Gnocchi With Chef Nunzio
I’ve blogged about Farina Neighborhood Italian before, and post about Chef Nunzio’s food on several occasions. But on Saturday, March 12th, 2016 I had the distinctive pleasure of going into his kitchen and learning how to make one of my favorite of his dishes…the Ricotta Gnocchi. I’m going to tell you how to make it, but first, a little bit on Nunzio, and Farina.
Chef Nunzio started out in Youngstown, Ohio – he and his brother opened their first restaurant, an Italian/Spanish tapas style restaurant. As time past, he moved to North Carolina and was a chef at several restaurants before opening Driftwood Southern Kitchen in March of 2014 in North Raleigh’s Layfayette Village. The two restaurants are located right across the access way from each other which seems smart, considering you need to be able to be close to your babies, especially when they are first coming together.
Nunzio did share a couple up and coming changes that are being made to Driftwood as well, including the addition of a raw bar – which I have to say I’m pretty excited to check out.
Farina Neighborhood Italian took over the space where Paparazzi used to sit. Yes, Nunzio was a chef there, yes they also served Italian food but NO, they are not the same establishment. Farina is Nunzio’s creation. It’s an amazing feat to open a restaurant so quickly after another one closes, something any owner should be praised for. Nunzio has gone through a few menu changes since Farina opened and is constantly trying to satisfy every palate of every diner that comes in to enjoy a meal. The menus change with the seasons and he tries to support local artisans wherever he can with what he offers the community. A few of the changes: bread is now complimentary, and there are two pricing options including individual size and family size for the entrees and two sizes of pizza. They offer a few dessert options including some delicious cannolis, and of course I can’t say enough about the tiramisu.
Oh, and they have some new weekly specials including:
Daily pizza happy hour: All 12 inch pizzas are half price from 4-6 pm in the bar area (dine in only)
Monday – half price wine by the bottle
Tuesday $5 signature cocktails
Wednesdays – half price wine by the glass (not including house wine)
I can imagine it’d be a pretty good deal to get one of those pizzas and a half price bottle of wine on a Wednesday – great way to spend the middle of the week, if you ask me!
Alright, so on to the fun! I went in to learn the secret to the ricotta gnocchi, and learn the secrets I did…Here are the highlights, tips and tricks from my Saturday morning at Farina. In a later post, I’ll make them myself and post the recipe and the how to for making LESS than 10 servings at a time.
The most important ingredient in your ricotta gnocchi will of course be your ricotta. Chef Nunzio chose his based on the water content. You want whole milk ricotta that doesn’t have a lot of water. He purchases his from Sam Maulucci and Son’s, a 60 year old family business out of Hartford, Ct., where all they do is make ricotta. I looked the store up, it’s a little grocery store that, as far as I can find, doesn’t have a website. The less water your ricotta has, the less flour you use which will give you a better texture (more flour equals more gummy). Use as little as possible, just to help the ricotta bond, and you’ll get a much better texture on your gnocchi.
Alright, so you put the ricotta in a bowl with your eggs, flour and nutmeg and combine it till the texture is perfect.
I’m always impressed when someone can crack an egg with one hand and get no shell in the mix. Super cool.
The flour is being strategically added so that they can determine exactly the right amount. Above you can see the hands of Martin (one of the chef’s at Farina), who Nunzio says has the magic touch for the gnocchi, sprinkling in the flour.
This recipe includes ricotta, parmesan, eggs, nutmeg, flour, salt and pepper – of course, the amounts of each in this recipe are for a crowd, so when I make them myself I’ll make sure to include the amounts of each ingredient paired down for a few servings.
Martin begins to mix, making sure to be gentle with the mix. Be careful not to overwhelm with pepper because it will bleed through. You want to mix it just to the point where it’s stiff, then you can begin to roll it out.
After your mixture is stiff, dust your counter with flour and grab yourself a giant ball of the mix.
It’s important that you get a large enough ball of mix and roll it slowly, putting even pressure all the way down the log.
Martin’s technique is nearly perfect, his log of gnocchi mix comes out evenly and his pieces are almost identical in size.
Look at that! When you feel the piece, it’s dense but not heavy. The mix is kinda sticky, and when you pinch it, it bounces back a bit.
He cuts them into perfect 1 inch pieces.
My turn! As you can see, I was a little excited about my chef’s coat.
It’ took me a few tries even to get the size of the ball of mix correct.
My technique wasn’t quite as good as Martin’s but after a while I started to get the feel of it. My logs did break in the middle (most of the time), but that can be easily corrected.
While both Martin and Nunzo can quickly bang out a whole bunch, it took me quite a while to get my line cut. Finding that perfect inch was – not so easy for me.
I did start to get a bit more comfortable in the kitchen, but never really got as good at making the pieces as Martin and Nunzio are.
After we had all the pieces cut, we took them back to the boiling water. You want a gentle boil, and to make sure you don’t put too many in at a time.
Drop your gnocchi pieces in and let them cook until they float, then wait another minute or two.
If the water starts to boil too much, turn it down. Otherwise, the boiling water will start to tear up your delicate pillows of delicious ricotta cheese.
Remove them ever so gently with a slotted spoon and allow them to drain. You have endless possibilities with the cooked product. On the menu at Farina, there is a homemade ricotta gnocchi dish where they are covered in sauce and cheese and baked and – I’m not kidding when I say this – I was NOT a fan of gnocchi until I ate this dish. It changed my opinion. My photographer, Ian Wilson, said the same thing when we went in to learn this new skill.
But on this particular morning, to show us the different flavor and texture you can get with the gnocchi, Nunzio made them two ways. One way was with brown butter and sage and a drizzle of saba (an Italian syrup made from cooking down grape must that looks and tastes a lot like balsamic vinegar).
I’ve never been successful with making brown butter – mine usually turns into burnt butter – but this was perfect! Nutty and soft, and it really highlighted the delicate pillows.
The gnocchi came out a little crisp, and extremely flavorful. I was in heaven.
For the second sample, Nunzio tossed the gnocchi in a pan with his delicious tomato sauce and sautéed them just to heat them through.
It’s hard to say which I liked better. I really liked the crispy outside of the brown butter and sage plate, but the tomato sauce that they make at Farina is so delicious…I’m still torn.
By the end of the morning, we were members of the clean plate club.
If you haven’t been to Farina, you are doing yourself an injustice. It is an outstanding establishment. Each meal I’ve enjoyed there has been delicious. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and always filled with laughter. The staff are all so welcoming and tolerant of even the most difficult guests. Go in, check out the new menu – and pay attention to the new details of the menu. Don’t forget to tell me what you think of the food. And look for the next post where I attempt to make these gnocchi at home. Oh boy. Wish me luck!!!
And don’t forget to check out Ian Wilson’s other art work:
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