Despite my passion for cooking foods of all kinds, there are a few things I’ve never tried to make. Simply because certain dishes, usually beloved regional specialties, require great skill, technique and time to perfect. Out of respect for those who have mastered these skills, and also a little laziness on my part, I usually only enjoy these dishes when dining out. Until recently, gnocchi was definitely on that list. Lucky for me, however, Chef Nick Morfogen of 32 East here in Delray Beach kicked off his Summer cooking class series with these iconic Italian dumplings. Over the course of the evening, he gave a whole new spin to this previously daunting dish.
The demonstration-style cooking class was held in the restaurant’s upstairs dining room. In addition to observing Chef’s mad gnocchi skills, he also shared some insider culinary tips and tricks. First, he explained that gnocchi is not really pasta. It is more of a “dumpling” since it’s made from a mixture of potatoes, eggs, flour and cheese. There are also many regional variations in Italy as well as other countries including France (gnocchis à la parisienne), Croatia (njoki) and even South America (ñoqui).
Chef also stressed the importance of using the best quality, freshest ingredients available. His favorite Parmesan cheese is the Vacche Rosse Parmigiano Reggiano. “Vacche Rosse” literally means “red cow,” and refers to the special breed of Italian cow whose milk is prized for its high butterfat and protein content. The Vacche Rosse Parmigiano is also aged for a minimum of 30 months, compared to only 24 months with other Parmesans. Chef also clarified that buffalo mozzarella is a fresh cheese made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo. And much like Italian wines, certain high quality foods including these cheeses carry a DOP classification (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta,” or “Protected Designation of Origin”) which ensures they are from a specific region and have met certain strict production criteria.
Chef also suggested baking the potatoes on a bed of salt to prevent the bottoms from burning (brilliant!). After divesting the pre-baked potatoes of their skins, he deftly worked them through a food mill. This broke them up while also imparting a light, airy texture. Either a food mill or potato ricer can be used for this task and I’m a big fan of the ricer. I’ve used mine to make heavenly mashed potatoes for many years and I especially like this one. While incorporating the flour into the potato and egg mixture a little at a time, Chef stressed the importance of not overworking the dough. This will make it tough and could possibly ruin the finished product. Once the dough has been rolled into “ropes” and cut into the classic bite-size pieces, each gnocchi must be rolled over a “gnocchi paddle.” This essential piece of equipment gives the gnocchi their hallmark, groovy appearance. At under $10, this is a worthwhile investment for the gnocchi lover.
After boiling the gnocchi in a large pot of salted water (when they float, they’re done!) our lesson was complete. We then had the pleasure of sampling Chef Nick’s Gnocchi all Sorrentina. The dish featured the freshly prepared gnocchi in a flavorful marinara sauce dusted with grated Vacche Rosse Parmigiano. It was pure heaven and we enjoyed the dish with a bottle of Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva. This Sangiovese-based red wine from Tuscany paired perfectly with the gnocchi and savory red sauce.
Inspired by Chef Nick’s class, I recently made plans to have some friends over for gnocchi. Perfecting any recipe takes time and you have to start somewhere, right? I’ll also have lots of Chianti on hand just in case.
Last month’s installment of “The Art of Wine & Food” featured the wines of Tuscany, one of Italy’s, and apparently South Florida’s, most beloved wine regions. To showcase this region we were fortunate to be able to feature the wines of one of my favorite producers, Fattoria di Fèlsina.
My husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Fèlsina years ago, located in Castelnuovo Berardegna in the southeastern part of the Chianti Classico appellation northeast of Siena. We had a wonderful experience and have been big fans and collectors of their age-worthy wines ever since.
For our event at the Museum, we were able to feature three of Fèlsina’s wines and each wine was paired with a delicious dish created by Chef Lenore Nolan-Ryan, a true Mistress of Flavors, who also happens to be a true pleasure to work with! Lenore also has a wonderful cooking school and catering company in Ft. Lauderdale, to check it out, please click here.
