Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mad Mushroom Ragout with Gnocchi

What do you get when you combine a trio of mushrooms, a Belgian Dubbel called ‘Mad Abbot’, a Spaetzle press and a stressed out home cook? I don’t know really, but it sounds like a pretty good story…

Once upon a time there was an average home cook who liked to experiment with beer in her recipes. For no apparent reason, she had a sudden desire to try her hand at making her own gnocchi. She’d never had this urge before, but it was such a powerful need it just had to be satisfied. What sauce, though, would be the most delicious? Once again, the idea came to her out of the blue – only mushrooms would do. A mushroom stew…or maybe ragout! (Wait…I think I may have stumbled into Dr Seuss  territory here.) Now the idea was in her head, she couldn’t shake it. This dish had to be made, but she needed some help. She turned to a Mad Abbot. His roots were Belgian, although he hadn’t travelled that far…and he was sure to make the dish DUBBEL-ly good.

Okay…so my story telling skills are pretty lame. The basic details are true though. I had a burning urge to make gnocchi. I had a craving for mushrooms. I used the Mad Abbot Belgian Dubbel in the dish….and it was good. I do admit, half way through the gnocchi making I was questioning my sanity.  Why on earth did I think it would be fun or beneficial in any way? I had already made beer bread (half the batch turned into thyme and garlic rolls, half into a fig and walnut mini-loaf) and beer brownies (which were disappointing and put me off my game) that very afternoon. I was stressed out and beginning to think that ordering a pizza might be the smart thing to do. The story does have a happy ending though.

Have what it takes...


450-500g potatoes (3-4) – I’ve found conflicting information on which potatoes to use. You want something dry I believe, but if you shop in an average supermarket there may not be a huge range.
2 egg yolks
¾ cup of ‘00’ strong flour
½ tspn salt
1/8 tspn nutmeg


1 tablespoon butter
2 Shallots, sliced finely
4 cloves Garlic - diced
100g Mushrooms – Swiss brown
100g Mushrooms – Shitake
100g Mushrooms – Enoki or Portobello
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme
½ cup Belgian Dubbel
½ cup Sour cream

 To do what you gotta...

The Gnocchi:

There are two ways you can go about cooking your spuds. If you have time, preheat oven to 190 degrees and bake potatoes on a bed of rock salt for 45 to 50 minutes. If, like me, you realise you would like to eat your dinner before midnight, stab your potatoes with a fork a few times and place them in the microwave with a few paper towels under them. Nuke for five minutes on high, then roll them over and replace the paper towel with some fresh stuff. Give them another 5 minutes, and then test with a skewer to make sure they are soft all the way through.

Let the potatoes cool so you don't burn yourself, and when you can handle them comfortably, cut in half and peel the skin off. If you find this difficult, just scoop out the flesh with a spoon. This is where the Spaetzle press comes in. Actually, it’s a ‘multi-purpose’ press, but you can apparently make Spaetzle with it, so I call it my Spaetzle press, just because I like saying the word Spaetzle. You can use a potato ricer (BORING) or even a food processor (LAME), OR you can stick the potato flesh in your Spaetzle press (I used the smallest…hole thingy) and squeeze the little potato worms into a large bowl.

Add the egg yolks and spices to the potatoes and mix until well combined. Now add the flour to the potato mixture, mix it in with your hands and form a dough. I can’t lie – this is super messy. Eventually it will stop sticking to your fingers and that’s when you' know it's ready. Tip the dough onto a liberally floured surface and form into a thick log, about 10cm wide. Cut into about eight even pieces, and roll out each piece into a 1 cm thick rope. You may need to keep flouring the surface and your hands during this process. Cut the dough into pieces about 1cm long, trying to keep them as even as possible and keeping in mind that they expand when cooked. Lay them on a tray and squish each piece slightly in the middle with the tines of a fork dipped in flour. Let them dry at room temperature while you make the sauce.

The Mad Mushroom Ragout:

I don’t really know what a ragout is. It just sounds better than ‘sauce’. Over a low heat melt the butter. Add shallots and cook until they begin to soften. Add garlic and cook for a minute or so. Add mushrooms and cook until they start to wilt and release their liquid. Add the beer, salt pepper and thyme. Bring to the boil, and then simmer until the liquid reduces by half. Add the sour cream and stir to combine well. Bring back to a simmer and allow to thicken.

While simmering, bring a big pot of water to the boil. Drop your gnocchi in. They only take a couple of minutes to cook and they float to the surface when done. Use a slotted spoon to scoop them up. Transfer the cooked gnocchi onto a plate and top with your ragout and some grated parmesan.

The happy ending…my gnocchi was light and pillowy like it should be. The ragout was really tasty and matched really well with the soft, gentle gnocchi. There a couple of things I’d do differently next time. I wouldn’t try making gnocchi when I’d already spent most of the day cooking. Give yourself plenty of time so you can be relaxed. While I think the taste and texture of the gnocchi was great, it looked fairly ordinary – the pieces were irregular and misshapen due to rushing through. The ragout was great, but the sour cream didn’t combine as well as it should have. There were visible white flecks through the sauce. A plain cream might be better, although it may lose some of the taste. Or perhaps I just need  to experiment with different brands of sour cream.

The husband and I drank a growler of the Bridge Road Saison Noir with this, and it worked really well. You want a darker malty beer to compliment the earthy flavours of the mushrooms, but nothing so heavy that is drowns out the delicate aspects of the dish.

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