Monday, April 30, 2012

Marco Canora Would Be Proud

I've spoken a bunch about my time trailing in the kitchen last year at Hearth and how awesome it was. The guys there just kick ass and I actually miss them! Chef Marco Canora is known for many things, but one of my favorites would be the gnocchi there at Hearth. They're perfectly pillowy soft, yet textured, and the sage butter is to die for. I'd never attempted making gnocchi before, but I used to watch the guys bang them out in a flash and I vowed to one day make my own.

Lucky for me, gnocchi day at school rolled around and I was psyched! Gnocchi are basically hand-rolled Italian style "dumplings". The name actually stems from the Italian word for 'lumps' and the most common ones you find (in the US anyway) are made from potatoes. I learned, however, that Italians make gnocchi out of lots of different things, even stale bread! As with everything else, the sauces used vary by region but you very often find gnocchi dressed in a butter sauce. Most are incredibly light in texture, especially if you're using the potato kind, so you can't have them weighed down by anything too heavy.

Quick side note. Each morning, we get into the kitchen and get our stations set up and our mise en place ready. We do that for about 15 minutes before Chef calls us up front and, at that point, we usually go through a series of slides about our recipes for the day. Chef will talk about various notes of importance, and it's a chance for us to absorb some of the history and information about the dishes. Honestly, I'd prefer less of that each day simply because it takes up valuable time. However, the way they teach us is very specific in terms of really putting the onus on each of us to pay attention and learn without being hand-held. It's good for us in the long run. Some mornings though, man...I'm just not awake. Anyway, just thought I'd show you an example:
Back to the food. We got to practice making a few different types of gnocchi, but I think my favorite remain the potato. When you do this kind, you want to use starchy potatoes (like russet) instead of waxy ones (like fingerling) because the starch helps with binding. This means you'll ultimately need less flour. You can either boil or bake the potatoes, but baking them is much better in my opinion because you want as little water as possible left in them once they're cooled. If water doesn't fully evaporate, it will make them gummy and dense. I had fun making my first ever gnocchi di patate and they came out fantastic:
I, too, did sage butter and I do believe Mr. Canora would be impressed. I should've brought him a bowl to try. Joking. I don't have that big of an ego, for goodness sake. 

The rest of the recipes were interesting but I didn't love them. We made gnudi (think ravioli filling without the pasta) which came out just ok. They were ricotta and spinach and, while they had a nice flavor, they didn't tickle my fancy. The gnocchi alla romana was so weird! It's a semolina gnocchi that's a specialty of Lazio during ancient Roman times. It's sort of like this thick porridge that you shape into a dough, flatten, add cheese, butter, ham and egg yolks to and then brown with more butter and top with more cheese:
Thank goodness we finally have a fat free recipe in our repertoire. In all seriousness, this just felt like an excessive, gluttonous dish with not enough flavor to justify all the terrible-for-you ingredients. 

The strangest dish of the day was definitely the strozzapreti. The story behind it, however, is kinda funny. Strozzapreti means "priest chokes" and comes from an old legend about how priests would come by parishioner's homes on Sundays conveniently just in time for dinner. They'd become greedy and eat so much that they'd choke, hence giving the dish its name. It's made with milk soaked stale bread and bound with eggs and cheese. You boil it, just like any other gnocchi or pasta, and it's finished in brown butter:
Making all this gnocchi totally made me appreciate what Canora and the guys do down at Hearth every single night. It takes a definite amount of love to make pasta of any kind daily so kudos to those guys. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be back there in charge of the daily gnocchi bonanza myself. Stranger things have happened... 

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