I found this beautiful plate in an antique store in Park Slope called Bob and Judi's Collectibles and decided to give it to my father for his birthday along with a meal served on it. The specifics of the dinner were a surprise, mostly because I couldn't figure out what to make, but also because I wanted to extend the anticipation as long as I could.
I brought Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking (an original copy that my grandmother gave to me when I discovered how much I loved cooking) on the train and thumbed through it trying to find an enticing recipe. Gnocchi has been on my list for a long time and Julia had multiple entries on it, so I decided upon gnocchi with basil sauce and a peach galette for dessert since my dad wished he had one that morning.
On that same train, two tourists completely terrified by the New York City subway system approached me while I waited for the F train. The sign hanging in front of us said Jamaica 179th St., because that's the last stop on the train. I heard them debating whether or not this was the correct train and waited for their approach. Soon enough, the woman came up to me concerned that I might be as nutty as the last person she asked for advice.
"We don't want to go to Jamaica," she told me with worry in her eyes. "Don't worry," I assured her, explaining what that meant. She still looked confused so I said, "This is an uptown train." This information clearly undid any previous clarification I might have provided. "That means it goes further north into Manhattan." She seemed so lost so I finally asked, "Where is that you are trying to go?" Relieved that we finally spoke the same language, she told me that she was trying to get to 23rd St so I informed her that the F does in fact stop there.
When we got on the train, I continued to leaf through the cookbook, unsure as of what I was going to whip up that night. Frustrated that I couldn't come up with an idea (the gnocchi came to me later), I put the book back in my bag and resigned myself to looking at my reflection in the door across from me. The woman's husband looked up at me from his seat and said, "Done reading already?" I informed him that it was a cookbook and explained that I was trying to think of something to make for my dad's birthday. Thrilled that he could tackle his first challenge since he arrived in the city, he said bright-eyed, "I think you should make him rib-eye steak...unless of course your dad doesn't like that," he finished remembering that he was in New York after all.
Long story kind of short, he told me I could barbeque them and after telling him that we live in an apartment and thus do not have a barbeque he offered several alternative methods of preparing the steak. I told him I didn't think I was qualified yet to make steak and he thought that this was an excellent excuse. "You know, we're not from around here," he said and thanked me as he and his wife departed to find their son who moved from Minnesota to New York, God knows why he wanted to do that, they said.
Like I mentioned before, I decided upon gnocchi and a simple basil sauce. For the gnocchi I peeled five russet potatoes and placed them in boiling water until they softened. I mashed them and Julia says that you should also put the potatoes through a ricer to get all the lumps out but I don't have one, so I let the lumps be. You should also place the potatoes once mashed back on a burner and put the flame on low for about 2 minutes so you can evaporate any remaining water.
While the potatoes are cooking, you need to make the pate choux, which is the flour base you will mix in with the potatoes to get the proper dumpling texture. First melt 6 tbs of butter in 1 cup of water and then add 1/3 tsp pepper, 1 tsp salt and a dash of nutmeg. When the butter has melted, turn off the flame and add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of semolina flour. This needs to be stirred into the butter/water mixture quite quickly. Julia says, "Then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and the spoon, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan."
Again, turn off the burner and add 4 eggs one at a time, mixing vigorously with each addition. Add 1/2 cup of a cheese of your choice (I used asiago) grated and finally add the mashed spuds and beat into a homogenous mixture. You should let this cool a bit and then spread semolina out onto parchment or wax paper to form the dumplings. Take a spoonful of dough and roll it in the semolina until it's long and cylindrical, but not too thin.
Then, cut it into 1 inch sections and press your fork slightly on one side, for the classic gnocchi texture. The more flour the better. You should lay them out on cookie tins so they have a chance to breath (what I didn't do) and then boil a bot of water and throw them in for 90 seconds. Many of mine turned to pasta mush, but I was able to salvage 1/2 for our dinner.
The basil sauce requires 1 can of tomato sauce, a few fresh basil leaves, a tab of butter, and a few handfuls of grated cheese. It should cook for about 20 minutes (stirring it on and off). Even though the dinner wasn't perfect, it was sweet...gnocchi, I shall return.
While the gnocchi was relaxing (before I cooked it), I started on the peach galettes, which are open faced, free form tarts that don't require tins. To begin, I made my dough using the Rose Bakery cookbook (see my Lemon Tart), and let it cool in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. In the meanwhile, I made the peach mixture for the middle of the tart.To make the filling I used Simply Recipes' recipe, although I amended it a tad to fit my needs.
I used 4 small peaches (washed and sliced), although not all of them were completely ripe. I put these slices in a bowl and added 1 tbs flour and 3 tbs sugar and if you have it, which I didn't, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Toss this as you would a salad so that all the peach slices are coated with the sugar/flour/vanilla mixture.Once you are finished, return your attention to the dough. Tape down some wax paper and put flour all over it so the dough doesn't stick.
Put flour on top of the dough as well and coat the rolling pin it. Then, roll it out so it's about 1/4 inch thick and place it on a buttered cookie tin. Arrange the peaches in a circular pattern and then fold up the edges of the dough to encircle the filling. A lot of my dough broke apart during this step, but I salvaged it by pressing the sides together to mend the tears.I also beat one egg and brushed the pastry with it for the glazed effect. Put the galettes in the oven set to 425 F and bake them for about 15-20 minutes. You should check them periodically to make sure the bottoms don't burn. We ate them for dessert and for breakfast and they were delicious. I love being able to give people my cooking skill for their birthday. When my dad opened up his plate, there was a card taped to it that said, "If you're afraid of butter, use cream"-Julia Child.