream.

Until the new “it” cheese hits the retail shelves you can make it yourself from a ball of fresh mozzarella (see tutorial on how to make stracciatella) or come to Tre Piani to taste it.  Last weekend we served it with kale and pancetta over gnocchi. The stracciatella tamed the kale and pancetta and provided a nice balance to the crunchy nuts. Here is the recipe:

Making Mozzarella at Tre Piani

Potato Gnocchi with Kale, Walnuts, Pancetta and Stracciatella Mozzarella
Jim Weaver
Tre Piani Restaurant
Serves 4

On a busy weeknight you can use high quality frozen gnocchi and fresh ricotta instead of the stracciatella  (make sure to stir the ricotta well for maximum creaminess).

2 large russet potatoes, washed
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ cup melted butter

4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp crushed pepper flakes
¼ cup pancetta, diced
½ cup walnut pieces
1 medium head of kale, picked, washed and roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup stracciatella mozzarella (good ricotta can be substituted)

Roast the potatoes in a 350 degree oven until fork tender, set aside to cool. When the potatoes are cool cut in half and remove the inside with a spoon and discard the skins. Run the potatoes through a ricer and combine with flour and cheese. Mix until incorporated. Fold in the butter and egg yolk and mix the dough by hand. Be careful not to over mix the dough, stop when it is just smooth. Let the dough rest wrapped in plastic for at least thirty minutes in a cool area or refrigerator.

To cook the gnocchi: Unwrap the dough and put it on a large cutting board or clean counter. Cut off pieces and roll them into long thin cigar shaped pieces, about twelve inches long. Cut each roll into small bite-size pieces and dust them with a little flour to keep them from sticking together. (traditionally each piece is rolled off the back of a fork to give them their authentic shape but they do not need to be). Keep the gnocchi spread out in one layer on a lightly floured pan until ready to use or they can be frozen for up to one week. (If you choose to freeze them, put them in the freezer on the pan in one layer until they are frozen solid. They can then be moved into a ziplock bag or similar until ready to cook. Cook them from frozen).

Put on a pot of lightly salted water to boil while you make the sauce.

For the sauce:
Heat a large saute pan add the oil and the garlic. Let the garlic begin to brown slightly and add the pancetta and pepper. Let it cook over medium heat and stir until the pancetta starts to melt a little. Add the walnuts and cook for another minute. Add the kale and season with sea salt. Cook until the kale is soft and add the gnocchi to it. Make sure the gnocchi are drained well. Toss the ingredients together and divide into serving bowls, top with the stracciatella and serve immediately.

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