Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lessons in Gnocchi

While it is true Florida is called the “Sunshine State”, during the height of hurricane season we see tons of rain even when there is no hurricane to discuss. While this must be quite upsetting to the average tourist, I don’t mind at all. What are tourists doing headed to Florida during hurricane season anyway? I would never go to southern California during earthquake season. Oh well, it gives me an excuse to play indoors. Frankly, I can head into the kitchen on days like this and next thing I know the day is gone.

Some weeks ago I wrote about my adventures in Providence and specifically dinner at Al Forno. I know I drone on about this place but it is stuck in my soul unlike almost any restaurant. This could be a problem. According to Google, Al Forno is exactly 1,329 miles from my house door to door. Even if they delivered, I’d be out of range, I bet. I don’t know if there are any 12 step programs for specific restaurant addictions but I should look in to it. For now though, I just don’t want to.

Their Gnocchi in a Tomato and Sausage Broth is unlike any gnocchi I’ve had and I decided to try my hand at it. I originally thought it was in their cookbook that I bought but it is not, so I was on my own. With the magic of the internet no recipe is too far away. A little keyboard massage and a handy gnocchi recipe is in hand. The broth though… hmmmmm that’s another story. It was such a perfect compliment to these melty clouds of poached potato dough. I’m not sure how to accomplish something even close. Ah, I’m always up for a culinary challenge so off we go.

Little did I know that I was about to hit a few major hurdles in project gnocchi. The recipe only calls for a few ingredients and the steps are just a paragraph or so long so I falsely made a some assumptions. First of all, the recipe called for a few large baking potatoes. I had smaller Yukon Gold spuds. I thought nothing of using these but their starchier nature makes them quite sticky and difficult to work with. Once the flour begins working in, those problems go away but the initial problem is significant. More importantly, I don’t have a potato ricer. This is a kitchen gadget that I’ve thought several times about acquiring but up to now, I have not. Fancying myself as creative and capable of kitchen improv, I assumed that working in batches in a food processor would suffice. While this idea was eventually fruitful, this was a pain in the ass. Because these Yukons were starchier, they were also stickier. I had to use an extra egg yolk than the recipe called for and a touch of vegetable oil just to get them into a workable paste. Even then there were some chunks that would have been yukky in the gnocchi so I had to get those out by hand. Add to that a good cut on the end of my finger from a sharp food processor blade and you have a difficult and messy process. Since I plan on making these again, I will most certainly invest in a ricer. My finger will be happier.

As mentioned in my previous post, Olivia can hear flour coming out of the cabinet. She looks forward to the ensuing mess and emerges from her room to help knead out the dough. With a large amount of flour we begin working the potato mixture out on the counter. A short time later, we have what looks like a traditional and fantastic dough. After a rest, we begin rolling it out into long tubes. My daughter’s years of Play-Dough experience really pays here. It’s obvious she’s done this before. My next slight error was that I cut the gnocchi a touch too big. I would have preferred them a bit smaller as I recalled from my heavenly dish at Al Forno. This didn’t take away from their flavor or delicateness at the end but smaller bites would have been more aesthetic.

Still, once the gnocchi were cooked, they were ready for whatever one might do with gnocchi. To take a test drive, I melted a tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan and added a couple of gnocchi. Once they had the slightest brown to them (about 1 minute per side), into a bowl they went with the butter to coat. A touch of good sea salt and some nutty fresh grated Parmesan cheese and what we had here was magnificent. The richness is subtle. Certainly it’s there but much like a perfectly airy cheesecake, the heaviness is hidden in the pillow-like nature of each bite.

Now that I know they are perfectly done, on to my sauce. Here’s what I think you’ll find if you give this sauce a go. It’s really more of a broth that a sauce and my intention was to form a suspension for the gnocchi rather than a bold compliment. Because I have recently taken some good cookbook advice, I was dead on with this goal. The broth was equal parts chicken stock and tomato juice. The sausage was removed from its casing and crumbled fine so that there were no rustic style pieces. I wanted small bits to cling into the handmade crevices of the gnocchi. This was about compliments.

After this project was completed, I’ve decided that we don’t have enough rainy days.

Potato Gnocchi in a Sausage and Tomato Broth
Inspired by a dish I tasted at Al Forno in Providence, RI.

1 to 1½ lb potato gnocchi (if you chose to make fresh this is a good recipe. Follow it closely)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ lb Italian sausage, casing removed
2 cups tomato juice
2 cups chicken broth
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp butter (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

In a sauce pan over medium heat add the olive oil and sausage. Cook the sausage slowly and do not allow to brown. Once cooked mostly through break up into as small of crumbles as possible with a wooden spoon. Add tomato juice, chicken broth and garlic. This is the best time to generously season with salt and pepper. Simmer over medium heat about 10 minutes. Add the butter and whisk until melted. This adds a slight rich thickness but optional. Add the gnocchi to the pan and turn to coat. Simmer another 5 minutes or so then serve.

Serves 6 as a main course 8-10 as a side.

1 comment:

jason said...

When is earthquake season anyways? ;)