Friday, April 23, 2010

you say potato

If you ever find yourself anywhere near Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, Queens be sure to treat yourself to a dinner at Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen. If fact, come out of your way to go there. This cosy chef-owned bistro features a warm, charming room, impeccable service, a wonderful selection of wines and fantastic food deftly prepared in the open kitchen. I LOVE Danny Browns and my life in Queens has taken on a new richness once I discovered this treasure of a culinary outpost. DB has one dish on the menu that I would gladly eat as my last meal on earth; their grilled calamari with white beans and rosemary topped with fresh arugula. It is a perfection of flavors and textures.
On a recent visit I ordered a small plate of Hand Made Potato Gnocchi, English Peas, Fresh Ricotta, Mint & Alphonso Olives to accompany the calamari. As expected, the dish was simple and perfectly prepared. Each ingredient enhanced the other. Danny Brown gets everything right as far as I'm concerned and when it comes to my meals I get concerned :-)

The garden centers in Queens are bursting with possibilities for the kitchen garden these days.

Inspired by this dish I decided to recreate a version of it at home.

Never having made potato gnocchi before I did a quick online recipe search and noticed that most of the recipes warned that the technique was tricky and would take some practice to get the right texture and density. Hmmmmmmmm?? Skeptical and curious, I did find one recipe without that caveat which differed from the other recipes by using yellow flesh potatoes rather than Idahos and no eggs. Ah ha. Could that make the difference? I went with the yellow potatoes version and had NO PROBLEM AT ALL with the recipe.

The gnocchi came out perfectly! Give it a try when you are in a relaxed mood. The mint pesto that I improvised to pair it with was a cinch. This is a perfect recipe for a dinner party, it is so pretty and makes a fancy impression. The gnocchi can be prepared in advance up until the boiling stage. Try it!


2 lbs yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn.
Salt to taste
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

SCRUB the potatoes and place them, unpeeled, on a vegetable rack set over - but not in - a large pot of boiling water. Steam until tender all the way through but not falling apart (a kitchen knife passes all the way through with some resistance). You can also boil them to the same tenderness.
IT'S important that the potatoes not be overcooked. (Overdone, they will absorb too much water and take up so much flour that the gnocchi will sink like heavy little stones to the bottom of the stomach.)
AS soon as the potatoes are tender enough to push through a vegetable mill, remove them from the rack and when they can be handled, but while they're still hot, peel them and pass them through the vegetable mill into a large bowl. (Don't be tempted to try a food processor for this; it will turn them to glue.)
ADD a healthy pinch of salt and all the flour to the potatoes, working in the flour with a wooden spoon; then knead the dough gently for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured board or wooden work surface.

TASTE and knead in more salt if you wish, but be careful not to overwork the dough - it should be soft and supple.
DIVIDE the dough into 5 or 8 equal pieces.
ROLL each piece into a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter and 8 to 10 inches long. Cut each snake into regular pieces about 3/4 inch long. Continue until all the dough has been rolled and cut. IF you wish, roll each gnocco (yes, that's the singular of gnocchi) over the large holes of a cheese grater or along the tines of a fork to impress the soft dough with a pattern.
BRING a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil and drop in the gnocchi. (Do this in two batches if it's easier.)
BOIL the gnocchi until they rise to the top, then remove them with a slotted skimmer and transfer them to a heated platter or bowl.
SERVE immediately, with the mint pesto (these gnocchi have a wonderful, delicate taste and can be served with a bit of melted butter or a few drops of good olive oil, and grated Parmesan, Simple Tomato Sauce, or Butter and Sage.)
SPOON half of the sauce over the gnocchi and mix gently, then garnish with the remaining sauce and a little grated cheese, if desired.

Mint Pesto
2 cups mint leaves loosly packed
1 quart boiliing water
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teas. salt

Blanch the mint leaves in the boiling water for 2 minutes to fix the bright green color. Remove mint from the water and put in a food processor (don't worry if the leaves are still damp, you want a little water to loosen the pesto up). Add the salt, garlic clove and half the olive oil and begin to blend. Slowly drizzle in the rest of the olive oil and as much water as is needed to get a smooth, loose consistency.
Spoon over gnocchi.

Recently, I've been attending many, many wine and food events. There just happens to be a lot on the calendar right now. Not that I'm complaining. It's always an education for me. Sometimes there will be a food and wine pairing that surprises me. I love such surprises!

I immediately thought "white" when I read Deb's recipes for the Gnocchi and Mint Pesto. I didn't go with my first choice, however. I thought this one through a bit. The past few events I've attended have inspired me to "think outside the box" a little, and go with something a little unpredictable.

I'd actually like to try this dish paired with an Italian Merlot. I prefer the "old-world" style of Merlot from Italy, as compared with the "new-world" style of Merlot from say, California. The old world versions tend to be earthier, "dustier". They can also exhibit characteristics reminiscent of mint and eucalyptus, chocolate and licorice. This combination - the gnocchi with it's mint pesto, and such an earthy, elegant red - would be an interesting match. The fat in the olive oil would serve to soften the tannins in the wine (Merlot can be very tannic) as would a nice, healthy sprinkle of shaved parmesan!

Don't be afraid to take big chances with your food and wine pairings! The bottom line is, if it tastes good to you, that's all that matters. There is no such thing as "white with fish, red with meat" as far as I'm concerned. If a big, full Cabernet with a light, flaky fish tastes incredible to you - then that's what you should be drinking. But, at the same time, it doesn't hurt to consider some general tips when pairing, either!

Gaja Ca'Marcanda Promis is actually a wine I'd love to try with Deb's recipes. It is a supple, elegant blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. Not cheap, at a price of about $40 - but worth every penny! Perhaps I already have the menu set for my next dinner get-together! Thanks, Deb!

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