Mon 1 Nov 2010
By “My First Gnocchi,” I mean my first time to make gnocchi; I mean, I’ve eaten gnocchi many times, mainly in its manifestation as heavy, doughy little indigestible depth-charges. I’ve always avoided making gnocchi because it — really they, right? — felt more trouble than the effort could be worth, and truly the process is a kitchen-wrecker par excellence. Still, I decided to prepare Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter, from the October issue of Bon Appétit, for Halloween night because it seemed like an appropriate autumnal sort of dish. The recipe is from an article about New York Italian restaurant lynch-pin Lidia Bastianich and a typical Friulian meal.
As I said, this was a trek into virgin culinary territory for me, and I was certain as the prepping and mixing and cooking and rolling out and cooking and more cooking went on that I was doing everything wrong. Lo and behold, however, the things actually turned out pretty damned light and airy, just as gnocchi ought to be. LL allowed as how they were as good at the ones she had eaten at Cent’Anni in New York, eons ago. I’ll admit that they were — aw shucks, darnit! — delicious.
I thought that a good way to start — btw, we were watching the excellent Swedish vampire pre-teen love story “Let the Right One In” — would be with a bottle of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, a seasonal brew, from the well-known independent (and eccentric) brewery in Milton, Delaware, described as “a full-bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg.” When I first read these words on Punkin Ale’s label, I shuddered; how, I pondered, could this be anything but too sweet? But no, the spicy “Thanksgiving-like” aspects are very subtle. There’s a sense of sweetness, but it’s encompassed by the ale’s nut-brown richness and balance and the thwacking touch of bitterness on the finish. It was wonderful with the gnocchi. Dogfish Punkin Ale is released early in September and is usually sold out by late November. I paid $3 for a 12-ounce bottle at a retail liquor store that sells “big” beer. I noticed that it’s available by the six-pack at the local Whole Foods. I think I’ll buy one.
From the Punkin Ale, we turned to a completely different but just as satisfying experience. Lydia Bastianich and her son Joe, also a very successful restaurateur (with partner Mario Batali), own a winery in the Friuli region of northeast Italy. The estate turns out well-crafted red and white wines, but recently, as in October, Bastianich released a new line of affordable wines called Adriatico. The wines in the line-up are a Friulano from Italy’s Friuli Venenzia Giulia region, a ribolla gialla from the Brda region of Slovenia, and a malvasia Istriana from Croatia, all of these areas linked geographically by their access to the most inland tip of the Adriatic Sea, as well as by history and culture.
I opened the Bastianich Adriatico Friulana 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, and was mighty glad that I did. Yes, it drank very nicely with Lydia Bastianich’s Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter — and only Bastianish wines are recommended with the recipes in the magazine — but even more, it displays gratifying quality and character for the price; in fact, let’s call it compelling. First impression is generally spicy and floral and minerally, while the latter element rapidly rises to the top in a tide of scintillating limestone that bears roasted lemon and lemon balm and a hint of almond and almond blossom. The wine is very fresh, crisp and lively, very dry, yet juicy (stopping short of luscious) and flavorful in a way that’s both fruity and savory; I swear, it felt as if the spareness of cucumber and dried thyme were balanced by ripe pear, lychee and bacon fat, the wine is that macerated and meaty. Yet — another “yet” — there’s nothing obvious, flamboyant or overwhelming here; all is serenity, poise and equilibrium. Drink now through 2011 or into 2012. Alcohol is $13. Excellent. About $15, a Phenomenal Bargain.
Dark Star Imports, New York. A sample for review.