Jennifer Danter » Food & Travel Writer

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Buttery Pillows of Delight

Gnocchi. Remember your first time – eating it and saying it? Trying to pronounce its name gave me fifty fits years ago. That embarrassment of ordering something in a restaurant and not knowing how to say it. Nowadays I’d like to think I’d just ask the server, but back then, like most people, I probably just stuttered out a hard “g” and hastily muttered, “I’ll have the Geu-nawchee please”.

No matter how badly I butchered its name, I fell in love with the dish. I remember soft buttery pillows arrived. Lightly pan-fried, you wouldn’t call the outside crispy or anything – but the ridged golden outlines had a slight chew to them. The insides were warm and comforting -that pleasing combination of fluffy but dense and yielding. Gnocchi is a textural pleasure. It’s also all about the sauce. This was my first introduction to brown butter and sage. But that’s another story.
Saucy gnocchi is a no-no. Ask any Italian or good cook….sauce should never smother. It’s about leaving you wanting more. Having just enough. And gnocchi pushes the potato envelope. All those tiny ridges and small indents create potato valleys, which trap just the right amount of sauce. Heavenly.

I made these for a photo shoot at Epicure Selections (find that recipe at epicureselections.com). I used to make gnocchi when I worked in restaurants. First time, there’s definitely a learning curve. It’s like making pie dough– it’s not really difficult – you just need to do it a few times. With experience comes that instinctive ability to know when it just feels “right”. When I make gnocchi at home now, I use Marcella Hazan’s recipe. She is my cooking crush and go-to for all things Italian. And this being Feb 14th, I thought I’d share the love of gnocchi. This is my adaptation from “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking “(Random House). My dog-eared, wine and oil-stained copy has been autographed by Marcella and is inscribed “with love” from my Mom and Dad. That’s amore.

Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of boiling potatoes, boiled in salted water, just until done
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Instructions
1. Boil, peel and rice potatoes while still warm. Please use a ricer – makes the end texture uniform and lump free. Oh, by the way, consider these instructions shorthand. Marcella gives much more detailed ones in the book and uses better language.
2. Do not add all the flour at one time. Start by adding ½ cup and then keep adding, just until you have dough you can work with. If you are unsure, have a small saucepan of boiling water ready and test one. Boil for 10 secs, then taste. If it falls apart, work in a little more flour.
3. Dough will be a little sticky, but should be easy to work with . Don’t overwork or gnocchi will be rubbery. Roll into cylinder; cut in ¾-inch pieces and taking it lengthwise across a fork, depress center. The ridges serve to hold the sauce. If making ahead, spread gnocchi out on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Portion into smaller bags and freeze until ready to cook.


4. Fill a deep wide saucepan (or Dutch oven) with water. Generously salt. Bring to a boil, then carefully drop in a few gnocchi. Boil 10 to 15 secs, then scoop out onto an oiled baking sheet.
5. Divide gnocchi between warm bowls and top with tomato or pesto sauce. Or, pan fry ‘em first! Slowly sizzle some butter with slivers of garlic and a handful of fresh sage until butter turns brown. Swirl pan often to avoid dark spots. Add gnocchi and toss. Generously grate in Parmesan cheese.

Consider the Egg

Often touted as nature’s most perfect food, the egg is up there in my holy trio of desert island staples. First two spots, of course, are reserved for cheese and wine. And while this post is dedicated to the glorious egg, it only sits in third place because unlike milk and grapes, eggs don’t possess that magical alchemy like the other two.But really no other foods possess that power, do they?

That being said, what I love most about the egg, besides its pleasing oval shape and cool smooth shell, is its versatility in the kitchen. No doubt there are 101 ways to cook an egg. And why not eat one for any meal at any time of the day?

24 hour eggs. I’m in.

The Breakfast Sandwich
My latest food addiction is a revisit of grilled cheese. If there are 101 ways to cook an egg, there must be 1001 ways to prepare grilled cheese. Guess what? It’s even better when you add an egg. Smear one piece of bread with an outrageous amount of mayo. Lightly spread Dijon over another. Fry up one egg and break the sunny yolk. Quickly give it a flip so the yolk barely has time to set. Slide right out onto the mayo bread, then slap down some cheese. Go ridiculously gooey, with stinky, too ripe Brie or Camembert (use the real deal). Cover with bread, then pan-fry in butter or gently squeeze in the panini press. Morning never felt so good.

a broken egg and gooey brie plus lots of mayo = great breakfast sandwich

The Lunch Egg
Lunch + an egg. I often think the French know how treat an egg at noon. Those delicate leafy salads or a pile of skinny steamed asparagus where the egg perches like a prize on top. So clever. Who needs a dressing when you can let that rich yolk cascade over whatever lies beneath. In this case, it being winter and I wanted a hearty salad, I went for quinoa with roasted broccoli and onion as my base, topped with a tart poached egg (yes tart, I adore it with a slight hint of vinegar from the cooking water). Rounded it out with a salty slice of prosciutto. Oh, and drizzle of olive oil. Happiness.

