Once upon a time — back when my wife and I were just boyfriend and girlfriend — we would take little weekend trips to nearby cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C, and others. Actually, we may have been engaged at that point. Or, perhaps, we were newly married? Doesn’t really matter — the point is: WE DIDN’T HAVE KIDS. Back then we could basically do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my daughters more than anything, but before they came along, we had a nice little tradition going: 2 or 3 times a year we would escape the hellhole (I use that term endearingly) that is New York City for Boston to eat at one of our all time favorite restaurants: No. 9 Park (which we mistakenly called “Park No 9.” for years). Located in a stately townhome overlooking Boston Common, it’s a great place for an amazing meal. The contemporary French/Italian food is superb and the service rivals that of any Michelin establishment.
Although my wife and I already appreciated nice dinners, this visit was, perhaps, our first real foray into fine dining. The tasting menu format, ballet-like movement of the staff, and overall polished nature of the experience was fresh and exciting to our 2010 selves. But, the thing we remembered most was the house specialty — prune stuffed gnocchi.
This dish has been on Barbara Lynch’s menu for over a decade, and there’s no way she could ever take it off. The pasta is essentially a potato dumpling stuffed with pureed prunes that have been cooked down in vin santo, a dessert wine traditionally made in Tuscany. The gnocchis are bathed in a sort of foie gras-beurre blanc and topped with seared foie gras and marcona almonds.
Having this dish just twice a year was not enough for me, so I thought it would be fun to make at home. Luckily, I found a recipe online from a 2002 NY Times article. The gnocchi came out good, but not quite great. Then a year or so later, Barbara Lynch released her Stir cookbook, which had a slightly different recipe for her dish. By this time, my skills in the kitchen had improved, and I was able to use this new recipe to produce results that were no different than you’d get at her restaurant.
The NY Times calls this recipe “ a no-holds-barred spectacle, an elegant and excessive bank-breaker.” I wouldn’t go that far. Sure, it’s a project to take on, but there are far more time-consuming recipes out there. And if you use D’artagnan foie cubes, rather than buying whole foie gras, you can cut down on the costs. The trick is finding the right van santo. It’s not a wine that’s easily found, and it can be expensive. The one I’ve used for the past couple years is by Fattoria Santa Vittoria. It’s about $35 for a half bottle, which will be enough if you’re making this for 6 or fewer people (though the recipe calls for more than this).
The steps are pretty clear and concise:
- Make the pasta filling: cook down prunes in vin santo
- Make the gnocchi dough: be careful not to boil too hard or too long, or you will end up with gummy gnocchi.
- Make the foie-butter: press foie through a tamis (don’t skip this step) and combine with soft butter. Roll in parchment paper.
- Fill the gnocchi, form into shape, and freeze.
- Make the pasta sauce. Be careful not to heat this too much, or it will break apart.
- Plate the gnocchi and garnish with chervil. This herb is hard to find, but I was lucky to pick up a micro variety from Two Guys at Woodbridge, a great vendor at the Union Square farmers market.
- Top dish with seared foie, chopped prunes, and marcona almonds. I skipped the foie because one of our guest didn’t like it, and without the garnish I could sneak foie into the sauce without her knowing :). I used marcona almonds from Murray’s Cheese, which seem to be tastier than any other ones I’ve found.
This dish, as always, tasted great — just like at the restaurant. So when my wife and I are tied down at home with our favorite little people, we can have our own little slice of No. 9 Park at home. If only our apartment overlooked Boston Common.