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Dutch Yellow Gnocchi!

By Dennis Linden

The featured recipe this month celebrates the holiday season as well as its creator’s 20th anniversary as Melissa’s Chef-in-Residence, Andrew Faulkner. Andrew incorporates two of the company’s most popular items, Baby Dutch Yellow® Potatoes and Steamed Butternut Squash, in one of his own family’s favorite dishes first taught to him by his grandmother.

“Gnocchi was one of my most cherished memories as a child cooking with my Italian grandmother,” Andrew recalled. “Every time I make gnocchi, I feel like she is watching over my shoulder to make sure I am doing it correctly. My grandmother followed no written recipes when cooking; the measures of ingredients were all in her head and the dough for gnocchi was as much a matter of feel as it was those balanced measures. And she always got it right! Butternut Gnocchi is one of my favorite versions of this iconic North Italian dish.”

Gnocchi (pronounced nyok-ee) is a type of pasta “dumpling” that can be traced to early Rome. Originally made from semolina dough, mixed with eggs, conquering Roman legions spread the dish throughout Europe and it caught on as gnocchi was inexpensive, easy to prepare and filling. The dish morphed into potato dumplings in the 16th century when potatoes were introduced to Europe. The potato gnocchi actually originated in Northern Italy, where the cooler climate was better suited for growing potatoes rather than grain. The starch in potatoes make for a light, airy dough and a pillow soft texture of this now traditional staple of Italian cuisine.

This was a very fun recipe to make, in spite of the feeling that Andrew’s grandmother was definitely checking my work. If the reader has never tried making gnocchi, the buttery flavor of Dutch Yellow® potatoes as well as Andrew’s scrumptious butternut squash sauce elevates this dish to something very special. With a little practice, the making of the dumplings themselves can be mastered in no time, though the key to achieving a light and airy dumpling is in kneading the flour, potato and eggs into a workable dough. The dough should have about the same feel as that of gently squeezing your earlobe between two fingers. It should hold together and still be slightly moist without being sticky. The famous ridges on gnocchi are easily made by pressing each piece of dough with a fork and then re-shaping it again with another gentle squeeze of those handy two fingers. Some may view this as a tedious process; I just poured a glass of a favorite grape libation, turned up the music and focused!

Andrew’s tasty reduction sauce is, as all reductions, an exercise in culinary patience. This is very much a pay attention process. Andrew’s instructions caution against scorching the cream by “stirring constantly” and he means it. It took not only a continuous stir, but also removing the pot completely off the flame several times just to keep control of the reduction. Take your eyes or attention off the pot for a half second and you have “blackened” cream, so to speak, and must start over. Remember, grandma is watching!

Chef Andrew Faulkner

Chef Andrew Faulkner’s career history with Melissa’s parallels the company’s growth in the produce industry. His affinity for fresh produce comes from his dedication to the culinary arts. Growing up in a very large Italian family, food preparation was an integral part of every family gathering, be it the holiday season, weddings or visiting relatives. Watching his grandma and mother cooking in the kitchen was the start of his culinary path, which culminated in his graduation from Western Culinary Institute in Oregon. In fact, younger brother Chris also pursued a culinary career; food preparation is an art and apparently a part of the Faulkner gene pool!

Long before he knew much about the company, Andrew’s relationship with Melissa’s really came from a personal friendship he had with Chef Ida Rodriguez, a member of Melissa’s Corporate Chefs Team, which led to a friendship with her cousin, Joe Hernandez, founder of Melissa’s. In the fall of 1999, he was asked if he would like to attend the produce industry’s annual convention in Atlanta to cook at the Melissa’s product display booth. He brought his brother Chris along to help out. Andrew remembers not only being impressed by the well-known celebrity chefs he met at the event who were affiliated with the company, he was also intrigued by the world of specialty produce items that he was exposed to at the show that he never knew existed.

“In July of 2000 I became a full-time employee at Melissa’s. Not as a chef, but actually handling local retail accounts marketing fresh produce as a member of the Sales Department,” said Andrew, then explained. “While I had learned about cooking techniques and running a professional kitchen in culinary school, I had very limited knowledge of the fresh produce industry, especially the seemingly endless types of specialty and exotic produce items that the company sourced from all over the world. For some two years, I soaked up everything I could learn about this fascinating world of fruits and veggies. Looking back on it all, if cooking school was my “B.A.” degree, then those first few years with Melissa’s were my Masters in Ingredients classes!”