Eggs-For-Dinner
Breakfast for dinner. I go there a lot. Usually it’s a speedy scramble or a fry-up in sausage drippings doused with hot sauce. But I forgot how easy, how satisfyingly easy, the frittata is. Since I already had cooked Portobello mushrooms hiding in the fridge, it was a no-brainer to whisk in a few eggs, a handful of chives and nuggets of goat cheese. Lots of salt. That’s the key. Eggs don’t come pre-seasoned you know. Slip the whole shebang into a pie plate and fire into a low oven. Yup I said low. As in 300F. The final result of long slow cooking keeps the eggs custardy vs. rubbery….sometimes eggs are all about the texture. And long slow cooking means there’s time for a cocktail before dinner. How civilized.

Oh egg. I have considered you often. And I consider you to be quite extraordinary.

Smashed Avocado Crostini

This is my “go-to” when I need a fast and fabulous 2-bite appie. Sometimes I make it at work just for fun -if we have extra avocado around – because there are certain times and particular days when you just need a canape at work, you know? Made these at home for some girlfriends the other night. I adore an impromptu dinner. I don’t think we do it enough. Is it because we’re too polite to call a friend and say “I’m coming over. With avocados.”? It cheered my day when Micki called and asked if she could come over for dinner. And bring Rose too. Long story short….this kicked off the feast…..

Try this: infuse olive oil with chili flakes, fennel seed or cumin seeds, then drizzle it all over the avocado goodness.

What you do:

Slice a deliciously crusty baguette and liberally douse with olive oil.

Bake in 400F oven until light golden. Don’t forget to flip over. Uniform toastiness = happiness.

Split an avocado (or 2) and remove pit. Scoop out chunky blobs.

Place blobs on crostini. Attack and smash with a fork!

Generously sprinkle with fleur de sel. Why not ground freshly roasted peppercorns overtop?

Vigorously squeeze the juice of a lime all over the place.

Make your final flourish an aerodynamic drizzle of olive oil.

Go feast.

My Favourite “EAT’s”

January is often my catch-up time and also a reflection time, it being the first month of the new year and all of that soul-searching and organizing jazz. On the weekend I shot the new EAT magazine cover and my Local Kitchen story for the March/April edition. I love the socialness of a food shoot with EAT peeps. Gary Hynes (the editor) and Michael Tourigny (photographer) are interesting people and make a few hours on a Sunday pass quickly. During the shoot we were discussing our favourite covers from the last year and speculating on how many people cooked the recipes.

While we all had slightly different picks, these 3 were in all of our selections. My favourite is the fish and chips……what you can’t see on the cover shot (which I LOVE because the chips look so bloody tempting with all that salt!) – and only on the inside story  – is a picture of a bank robber! I can’t remember what the news story was, but I loved the photo – and carefully arranged a pile of chips by the robber holding his bag of loot…..almost like he stole a pile of the chips and put them in his sac! The robber is dressed up (methinks the article was a joke!) in that classic “thief” costume: striped shirt, black pants, black cap and mask, of course. I like silly things like that – especially when they’re slightly hidden…..

To read back issues, find the recipes or the “thief” and stories shown below go to http://www.eatmagazine.ca/

 

A west coast take on fish & chips: battered halibut cheeks and unctous duck fat fries

A west coast take on fish & chips: battered Halibut Cheeks and unctuous Chubby Duck Fat Fries.

Big brown sugary crumb cake studded with local blackberries. AKA slice

Big brown sugary crumb cake studded with local blackberries. AKA slice ‘o heaven.

and last, but not least….

Love the mix of a retro dessert looking more modern. Blackberries blended with lemon curd and  a cloud-like savoury cream cheese/whipped cream layer mixed with port-soaked sponge may just make you love trifle again....

Love the mix of a retro dessert looking more modern. Blackberries blended with lemon curd and a cloud-like ,savoury cream cheese & whipped cream layer mixed with port-soaked sponge. One bite may just make you love trifle again….