Saturday, April 27, 2013

Crab Salad with Grilled Asparagus

         Spring is finally in full swing and great local Quebec products are showing up all over the markets. Crab is easily one of my favorite foods. That's why fresh snow crab, pulled straight from the Atlantic, is a pretty exciting sight to me. Local asparagus is just coming into season too here in Quebec, which is perfect timing, because asparagus just happens to be a perfect match for crab.  

       When you are dealing with ingredients as beautiful and fresh as these, you want to dress them up as little as possible. Just let their natural flavour shine. The only dressing I use for this salad is olive oil and lemon juice. The only seasoning is salt and pepper with a bit of fresh dill. Yet this dish still packs a flavour punch, all thanks the grilled asparagus and that amazing snow crab. A little sprinkling of grated hard boiled eggs adds a bit of buttery texture to the salad.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 15 minutes. Serves 4


4 snow crab sections (2 whole crabs)
2 bunches asparagus
2 eggs
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch fresh dill
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1. To prepare the crab, cut a slit along the edge of each leg and use the knife to slide the meat out. Cut the body in half and use a fork to remove the meat there. Crack each claw's shell in half and then remove the bottom part and leave the meat in the shell. Toss the crab meat in 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Season with a bit of chopped dill, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Keep refrigerated.

2. Cook the eggs in salted water until they are hard boiled. Chill the eggs in ice water, peel and then separate the yolks from the whites. Use the fine side of a box grater or a Microplane to grate the eggs. 

Tip: To avoid having any nasty gray edges on the yolks that can come from overcooking the eggs, I never let the water get to a rolling boil. I keep the water around the temperature of hot coffee. The eggs take longer (about 12 - 15 minutes) but the texture of both the yolks and the white are softer and more buttery when cooked gently.    

3. Blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water for just under 1 minute. Toss in olive oil, salt & pepper and then grill on high heat until just browned.

4. Divide the asparagus among 4 plates, top with crab salad, crab claw & grated egg. Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over each plate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gnocchi with Sage Butter

     If you take the time to make the homemade gnocchi from my previous post, this simple dish is a perfect vehicle to show off your hard work. A rich coating of butterperfectly complements the gnocchi's soft, melting texture and the flavour of the sage is a perfect match for the potato pasta.

 Gnocchi works well with simple sauces, and this one is about as simple as it gets. It only has 3 ingredients: sage, butter & water. What  makes the difference between a good butter sauce and a great one is technique. Like in a beurre blanc, the base of this sauce is a beurre monté. To make a beurre monté, you gently melt butter in a hot liquid one cube at a time so that it doesn't break and become greasy. In a beurre blanc you would typically use reduced white wine or vinegar. For this sauce I simply use some of the water that the gnocchi was cooked in. 

       To give the dish an extra bit of texture, I fry some sage leaves for garnish. The crispness of the fried sage brings a nice counterbalance to the soft gnocchi and makes for an elegant presentation. Sage holds ups well to frying and the process helps bring out its earthy flavour. Fried sage leaves are a great garnish for all kinds of dishes, particularly poultry.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time 15 minutes. Serves 5.


2 lbs (900g) homemade gnocchi
1 bunch fresh sage
1/4 lbs (115g) cold butter, cubed 

2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

1. Heat the vegetable oil to 300F in a small pot equipped with a deep fry thermometer. Cut half the leaves from the bunch of sage, choosing a mix of both the biggest and the smallest leaves. Fry the sage a few leaves at a time until they are crisp and have almost stopped bubbling. Transfer the fried sage to a baking tray lined with paper towel and set aside to dry. 

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and then cook the gnocchi until it floats to the top of the pot. If you are using frozen gnocchi, don't defrost it first - add it to the boiling water while it is still frozen. Fresh gnocchi will be ready in about 3 minutes, frozen gnocchi will take about 2 minutes more. Strain the gnocchi and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the gnocchi with a knob of butter and keep it in a warm place while you make the sauce. 

3. Finely chop the remaining sage. In a large pot or frying pan, gently heat the reserved cooking water to the temperature of hot coffee. Tilt the pan so that the water collects in one side and whisk in the cold butter, one cube at a time.  Add the sage and let the sauce rest for 5 minutes to allow the flavour to infuse. 

4. Add the cooked gnocchi to the butter sauce and toss over gentle heat for 2 minutes. Divide the gnocchi among 5 bowls and top with fried sage. 


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Homemade gnocchi

Making gnocchi is one of my favorite jobs to do a work. In fact, with some good classical music playing in the background, it doesn't feel like work at all. The big payoff is that once you invest an afternoon in making gnocchi, you can have plently of quick meals ready for you anytime in the freezer. 

This recipe makes enough gnocchi for several portions, so you can easily freeze half and save it for another time. You could also make a double batch and really stock up your freezer for several meals. If you do make a double batch, only mix the ingredients together for one recipe at a time, because the dough can get soggy if it sits too long. You can cook & puree all the potatoes at once, and then mix each recipe just before you roll and cut it. 

Always spread the gnocchi out on a tray before putting them in the freezer so that they don't stick together. Once the gnocchi are frozen, you can put them in bags so that they take up less space. 
    Homemade gnocchi work best with really simple garnishes. I like to just toss them in olive oil with diced tomatoes and basil. They're also great with in a cream sauce with bacon. I'll be posting a recipe soon for a really simple sage butter gnocchi that takes minutes to prepare. 

Prep time: 1 hour Yields about 8 portions


1 kg potatoes (roughly 3 large potatoes)
2 whole eggs + 1 yolk
3 cups flour
salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400F

1.  Lay the potatoes on a baking tray and bake uncovered until a knife passes easily through them, about 1 hour.

2. While they are still hot, peel the potatoes and then mash them. To peel hot potatoes, hold the potato in a small kitchen towel and use a paring knife to remove the skin. A potato ricer is the ideal too to puree the potatoes, but a traditional masher works fine - just make sure there are no lumps in the mash. Spread the mash out on a baking tray and allow it to cool - first for a couple of minutes on the counter, then for about 10 minutes more in the fridge.

3.  Dust a large work surface with a generous amount of flour and then place the mashed potatoes down on the flour. Add 2 1/4 cups flour and a bit of salt and pepper and gently mix it into the potatoes. Make a well in the top and drop in the 2 eggs and 1 yolk. Use a fork to break up the yolks and whisk the eggs a bit. Use your hands to mix the eggs into the dough. Continue to add flour a bit more at a time until the dough is dry enough to for a ball. The total amount of flour needed will vary according to the moisture content of the potatoes you use.

4. Knead the dough for a good 5 - 10 minutes. Don't worry too much about over-working the dough. A well kneaded dough will make gnocchis that are soft, yet still have some texture to them. My trick to tell if the dough is ready is to give it a good solid punch. When the dough has a bit of resistance and springiness to it, it is ready to be rolled & cut.

5. Divide the dough into 6 balls and roll each one into long strips and then cut the strips into 3/4" (2cm) pieces. Transfer the gnocchi to a floured tray in one even layer. Cook in boiling water until they float to the top, about 3 minutes. Use a bowl a ice water to chill the gnocchi if you don't intend to use them right away.

*Gnocchi can be frozen pre-cooked or raw. Freeze the gnocchis laid out individually on a floured tray that has been wrapped in plastic before transferring them to bags or sealable containers.