Death via potato gnocchi

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Please note this story contains gratuitous language, pictures of failure (click to enlarge) and failure: Lots and lots of failure.

As I write this, a pile of white lumpy sludge that looks like the lovechild of a marshmallow pie and a blender sits cooling on a baking pan on my trashed kitchen counter.

My sin? Ambition, hubris or optimism. (I'm not sure which is worst.)

My crime? Attempting to make a potato gnocchi recipe supplied by Chef Bertrand Bouquin, from the Broadmoor's Summit restaurant and Penrose Room.

It started innocently enough. I'd had some killer dinners supplied by the French wizard, and figured I'd try my hand at a few items. Nothing crazy — no poached halibut cheeks, pork loins or even complex versions of the gnocchi. Hell, I'd eaten a squid ink version that had me pining for gallons of cephalopodic pigment. So I started small: just a simple potato gnocchi gratin. Seven or eight ingredients, a little pinch of this or that, some boiling, some reduced cream and presto!

I have all the ingredients, too. Maybe not the right kind of potatoes, or any heavy cream, or Parmesan, or a tamis, but I've got the nutmeg, flour, egg, salt and pepper — I'm golden! I've practically already made the damn things, and I haven't even stood up yet. Plus, I have a strainer, and that has to be basically the same thing.

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Honestly, I'm not sure where I went wrong, but here's how it went: I bake the potatoes for an hour, just like I'm supposed to. So far, so good and I can tell that I'm almost home-free. I peel the skins off, burn myself a few times, curse the names of a few spud-related deities and mash those motherlovers through my strainer with the most useful tool God ever gave His people: a rice scooper.

Yeah, it's hard work, but they're mashed, they're steaming, they're happy. They're sitting in my large bowl looking like something I could potentially crack two egg yolks, and a whole egg into and make a little dough. Hell, when I'm done with these I'll basically be printing actual dough, they'll be so good.

So I get down with the eggs, and crack them into my hand pro-style to sift the yolk, and they go in just fine. Then I open my flour, and I'm pretty sure it's the same flour I've had since I moved out when I was 18 ... and I'm 26. (Flour doesn't rot, does it?) Who knows, but in any case it's a little lumpy, so I drop it straight through the same strainer, and it comes out like angel dust. I couldn't be happier with it if it was cocaine.

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So in it goes, and I know at this point all is well, and I'm about to make the best damn gnocchi, ever; Chef's going to be knocking down my door for this stuff. Except, I forget to set some water boiling. See, you blanch these little babies, then you bake 'em in a sauce of reduced heavy cream, salt and pepper. But I haven't reduced the cream, and I don't have the water boiling, and I'm trying to roll the dough out, but it's sticking to my hands (which I know is a bad sign).

But it doesn't matter, because momentum is carrying the meal at this point. So I get them rolled, cut into pieces — rice scooper for the win — skip the scoring with fork tines because I'm pretty sure things are headed south, and dump 30 inch-long rolls of potato dough into boiling water churched-up with a little kosher salt and olive oil. And then all I have to do is wait three minutes for them to float to the top, like delicious angels returning to Heaven.

So I do. I wait.

Then? My little bits of magic do exactly what they're supposed to: They float to the top.

Except ... except now they're gooey bits of magic, and the magic's actually a cruel illusion and the reality is that now I have a boiled mess of sloppy potato goo, and nothing close to resembling anything that might someday be confused for a piece of potato gnocchi. What I did have was a sink covered in dishes, a counter covered in flour, a floor covered in pans, a camera covered in starchy crap and no dinner.

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So I do what any upstanding cook staring failure in the face would do: I text my girlfriend for moral support. "Abject, unconditional failure."

"Aw. Sorry to hear that," she commiserates.

"Yeah," I write. "It looks like a steaming pile of potato shit."

"And tastes?" she asks, cheerfully looking for a silver lining.

Sigh.

"Like floury boiled potatoes made of glue," I say. "With a touch of nutmeg."

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