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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Gnocchi in a Garlic Blue Cheese Sauce

This one is kind of  a cliche if you ask me.

It seems most mid-range Italian (or pseudo-Italian) restos will have this on their menu.

Often as one of their only vegetarian dishes... which is weird in my opinion.

Anyway, while I am a huge fan of the blue cheeses, and garlic cream sauces in general, I am actually not all that fond of gnocchi.

I'm not a full blown hater or anything... I mean they're potato dumplings made into noodles!  That's delicious, right?

Well, yes and no.

In my opinion (which, you've come to know intimately by now) I'm all about the texture of a dish.

A velvety pasta sauce with an al dente durum egg noodle is fantastico... but the same soft and subtle sauce with an equally soft, tender, almost pillowy dumpling... it's almost frustratingly monotonous.

You know when you listen to something monotonous for so long it actually starts to drive you a little nuts?  That's kind of how I feel at the end of a bowl of creamy gnocchi.

My preference for gnocchi pairing is a nice thin and tangy, very minimalist pomodoro sauce.  It keeps the texture all down to the gnocchi without any other textural-based interference.

Anyway... that's just me.  Many, many, many people positively adore gnocchi in a smooth, rich, cream or cheese sauce.

And for some reason, gorgonzola and other potent blue cheeses, are often paired with it.  If I had to guess it is because the gnocchi by itself is actually fairly bland, flavour-wise.  So pairing it with something very powerful is often a favourable contrast.

Well... that's enough of my own personal suppositions on the etymology and history of Blue Cheese Gnocchi.

The take-away here is that sometimes I do cook it for the wife, because she lurvs it.  She had a craving for it, so I went out and bought some gnocchi and a brick of french bleu.

And here's how I make the traditional gnocchi in blue cheese cream sauce you'll find at startlingly many restaurants all over North America.

First thing right off the bat - you CAN make a low-fat version of this dish.  It involves reliance on nut milks and vegetable oils, and can be fairly decent.  I myself make an almost vegan version of this (I refuse to use 'faux' cheeses... if I want a full-on-vegan sauce, I just omit the cheese entirely for a "Vegan Cream Sauce" rather than try to fake a 'cheese' sauce.) that is quite good.


This is not that version.

This is the full-fat version you'd find at a restaurant because that's how you wow people with flavour and have them leave content and impressed.


So don't balk at the amount of dairy.

Just share a bottle of a nice Tempranillo Rioja along with it to help digest all those fats, and you'll be fine.


That's my strategy... one that I've adopted from the French.  Whenever I have a meal high in saturated fats, I almost always drink a couple of glasses of red wine with it.  It really helps digestion, and I swear (this may be psychosomatic, I dunno) it helps me feel lighter and less weighted down after such a rich meal.

Anyway... you probably already do this, but if you don't, then I recommend you try this.

Begin with a buttery soffritto.

This particular one is simply white onion and garlic.

Then I do what most cooks do not.

I puree this soffritto.  Reference above-mentioned focus on textural elements; this sauce is supposed to be extremely smooth and velvety, we don't want an errant onion chunk to throw off that consistency.

Add a cup of cream.

The MF% can vary according to your desire here.  I wouldn't recommend going up to whipping cream (33%), but I have made some cream sauces with table cream (18%) that are just delectable.

I also wouldn't recommend going much lower than 5% (half and half) or 3% (homogenized milk) either.

The thing is, the more dairy fats in the sauce, the easier it will be for the cheese to become incorporated (melt into the sauce uniformly).  If you've ever tried to melt butter or a high-fat cheese into skim milk you'll know it's really hard on its own.  Trying to mix polar and non-polar liquids is trying (layman's terminology: oil and water do not mix).  It can be done (like with the help of a roux or some dissolved corn starch...) but really it's so much easier to dissolve your fats into something which can absorb it.

So, for company, dinner parties, or when I really want to impress, I'll use a litre of table cream, but for most purposes homo milk (3% milk) works well for my purposes.

So, I just blend in a cup of cream (milk) right into the puree mixture.

If your cream (milk) is too cold, you'll run the risk of turning the butter into solids, so it's a good idea to let it get to room temperature before mixing it in.

Now... that's the flavour munchkin right there.

Before adding that back to your pan... we want to first make a roux (if you want a gluten-free recipe for this, which is actually half-way there already with the use of potato instead of wheat noodles, you can omit the roux, and just opt for less butter and a thicker cream instead... cook that down for a few minutes and it will still thicken nicely).

So, some more butter.  Melted over medium-low heat.

Then a generous spoonful or three of flour (depends on how much sauce you're making, or how thick you want it).  It doesn't have to be super specific... you can always balance it out later, and because it's much easier to just thin out an overly-thick sauce with a bit more liquid (cream/milk) I usually opt for a thick roux right out of the gate.

Whisk that in and then let it simmer for a few minutes, until the flour gets a nice light-golden colour.

Then carefully pour your cream/milk/soffritto mixure in.

Now, you shouldn't have had this roux cooking at a very hot temperature, but if you did... stand well back when you pour this in, cause you'll get some splattering.

In fact, it's a good idea to just always be mindful when mixing a cold liquid to a hot liquid. 

Unexpected culinary spatterings can be dangerous, after all!


Anyway, it should have been on low temperature and the two mixtures should incorporate well, and quickly.  In fact, after you've whisked it in and turned the heat back up a little to, say, medium heat, the thickening should begin.

I love this point in making sauces.

The white sauce.

So, so, so many sauces get their start from this humble beginning.

Look at that smooth texture and the glossy (almost brilliant) sheen!


Anyway... I'm going to mix in a few fresh green herbs first.

Fresh and finely chopped thyme, basil, and scallion tops.  For a quick and dirty tip on de-stemming thyme, check out my previous post with an included video!

That should tilt the flavour nicely towards where we want it, because honestly everything in this sauce is going to play second fiddle to the blue cheese.  The cheese is so dominant in flavour, it's going to hit heavy and hard right when it touches your tongue.  But after a few mouthfuls, you'll start picking up on some of these subtle, ultimately complementary, ancillary tastes.

Anyway, without any more preamble, let's introduce the star of tonight's dish.

Tonight we have an exceptionally bold French cheese, "Bleu D'Auvergne"


Look at that flavour!!!

Hoh man.

Anyway, it was pretty strong stuff, so I just put in half to start out.

It took less than a minute of gentle stirring for it to blend in nicely, and after a quick pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, I deemed it was perfect.

So, boil some gnocchi (for a very, very short period of time... like 2 minutes).

Plate, pour, and serve.


If you love the pillowy soft, pungently-strong combo of gnocchi and blue cheese, this dish is comforting, warming, and extremely filling (those are dumplings made from potatoes, after all!)