March 3, 2010

Recipe: Garlic Thyme Gnocchi with Fennel Creme Sauce and Bok Choi Twists

Thanks for being patient and sticking with me for the first recipe.  There were some cooking basics I had to get out of the way so readers could understand my recipes.  This is advanced stuff, but worth the effort.  Please read the entire recipe before venturing into this dish.  Trying to do this ad hoc could throw your dinner off by multiple hours.

Fennel Creme Sauce
1 large leek
1/2 fennel bulb
1 medium-sized carrot
1 C non-dairy milk
1/2 C silken tofu
1/2 C water
1 T nutritional yeast
2 t miso (any kind will work)
Dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the leek, the fennel bulb and the carrot.  Water fry in a large sauce pan or small pot until brown, about 5 minutes.  This is your mirepoix.  

Add the non-dairy milk, tofu, water, nutritional yeast, miso and spices.  Blend with a hand-blender or pour mixture into a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Heat on medium-low until warm.

Notes on creme sauce: Remember to taste the sauce before you add the salt.  Miso is naturally very salty, so you should go easy on the added salt. 

Garlic Thyme Gnocchi
Remember the previous post on dough.  This is where it will come in handy.

For those who aren't familiar, Gnocchi is potato pasta.  Potatoes have no gluten, so we have to help it pasta-ize with durum wheat flour.  Durum wheat is the wheat grain with the highest protein content and readily will turn anything into pasta in the right proportions.  Whole wheat durum flour is difficult to find, however, you may find semolina flour or farrina flour at your local market.  Semolina and farrina are akin to the white flour of durum wheat.  At that point, we begin to get away from whole food cooking, but regular whole wheat flour does not usually have enough protein to stand up to boiling as pasta.

You can find other recipes on the web for pasta, even plant-based ones that use regular whole wheat flour.  All those recipes will add some kind of protein, either tofu or eggs or gluten flour.  Again, in trying to eliminate the processed foods and animal foods, whole durum wheat flour is the best choice if you can get it.

2-3 lbs. of potatoes
2-3 C of durum wheat flour
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
1 T fresh thyme, diced
Bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes until soft and tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Once cool, remove the skins and mash the potatoes by hand in a bowl until most of the chunks are gone.  DO NOT blend or put your potatoes in a food processor.  You will get wall paper paste.

Mix in the spices by hand.

Note:  I'm a big fan of using your hands to mix your food.  Forget the spoons.  Your hands are the best way to tell that the consistency of your dish is just right.

Now, add in the durum flour 1/2 cup at a time.  How much durum flour will you need?  Enough to make the potatoes into a workable dough.  Why is this so imprecise?  Your potatoes will vary in weight and water content.  The only way to tell is by mixing in the flour by hand.  This is real cooking.  Anyone caught using a spoon on this step will be put in a gnocchi time-out! 

Once you have your dough, roll it into long snakes between a half inch and an inch in diameter.  Then slice off half inch pieces and place them on a cookie tray dusted with more flour.  They can even sit out uncovered for hours without worry.

Then, you boil them like any other pasta.  For additional flavor, boil them in vegetable broth instead of water.  They will initially sink to the bottom.  After a minute or two, they will begin to float.  Give them another 30 seconds and take them out.

Bok Choi Twists
Bok Choi is a wonderful vegetable that carries a ton of water in it.  It has bright green tops and pure white stems.  The taste is reminiscent of a very mild horseradish.

It is a great accompaniment to the thicker fennel creme and gnocchi.  Chop off the base of the bok choi and wash the leaves individually to get all the dirt off.  Then slice the bok choi length-wise so each piece is long, narrow and has the white base with the green top.

Steam these VERY lightly... just enough to wilt the green but not the white.  The white should stay crisp.  It will be barely warm.  No salt.  No pepper.  Just bok choi in all its natural goodness.

Note:  Great cooking shines through not only in your choices to add ingredients but also in your choices to leave things as they are.  Explore the natural taste of plant foods.  Plants have a ton of flavor.  Think also about meat in American culture.  No one just eats plain meat.  They spice it and cover it up with all kinds of flavorful sauces which are derived from plants.  Explore them.  Plants are where flavor comes from.  

Final Plating 
Align the bok choi on the plate so all the white is on one side and all the green leaves on the other.  Twist the leaves together.

Spoon the gnocchi onto the plate and then spoon the sauce over it.  Don't mix them together in a big bowl first.  This isn't the old country buffet.  Plate all your food before serving.

The green tops of the fennel have delicate sprigs that are very flavorful and fresh-tasting.  Pull these off the fennel leaving the thick green stems behind.  Garnish your creme sauce with a generous amount of these fennel sprigs and serve!

Note: The fennel taste in this dish is quite mild.  For more fennel taste, finely dice more of the fennel bulb and garnish the dish with the diced fennel before you add on the green fennel sprigs. 

Serves 4-6


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