Prunes, prunes, the musical fruit; the more you eat, the more you shit uncontrollably.
So I pretty much dream about prune-stuffed gnocchi with vin santo and foie gras every night. And often during the day, as well. So it’s a good thing that No. 9 Park gives out the recipe on request. And since Chef Barbara Lynch has a cookbook coming out this year and I’m taking the liberty of assuming that this recipe – her signature – will be in it, I feel justified in selecting it as this week’s smackdown.
Because maybe this will help jar the dish from my head. GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, YOU DIABOLICAL POTATO PILLOWS.
Also: This meal involves a $55 stick of butter. I am not kidding.
Just the PHOTO of this butter cost $7.
You know how sometimes you really need a block of fresh foie gras, but you also need to macerate your prunes in wine for at least three hours so you don’t have time to scour the city for the foie? I know! If I had a dollar.
I ended up settling for some canned foie. It had truffle bits in it – the horror! – but it was the least adulterated and more pure of all the foie-like products I could find. When the man behind the counter pulled out the foie, he asked, “Just one can?” Like he was surprised. Which will be important later.
I also grabbed some good French butter, prunes, cream, a small chicken, a baguette and a bottle of iced tea. And then I went up to the register, and didn’t really pay attention to the cashier while I packed the food into my messenger bag. And then I turned around to pay, and the cashier said “75.08.” And then, my eye started to twitch, I think I had a small stroke and possibly I was legally dead for a few seconds. But you know my motto: Fuck it. So I bought that shit, and left the store before I could change my mind.
I do still have a question for the counter guy, though: why was it so surprising to you that I only wanted one can? Do you really normally have people coming in and buying multiple $49.99 cans of foie? If so, are they people who look like me? Really? Because I look like a schlub.
Anyway, I toted the tiny can, which I could only assume was lined in platinum and rubies to keep the foie fresh, with me while I stopped off to pick up a bottle of wine. I couldn’t find vin santo (a sweet Italian dessert wine), so I grabbed a late-harvest Riesling to get my prunes a-soakin’.
I set some yukon golds to boil for the gnocchi while I made the foie gras butter that would eventually be used to enrich the wine sauce. Foie gras butter = 1 part foie gras to 4 parts butter, and that’s it, because what else do you need? The foie is so fatty that you can use the compound butter to enrich a sauce the same way you would with butter alone. My life will never be the same.
The potatoes I boiled skin-on, to minimize the amount of water they would absorb. Once they were done, Brian used his bionic nerve-less fingers to peel the spuds while they were still steaming hot so we could push them through a ricer; I spread the riced potato on a marble board to cool and dry out and sprinkled them with salt to draw out more moisture.
These potatoes have failed to Step it Up and Dance, starring Elizabeth Berkeley.
Because I am sometimes a fucking idiot, I utterly forgot to weigh the potatoes before I cooked and riced them; I winged the amounts of flour and egg until I got a dough that felt about right – pliable and light, not overly tacky.
She was in Showgirls, you know. Please, refrain from being a hater.
I rolled the dough out to what I though was 1/8 of an inch* and cut out 3 inch circles** for the gnocchi. Brian discovered a hidden talent: gnocchi filler and crimper. I am the master and commander of dough-rolling, but Brian is like a stuffed gnocchi ninja; all his were perfect little half-moons with just the right amount of filling. I knew I married him for a reason!***
**They weren’t either.
***Actual reason: He’s willing to kill the bathroom spiders.
Mis en place. I did this purely in an effort to take a cute photo, and not out of any kind of culinary necessity.
While the gnocchi chilled for a few minutes prior to cooking, I had time to pay attention to the sauce. I’d taken the soaking wine from the prunes and reduced it with thyme, coriander and black peppercorns. The recipe called for 15 springs of thyme, and as much as I trust Barbara Lynch, the smell of thyme was overpowering the entire apartment and causing my nostrils to tingle in a bad way. So I crossed myself, took a deep breath and pulled most of it out.
It’s a good thing I checked the recipe at this point, or I would never have realized that I needed to add heavy cream prior to whisking in the foie butter. And thank goodness; this was almost starting to feel like health food, what with the prunes.
I had to take out a second mortgage for this butter, but it was totally worth it.
If Donald Trump were going to market his own brand of butter (for all I know, he already does), this would be the butter. It would come in a solid gold box tied with a pink ribbon that matches the pink of his tie, and would be called Trump’s Classy Brand Butter (“It’s gonna be yooge!”). It would retail for $199 per ounce, and would be personally ferried to your door via armored helicopter.
I’m not going to say that I dunked my head right into the pot, but I’m not going to say that I didn’t, either.
I’d made 8 tablespoons’ worth of foie butter and all 8 tablespoons got whisked into the sauce, which at that point amounted to little more than 1/3 of a cup of liquid. As each chunk disappeared into the gradually thickening sauce, the scent became more and more rich and intense.
By the end, I actually had to whisk in a little hot water to thin things out a little. And if you’ve read more than the title of this blog you know that I am not one to shy away from excessive richness (or bacon), especially when it comes to a smackdown (because hey, I’m just following directions), so that should give you some idea of what we were dealing with.
Dear God, it’s beautiful.
Brian roasted the chicken so we’d have something to eat alongside the gnocchi – you can’t really make a meal of these gnocchi, because they’re so beyond the pale that you can’t really eat more than a few at a time. This will also be important later. I plated up the dish, adding a sprinkle of gray salt over the gnocchi and sauce.
Home-cooked food often fails to live up to its restaurant counterpart because home cooks don’t use the mammoth amounts of butter and cream that restaurants feel free to use because you’re not in the kitchen watching them cook and would never suspect how much they’re dumping in.* This recipe does not try to sugarcoat its fat usage; consequently, it was nearly as good as I remembered it being at No. 9. This dish is seriously lush. The gnocchi dough is actually quite light, but the combination of the sweet prunes and wine and the foie butter is truly unctuous. The sea salt creates little pops of crunch and salty punch that cut through the madness of the foie sauce.
I ate 5 gnocchi, 2 more than the restaurant serves. Even though I could have physically fit additional gnocchi in my gut, I had to stop because the richness of the dish creates diminishing pleasure returns the more you eat. Apparently, that sensation is unique to me, because Brian was able to eat ELEVEN of these babies; by the end, he was eating them with his fingers and dipping them right into the pot of leftover sauce.
I wanted to do the same, you must believe me. But I also wanted enough leftovers to be able to take some to work for lunch and gloat remorselessly over my co-workers. Which I now have. Suck it, bitches.
*Or, if you do have a sense of it, your brain compartmentalizes this knowledge and blocks it our for your own self-preservation.