Monday, January 14, 2008

Gnocchi: Chef Dante Boccuzzi's Fluffy Potato Pillows

About seven years ago, Chef Dante Boccuzzi (of Silk’s, Nobu, Aureole) taught me how to make gnocchi. My potato world was changed forever.

Dante’s gnocchi were simply the lightest, the most supple and flavorful potato pillows that I’ve ever tried. More than just being pure deliciousness, they epitomized the savory, earthy essence of a potato, but with fluff.

Due to this elated potato experience, I have been ruined for most other gnocchi- mostly finding them too hard, too gummy, too heavy, too floury, or frankly, just too boring. No gnocchi have ever treated me as well or made me blush with culinary remembrance like those created in the Silk’s restaurant kitchen that day.

Of course Dante would have never announced that something of his doing was that grandiose. He’s not that type. He insisted that we call him by his first name rather than Chef and would carry conversations will us lowly beginning cooks as if we were equals and not inexperienced fledglings hoping to absorb some of his skill. Instead, he walked me over to a prep table, and asked me quietly if I would like to learn how to make the gnocchi that his grandmother taught him how to make as a young boy in Parma. This question, coming from the mouth of one of the nicest and talented chefs (with pretty, smiling eyes) that I ever had the opportunity to work with was enough to render me smitten with gnocchi forever. With his potato pillows, that is.

A couple weeks ago I decided to make that same gnocchi.

This was not a decision I took lightly. Before deciding to have a go at it, I recalled how I have routinely ruined perfectly easy and simple squash or ricotta-spinach gnocchi recipes from other sources. Butternut goo or cheese and spinach soup anyone? I wasn’t just nervous that I would be completely inept at making potato pillows, I was scared of killing my perfect Boccuzzi gnocchi memory. After debating whether it was better to keep a memory holy or attempt to bring it into fruition, into the living day, I made my decision. I headed to my recipe files. I was sure I wrote it down, and two of our favorite dinner guests were arriving at 6:30pm.

I didn’t write it down.

But I still made gnocchi. The mark of a great teacher, his pupil remembered the steps that he taught seven years later, without notes. I think… anyhow, the gnocchi were super and Dante inspired. And I'm still smitten with his potato touch.

In my next post I will include a recipe of of that memory. However, before giving the recipe, I’d just like to apologize to our guests that night, and my co-workers, and the wine bar customers. I was very excited and let’s all pray together that in a month or so, I’ll stop talking about the fluttering feeling I got in my tummy when lightly kneading the potato pillows on our kitchen prep table. I'm sorry.

In addition, because this is a wine and food pairing blog, I’ll reveal that the accompanying sauce served with the fluffy guys was mushroomey- Santa Cruz grown shitakes, dried porcinis, enoki’s, garlic, thyme, butter, and a squeeze of lemon. Simple. We drank this will an Andrew Rich Pinot Noir that my cousins (our dinner guests) brought over from their trip to Oregon. It was a fantastic match. Oregon Pinot Noirs are often celebrated for their light mushroom aroma, and the earthy streak running through the wine matched similar qualities in the sauce.

Recipe to come soon.

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