I decided to skip last month’s ñoquis del 29 post on a leap year technicality. Picking up in March, I decided to make cornmeal ñoquis baked in béchamel. I had never associated ñoquis with Cuban cuisine but, after finding several references in a few older Cuban cookbooks, I wanted to try it. The cooked cornmeal is shaped into small discs then baked with white sauce or cheese and put under a broiler. Though not like any ñoquis I’d had before, I thought their similarity to gold coins fitted with the Argentinian tradition of putting a coin or peso under your plate while you ate them to attract greater prosperity. I was a little up in the air about doing another one and questioned whether I really wanted to make ñoquis again so soon. As with most resolutions, the first time is all zeal, the second time may be a fluke, and the third time is when you decide whether or not to stick to it. After some starts and stops, I realized that I looked forward to answering the same question in a different way every month. Hopefully, with some consistency, I can be consistently lucky.
Ñoquis con Béchamel/Corn Gnocchi with Béchamel
Adapted from Cuban Cookery by Blanche Z. De Baralt published in 1931. While I loved the basic recipe, there are a lot variations I would like to try with it – using water instead of milk or a coarser cornmeal, adding ham, arugula or spinach. I also came across a reference in an Italian cookbook where the gnocchis are stacked like a pyramid then covered with cheese then broiled. It’s great play food.
4 cups whole milk
1 cup fine cornmeal
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Gruyere (or Parmesan)
Additional grated cheese and butter to sprinkle over top
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Béchamel sauce adapted from Simone and Inés Ortega’s 1080 Recipes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup white wine
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Line a half sheet pan with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set aside.
Bring milk to a boil in a large heavy pot. Add cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Immediately lower heat and stir constantly until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Off heat, add butter and cheese. Allow to cool slightly then add yolks, one at a time. Pour into prepared pan and spread out to form a smooth layer. Refrigerate until set.
To make the sauce, melt butter and oil together in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Off heat, whisk in the flour and blend well to smooth out lumps. Whisking constantly, cook over medium heat until foam subsides, about two minutes. In the meantime, bring milk to a boil in a separate saucepan. Whisk in the hot milk. Add wine, salt to taste and nutmeg. Continue to cook over medium heat till slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
Using a round cookie cutter or the opening of a small glass or bottle, cut corneal into 1-2″ discs. Layer discs in an oven-safe dish. Pour bechamel sauce over gnocchi and gently shake the dish a few times to evenly distribute the sauce. Sprinkle with additional cheese and dot with butter. Place under broiler until bubbling and lightly browned.
Serves 4 t0 6.