We’re seeing more and more chefs and cookbook authors booked at the downtown library, and tonight, food lovers have a chance to hear from esteemed chef Alon Shaya.
The James Beard-winning Shaya, who was born in Israel and immigrated to Philadelphia when he was four, gained U.S. fame in New Orleans, where his restaurant Shaya, won the Beard award for Best New Restaurant in 2016, a year after his 2015 award for “Best Chef: South.”
But these days, Shaya has pivoted away from New Orleans after a trademark dispute with the Besh Restaurant group left him without a job at his eponymous restaurant. (Shaya has said he was fired after speaking out about sexual harassment allegations within the Besh group, which also fired its namesake chef John Besh, amid the allegations.)
Even though there’s a trademark lawsuit pending over the use of his name at the New Orleans restaurant, Shaya is keeping his eyes focused on the future with a new restaurant in the works in Denver. He’s also in the middle of a book tour for his debut cookbook, “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel” (Knopf, $35), which includes a stop today at the Central Library downtown, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St.
At 7 p.m., Shaya will chat with CultureMap writer Adam Boles about what modern Israeli-American cuisine looks like and Shaya’s journey from Israel to Philadelphia, Italy, back to Israel and then New Orleans. Before opening Israeli restaurants, Shaya specialized in Italian cuisine, which is why you’ll find this recipe for gnocchi and tomato sauce in the new book. It’s the perfect way to use up some of those summer tomatoes that are starting to show up at the farmers markets and in CSA boxes.
GNOCCHI WITH FAST TOMATO SAUCE
Despite my angst over the failed gnocchi in St. Louis, I did eventually learn how to make them well. The lesson I took from them is: face your fears and conquer the food that intimidates you most; you may not win the first battle, but you’ll win the war! The key is to commit to the process. Be precise about the weight of your peeled potatoes (too much or too little will alter the final texture); use a potato ricer or food mill, and work rapidly, while everything is warm, since the starches get gummy if you beat them up or allow them to cool. Therefore, it’s crucial to get your ingredients and equipment ready to go before you start. Take those little steps, be sure not to overwork the dough, and you’ll get the lightest, fluffiest gnocchi you’ve ever had.
Because time is of the essence whenever you cook potatoes, you get the best results when you make a relatively small batch — this recipe makes four portions. But because the gnocchi can be made in advance, you can make two or three batches, then sauce them all at once. Each batch will get easier, as the process becomes more intuitive. For all that focus, I like to pair this with something effortless that allows the gnocchi to really shine. Look no further than my fast tomato sauce (recipe follows). Other great options would be brown butter or even a really good olive oil.
— Alon Shaya
1 gallon plus 2 quarts water, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt, divided
2 or 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes (18 ounces peeled)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
1 1/3 cup all- purpose flour, preferably White Lily, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 recipe fast tomato sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill a pot with 1 gallon water and 2 tablespoons salt, and let it come to a boil. Cover the pot and leave it on low heat, so it’s ready when you need it.
Peel the potatoes, and measure out exactly 18 ounces. Cut them into eighths, place them in a large ovenproof pot or saucepan, cover them with 2 quarts cold water, and put the pan over high heat. Once the water boils, decrease the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes.
Drain the potatoes, and place them back in the ovenproof pot. Bake until they’re rid of excess moisture, 4 to 5 minutes. While they bake, use a fork to beat together the butter and yolks until they’re as smooth as you can get them; set the bowl aside.
As soon as the potatoes are out of the oven, pass them through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl, making sure you scrape the bottom. Fold in the butter mixture until it’s incorporated, then add the flour, nutmeg, and last 1⁄2 teaspoon salt all at once, using your spatula to cut these ingredients in with minimal stirring. It’ll look crumbly, almost like pie crust.
Generously our an unrimmed baking sheet and your work surface. Dump the dough onto the surface, and gently press it into a ball. Cut it in quarters, and work with one piece at a time, leaving the rest covered with a dish towel to stay warm.
Roll each piece of dough into a long, skinny log, about 3/4-inch wide; dust with our as you work, to prevent it from sticking. With a floured paring knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into 3/4-inch dumplings, keeping the blade clean as you work. Add all the dumplings to the baking sheet, and repeat with the rest of the dough, working quickly so the potatoes don’t get too starchy as they cool.
Shape the gnocchi, one at a time, by pressing the dumpling between the pad of your thumb and a gnocchi board or the back of a fork. Roll it steadily, parallel to the board’s ridges or the fork’s tines, so it curls around itself.
Gently drop the gnocchi from the baking sheet into the boiling water. A bench scraper or wide spatula can help you make sure they aren’t misshapen in transit. Watch for them to oat—should be about 1 minute—then cook for another 30 seconds. They’re done when the centers resemble pound cake, with the same consistency throughout. Drain, and toss with the olive oil.
At this point, you can add the gnocchi to the sauce and eat them, or refrigerate them in an airtight container for a day or two. To reheat: Drop them into boiling water for about 20 seconds, just until they’re warm all the way through, before adding sauce; reheating them this way restores the light, fluffy texture. Top with plenty of Parmesan to serve.
Fast Tomato Sauce
This is my go-to pasta sauce, as fast as it is delicious. Make it with the best in-season tomatoes you can find—the screaming-hot oil allows you to hold on to their fresh, raw sweetness and acidity while concentrating them into a thick sauce. Needless to say, this sauce is good on any pasta you feel like making, so don’t limit it to showstoppers like gnocchi. Just be sure you wear an apron, so you don’t get tomatoes and oil splattered on your clothes!
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
9 fresh basil leaves, torn
3/4 teaspoon Morton kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
Pour the olive oil into a large skillet with high sides or a Dutch oven over high heat, and cook until it’s smoking-hot. Being extremely careful, add the tomatoes and garlic; they will give off a lot of smoke as soon as they hit the oil, so it’s easiest to have the tomatoes on a flexible cutting board or in a bowl that you can dump from.
Use your spoon to spread the tomatoes in a single layer, then add the basil, salt, and red pepper. Give everything a good stir, and cook another 4 to 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Serves 4.
— From “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel” by Alon Shaya (Knopf, $35)