Potato Cashew Gnocchi/ Panang Foam/ Coconut Bubbles/ Thai Basil Oil/ Powdered Peanut Butter
I have two somewhat distinct passions in the kitchen- from scratch at home with heavy Piedmontese influences versus haute modern cuisine. I usually keep them separate- doing weeknight pasta meals whilst dreaming up molecular concoctions to spend the entire weekend perfecting. I’ve been so heavily-steeped in modern mania the past few months, however, that my dough extruder began to collect dust and my forearm muscles are appreciably smaller for lack of rolling out pasta sheets. This tells me it’s high time to reconcile my polyamorous tendencies and find a way to let everyone come out and play.
I had to ask myself, is it possible to mashup the two with satisfying results? The answer is a resounding YES, at least as far as this dish is concerned. Grant Achatz creates flavor profiles through a process he refers to as “flavor bouncing.” Essentially, you begin with a base flavor and think of things you want to add to it. In this instance, I wanted a potato-centric dish because I’d just dug the last of the potatoes from the garden.
In keeping with my traditionalistic side, I opted to make gnocchi from the potatoes, but I practiced the art of flavor bouncing to determine pleasing yet unusual combinations. If potato is at the center of the dish, does it marry well with cashew? Yes, definitely. Would I then cover it in a red, meaty sauce such as a Bolognese? Absolutely not- the cashew would get lost in such a heavy Italian flavor bomb.
If it has to match cashew and it has to match potato, how about something light yet still rich- like coconut milk? Now we’re talking. I like my coconut milk with some spice and I’d conveniently made up a new batch of Panang curry paste recently (I make it in volume and freeze it to use over the course of six months) so that pairing was obvious. Does Panang match potatoes, coconut milk and cashews? 100%.
Since the coconut milk would be infused with Panang, I’d inevitably lose the intensity of coconut flavor. The solution? Coconut bubbles made from blending coconut juice/water with soy lecithin. Since we’re now firmly entrenched in Thai tastes, my mind wandered to Thai basil and peanuts which, again, pair well with the rest of the dish. I opted to make Thai basil oil because I felt it should be a separate element on the plate rather than mixing into the Panang foam or just an afterthought as sprinkling chiffonaded basil on top of the dish may have been.
I thought of how so many Thai dishes are garnished with a smattering of crumbled peanuts, but texturally-speaking I did not want the peanut crunch to distract from the pillowy cashew gnocchi. I solved that by powdering (with Maltodextrin) the oil that gathers on top of a natural jar of peanut butter. Peanut butter powder is something I will be revisiting often. It whollops unmistakable flavor on your taste receptors, but does it in a delicate way that has you scouring the kitchen for a spoon large enough to shovel the stuff in. Pea sprouts round out the dish by adding a fresh, springy crispness to every bite.
Because cashew gnocchi is quite possibly one of the best ideas ever to claw its way out of the catacombs of my cerebrum, I owe it to you to share the recipe. And also the technique since it’s a little different in that it involves a pastry bag rather than rolling out snaking tubes. You achieve stellar uniformity this way- the only problem is that you’ll definitely want to make more than you think because when you’re sweating away over a boiling vat of water snipping gnoccho by gnoccho off the piping tip, inevitably you will eat approximately one half of the gnocchi you fish out of the vat with your slotted spoon. Also, be prepared for forearm soreness if you tackle the daunting task of cranking out a batch for ten people. I think I’m going to enter just that part of my limb into a bodybuilding competition since my muscle curiously appears to be permanently flexed now. I slathered it in some coconut oil and am now trying to fashion a forearm bikini out of strategically-placed lettuce leaves. If I win I’ll share the bodybuilder medal with you, don’t worry.
You can serve these gnocchi with whatever you like, but I HIGHLY recommend sautéing them in butter with pea sprouts, nestling them on a slick of panang foam, dappling them with Thai basil oil and peanut butter powder and finishing the masterpiece with coconut foam. Here you are, darlings, hope you love them as much as I do.
Potato Cashew Gnocchi
- 2 lbs baked garden potatoes (use a starchy rather than a mealy potato)
- 16 oz cashews ground to a fine powder in a spice grinder
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp salt
- ½ c whole milk
- 1 c all-purpose flour (you may need more or less, depending on thickness of the batter- be judicious, starting with less)
- Boil a large pot of salted water and take out a piping bag with a large, round tip (this will determine the size of your gnocchi- feel free to choose what you want, but know the smaller the tip, the harder to pipe).
- While the potatoes are still hot, run them through a ricer along with the cashews. Place the resulting mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer along with the butter, eggs and salt. Mix until uniform consistency is reached.
- Add the milk and flour alternately until you have a thick, gloppy batter. It should not be too runny or the gnocchi will not set correctly, but if it is too thick, the gnocchi will be dry and you won’t be able to pipe it easily. You can do a test dollop if you wish.
- Place one quarter of the mixture in the pastry bag and cover the rest so it doesn’t dry out. Over the pot of boiling water, squeeze out lengths of gnocchi and snip them into the water with kitchen shears. I find that I can do two at a time if they are roughly 1” in length. Any more than that and the dough pulls too hard and makes for misshapen gnocchi.
- Drop about 20 in the water per batch and remove them when they float to the top. Reserve them in a buttered dish, stirring them to keep them from sticking while you make the remaining gnocchi.
- At this point, serve as you wish, though I highly recommend pan-frying the gnocchi before serving, and perhaps heeding the suggestions above in terms of accoutrements.