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.

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