Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Great Gnocchi Experiment #100daysofAS Day 13

Last month's Baronial A&S night was on how to make gnocchi.  However, neither Emmelina nor I could be there.  She'd only ever had gnocchi from Trader Joes and I'd recently had some amazing gnocchi at a restaurant so one Sunday in May, I invited her over to try making gnocchi ourselves.

I wanted to do a potato based version, to show Emmelina how much tastier fresh gnocchi was.  But since potatoes are a new world food, I got to wondering about period gnocchi recipes.  What did they use to make gnocchi before potatoes?

Thanks to the nice folks on the SCA cooks board, I was introduced to multiple pre-1600 gnocchi recipes.  They seemed to fall into 2 main types:  bread crumbs, flour & egg or cheese, flour & egg.   I was kind of curious about the difference in taste so the plan was to make one of the cheese based recipes, one of the breadcrumb based (from a 15th C Italian cookbook) and then a batch of the potato based, from Mark Bittman's: How to Cook Everything.   This was primarily a taste comparison, so things were a bit fast and loose historical research wise; I didn't redact the recipes myself and had to make some substitutions on ingredients.  At some point, I may redo the experiment for higher accuracy..  depending on the cost and availability of real Neufchâtel cheese (or try my hand at making it myself).

 Ready to start making gnocchi!

 Emmelina mixing the cheese gnocchi

From right to left:  Scappi's breadcrumb version, cheese gnocchi and potato based.

Cheese gnocchi (original recipe & redaction on the link)
Interestingly, the Aethelmarc redaction specifies Neufchâtel cheese. Doing a little research, I  found out that while the production of Neufchâtel dates back to approximately the 6th century what we call Neufchatel today is not really comparable. There was no real Neufchâtel cheese to be had at the gourmet Kroger with the extensive cheese department (which is the first place I tried) so I didn't try anywhere else.

Preparation wise, these went together pretty easily because I  remembered to pull the cream cheese out in advance and let it get closer to room temperature.  We did have to add significant additional flour to get the "soft bread dough" stage.  The quantity of flour was specified in the redaction, not the original recipe, I was pretty comfortable with adding the flour.

Breadcrumb Gnocchi  Recipe 69 from Libro B of Anonimo Meridionale: Due Libri di Cucina at the link.  Anonimo Meridionale is a 15th-century Italian book of recipes and there is a nearly identical recipe in Scappi's L'Opera.    The grocery bakery didn't sell fresh breadcrumbs (the woman at the bakery counter looked at me like I was from Mars when I asked) and I'd waited until the day before the experiment so I didn't have time to bake bread and make my own, so Panko breadcrumbs were substituted, mostly because I already had them in the pantry.  Ironically, it was in writing this that I thought about the option of making them from store bought bread.

 Like the cheese gnocchi, we had to add more flour than anticipated.  I didn't have high hopes for this recipe as we were putting it together. It was coarse and lumpier than the cheese gnocchi and felt like "peasant food"

Potato Gnocchi
I'd made Mark Bittman's recipe (at the link and in his How to Cook Everything) years ago, so I decided to use that recipe again.  Because you have to boil the potatoes (and peel them) and then roll each one over a fork for the classic ridged appearance, this one takes a lot longer to come together than the other two.  Like the other two, we had to add more flour to get a dough consistency that was workable. Emmelia was a pro in adding the ridges from the first gnocchi.  The other 2 recipes did not call for the ridges, which makes me wonder when the ridging started.  Like other 2 types of gnocchi, we piled them up on a plate in layers to await cooking.

We had a bit of a disaster cooking the potato gnocchi.  When we went to pop the top layer in the boiling water, we realized that they were sticking to each other and the ones underneath them.  In hindsight, I would add a little more flour and place them individually on a cookie sheet lined with parchment once they came off the fork.  The only thing to do was to just pull off chunks & toss them into the boiling water -all of Emmelina's beautiful ridges disappeared.  We dubbed them "post modern gnocchi" and ate them anyway.

The Taste Test

We put butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on all three types.  Scappi suggests a little cinnamon in addition to the butter and cheese for the breadcrumb so we added that for the breadcrumb gnocchi.

Not sure if it was the additional cinnamon or what, but the unanimous agreement what that we liked the breadcrumb recipe the best. (Jay got home just in time to taste test so there were 3 of us voting) Both the cheese and the potato were both very good though.

And so concluded the Great Gnocchi Experiment.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Two Hour Tarpus

I have a lovely buckram frame tarpus  that I  patterned off of a 1880s flowerpot hat I'd made several years ago.

It was fun to make, if a bit time consuming but has never sat on my head securely.  When Her Majesty commented on the hat's misbehavior in court,  I decided it was time to breakdown and make the replacement I'd been meaning to.

Village Hat Shop has fezes in a variety of colors for around $20 and I had several kicking around the sewing room. I thought that the navy one would make a good base to decorate. Note:  I have a large head even for a man (24" circumference) and Village Hat Shop XXL fezes fit me.

I started hand hemming a silk veil then came to my senses and checked Dharma Trading Company.  I could get a 44" x 44" silk chiffon scarf with hand rolled hem for $12.   $12 seemed a small price to pay for not having to roll hem silk.

And I had some lovely vintage sari trim that I'd found on ebay to use as the veil band. The hardest part of this whole project was finding really appropriate sari trim.  Luckily, I love to comb through e-bay!

Step 1:  Fold the veil in half, tack it to the hat in several places on the crown.

Step 2:  Cut the sari trim to just a little longer than the circumference of the hat

Step 3:  Fold the ends of the trim into points & stitch down.  Stitch a 12"-16" piece of lucet cord, fingerloop braid or kumihimo cord to the center of each point on the wrong side so that the end result looks similar to this:

Step 4: Center the trim on the hat and stitch down the bottom edge in the front between the veil.

