Gnocchi for Daring Cooks
After I’d finished my university exchange to Holland and had returned to Australia with an empty bank account and a new found reluctance to study, finding a job to make sure I was able to eat (and party) was the first thing on the list. Thankfully, I managed to move into a share house full of people who worked in hospitality and I ended up with my first bar/serving wench job fairly quickly after that.
My first hospitality job was in a slightly dodgy ‘club’ restaurant environment. The kind of place that has monthly seafood and dancing nights frequented by oldies, who come decked out in all their finery and clutching at dreams of a bygone era. It was the kind of place where it wasn’t unusual to catch the chefs from the other restaurant upstairs leaving the bathroom without washing their hands.
It was also the kind of place where all the staff would play pool after work over which stories about dubious pasts would be shared, always to my amazement - it was like being able to peek into another world. Thankfully our chefs, while absolutely dubious, definitely uncouth and a little bit mad, were at least clean. They were also happy to let me dabble with pizzas and garlic breads and other simple food tasks when things got a little hectic and the orders piled up.
I didn’t last there particularly long. I realised that I really enjoyed the atmosphere of working during a busy service and wanted to step it up a notch, whilst cutting out the crap that came with working in a slightly dodgy club environment. I went in search of something a bit more polished, a bit more refined, and where I could learn a bit more about food. I found it in a lovely little restaurant tucked away in a little set of shops in Canberra’s inner south.
It was the kind of restaurant that taught its staff about the food they were serving - how it was cooked, where the ingredients came from, and why the flavours and textures worked together. It was the kind of restaurant that made sure we knew about the wines that matched with the food, the wineries who supplied it and which vintages were fabulous.
And it was the kind of restaurant that served beautiful, but approachable, food to its diners, and food of dubious quality to its staff. But that was ok. We always washed our staff meals down with a glass of tasty wine and polished it off with tasty house-made ice cream and sorbet snuck from the freezer - swings and roundabouts and all that!
On the quieter nights, and during a quick break, I’d often head into the kitchen with a bottle of San Pelligrino (yep, that’s where my very serious San Pell addiction all started), stand behind the dishy and watch the kitchen in action. There was also a fab viewpoint from the bar too, and the chefs were usually happy to answer my random questions about how, why and what they were doing when I had a moment or two away from my tables.
One of the dishes that was always on the menu, and which caught my eye, was the pan-fried potato gnocchi. I’d never seen gnocchi done like that before, with the outside crispy and delicious, and the inside soft and pillowy - never gluey or tough. At the time, recreating it was a bit beyond me, so I never tried.
Then one day, during the last season of masterchef (the one before the one that just finished), Gary Meighan did a masterclass with pan fried gnocchi with exotic mushrooms and herbs. I thought I’d give it a crack, and following a few hit and misses, always involving overworking the dough, this dish has become a staple in our house.
When I saw that Gnocchi was the Daring Cooks challenge for this month I knew exactly what to share. Whilst I guess it's not so daring for me now, it definitely was back in those serving wench days when I never even dreamed of trying something like this at home and pan fried gnocchi was a complete novelty. The recipe for the gnocchi is available over at the masterchef website - I usually make mine with whatever hard herbs I have on hand (but always rosemary, I have a rosemary bush that grows absolutely wild). I particularly like it with lemon thyme, a good handful or two of Li-Sun exotic mushrooms, and a handful of parmesan cheese
I've made this recipe into a video, to show you how I make sure that I don't overwork the dough, and how to get that gorgeous caramelisation on the gnocchi (and also to put a bit of effort into my first daring cooks challenge :)). Hope you enjoy!
Have you ever thought "there's no way I could cook that at home" only to surprise yourself when you give it a go? And have you ever worked in a slightly dodgy (or totally dodgy) workplace?
Blog checking lines: Todd, who is The Daring Kitchen’s AWESOME webmaster and an amazing cook, is our September Daring Cooks’ host! Todd challenged us to make light and fluffy potato Gnocchi and encouraged us to flavor the lil pillows of goodness and go wild with a sauce to top them with!