Shopping the Farmers Market: Why Blog

After years of frequenting the farmers markets in NYC, but only buying a few supplemental ingredients here or there, I decided to be experimental and work dishes around what is in season or looks particularly mouthwatering at the market that day. Green seems to be the buzz word these days from NYC to the White House, and the eat local movement is in full swing. My attempt here is to buy as many ingredients as possible from a the farmers market, and then occasionally supplement with locally produced ingredients from chain markets around the city. Most of the recipes I post (except for the baking recipes) are either things I created myself, or variations on recipes I've found elsewhere. I hope that you take the recipes and shopping tips here and they inspire you to do your own local cooking.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gnocchi Just Like My Imaginary Italian Grandma Used to Make

I actually made it to two outdoor markets today. The first one, the Hester Street Market at Essex and Hester Street isn't actually a farmers market. Instead, it's more of a craft market where food vendors from around the city often sell their concoctions in small portions. Luke's Lobster is often there, as well as White Slab Palace. I like it because sometimes there's an amazing spice vendor. Today I went because it was Guerrilla Ice Cream's last day at the market for the season. If you haven't heard of Guerrilla Ice Cream check them out, They make small batches of ice cream in unique flavors that I've never seen anywhere else. I'm on their mailing list, so I was informed that today they would have duck ice cream with plum sauce and mooncake. I thought that was too bizarre to pass up, so I made a bee-line for the market as soon as I made it out of my apartment today. I wasn't sure what it was going to taste like, but I thought I'd dive in anyway.

I think the guy selling the ice cream was a little shocked that he didn't have to sell me on it, because when I asked for a small scoop he said "really? Without even tasting it first?" I had duck last night for dinner, and I'll have to admit, that this tasted nothing like that, but still gave off a slight essence of duckiness. It was much sweeter than I thought it would be, maybe hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the tart plum sauce was the perfect accompaniment. I thoroughly enjoyed eating it as I perused the cuff bracelets and necklaces.

Sated by my scoop of poultry ice cream, I headed up to the farmers market at Tompkins Square Park. Now, when I used to like in the East Village, this was my local market, so I knew what was probably going to be there going in. The Tompkins Square market is small, but has a lot of charm...i.e. is very crowded. Despite the 80 degree weather, I really saw the shift to fall today in the produce. Lots of apples, and the start of some pretty looking gourds.

I've had the idea to make gnocchi with porcini mushroom sauce for the whole summer, but I always felt that it was too hot to make. Now that fall is almost officially here, I felt like it was time.

I didn't buy much at the market today. Just 4 russet potatoes and 3 Yukon golds. All for about $1.50/lb. Sometimes you can get dried mushrooms at the market, but not today. I usually see a lot of mushrooms at the Grand Army or the Union Square markets. I could have also bought a couple of dozen tomatoes here to make my own tomato paste, but this recipe was long enough already, and two dozen tomatoes at $3.50/lb seemed very expensive compared to the 2 cans of tomato paste I bought at Whole Foods for $0.89 each. If you do want to make your own paste here's a recipe to try (

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market
4 russet potatoes
3 Yukon gold potatoes
Small yellow onion
Flat leaf parsley

At Whole Foods
1.5 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms
unsalted butter
2 6oz. cans of tomato paste

Supplementary ingredients I had at home
Olive Oil
All Purpose Flour

Optional ingredients that I might use next time
Full bodied red wine

Recipe: Potato Gnocchi with a Porcini Mushroom Sauce

4 lbs of potatoes
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmesan

Porcini Mushroom Sauce
1.5 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
12 oz. of tomato paste
1/2 small onion chopped
2 cups of loosely packed flat leaf parsley
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of chopped sage (optional)
1/2 cup of red wine (optional)

I got this recipe from a post on Chow Hound. A woman said that this was the recipe that her Italian grandmother taught her. I changed it very slightly, but it's pretty true to the original.

Start with the porcini mushroom sauce. I made everything at the same time, but this made me have to multi-task too much. I'd make the sauce ahead of time if I were you, then you can just concentrate on the gnocchi.

Soak dried mushrooms in a bowl of cold water for a minute shaking a bit. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the mushrooms into a small pot. Cover the mushrooms with 1 1/2 cups of water and turn on low heat until the liquid simmers. The recipe said that this could take 45 minutes, but it started to simmer for me after only 25-30. Once it begins to simmer turn the heat off and scoop the mushrooms with a slotted spoon onto a cutting board. Chop. Strain the remaining liquid into another bowl a couple of times.

