If you're like me, you have those restaurants that you've always wanted to go to but for some reason never have. Maybe it's not in the budget, maybe it's halfway around the world, or maybe it's in a city you've spent a lifetime traveling to, hell even lived in, and you just never got around to it.
Del Posto, in New York City, is the latter for me.
Founded by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and helmed by executive chef Mark Ladner, Del Posto has been on my "must-dine" list for years, and yet inexplicably I've never been. Luckily for me (and you), Chef Ladner is out with a brand new tome, The Del Posto Cookbook.
Let's get the effusive praise out of the way. This book is damn gorgeous. There is something elegantly late 80s, early 90s about its design, the dishware and flatware, and the way the photos are composed, yet it brims with modern touches and restaurant-quality recipes.
Let's also get the reality check out of the way. This book is not for the novice cook. With ingredients like veal tripe, whole baby lamb, and puntarelle, and with recipes that require multiple different preparations (Cacciucco with Garlic Bread Soup is a recipe that goes on for four pages and requires nine different sub-recipes, for example) this is far beyond "30-Minute Meals" territory.
Which is precisely why I love this cookbook.
It challenges you. It requires you to pay attention to your technique, to your process, and above all to the quality of your ingredients.
Even so, for every seemingly-intricate recipe there are ones that anyone with access to the most basic of grocery stores could make. Emilia-Style Pork with Prosciutto, Parmigiana, and Balsamic could be made with ingredients from any Stop 'n Shop or Kroger in the land. The Potato Gnocchi with Piennolo Tomatoes and Thai Basil (recipe below!) might sound fancy, but with a few minor substitutions you'll likely find you have everything you need in your pantry!
Much like The Babbo Cookbook (one of my all-time favorites), The Del Posto Cookbook aims to make the inaccessible accessible, with just a little work. It is very purposefully NOT a "quick and easy", "shortcut supper" cookbook. Cooking your way through these recipes is an exercise in honing your craft, in improving your technique, and in immersing yourself in the high cuisine of Italy.
It says it all right in the introduction - "Del Posto is not a temple of food, but rather like going to an Italian nonna's house for supper, if nonna's house were a grand palazzo."
If you're looking for Mario's favorite weeknight spaghetti recipe go elsewhere. If you want a beautiful, well-constructed, and challenging cookbook that highlights the exquisite cuisine Chef Ladner has earned acclaim for at Del Posto, then by all means grab yourself a copy of The Del Posto Cookbook.
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Grand Central Publishing we're giving away one copy of The Del Posto Cookbook to our readers! All you have to do to enter is click this link and sign up for our monthly newsletter by midnight, Sunday November 6th. One lucky subscriber will be chosen at random to receive a free copy of the cookbook!
Potato Gnocchi with Piennolo Tomatoes and Thai Basil
I chose to make this recipe for a number of reasons - it's fairly simple, I already had most of the ingredients, and Harper and I love love love gnocchi. We cooked this recipe down at the beach house and didn't have access to the same international food markets we have back home in Durham, so I had to substitute organic Roma tomatoes for the Piennolo tomatoes and regular basil for the Thai basil, but other than that we followed the recipe exactly (a rarity for me). I also forgot to bring my food mill, which led to me using...well, you'll see.
Serves 4 to 6
- Generous 1 pound (500 grams) russet potatoes (about 2 medium)
- 1/2 cup plus 1-1/2 tablespoons (total 70 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 (1-kilogram or 35-ounce) jar piennolo tomatoes*, drained, skins removed and discarded
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
- 12 small Thai basil leaves
- Kosher salt
- Very good extra-virgin olive oil, preferably intense Sicilian, for drizzling
- Freshly grated Pecorino Fiore Sardo cheese
Special Equipment: a potato ricer; a bench scraper; a gnocchi board (optional)
For the gnocchi:
Cover the potatoes with 3 inches (8 centimeters) of cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and, while they are hot, peel them, either by using a paring knife to pull back the papery skins or by rubbing off the skins with your fingers (discard the skins). Cut the potatoes into quarters.
Dust a clean work surface with flour. Working over the flour-dusted work surface, pass the potatoes through the potato ricer or food mill, moving the ricer or mill as you press, to form a thin layer of potatoes over the flour. Let the potatoes stand until cooled to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes. (Cooling the hot potatoes in a thin layer facilitates moisture evaporation, which helps create light and fluffy gnocchi.) [Here's where I confess that I didn't read through the recipe first and forgot to bring my food mill. Click through the photos below to see how I improvised using a colander!]
Dust the top of the potatoes with the 1/2 cup plus 1-1/2 tablespoons (total 70 grams) flour, then pour the eggs over the top. Using your fingers, very gently mix together the potatoes, eggs, and flour, just until the mixture comes together to form a smooth dough. If the dough is still sticking to your fingers, add a light dusting of flour. (As you work, avoid adding too much flour or overworking the dough; the more gently you mix and form the dough, the softer the gnocchi.)
Cut the gnocchi dough into 6 to 8 pieces.
Roll each piece into a 1/2-inch-thick (1.25-centimeter-thick) rope. Cut each rope crosswise into 3/4-inch (2-centimeter) pieces. Gently pressing with your thumb, roll each piece on a gnocchi board (or down the back of a fork) to give it the characteristic ridges, and place on a lightly flour-dusted baking sheet. (The gnocchi can be refrigerated on the baking sheet, uncovered, for up to 2 hours before cooking.)
For the sauce:
In a bowl, use your hands to gently crush tomatoes, then transfer to a large (preferable 12-inch or 30-centimeter) skillet. Heat over medium heat just until warmed through, about 2 minutes, then season with the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and stir in half the basil leaves.
Bring a large wide pot of generously salted water to a boil. Use the bench scraper to quickly but gently transfer the gnocchi to the boiling water. Cook until the gnocchi float and then about 30 seconds more (about 1-1/2 minutes total). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to a colander to drain, then add to the skillet with the tomatoes. Toss to coat with the sauce, then divide among serving plates. Drizzle with oil and garnish with the remaining basil. Serve immediately, with cheese if desired.
*Piennolo del Vesuvio Tomatoes: canned and jarred tomatoes are found in just about every Italian kitchen, and Del Posto is no different. There are many wonderful canned summer tomatoes available, and San Marzano, a variety of plum tomato, are the most ubiquitous. However, jarred piennolo cherry tomatoes from Mount Vesuvius in the Campania region provide the base for tomato sauces at Del Posto. Casa Barone is the best producer of jarred piennolo tomatoes available here. Their organic tomatoes grow in the lava-enriched soil of the Mt. Vesuvius National Park. Jarred in their own juices, the bright red Barone piennolos are at once fresh-testing and incredibly sweet. They don't really need to be cooked or reduced because they are unusually rich.