Sunday, October 30, 2011

Parsnip Gnocchi with Madeira-Creamed Mushrooms and Toasted Walnuts

Are you looking for a showstopper dish for your next dinner party?  This is it!  It is decadently rich and has a beautifully balanced autumnal flavor.  Even better, it is completely vegetarian (though the addition of  crumbled bacon would make it even better).  The spicy sweetness of the parsnips balances perfectly with the madeira and cognac.  The paradoxically light but chewy gnocchi pair perfectly with the meaty mushrooms, and everything is held together with a rich herbal cream sauce.  Finally crunchy toasted walnuts give a perfect counterpoint that will have everyone at the dinner table calling for more. 

I have been promising my daughter Emma to make this dish for several weeks now, and since she is moving to Massachusetts tomorrow, today was the day.  It was the perfect meal for a crisp cool and clear fall day.

If mushrooms at your local grocery are too expensive, try checking out the produce section at an Asian supermarket.  For me, in Durham that means a visit to Li Ming Global Mart.  The produce is always incredibly fresh, the selection is staggering and the prices are insanely affordable.

I hope you'll take the time to try this dish sometime, it is well worth the effort and is definitely not your run-of-the-mill dinner party fare.

Parsnip Gnocchi with Madeira-Creamed Mushrooms and Toasted Walnuts
(serves 8)

1 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Coarsely chop walnuts and place in a pie pan.  Toast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Parsnip Gnocchi
12 oz. parsnips peeled and chopped into chunks
12 oz. Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups flour plus cup for dusting the work surface

Place peeled and chunked parsnips and potatoes in a large pot.  Cover with water by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, cook uncovered until tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain potatoes and parsnips and press through a ricer into a bowl.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Make a well in the center of the riced potatoes and parsnips, and add eggs, parmesan, salt and nutmeg to the well.  Mix gently with your hands until just combined.   Add one cup flour and fold into mixture.  Add remaining cup of flour, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing with hands gently.  Do not over work!

Divide dough into four parts.  Heavily flour a work surface and turn out 1/4 of the dough onto the flour.  Roll the dough gently into a rope about 1/2 in diameter.  Cut dough into 1-inch lengths and transfer to a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.  Cover uncooked gnocchi with a tea towel until ready to cook. (Alternatively, gnocchi can be frozen on the baking sheet and stored in a plastic bag until ready to use).

To cook gnocchi bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil.  Ad 1/2 the gnocchi to the boiling water.  When gnocchi float to surface, remove with a slotted spoon and place in the prepared mushroom sauce.

Madeira-Creamed Mushrooms
1 small onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs mushrooms. thickly sliced (I used shiitake and oyster mushrooms)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup cognac
1/4 cup madeira
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

In a large skillet, melt butter.  Add onions, celery, carrots and garlic and cook over medium high heat until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add sliced mushrooms to pan and cook until tender , tossing frequently.  Add Thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Add cognac and madeira and toss.  Add cream and cook until slightly reduced.  Add cooked gnocchi to sauce and gently toss.  Add toasted walnuts and toss.  Serve hot with grated parmesan cheese.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coq au Vin

Welcome fall!  Red leaves, grey skies, pumpkins and cold weather.  All these things put me in the mood for french food.  Not Haute cuisine french food either, but real flavorful country french food like Coq au Vin (which means rooster in wine).  This dish will scent the entire house with an incredible aroma of bacon and chicken and wine.
Coq au Vin is traditionally made with a whole cut-up chicken slowly cooked in red wine.  This is my version.  I actually prefer chicken breasts and a sweet white wine for this dish.  Chicken breasts are meaty and juicy and the white wine enhances the flavor of the carrots.  YUM.  This dish doesn't require any special techniques, or special equipment.  The key is patience.  Make sure to slowly render all the fat from the bacon, and then slowly brown the chicken pieces until they are a deep golden brown... this coaxes the maximum flavor from the simple ingredients.
Please do make sure to use bone-in skin-on chicken pieces, the difference in flavor is remarkable.  I like to serve this with a nutty wild or brown rice (or combination of the two) cooked in chicken stock, and a crispy french baguette for sopping up all the delicious wine sauce.  Food doesn't get much better than this!

Bon Appetit!

Coq au Vin
(serves 6)

6 slices of bacon, cut into 1 -inch pieces
1/2 stick butter
6 large chicken breasts, rinsed, and patted dry
salt and pepper
3 cups baby carrots
1 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
3 large shallots, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups white wine (I like Riesling for its sweetness)
salt and pepper
3 bay leaves

In a large deep heavy skillet with a lid, cook the bacon over medium heat, tossing occasionally until bacon is browned and fat is completely rendered, about 20 minutes.  Remove bacon from pan and reserve.

Add butter to hot bacon fat and increase heat to medium high.  Place seasoned chicken breasts, 3 at a time, into hot pan, skin side down, and cook until well-browned (15-20 minutes).  Remove chicken from pan and brown remaining chicken.

Brown the chicken very well in bacon fat and butter

After chicken is browned and removed from pan, add baby carrots.  Cook carrots over medium high heat for 15 minutes until they begin to brown.  Add shallots and mushrooms.   Cook for 10-15 minutes, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the vegetables begin to sweat.   The mushrooms will initially soak up most of the fat and then as they become fully cooked they will once again release the fat.  When the mushrooms release the fat, add thyme and stir.  Add flour and toss to coat.  Add the wine and stir to make a gravy.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper.   Add bay leaves.

Return the bacon to the sauce, and then nestle the chicken back in the skillet.  Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid and cook for one hour to completely poach the chicken in the sauce.

Serve chicken hot with rice and french bread.