Next, take the parsley, garlic, and onion and put them in a food processor and pulse 10 times. My stuff is in storage for another two weeks until my new apartment is ready so I'm food processorless at the moment. I tried to use the blender, but without any liquid it really didn't work. I ended up chopping everything up finely. A pain, but you can do it if you don't have a food processor.

Place a heavy 4 quart pot with a lid over medium-low heat. Melt the butter and add the oil. When the butter begins to bubble add the garlic/onion/parsley mixture. Sautee for about 6 minutes until the onions become translucent. Add the chopped mushrooms and mix in. Add the tomato paste and mix in. Slowly add the remaining mushroom liquid while you stir. The original recipe calls for you to take one of the 6 oz. tomato paste cans and fill it with water 4 or 5 times stirring as you add the water in. I think it might be an even bolder flavor if you use a full bodied red wine instead of the water here. I also think adding some chopped sage or a couple of bay leaves would be nice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once everything is mixed in, turn the heat down to low, cover, and let simmer for an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Remember to check the sauce every 20 minutes or so to make sure that the sauce isn't too thick. If it is add a little water.

When the sauce seems like it's the right consistency for you, add more salt and pepper to taste.

For the gnocchi, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I made gnocchi once before over a decade ago. My friend Janice had recently come back from Argentina and her host mother had taught her how to make it. We boiled the potatoes. They turned out well, but this recipe called for roasting the potatoes. After tasting the gnocchi I think roasting is a good idea. The potatoes don't retain as much water when you roast them, which makes for lighter, fluffier gnocchi. Place the potatoes directly on the rack and cook for 45-55 minutes, until they seem soft when you prick them with a fork.

Once the potatoes are roasted pull them out and cut them lengthwise. Be careful, they're hot. I used rubber gloves to handle them. Scoop the inside of the potatoes into a bowl. Next, push the potato through a potato ricer. A lot of people don't have one of these, but I think they're worth it. They really create a much better texture for the potato. I picked mine up for $7 as the Met Grocery Store, so no excuses! Rice the potatoes onto a sheet pan, making sure you're spreading them out so they cool.

Once the potatoes are cool put them into a large bowl and add some salt (maybe about 1 tablespoon). Mix in a 1/2 cup of flour with a fork. Then mix in another 1/2 cup. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface. Work in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour. I did this 1/2 cup at a time, making a well in the center of the dough and mixing it in from there.

Once the flour is mixed in, knead until the dough is soft and elasticy, about 7 minutes total. Shape into a 6 x 4 inch loaf. Cut into 1 inch strips, and roll each strip until it's 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the cylinder into 1 1/4 inch pieces. Roll each one off the end of a floured fork to make the dimples that gnocchi are famous for.

While you're doing this you should boil a large pot of heavily salted water (3 or 4 tablespoons). When the water boils, throw 2 or 3 gnocchi in to make sure they stick together in the water. If they don't, add more flour to the dough. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes until the gnocchi begin to float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon. You should be boiling these is small batches of 15-20 gnocchi at a time. You can cover the gnocchi with a towel while they're waiting to be cooked. After 4 hours you can freeze the remaining gnocchi and cook at another time.

To serve, place 15 or 20 gnocchi on a plate. Spoon the porcini mushroom sauce on top, sprinkle with fresh pepper and Parmesan. Serve right away.

These came out very well. They were definitely the texture I was looking for, not too heavy or mealy. Gnocchi can often feel like lead if you overwork the dough, or cook them for too long, so be careful. The sauce had a really nice earthy flavor that went well with the potato in the gnocchi.

This is my last post for a couple of weeks. My furnished summer sublet in Brooklyn is coming to an end, and my apartment is being packed up as we speak. I'll reemerge in my new apartment in Astoria in a couple of weeks with all of my own cooking equipment back. New borough, new places to shop. I must admit I'll miss the Brooklyn farmers markets, but this gives me a new opportunity to explore. Join me in October when gourd season will be in full swing. Do I hear pumpkin muffins?

1 comment:

  1. Homemade gnocchi - fancy!! Good luck with the move to Astoria.