Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who's Got the Blues?

It's very difficult for me to try something new at my favorite restaurants. For example, I will always order the Kansas City spareribs at Blue Smoke, the sweetbreads with wild mushrooms and arugala at Blue Ribbon, and the watermelon and crispy pork salad at Fatty Crab. In fact, there is one restaurant in the city that I've loved for nine years without sampling more than one thing on the menu. Max, on Avenue B, makes what is in my humble opinion, the best gnocchi in the city. I don't know about the beloved rigatoni with eggplant, or the osso bucco over rissotto (which sounds amazing), but I do know that the gnocchi there are what I imagine the pillows in heaven to be made of.

For years I've ordered the gnocchi alla sorrentina, a simple dish with a mild, perfectly balanced tomato-basil sauce and melted mozzarella. But on my last visit, a special, sloppily written on the blackboard under the beef carpaccio caught my eye: gnocchi alla gorgonzola. After a good twenty minutes of mulling it over, I decided to make the leap and try the blue cheese gnocchi. The pasta was still heavenly, somehow managing to be light as air in my mouth and a satisfying heap in my belly. The sauce was mild, with just enough cheesy bite, and not at all overwhelming, as I expected it might be. I'll never forget that perfectly done dish, or how it was only on that night's specials menu, and not a regular item.

In my continued quest to use up what I had in my fridge before going to the greenmarket, I realized that I had half a package of leftover gnocchi sitting in a ziplock bag. Just above it on the refrigerator shelf sat half a wedge of the blue cheese I'd been using all week. A light bulb clicked in my head and I knew I had to make the gnocchi dish for myself. It could never be what the dish at Max was since I was using store bought gnocchi (albeit really good store bought gnocchi), so I decided to throw in a few new ingredients. For protein and fatty goodness I tossed in some bacon (which is totally optional), and for a bit of green and sweetness to counter the blue cheese I threw in a few peas. I started the whole sauce off with some brown butter and sage which added great nutty flavor to the whole dish. I must say that despite not having homemade pasta, the dish was actually really tasty. The sauce was well balanced and coated the pasta perfectly. If you don't have the time to head out to a place like Max, here's a great recipe to tide you over!

Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola

1 package gnocchi
4 bacon slices, roughly chopped
1/2 cup frozen or fresh spring peas
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp chopped sage
1/2 cup whole milk or half and half (any reduced fat milk will not hold up)
2/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Saga or Stilton will due)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook bacon in a non-stick skillet until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain all but 2 Tbsp of rendered bacon fat from the pan, reduce heat to medium-low and add butter. When the butter is melted and the foam has subsided, add sage and cook another minute.

2. Boil gnocchi according to package directions (usually until they float to the top). Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

3. Add milk and blue cheese to skillet, breaking up the cheese with the back of a wooden spoon. When the gnocchi are done, add them to the skillet along with the Parmesan cheese, peas and bacon. Toss to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add pasta water a tablespoon at time until thinned out. Cook until peas are warmed through. Enjoy!

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