Always something new at Truffle Pig
Chef Ezra Duker shares his gnocchi expertise with home cooks
November 29, 2010
Steamboat Springs — When the Truffle Pig opened in One Steamboat Place adjacent to Gondola Square last winter, it brought high-end, innovative cuisine to within steps of Steamboat Ski Area's gondola. But don't let the restaurant's name or location fool you — it already has become a lot of things to a lot of people, says One Steamboat Place General Manager Lance Thompson.
For the happy hour crowd, it's $3 PBRs and a tapas-style menu of quick bites like oysters and sliders ranging from $1 to $5. Thompson said he envisions happy hour morphing into an après ski hour during winter, an idea that he looks forward to experimenting with this season.
Those looking for a little more on their plate took advantage of Truffle Pig's hosted theme nights throughout fall with a $25, three-course menu for the night.
The restaurant's main event is an ever-changing nightly menu. The scallops are flown in fresh, and the chicken and beef are purchased from local producers. Dinner items might include roasted chicken over corn puree or a salad made from fresh beets.
Chef Ezra Duker is the talent behind the tasty dishes. He started his culinary career cleaning dishes in Philadelphia, then worked his way through the kitchens of restaurants in London and Philadelphia before landing at Napa Valley's French Laundry — arguably the best restaurant in America — before the allure of a ski town and the job opening at Truffle Pig enticed him to settle in Steamboat Springs.
Duker didn't leave all of his past behind. He worked with the same truffle provider for years in California and continues to get truffles and other ingredients shipped in fresh. He also brought some of the traditions from French Laundry, notably the ever-changing menu the chefs were required to create each night to prepare for the next day's shift.
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Duker recently spent some time with At Home in Steamboat Springs to share his recipe for gnocchi — small potato dumplings often used as a pasta substitute. He said the dish can be intimidating to home chefs, but is surprisingly simple and versatile.
Truffle Pig gnocchi
- 2 pounds milled russet potatoes
- 1 1/3 cups flour
- 1 cup microplaned (shredded) Parmesan cheese (preferably fresh)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 egg yolks
- Lay down a thick layer of kosher salt on a sheet pan and place 5 large, whole russet potatoes on top. Roast at 360 degrees for 85 to 90 minutes. About halfway through, poke the potatoes with a fork to release steam.
- After the potatoes are roasted, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Discard the peels. Use a potato ricer or vegetable mill to quickly mash or break up the potatoes. Duker said it's important to break up the potatoes as quickly as possible to prevent the starches from breaking down and getting gummy and also to keep the potatoes hot. If you don't have a ricer ($20) or mill (can cost $350 or more for industrial sizes), you can quickly and roughly mash the potatoes.
- Put the potatoes in a large bowl and add flour and Parmesan. Once mixed, make a small divot in the middle of the mixture and add the egg yolks. Break the yolks with a fork, and quickly incorporate the whole mixture. Again, it's important to keep the mixture as hot as possible and to not overwork it. It's fine if there are still specks of yellow yolk. Duker recommends a bowl scraper or other large tool to fold it together quickly.
At this point, the mixture should be moist but not sticky.
- Split the mixture into two parts and place one half on a floured cutting board. Duker recommends using a wooden cutting board so that it will absorb moisture and keep the mixture from becoming too sticky.
- Roll the dough into a flat piece about a half-inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into strips about a half-inch wide. Use your hands to slightly roll those "snakes" and even out their diameters, then cut again to create half-inch pieces.
At this point, many restaurants will roll the gnocchi against the back of a knife to create the traditional gnocchi look, but that's an unnecessary step Duker doesn't use at Truffle Pig.
- Next, boil a large pot of salted water. For every 5 gallons of water, use 1 cup of salt to preserve the salinity of the gnocchi. Drop the gnocchi into the pot and continue to boil. Once the gnocchi floats, remove from the water.
- Put gnocchi in refrigerator until cool, but be careful not to press the pieces together. The cooling can take as long as an hour. The gnocchi can be kept for as long as three days in the refrigerator.
Truffle Pig makes a sauce with fresh truffles, porcini and chanterelle mushrooms and mushroom stock. Those ingredients are not easily found or afforded — the Burgundy truffles are $180 per pound, and the mushroom stock can take hours to make.
A recipe easy for home, and also served at Truffle Pig, includes:
- 1 cup fresh corn
- 1/2 cup roasted and halved cherry tomatoes with peels removed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Poke the cherry tomatoes with a fork, then roast in the oven at about 200 degrees for 10 minutes, then check. Remove the peels and cut tomatoes in half when they are done.
- Saute the corn in butter over medium heat, then add the cherry tomatoes, basil and spices and cook until the mixture is warm.
Finish the meal
- A few leaves of fresh basil, chopped
- Squirt of lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon butter
The final step in gnocchi preparation is key — and the reason you haven't had gnocchi this good before. By adding the egg yolks, Duker essentially has made a small soufflé inside each piece of gnocchi.
- Add a bit of neutral oil — corn or canola, preferably, but not olive — to a pan and heat just until the oil shimmers. If the oil is too hot, the gnocchi will stick. Make sure the gnocchi is separated, then put into pan and use a spatula to prevent any more sticking.
- After a minute, add a tablespoon of butter, then chopped basil and lemon juice to give the gnocchi a nice golden color and bright flavor.
- Drain the gnocchi on a paper towel and taste.
- Place gnocchi in a warm bowl and cover with the warm corn and tomato mixture. Another scraping of Parmesan cheese finishes the plate.
Gnocchi can have its pitfalls. In unskilled hands and with bad recipes, it can end up little more than a gooey glob. But when done right and prepared quickly to avoid breaking the starches, it's a hearty dish that can be used with nearly any pasta sauce. Saute only what you want to eat, and keep the rest in the freezer for a few days' worth of leftovers.
A test of this recipe in a home kitchen showed the potato ricer is an effective tool for breaking up the potatoes. It's a $20 gadget that may be used only a few times a year, but for this recipe, it proved its worth. Gnocchi also has a tendency to stick together. To avoid that, cool the gnocchi pieces separately — perhaps on a baking sheet in the kitchen — before putting them together in the refrigerator or freezer. Make sure the gnocchi is cool before cooking, and take the time to separate the pieces before placing in the saute pan. This recipe makes several servings, so saute only a serving or two at a time in a pan that's big enough to hold everything without overcrowding.
Heed Duker's advice and you'll end up with gnocchi soft and fluffy like a pillow, and tasty enough to go back for seconds.
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