Herb Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Earlier this year, I joined Craig for a trip to the Florida Film Festival, mostly so we could go to Disney World. On the day of the awards, we sat at a table with filmmaker Matt Morris. Then something extraordinary happened: the MC called his name and his documentary, “Pickin’ & Trimmin'” won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Short. Here Matt wins my grand jury prize for a dish I want to eat RIGHT NOW. Take it away, Matt!]

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Adam and I met at the Florida Film Festival. Craig’s movie True Adolescents was playing there, as was my (ahem, award-winning) documentary short film, Pickin’ & Trimmin&#8217. It was only later, through the brilliance of Facebook, that I found out Adam was a food writer and blogger.

I was intrigued. About 3 years ago I started getting interested in food and cooking. I clicked over to Amazon and purchased The Amateur Gourmet. I loved the book and was struck by how our paths to being food geeks were so similar. So naturally, when Adam asked me to be a guest-blogger, I was thrilled.

But what to cook? I wanted something difficult, something interesting, and as a filmmaker, something “high concept.” Not too long ago, my girlfriend Emma and I were looking for recipes we could make together. I brought out my book of Thomas Keller’s recipes from his restaurant Bouchon. Now, Keller is a guy who I consider some sort of otherworldly superhero-slash-chef. No way would I ever think I could approach a French Laundry recipe. Even though the Bouchon recipes are from his casual bistro, they tend to take 2-3 days and an insane amount of work. This man is a freak of nature. But he also has a herb gnocchi with summer vegetables recipe that looked unbelievably delicious.

I’ve never made gnocchi, so I did some googling and I find this video of Keller effortlessly demonstrating how to cook it. I knew this effortlessness was deceiving, and I was a little worried about how well I could handle cooking it. But the real kicker comes at 3 minutes, 36 seconds into the video.

Keller says, “Of course, if you have an ambitious young daughter or son who loves to cook this is a wonderful thing to do.” What? Are you serious, dude? I’m a 26 year old man with a beard and I’m inevitably found weeping after attempting any one of your recipes, and you think a kid can do this?

I had my high concept. “Cooking Keller with Kids!” I could see it on the marquee. I have a 5 year-old niece who loves cooking. She watches Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network all the time. “Giada at Home” is one of her favorite shows. She’ll be perfect for this! So I grabbed my camera, thinking that I’d make a video where Gracie helps me make a Thomas Keller recipe and we get into hilarious misadventures along the way. Unfortunately, this did not happen. I underestimated Gracie’s love for Giada De Laurentiis, and as you will see, my attempt to make herb gnocchi somehow turned into an elaborate performance of her version of the Food Network show Giada at Home.

So there you have it. I definitely would not be making “urban gnocchi” with her. I should also point out that she is an accomplished chef and was fully capable of using the various knives and blenders in that video. What she was not capable of was the lure of fame and fortune. I’ll have you know that for the last three days, she has continuously demanded that I set up my lights and film more cooking shows with her. What a diva.

So kids can’t cook Keller’s gnocchi, but how about grown ups? Let’s get down to it.

First, the gnocchi. Keller’s recipe makes waaaay too much gnocchi. 8 servings, in fact. He freezes the rest, but I decided to cut that recipe in half, because that’s how much the gnocchi with summer vegetables recipe calls for.

It’s important to get all your ingredients ready for this one before you start.

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In a saucepan, I combined 3/4th of a cup of water and 3 ounces of unsalted butter with a little bit of salt. You bring this up to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium. Here’s where the fun part starts. You dump in one cup of flour, and you take a wooden spatula or spoon and stir rapidly. I was a little intimidated by this type of move. I felt like I was seconds away from disaster, but it all came together really well. It forms a nice ball of dough, and after about five minutes it starts to steam a little and you smell it cooking. This is when you transfer to a mixer bowl. But, you know what? Not everyone has a mixer, and Keller in the video above did it without one, so I followed his lead.

