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Ingredient Challenge: Red Grapes, Red Chard & Fresh Corn

By Dennis Linden

Chef Michael Rossi, executive chef of The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim, CA exceeded the ingredient challenge with his delicious Berkshire Pork with Hazelnut Spätzle.
Image of chef Michael Rossi
This month’s Guest Chef has served up some traditional German fare with a taste twist that incorporates a few of the summer season’s harvest favorites. If you have never made or enjoyed Spaetzle (aka Spätzle), this recipe will also add to your culinary education with a very tasty lesson! Chef Michael Rossi, executive chef of The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim, CA exceeded the ingredient challenge with his delicious Berkshire Pork with Hazelnut Spätzle. Here’s a dish with a very midwest Sunday supper comfort food feel, yet its rustic elegance makes it equally appropriate to serve in a more formal dinner party setting.

Admittedly, this recipe entailed a steep and rather comical culinary learning curve for me. In my first attempt at making the Spätzle, I took the frugal chef approach that saved a few pennies initially, but ended up costing me in wasted time and ingredients. To make a messy story short, Chef Michael’s suggestion of using a colander as a substitute for a potato ricer was confirmed in a web search that produced several colander-made Spätzle recipes. So, I figured why spend the bucks on a potato ricer that I have gotten by without thus far. However, with all due respect to colander advocates everywhere, the process immediately reminded me of another deceptively innocent phrase that has also been the cause of much frustration: Easy to Assemble. So what started as a novel and novice Spätzle-making experience ended in sticky goo that just laid in the colander and could not be pushed into becoming anything beyond the blob it was; truly, a case of a Spätzle dough with no ambition.

Twenty-four hours, a lot of flour and some pricey skinned hazelnuts later, I was at my local kitchen shop in search of that potato ricer. Ironically, I found a very nice wooden-handled ricer; displayed right next to an actual Spätzle Maker! The nifty little grater with sliding batter-box thingy attached was only fifteen dollars plus the ingredients lost in Spätzle batch #1. Live, learn and cook! Or save time by just watching me and doing the opposite.

Once armed with the proper equipment, Spätzle making was downright easy and fun! The secret to this part of the dish is achieving the right batter consistency; try for a “batter-dough” that is more elastic and wetter than bread dough yet firm enough to hold its shape. You will have to work through those doubts that this goo (the technical term) is going to produce anything but a mess the first time you spoon the sticky batter into the ricer or Spätzle Maker. Have faith, the little pieces of dough make the plunge into the boiling water on cue and pop up a minute later as mini dumplings. If you are playing host to a group of dinner guests, the Spätzle can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and then brought to room temperature just before cooking into the rest of this recipe.

The hazelnut-infused Spätzle gives the final dish a sweetness that shines through subtly, providing a faint undercurrent of nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with the fruit, veggies and meat in the dish. Keep this in mind when prepping the nuts in the batter stage of this recipe; the finer the chop, the better. I went one step further and froze the skinned nuts for an hour, then ran them through a hand processor. Freezing first makes it possible to achieve an almost powdered grain.

Berkshire Pork is a great match for the Spätzle mixture and certainly adds to its German authenticity. If Berkshire is not available, just use the very best quality pork chop you can find. For a restaurant presentation, Chef Michael calls for plating the chop on top of the Spätzle mixture; however, after one bite, I must admit to smothering the chop with the delicious mixture, top and bottom. I also had the leftover Spätzle mix as a standalone dish for lunch the next day without a pork chop. Reheating it the second time around brings out a flavor all its own.
Image of grapes
In fact, I must give a special shout out to Chef Michael for the use of red grapes in this dish. Though grapes are seldom partnered with corn, chard, or Spätzle for that matter, the combination simply works. The fruit provides a burst of sweet juice that laces through each bite. A nice little surprise for the palate!