Each of our featured wines for the evening was made from 100% Sangiovese, the signature grape of Tuscany, whose name is derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis, or “the blood of Jove,” the Roman king of the gods. Sangiovese and its many clones are the primary ingredient in many of the red wines of Tuscany including Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano and many of the Super Tuscans. All of the wines were also from the 2008 vintage, an inconsistent vintage in Tuscany that favored specific producers who were able to adapt to the changing weather conditions. Fèlsina’s wines definitely shine and while very approachable now will benefit from additional bottle aging.
Each of these wines also clearly represented a different incarnation of the Sangiovese grape and reflected it’s own unique terroir. The first two wines of the night were from the Chianto Classico DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). DOCG is Italy’s most prestigious and stringent classification, indicating the wine’s producer followed the strictest regulations defined by the classification system. Our third wine, the Fontalloro, is a “Super Tuscan” classified as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) an appellation created in 1992 for wines that were considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which did not conform to the strict wine laws of the region’s DOC or DOCG classifications. Before the IGT classification was created, “Super Tuscan” wines such as Fontalloro and Tignanello were labeled Vino da Tavola (VDT), the lowest of the Italian classifications.
The evening began with the 2008 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG featuring grapes grown on a variety of soil types at altitudes ranging from 960 to 1,260 feet above sea level. In the glass this wine is a brilliant ruby red with fragrant aromatics of ripe red fruit with a hint of spice. On the palate, juicy notes of Morello cherry, pomegranate and licorice were accompanied by a lovely minerality, acidity and well integrated tannins. Chef Lenore prepared a lovely platter of Italian delicacies to pair with this wine including chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, mozzarella wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma and dried figs. The tannins of the wine interacted deliciously with the flavors and textures of the food. Wine Advocate: 91+ points. Wine Atelier price: $27
Our second wine of the evening was the 2008 Fèlsina “Rancia” Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, which takes its name from the historic Rancia estate that was once a Benedictine monastery. This vineyard consists of 15 acres with limestone and marl soils and elevations ranging between 1,200 and 1,260 feet with a southwest exposure. The first vintage of the “Rancia” single vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva was produced in 1983. This wine is deep ruby red in color with aromas of red and black fruit and spice. On the palate, classic notes of the characteristic Morello cherry, blackberry, black tea and earth are accompanied by firm yet supple tannins and a delightfully long, lingering finish. This Tuscan beauty paired very well with Chef Lenore’s riff on Pasta Bolognese featuring the addition of red currants which really highlighted these nuances in the wine. Wine Advocate: 93+ points. Wine Atelier price: $44
Our third wine of the evening was the 2008 Fèlsina Fontalloro, our Super Tuscan of the evening. This special wine is considered the most representative expression of Fèlsina’s Sangiovese since the grapes are grown in vineyards straddling the borders between the Chianti Classico and Chianti Colli Senesi appellations. The vineyards found within the Chianti Classico appellation are in the elevated area of Fèlsina and those of the Chianti Colli Senesi in the lowlands. Like the Rancia, the first vintage of this wine was also 1983. This 100% Sangiovese is aged in first or second use, 225-liter oak barrels for 18-22 months, blended in steel tanks, then bottle-aged for an additional 8-12 months. It also has a deep ruby red color with complex aromas of violet, black currant, earth and licorice. The palate shows good consistency with firm yet approachable tannins, great structure and complexity and a memorable finish. The Fontalloro paired divinely with Chef Lenore’s Classic Italian Meatball with Ricotta Cheese. Wine Advocate: 94 points. Wine Atelier price: $54
Big thanks to Chiara Leonini from Fattoria di Fèlsina and Stacole Fine Wines for sponsoring our event – everyone truly enjoyed their evening “Under the Tuscan Sun”! To purchase these wines from The Wine Atelier, please click here. Please join us on Thursday, April 25th for “An Evening of Breaking All the Rules with Napa Valley’s Art + Farm!”. We are fortunate to have Owner/Winemaker Kat McDonald joining us to share her story and her unique approach to winemaking. We are thrilled to welcome her to South Florida! For more details please click here.