Gnocchi with Caramelized Fennel and Corn
Gnocchi will always be on our menu in some fashion, says Chef Michael Hudman of Hog & Hominy. For me, making the little potato dumplings is a form of meditation; everything else falls away. This recipe, my favorite of all our gnocchi preparations, reminds me of Maw Maw, who always cooked her corn in sweet milk, removed the kernels from the cobs, and then cooked the cobs in the milk to impart even more corn flavor to the sauce. Eating this dish always takes me back to my childhood.
For the gnocchi:
- 4 russet potatoes
- 2 egg yolks
- 15 grates of fresh nutmeg
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 2 cups (10 oz./315 g) “00” flour
For the corn cream:
- 3 ears of corn
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 bunch fresh tarragon
- 6-oz. (185-g) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind
- 3 turns cracked pepper
- 4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l) heavy cream
For the tarragon pangrattato:
- 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 4 large fresh basil leaves
- 6 Tbs. (1 1/2 oz./45 g) small cubes stale Italian bread
- 1/4 cup (1/3 oz./10 g) finely chopped fresh tarragon
- Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 fennel bulbs with fronds
- Olive oil as needed
- Kernels from 3 ears of corn
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) dry white wine
- 1 bunch fresh tarragon
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
To make the gnocchi, preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C). Using a fork, poke holes all over the potatoes. Put them on the oven rack and bake until very tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.
Cut the potatoes open lengthwise across the top and let the steam escape. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scoop all of the potato flesh from the skins. Put the still-warm potato flesh in a food mill set over a bowl and turn the crank until all the potato flesh is in the bowl; do this quickly as you don’t want the flesh to cool completely before you make the dough. Using a kitchen scale, weigh out 2 lb. (1 kg) of the potato flesh and place in a bowl. Add the egg yolks, nutmeg, a large pinch of salt and 4 turns pepper and mix well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Add 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz./235 g) of the flour and use your hands to incorporate it gently into the dough. Take care not to overmix or the gnocchi will be heavy. Add additional flour 1 Tbs. at a time if the dough seems too wet.
On a clean work surface, divide the dough into 4 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, shape it into a short cylinder. Place the fingers of both hands on the cylinder and roll it back and forth on the clean surface (flour on the surface will make it difficult to roll the cylinders), gradually shifting your hands to the ends, to form a log about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Make logs out of the remaining 3 dough pieces. Next, using a knife, cut each log into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces. Roll each piece across a gnocchi board to create grooves in which the sauce can collect. If you don’t have a gnocchi board, gently press the tines of a fork into the top surface of each piece of gnocchi. Set aside.
To make the corn cream, cut the kernels from the cobs. Run the back of a knife blade along the length of each cob to force out any juice and the germ of each kernel into a bowl. Put the corn kernels, corn juice, thyme, tarragon, cheese rind and pepper in a saucepan and pour in the cream. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside. Discard the solids in the sieve.
To make the tarragon pangrattato, in a fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. When the butter starts to foam, add the basil leaves and bread cubes and sauté until the bread is golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the basil leaves and discard. Add the tarragon and lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the bread cubes to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, then set aside until ready to use.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, set aside the fennel fronds and dice the fennel bulbs to the size of corn kernels.
When the water is boiling, drop in the gnocchi and cook until they float to the top, about 7 minutes. Once they float, set the timer and cook the gnocchi for another 3 minutes. Drain the gnocchi and keep warm.
In a large sauté pan, warm 2 glugs (about 2 Tbs.) of olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced fennel, increase the heat to high and sauté until it caramelizes, about 7 minutes. Add the corn kernels and thyme and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
Add the gnocchi to the sauté pan with the vegetables. Add the corn cream and tarragon and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens and nicely coats the gnocchi. Remove and discard the herbs.
Divide the gnocchi and vegetables among warmed wide, shallow bowls. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano, the pangrattato and reserved fennel fronds and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Adapted from Collards & Carbonara, by Andrew Ticer & Michael Hudman (Olive Press, 2013).