There are a few ingredient substitutions that I did have to make to the chef’s original recipe that should be mentioned. If you are lucky enough to have a summer garden with fresh baby red kale, you can replicate Chef Michael’s recipe formula exactly. Baby red chard is a food service delicacy, not readily available at retail. I had every intention of using regular-sized red chard, julienned into small strips; however, the chard looked a little wilted on ingredient shopping day, so I prepared some Russian red kale in the same fashion. In fact, kale or a chard of any color will work in this recipe. Both of these leafy greens are packed with nutrients, antioxidants and rich flavor.

A word of encouragement should be added here about the process of toasting and skinning the hazelnuts for this recipe. That word is PATIENCE. There is a dry-roasted hazelnut that I did find on-line; however I could not find the product locally and was not sure if dry roasting would change the flavor that Chef Michael had intended. So I did it myself with raw hazelnuts that I bought in bulk with skins on. I Googled to learn the process; was there life before computers?

Home skinning requires a comfortable place to sit and knead the roasted nuts in a towel to flake off the skins. It’s a slightly tedious process that takes a good 20 minutes to get a large amount of the dark skin separated from the nuts. Also, do not expect perfection; the nuts were not peanut smooth or skinless by any means. The smell of toasting hazelnuts wafting through the kitchen was worth the effort alone!

Incorporating this month’s Challenge Ingredients into a traditional German dish is a testament to Chef Michael Rossi’s culinary creativity and ingenuity. Truthfully, considering the chef’s last name and the fact that he was raised in a family kitchen of traditional dishes of his own heritage, I half expected a dish with a Mediterranean flare. So add the word “diverse” to this chef’s culinary profile. As a longtime customer of Melissa’s, we can guarantee that a visit to The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon will no doubt be rewarded with more gastronomic surprises from this thoughtful master of the culinary arts. Happy forks!
Image of Berkshire Pork Chop with Hazelnut Spätzle, Fresh Corn, Red Grapes & Red Chard
Berkshire Pork Chop with Hazelnut Spätzle, Fresh Corn, Red Grapes & Red Chard
(Serves 4)

4 each Berkshire Pork Chops
Kosher Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper, as needed
1 pound Crimson Grapes
4 ears Fresh Corn, kernels only
¼ pound Hazelnuts, skinned & toasted
1 pound Baby Red Chard, stems removed (options: julienned red chard or kale)
¼ pound Spring Onions, quartered lengthwise (options: large Scallions or Torpedo)
1 ounce Grape Seed Oil 4 cups Hazelnut Spätzle (see recipe below)

Hazelnut Spätzle:

Spätzle Ingredients
4½ cups All-Purpose Flour, sifted
6 each Eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Hazelnuts, toasted, very finely chopped
1½ cups Milk
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
¾ teaspoon Baking Powder
Water as needed

Spätzle Preparation:
Combine the flour, eggs, hazelnuts, milk, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until combined and slowly pour in the water, mixing until the batter is smooth. Mix for about 5 minutes more, until the batter is elastic.

Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Scrape the dough into a Spätzle maker, potato ricer or a colander with large holes and press the dough into the boiling water (with a large spoon or spatula if using a colander). Cook until the Spätzle is tender but still firm, stirring occasionally, about 3 to 4 minutes. They will rise to the surface when done.

Drain the Spätzle in a colander.

Set aside or store in refrigerator until ready to prepare dish.

Dish Preparation:
Season each of the Berkshire pork chops with Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Grill or sauté pork chops on both sides until nicely caramelized and then finish in the oven for 10 minutes, cooking to medium or to about 140°F.
Transfer the pork chops to a platter and rest for 4-5 minutes before serving.
In a medium-sized sauté pan, add the grape seed oil, hazelnut spätzle, fresh corn kernels, hazelnuts, crimson grapes, spring onions and kale.
Season mixture with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper.
Cook until all the ingredients are well balanced and flavorful.
To serve, place a portion of the Hazelnut Spätzle in the center of each plate and top with a perfectly grilled Berkshire Pork Chop.
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