“When you cook, you’re drawn to the things that have a place in your heart,” Haidar Karoum observes. And yet he believes that a reflexive reach for comfort will only take you so far: “Half of the fun is being able to explore different cuisines.”
Karoum’s happy place is in the bridge between the two modes. His Washington, D.C., restaurant, Chloe, offers a global menu weaving together diverse traditions. There’s pistachio in the pâte, labneh in the Brussels sprouts, chile-lime dipping sauce with the roast chicken, and pappadam, fenugreek and coconut alongside the cod. Hummus might traditionally be served with pita, but it turns out to be excellent with naan too.
Growing up in D.C. as a first-generation American, Karoum knew and loved the food of his Lebanese father, an avid cook, as well as that of his Irish mother, and saw the opportunity to try dishes beyond his home food as an invitation to adventure. “I’d be excited about going to a friend’s house for a sleepover because I’d get to eat American food,” he recalls. He also traveled extensively outside the U.S. with his family.
The Lebanese cuisine Karoum grew up on shares common ground with the foodways of Greece and much of the Fertile Crescent, but even farther afield, “Lebanese food is very similar to a lot of the cuisines of the Mediterranean Basin,” he says.
Years ago, eating his way through a trip to Italy with his parents, Karoum felt the call of home mixed with the spark of discovery. “I was used to fruity olive oils and garlic and fresh herbs and tomatoes,” he says. In the dish shown here, he uses all of those to make a late-summer gnudi: rustic Italian ricotta dumplings with a quick cherry tomato confit, fresh corn, sweet basil and herbed olive oil.
To drink alongside, he favors an offbeat white that is simultaneously native and foreign: nearby Virginia winemaker Michael Shaps’ Petit Manseng. An aromatic white grape indigenous to southwestern France, Petit Manseng is used primarily in the sweet wines of Jurançon but can also be vinified dry. In Virginia, the grape’s high acidity, medium to full body and exotic fruit notes make for distinctive dry whites.
Karoum’s pick combines ripe tropical fruit with a beeswaxy quality that melds with the starch in the gnudi. “The richness of it pairs really well with the sweetness of the corn and the richness of the ricotta,” he says. It’s a match that illuminates a key to his eclecticism: “I’m always trying to find some sort of balance.”
If you’re not quite sure what gnudi is, think of it as gnocchi’s more rusticated, low-maintenance cousin. “If people can get past the intimidation of making [gnudi], it’s actually incredibly simple to execute,” Karoum says. Gnocchi is made from a mixture of flour and cooked, peeled potatoes that is formed into a mass, kneaded, rolled into ropes and cut into pieces. Gnudi, by contrast, swaps out potato for ricotta (no peeling or cooking!) to create a loose dough that’s simply scooped from a bowl, then plunked directly into simmering water for a few minutes—and that’s that. On the plate, it has a pillowy, delicate charm that may prove addictive. Read on for Karoum’s tips on how to bring this easy homemade pasta into your world, year-round.
Resist the urge to overmix your batter. “When you add the flour, you really just want to mix it until it’s completely incorporated, but that’s it,” Karoum advises. “It’s like making biscuits: If you knead biscuit dough, you activate the gluten, and they turn out tough and heavy. You just want to handle it as little as possible until everything’s just incorporated. That’ll give you a light, airy product as opposed to something dense and leaden.”
You want a soft simmer, not a rolling boil, when cooking the gnudi. “They’re, I don’t want to say temperamental, but you have to be gentle with them,” Karoum explains. “The enemy of gnudi is rapidly boiling water, because they’re a delicate dumpling.” Once your water has come to a boil, reduce it to a gentle simmer. If you leave it at a boil, the loose dumplings may fall apart.
Your scooping can be fancy or basic or somewhere in between. “You can quenelle them, [or] you can just be random with them,” Karoum says. He personally goes for a utilitarian middle path—using a small ice cream scoop to easily create a battalion of consistently sized balls that all cook in the same amount of time. But a plain old spoon works too, and gnudi of slightly different shapes and sizes have a pleasingly homespun quality.
“The gnudi tells you when it’s ready.” Like gnocchi, individual gnudi sink to the bottom of the pot when you first drop them in, and each one pops up to the surface once it’s ready. “Once they come to the top, I let them go for about 10 seconds, 15 seconds past that point,” Karoum advises. Next, add them to the sauce, a tomato-and-corn mixture, with a slotted spoon. “It’s okay if a little bit of the pasta water goes into the base,” he notes; it’ll only add a bit of starchy body to the sauce.
This recipe gives a parting gift to your future cooking projects: fragrant herbed olive oil. Through making this dish, you’ll create a thyme- and rosemary-scented olive oil for simmering the tomatoes and corn and then sautéing a few scallions—and you’ll have plenty left over. It’s delicious, so don’t chuck it! “You can make mayonnaise or aioli with that oil,” Karoum suggests. Vinaigrette would be another good use. “It’s so flavorful. It’s just like summertime shine.” You may notice a cloud of blurry-looking semisolids in the oil, which are remnants of the tomatoes. It shouldn’t be an issue, as the oil itself will preserve them. “[The oil] has almost an indefinite shelf life if you keep it in the fridge,” Karoum says.
This recipe is your friend in any season. The version that follows showcases the vivid, fresh flavors of late summer. But, Karoum notes, “Once you have the base, you can go any direction with it in terms of seasonality. If it’s in the autumn, it could be squash or pumpkin and mushrooms. It’s really quite simple: Just go buy the best, nicest-looking produce and turn it into a quick 10-minute dinner.”
Pairing Tip: Why a Juicy White Works with this Dish
A ripe, fruity white with fine cut will stand up to the starchy, smooth ricotta dumplings and the burst of acidity from a quick version of tomato confit. Try a juicy white blend or, if you can find one, an offbeat varietal bottling of Petit Manseng.
Chef’s Pick Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2016
Wine Spectator Picks Mas de Daumas Gassac St.-Guilhem-Le-Désert Cité d’Aniane White Haute Vallée du Gassac 2017 (91 points, $50)
E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône White 2017 (88, $18)
Ricotta Gnudi with Quick Tomato Confit & Fresh Corn
Recipe courtesy of chef Haidar Karoum and tested by Wine Spectator’s Rori Kotch.
- 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup sweet corn
- 4 branches fresh thyme
- 1 branch fresh rosemary
- 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
- 1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, washed, stems removed
- 7 ounces ricotta (rounded 3/4 cup)
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 scallions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons torn basil
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1. Combine the olive oil, corn, thyme, rosemary and garlic in a medium-sized pot and heat over medium. After 4 to 5 minutes, the herbs and garlic will begin to simmer gently. Add the tomatoes and return to a gentle simmer, lowering heat as needed. When the tomatoes have begun to pop and shrivel, about 8 minutes, remove from heat, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and let cool. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the tomatoes and corn from the oil, reserving the tomato-corn mixture and the oil separately.
2. Combine ricotta, egg, Pecorino Romano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and flour in a medium bowl. Stir just to combine.
3. Remove the herbs from the reserved olive oil and discard. In a medium sauté pan, heat about 4 tablespoons of the reserved oil over medium, saving the rest for another use. Add the sliced scallions and gently sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the reserved tomatoes and corn, and remove from heat.
4. Bring 1/2 gallon water to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Season with 2 tablespoons salt. Add ricotta mixture in 1-tablespoon scoops, one at a time. Cook just until dumplings rise to the surface of the water, about 3 minutes, then let cook for about 20 seconds longer. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the scallion-tomato-corn mixture. Stir in the butter, gently swirling the pan to combine. Warm over low heat and top with the basil and Parmesan. Serves 4.