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I took it off the heat and dumped it in another bowl. Now you add 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, and half a tablespoon of chervil, chives, parsley, tarragon, and whatever other fresh herbs you’d like. Since it’s summer, I threw in some basil. Mix this for a little bit, then add a half cup of loosely packed shredded Comte or Emmentaler cheese. Now, get 2-3 eggs. I used 3. Add them one at a time and stir vigorously to incorporate the eggs. At first I wasn’t stirring well enough and I got panicky. Remain calm. Or, if you are me, freak out more and stir harder and faster and you’ll be fine. Lift some of the dough mixture on your spoon. You want to make sure it slides off slowly. If it isn’t sliding, add some more egg.

Put the dough into a pastry bag and let it rest for a half hour. If you don’t have a pastry bag, a zip lock bag with one tip cut open works fine. Have the tip be about a half an inch in diameter.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer. Set up two baking sheets, one with paper towels, and one with parchment paper. Here’s the part I thought would be trickier than it was. With your right hand, grab the pastry bag. I put the twisty bit between my index finger and thumb, and had the body of the mixture controlled by my palm and other fingers. With my left hand, I held my knife. You squeeze out the mixture, cutting off 1-inch segments with the knife, into the water. Don’t do more than 2 dozen per batch. The nice thing is by then, you’ve run out of how much dough you can squeeze out with your current grip. The gnocchi fall to the bottom of the pot, then after a bit rise up the top. Let them cook for 1-2 minutes after that, then put on the paper towel. Remember, you’re cooking them again, so they don’t have to look all the way done.

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Before we move on, lets back up a moment and remember that Keller video. Squeezing out the dough and cutting it off was the part he suggested your kids help with, right? It sounded great. I asked Gracie again if she wanted to help me with that part but she thankfully refused. Why thankfully? Because many of the times when the gnocchi fell in, it caused hot water to jump out of the pot and BURN MY HAND. What great fun for your young daughter or son, indeed, Mr. Keller!

So after you return from your hospital’s pediatric burn ward, you put the gnocchi on the parchment paper, cover with some plastic wrap, and pop it in the fridge. The genius part of this recipe is that you can keep it there for a half hour, or the next day, or freeze it for a couple of weeks. The hard part is done.

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Now that we have our gnocchi, we can take advantage of summer and cook it with some gorgeous summer vegetables. Now I cooked this recipe for 4 people, but it would actually be better prepared for two. Since it’s hard to get all the gnocchi and veggies in one pan, Keller suggests splitting everything up equally in two pans. Why not just make it for two and save the other gnocchi for later? So if you’d like, consider splitting this recipe in half and having a lovely meal with your significant other.

In a saucepan, heat up some oil and cook 2 zucchini and 2 squash that have been halved, de-seeded, and cut into 1/4th inch slices. Add a little salt and pepper and cook for about 4 or 5 minutes, and then place on paper towel to drain. Wipe the excess oil from the pan.

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Gather together 8 ounces of fresh tomatoes. I used an heirloom red tomato and small yellow ones from Gracie’s garden. You’ll also need 24 black olives, halved and pitted. In addition, prepare 4 large sage leaves cut into chiffonade and a tablespoon each of parsley and chives.

Once you get everything together, it’s a simple process. Two pans on medium high heat, add a light coating of oil and a tablespoon of butter to each. Once the butter has browned, divide up the gnocchi. Then, my favorite part, is adding the sage to the gnocchi as it browns. I’d never cooked with sage before! It’s gloriously aromatic. Make sure the gnocchi gets nice and crisp, after 2-3 minutes.

Toss in all the other vegetables and chives and heat through. I then combined the contents of both pans into one serving platter. I put one of the pans back on medium-high heat. I added a few tablespoons of butter, and threw in the parsley. Then I squeezed the juice of half a lemon in there- but stand back! It will splatter. Then spoon this sauce over the gnocchi and vegetables when you’ve served it.

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This is actually easier than it sounds. I suggest making a fun day or two out of it with a friend or significant other. You can go grocery shopping in the morning, make the gnocchi that night, put it in the fridge, and make the dinner the next evening! Best of all, it’s unbelievably delicious. The gnocchi is crisp on the outside and soft in the center and the herb flavors are fantastic. The saltiness of the olives, the pungent aromas of the sage, the brightness of the lemons and tomatoes- it all works. This is a perfect meal to make this summer, but you might want to try it without the kids around.

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