Andrew returned to his culinary roots when Joe Hernandez decided the company needed a kitchen on the premises to test new products as well as prepare tastings to educate the sales staff on the uses and flavors of new items, so they could better serve their customers. Andrew, along with his now co-worker brother Chris, rolled up their culinary sleeves, and, today, Joe’s idea has blossomed into a 1900 square foot, state-of-the-art, working test kitchen that Andrew shares with the rest of the Corporate Staff; it is the hub for creativity and innovation in the company.

The next stage of the company’s development, as well as Andrew’s role, was a natural expansion from supplying wholesalers and retailers with fresh produce items for resale, into providing fresh ingredients to professional kitchens, the Food Service industry. Now, Andrew’s culinary background and produce experience are combined and continue to grow that section of the Melissa’s business profile to this day.

“We started from nothing, running a van daily from L.A. to Las Vegas with only a few items. It took perseverance, but once Vegas was a success, we started with just a few local Food Service accounts in Los Angeles and nearby Orange County,” Andrew recounted. “We now service many local fine dining eateries as well as several Sports & Entertainment Venues throughout Southern California, and selected cities around the country.”

While Andrew makes this sound like just another sector of the company’s business portfolio, Food Service is very complicated when it comes down to the items. Restaurants need the highest quality fresh ingredients, and fruit needs to be ripe and ready to use on day-of delivery. In fact, the professional chef is a unique, special needs client – that’s where Chef Andrew’s knowledge is most appreciated. Once the service for the evening is done and the wait staff are tallying tips, a restaurant chef does not turn off the lights until he or she has ordered supplies for tomorrow’s service. It may be 11 p.m., but Andrew is standing by at his order desk ready to talk shop, help guide their menu planning with current field information, or answer questions about a new item that appeared on the company’s dedicated Chefs-Only food service web site, which he oversees.

So, does this busy chef get to play ever? Since Andrew works the night shift, sleep is a precious commodity. Still, he does find time to follow some passions during the day when most people are working. Of course, Andrew loves to cook and create new dishes. He is an avid fisherman, and, for those readers in Southern California who like to ocean swim, he caught a 450 lb. thresher shark off of Laguna Beach — I’m just sayin’. While he is into most all Extreme Sports, especially snowboarding, mountain biking and Motor Cross, his most favored passion is dirt biking. The business of Food Service and fresh ingredients can be very hectic and demanding, Chef Andrew Faulkner approaches every day with a calm that belies the complicated world he must navigate each evening. At Melissa’s, we leave the light on for his customers and Andrew is always there to help!

Butternut Gnocchi
Serves 6


Ingredients for Butternut Gnocchi

Ingredients:

1 pound Melissa’s Baby Dutch Yellow® Potatoes, peeled
2 egg yolks
3 cups all-purpose flour, separated / half cup for rolling out dough
1 quart heavy cream
2 packages Melissa’s Steamed Butternut Squash
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
White truffle oil
Crème fraiche or sour cream, for garnish
Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

Preparation:

Gnocchi

Gnocchi: Boil potatoes in salted water until fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Drain and let cool completely. Tip – potatoes will cook the yolks if not cooled. Mash the potatoes smooth, then combine in a large mixing bowl with egg yolks, salt. Gradually fold in the flour, making a ball of dough. The dough should be only slightly moist and not sticky.

Sprinkle a cutting board or pastry mat with flour so the dough won’t stick.

Sprinkle a cutting board or pastry mat with flour so the dough won’t stick. Roll out a portion of the dough into about a foot-long “snake” a half-inch thick with hands. Chef note: “Like playing with playdough as a kid!” Cut the snake into 1-inch sections. Gently press each with a fork to form ridges. Repeat until all dough has been processed. Let the gnocchi rest for 20 minutes before cooking. Gently add the gnocchi to a large pot of boiling salted water; do in batches to avoid overcrowding. When the gnocchi floats to surface, remove from pot with a slotted spoon, and place in large colander to drain.

Butternut Cream

Butternut Cream: Reduce the heavy cream by a quarter over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear around the edge, stirring constantly so the cream does not scorch. Then, add in the steamed butternut squash and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth, adding in the butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Plating: In a shallow bowl place ten to fifteen gnocchi. Ladle the cream sauce over the gnocchi. Use a pastry bag [or Ziploc baggy with a bottom corner cut] to make a design with the crème fraiche, garnish with a drizzle of the white truffle oil and a sprinkle the dish with parsley.
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