Paula Wolfert’s Potato Gnocchi Pictorial

Paula Wolfert has a straightforward recipe for gnocchi in her Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking book. At first glance I was not sure how the recipe would work. It has no eggs at all and little flour, a portion of which is cake flour (ie has very little gluten). After making those a couple of times though, I can definitely say that the recipe works! It produces soft tender dumplings that are full of delicious potato flavor. I suppose one can add an egg to make a firmer gnocchi (Diana likes them firmer), but it really is not needed. Here is a streamlined step by step guide to making these guys.

Prick 2 lbs potatoes all over with a skewer and bake them on a 1-inch layer of salt at 400F for an hour and half. This really is the key step for success. Baking the potatoes as opposed to boiling them leaches moisture and concentrates the flavor. Baking them on a bed of salt further helps dry them out. Too much moisture in the cooked potatoes makes gnocchi dough very tricky to work with and could cause it to turn gummy.

Peel/scoop the flesh out and pass it through a ricer. Spread the potato on a baking sheet and allow them to dry for 30 minutes.

For 1 lbs of cooked potato flesh mix in about 160 gr all-purpose flour, 75 gr of cake flour and a pinch of salt. Fold the dough gently together until it forms a smooth ball.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Working one piece at a time, roll them into 1/2 inch thick ropes and cut the rope into 3/4 inch pieces. I got lazy on some of these and made them a bit bigger. Roll each piece gently on the tines of a fork to create ridges on the dumplings.

Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water until they float. Move them to an ice bath and then strain. Now they can either be used right away or tossed in a little oil and stored for a couple of days.

From this point on all you need to do is toss them in some kind of sauce. I made two different sauces. One was a venison ragu; slowly cooked ground venison, a little tomato, milk and aromatics. The other was based on one of Ms. Wolfert’s recipes in the same book. She sauces the gnocchi with a mixture of gorgonzola and pine nuts. I made a gorgonzola sauce using the Modernist Cuisine technique that adds sodium citrate salt to create an amazing smooth and creamy cheese sauce. I also toasted some pine nuts and caramelized onions and tossed them in there. This was a luxurious and very delicious sauce.

Venison, Pommes Maxim, Charred Strawberries, Blueberry Sauce

I still had one shoulder left (I used the other one here) from the deer my neighbor gave me. I wanted to use it in a preparation that capitalizes on the good berries available in stores right about now. On the Alinea-Mosaic  site I was reading about a dish they are working on and the chef incorporated strawberries, both raw and charred. They served the charred strawberries with squab, so venison made sense to me. All the preparation that the strawberries needed was to slice them, brush them with very little grape seed oil and very quickly char them in a hot pan.

The venison was done confit style like the previous one. For this shoulder I used both orange and lemon zest in the cure in addition to cinnamon sticks and brown sugar. To cook it, I rubbed it with duck fat and vacuum packed it, then cooked it sous vide at 180F for 20 hours. I wanted to melt all the collagen since I was going to use the liquid in the bag as a binder for the “venison log” later on. In hindsight, probably a bit less time would’ve been fine, closer to 12 hours. The meat was falling off the bone, so I shredded it and de-fatted the liquid in the bag. I then reduced the liquid to about 1/3 of a cup and mixed most of it into the meat. I also stirred in a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar to liven up the flavor.  The meat mixture was tightly wrapped in plastic wrap into a tight roulade and popped in the fridge to set and firm up. For service, I sliced the log into 2 inch thick slices, smeared one surface with Dijon mustard and coated it with regular bread crumbs. These disks were then pan-fried till crispy in olive oil.

For a starch I made Pommes Maxim, the recipe for these cool looking potatoes is from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure. They are a bit tricky to make and need some patience, but are well worth it. The potato is sliced thin on a mandolin, then the slices are cut into circles with a pastry cutter. After a quick blanch in salted water, the potatoes get coated in corn starch and arranged on parchment circles in a concentric overlapping shape. These can happily sit in the fridge for a day or so now. Right before serving, I pan-fried the potatoes in clarified butter until golden, crispy and delicious. These are very delicious!

 

For a sauce I made pickled blueberries and a blueberry gastrique. The recipe is from Alinea where they serve it with bison. The berries are cooked in a mixture of red wine and sugar, then left to macerate for a couple of hours before being removed. The blueberry flavored mixture is mixed with venison stock that I made a couple of weeks ago from the same deer. That sauce is reduced to a syrupy consistency and the flavor adjusted using some of the leftover liquid from the venison bag. The sauce is a little tart, sweet and very deeply flavored.

For a slightly sharp and different flavor I made a eucalyptus pudding, again based on an Alinea recipe and is made following their standard method of setting a mixture with agar and then pureeing in  a blender for a pudding-like texture. I used a fraction of the recommended amount of eucalyptus oil and the pudding was pretty damn strong. It’s worth noting that Diana was not crazy about this component, so I am glad I only used a little bit of it as a dollop on the venison disks and a few drops as a base for the strawberries.

 

To finish the dish, I garnished it with a few arugula leaves, drops of reduced balsamic vinegar and fresh oregano leaves and flowers. This was a very tasty and wonderful looking plate of food. The tart sauce and the berries worked very well with the rich and unctuous venison. The arugula and balsamic reduction brightened the flavors even more and worked with the blueberries to contrast the richness of the dish. Did I say the Pommes Maxim were delicious already? They were and we could barely keep the kids away from eating all of our portions of what they called potato chips.