Monday, May 5, 2014

Gnocchi with Buttered Crab and Brussel Sprout Leaves

In an ode to one of my favourite restaurants in New York, Tartin, I have braved homemade gnocchi, served with buttered crab and brussel leaves. Tartin remains a West Village institution serving homemade pastries and a masterpiece menu by Chef Thierry Rochard,

My favourite dish on the menu (apart from the classic French onion soup), is the home made potato gnocchi with brussel leaves and smoked mozzarella. While I wanted to honour the dish, I also wanted to add crab, a delicate meat that would pair beautifully with a delicate homemade gnocchi.

I have spent the last week researching the best way to approach gnocchi, which has the potential to be too firm, starchy or even rubbery – a lot could go wrong! So I have found a beautiful compromise between a traditional gnocchi and something a little more Michelin in quality.

So as I started my research, I immediately thought Italian. I have since discovered that gnocchi is of Middle Eastern Origin and made its way through Europe during the Roman Empire expansion. Many European countries have since appropriated their own versions. My recipe is based on a recipe by talented food writer Felicity Cloake, for The Guardian. She offers a fantastic compromise in integrity and ingredients.

Based on my finding and my middle way approach, I have discovered a few tips to making a melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi:

·                Use Désirée potatoes – it is a firm middle ground potato that isn’t too starchy or waxy. They will help your gnocchi keep its shape. If unavailable, look for a creamy potato. Instead of boiling your potatoes, bake them in the oven on a bed of rock salt. As little moisture as possible in your potatoes will make for better gnocchi. The rock salt will dry out potatoes.
·                Use 1 small egg – It is still debated and purists believe that a good gnocchi does not need a binding agent. But let’s face it; a little egg can go a long way in taste, and also stretching an untrained cook’s (me!) seeming dexterity!
·                Flour – The less flour the better! Again, it is an art of less is more to make the perfect gnocchi. A ratio I have found to work is 1 part potato to .30 - .35 flour.
·                Good butter – Butter is the finishing touch on this dish and it has to be GOOD. 

I made a bucket load of gnocchi, and ate A LOT. Traditionally gnocchi is served as a starter, so keep this in mind when cooking. It’s rich and filling, so like its ingredients, less is more.

Serves 4 -5 (as starters)

500g Désirée potatoes
175g flour
Pinch sea salt, finely ground
Pinch nutmeg
1 small egg
Rock Salt (to bake potatoes)
75g good butter
5 – 6 large brussel sprouts, broken up
Crab meat, as desired


Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Start by piercing potatoes all over so they do not burst in the oven when cooking and to extract as much moisture as possible. Bake for 1 hour or so, baking for longer if potatoes are larger.

After cooked, peel and push through a ricer or sieve onto a clean, floured surface. Add about a quarter of the flour, salt and nutmeg. Making a well in the middle, add beaten egg.

Dust your hands in flour and knead dough, adding flour as needed only. Do not over do dough, as this will develop the gluten and will make the gnocchi firm and rubbery.

Set aside dough then re-flour surface. Flatten to about 1.5cm. Cut each row about 1.5cm in width. Roll each strip and cut into 1cm pieces. Each piece should be pressed with a fork and dusted in flour.

In a saucepan, bring salted water to boil and then turn to a gentle simmer. Add half the gnocchi and wait until all pieces rise, then count slowly to ten to remove from saucepan. Set aside and keep warm.

With a little of the butter, add brussel leaves, and salt lightly. Toss only a few times in pan, as they need to brown a little. Add remaining butter and add crab meat. I had bought a fresh crab and cooked it earlier, removing meat painstakingly!

Add gnocchi and serve hot, adding salt, pepper and a little cheese to taste. 

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