Monday, June 6, 2011

Potato Gnocchi with Grilled Baby Vegetables and Goat Cheese

Doug and I went to the Durham farmer's market the other day searching for inspiration for dinner.  I love Durham's farmer's market... it is small enough to be intimate, but large enough to find truly remarkable produce, meat, cheese and baked goods.  There is always live music and the whole thing has the air of a festival.

We came home with several bags of just-picked fresh basil, some baby zucchini and crook neck squash, and some amazing chevre goat cheese from Celebrity Farms, a local goat dairy in Siler City, NC.


One of my all time favorite foods is potato gnocchi, light fluffy pillows of potato dumplings boiled and then browned in butter.  If I am ever on death row, gnocchi will probably be my last meal.  Gnocchi are incredibly versatile and can be tossed with pesto, a cream sauce, a heavy meat ragu or this ratatouille-like sauce. 

Homemade gnocchi are a labor of love, but are INFINITELY superior to the commercial variety available in the store.  The commercial types tend to be dense and rubbery.  Homemade gnocchi are paradoxically dense and light at the same time.  The secret to a good potato gnocchi is to keep the potatoes from becoming water logged.  For this reason I only use potatoes with a dry flesh, like russett potatoes, and I steam them with the skin on.  You can boil the potatoes, but the skins must remain on, and you must be careful to remove them from the hot water the moment they are tender.  Steaming the potatoes takes a little longer, but they are always perfect and never water logged.

I recommend using the best goat cheese you can find for this dish, and crumbling atop the gnocchi immediately before serving, then let your guests stir it into the dish where it will melt and create a tangy light sauce. 

Keep serving sizes rather small since this is a deceivingly hearty dish.  They can always go for seconds (and usually will !).

Potato Gnocchi with Grilled Baby Vegetables and Goat Cheese
serves 6-8

Potato Gnocchi
3 pounds Russett potatoes
2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg
pinch of salt

Steam potatoes in their skins until they are tender ( a knife pushed into the center offers no resistance).  Cool potatoes completely and then peel.  Push the potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill (mashing the potatoes will result in lumpy gnocchi). 

 Ricing the potatoes

Place potatoes in a large bowl, and sift flour over the top of them. Add nutmeg and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the potatoes and add egg to well.  With a wooden spoon, begin stiring potatoes and flour into the egg, a little at a time , as if you are making a pasta dough.  Continue to stir potatoes until egg is mostly incorporated. 

Making the dough...

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough by hand until it is smooth and dry.  Divide the dough into four equal portions and roll each portion out to form a long "rope" of dough about 1/2 inch in diameter.  Cut gnocchi into 1-inch lengths.

 Rolling and cutting the gnocchi...

Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil.  While water is heating, place a large bowl of ice water next to the pot.  When water is rapidly boiling, add gnocchi in 3 batches.  When the gnocchi float to the surface, they are done and need to be removed from the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer and placed immediately in the ice water to halt the cooking process.
Once all the gnocchi are boiled and chilled in the ice bath, drain the gnocchi, toss with olive oil and place in large ziploc bags, and refrigerate until until ready to use.

Note: This makes a LOT of gnocchi and you will probably only use half of it.  Once boiled, the leftover gnocchi can be kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, of frozen for 2-3 months.

Tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp honey
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper

In a medium-sized skillet, heat olive oil briefly.  Add tomatoes and garlic, thyme and honey and cook over medium high heat for 10 minutes until tomatoes have begun to break down.  Add white wine and cook an additional 15 minutes over medium high heat, uncovered until slightly reduced.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grilled Baby Vegetables
4 baby zucchini, cut in half length-wise
4 baby crookneck squash, cut in half length-wise
1 vidalia onion, cut in half
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat grill.  Toss vegetables with olive oil salt and pepper.  Grill vegetables until lightly charred and just tender.  Remove from Grill, allow to cool for 5 minutes, then coarsely chop vegetables.

 Grilling the babies!

Finishing the dish
4 Tbsp butter
grated parmesan cheese
crumbled goat cheese (chevre)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

In a large non-stick skillet, melt the butter.  Add half of the prepared gnocchi and saute over medium high heat until gnocchi is lightly browned (you will need to gently toss the gnocchi during this process to evenly brown them).  When gnocchi browned, add tomato sauce and grilled vegetables to skillet and gently toss.  Add chopped basil and toss.   Serve with parmesan cheese and goat cheese.

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