Step 5: Tie cords together loosely in back

Step 6:  Voila, the hat is complete!

On other fronts, I am camp mistressing the Baronial encampment for Fool's War, working on a How-to class for Sekanjabin syrup, finishing a fencing doublet for Pietro (who recently became Baronial Rapier Champion!) doing research on Islamic embroidery, jewelry & plaque belts, working up a pattern for an Italianized entari, ala Titian's 1555 Portrait of a Lady and trying to convince myself that I don't need a set of Korean garb.  In other words, it's pretty much business as usual around here.

c. 1555
Portrait of a Lady
National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2016 Projects in retrospect

2017 is off to a productive start.  I finally got around to remaking my turquoise entari (I ripped apart the first one this summer in a fit of pique (I'd never liked how it turned out) and then regretted its absence) to continue the process of fine tuning the pattern adjustments I made this autumn and in that vein, am making a new Viking gown to fine tune that pattern as well.  Not entirely sure either project is interesting enough to warrant a blog post, but between that and event stewardy things for Midwinter, that's been my month.

At the request of Mistress Jadi, I pulled together a list of what I accomplished in 2016.  I'd intended it to be a page for just her & Mistress Alessandra.  After I started, I thought it would be a good blog post (since I haven't posted for a while) but I couldn't change it from a page to a post and it took enough time to pull together that I am not going to re-type and format it.   Here is the link to the page itself if you are interested. (or click on 2016 on the nav bar above)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Eve experiment: Libum or Roman cheesecake... sort of

So I was going to a New Year's Eve party with a bunch of SCA folks and looked through my SCA cooking board to find a new recipe to try. I had pinned a recipe for "Roman cheesecake" but the recipe I'd pinned was just the beginning of a research trail to determine if it actually had any historical accuracy behind it.

A little google fu got me to the history of cheesecake and that site mentioned that Marcus Cato is credited for recorded the first Roman cheesecake recipe. More google fu turned up another recipe cited as being from Cato's De Agri Cultura that was very similar to the first one I'd seen.  And this one had a translation of the original Latin as well as a modern version. I wouldn't use any of these sites for actual scholarship but for a New Year's Eve party it seemed sufficient.  If the recipe was tasty I could always look for the original De Agri Cultura later.

Deciding on the recipe cited as Cato's, I decided to quadruple the recipe since a yield of 4 didn't seem like very many for a party.  If this were a more serious culinary experiment, I would have done the recipe as written first and tried to use solely historically accurate tools.

I used Kroger's Simply Truth organic ricotta and there wasn't much liquid to start so draining it on coffee filters didn't remove any significant liquid.    I used a hand mixer to beat the ricotta...  I have been struggling with tendinitis in my  right wrist and "beating until light and airy" by hand didn't seem tendinitis friendly.

The translation of the original Latin called for "1 pound of wheat flour, or if you wish the cake to be more dainty, 1/2 lb of fine flour."  The redaction proportions were 1 pound = 1 cup.

The modern redaction did not specify the type of flour, but the proportions made it clear that it should be wheat flour.  I was using unbleached white flour so I halved the amount and folded it in 1/2 cup at a time with the mixer.  The dough was still too sticky to make into buns, so I added 2 more 1/2 cups and still had sticky-ish dough.

 Sticky dough is sticky

Going back to the original recipe I had pinned, it included kneading on a floured surface and that did the trick.

This looks much better

Looking at the amount of dough I had, I realized that the yield of 4 was for a cake that would need to have slices cut to eat.  Knowing how much better finger food went over at Mistress Alessandra's Vigil table, I decided to make a dozen or so cakes rather than the 4 the recipe called for. Making the smaller cakes yielded ~12 so with a quadruple recipe, I had 48 and enough left to make a cake the original size.

The first half of the cakes, ready to bake

Thankfully, I love bay leaves and had plenty of dried ones because putting a leaf under each cake meant that I used nearly 50 over all.

I used nearly all of this bag of bay leaves

I'd be curious to see if fresh made any significant difference.  I used olive oil spray on the pans but ran out after the first two and had to use coconut oil spray on the other two,  All things considered, I think the purpose of the bay leaves were to keep the the cakes from sticking and, at least with the smaller cake size, made the oil a little superfluous anyway.

I did not have anything close to the testu (brick or clay pot) that cooking the Roman way called for, so I baked them without.  In retrospect, I suspect that the testu (I'm imagining something similar to half of a clay roaster for lack of any research yet) would have kept the cakes a little softer and slower to brown.  30 minutes at 425 degrees resulted in cakes a little browner than I would have preferred but the bay leaves kept the bottom of each cake from burning.  The original sized cake turned out just about perfect.

This one is Just Right.

I had raw honey and warmed the first part of it up in a pot and warmed the rest up in a microwave. I didn't notice any significant difference in the result either way.  I did use significantly more honey than what was called for because, well,... it's honey.

Cakes that have marinated in honey for an hour, ready to take to the party.

The end result wasn't bad for a first attempt. These weren't very much like modern cheese cake, but everyone thought they were tasty so I would call the recipe a win and worth hunting down a copy of De Agri Cultura and making a more historically accurate attempt.  At some point.  So many projects. So little free time.

And on that note, I'm going to try to do a 2016 projects post to figure out just exactly what I did this past year and hopefully fill in the gap of the past few months of silence.  I also have over 1000 museum pics from our trip to London I want to get organized and share in case they are useful for anyone else's research.  But I've got several time critical projects to work on and I am event steward for Midwinter Arts & Sciences in February so (as usual) I need 48 hour days to manage even most of what is on my plate, so we shall see what actually gets done. :)