Tuesday 8 December 2015

French gnocchi in a smoked tomato vinaigrette

Why do we like the taste of smoke? We all understand the reasons why salt, fat and sugar are so delicious but ash? Think though: cheese, bacon, ham, sausage, oysters, duck, fish (haddock!), chicken, garlic - all improved with smoke. Unsmoked bacon should be an actual sin in my book. I think it could be that if food is smoked it's probably easier to digest and it's safer to eat; the smoke inhibits microbial action, so our ancestors developed a taste for the brown stuff. Damn that's a sexy sentence. Who's hungry now?

I usually use French gnocchi - nothing like the Italian, these are made with a choux pastry base - as a spring starter with lardons and broad beans but I wanted a different gig, specifically an un-pork gig; something savoury, smokey and salty to replace the bacon's umami spike. I fancied tomatoes in a smoked vinaigrette - I still had a litre of oak smoked water from my summer trip to Halen Môn in North Wales.

I coupled the toms and crispy gnocchi with some local curd cheese from the lovely Phil and Keith at Wildes. I normally buy straight from their 'urban dairy', a mile or so from my house. Was pleased to see they've moved to bigger premises. They have a reception area now. It's a good sign. This time next year, chaps!

The dish would be finished by a scattering of that chef's favourite (and mine): the micro herb. I have a dealer now: an executive chef in the city. I visit his house under darkness, thrusting notes into his hand in exchange for fresh boxes of wonderful little leaves. Here I used aromatic micro basil and peppery nasturtium. If we were a proper restaurant I would have placed the leaves individually, nicely. But we're not. I wish the supermarkets sold them. They are very useful and not at all poncey (how dare you!).

But gah! I'd run out of my favourite pulp vinegar. L'Olivier make the best, the deepest, most flavoursome vinegars in the world. This was a good excuse to make my now annual order from Upton Smokery. And look at what they included as a freebie - it's as if they knew.

I made the vinaigrette with a mix of the tomato and red pepper vinegars (about a tablespoon of each), along with a dash of the plain old red wine variety for added pep. this was mixed about 1:3 with groundnut oil, seasoning, a dash of the Cotswold Gold above and a teaspoon of the smoked water; it's powerful stuff.

As I was serving these with cheese I omitted the Gruyere from the usual recipe, replacing with just a tad of grated parmesan. These were better than I remembered. Or maybe I'm getting better. There's a thought. 

Used alone,  the gnocchi would be great for (I have to say it) Christmas nibbles. They'd do well in the place of their cousins: the cheese gougère... along with some nuts and a glass of white Burgundy. I don't do Champagne, even at Christmas.

And here's the happy recipient of the new dish: Shelley, behind a mountain of oddly shaped Yorkshires.

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