Jayden Casinelli has a mantra. It’s a simple rule the Spicers Guesthouse chef repeats to every apprentice, every day: make it 10 per cent more yum. “We taste every dish 30 times a night, five nights a week,” he explains. “But the guest might only have our mushroom gnocchi once in their life. It needs to be a knockout.”
Served as part of the four-course Avido (or “greedy”) degustation menu at Spicers’ éRemo restaurant, Casinelli’s Dutch cream gnocchi with mushroom crumb and parmesan crisp is hearty and refined, delicate and punchy all at once. Using only the fundamental elements of gnocchi – flour, water and spuds – Casinelli’s recipe takes its cues from his forebears in the mountainside town of Arpino, about an hour south-west of Rome. “Gnocchi in Italy is pretty bang-on to how we do it,” says Casinelli. “Because there’s nothing else in it, when you cook it the flour mixes in with the potato and it makes little pockets, so they’re so light and fluffy.”
Unlike store-bought gnocchi, which is dehydrated and tends to fall apart or turn into gelatinous goo, Casinelli’s recipe makes for chewy, defined dumplings with a distinct texture. “What makes a great dish is being able to pick out every individual piece of gnocchi and to see the edges – to see that it’s structural and that they’ve been treated with care,” he says.
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With no stabilising agent to hold these potato pillows together, the recipe’s emphasis is on the produce. Choosing the right potato is very literally a make-or-break decision: “Don’t get us started on potato variants,” Casinelli warns. “It all depends on the potato. You need a less starchy potato. Really dry potatoes are good because when you roast them they’ll go fluffy and you don’t need much flour. They’re gonna make your mouthfeel better.”
Choosing the wrong potato can have dire consequences. “Sometimes they’ll cook really quickly, but sometimes they take a really long time. Sometimes they’ll cook but be full of moisture, so you’ll have to leave them in the oven to dry them out,” Casinelli says. “If the potatos are sweet – which you can tell if they’re yellow – it’ll still be soft and starchy, so you can fall into the trap of adding more flour and kneading it more, but it will all of a sudden bind and turn into rocks.”
The chef’s potato of choice is the Dutch cream, which he says provides just the right flavour and texture for a fail-safe gnocchi. “With potatoes like desiree or sebago, where they’re grown at such a high turnover and they store them for longer, you notice changes in consistency,” he says. “People should definitely be going to their farmers market for this dish. Dutch creams come to us with dirt on them still.”
Another tip: “You don’t want to deep-fry [the mushrooms], otherwise they’ll end up being dry and bitter and overcooked,” says Casinelli. “What we’re trying to do is get rid of that moisture, so you should see steam ticking away out the top of the pot.”
And the duck stock isn’t compulsory. But Casinelli reckons it’ll deliver that 10 per cent more yum: “Chicken stock is great, and you can use that to make a really nice sauce, but it’s going to be more mushroom-forward,” he says. “Using a duck stock will give you a lot more depth, so it’s not just mushroom and cream – you’re going to have that meatiness in the background.”
While Casinelli’s recipe is detailed, he says it’s important to remember that gnocchi is meant to feel rustic. “Italian food isn’t super-polished. It isn’t fine dining,” he says. “It’s all about showcasing what’s available. That’s what I like about it.”
Jayden Casinelli’s Dutch cream gnocchi with mushroom crumb
Preparation time: 2.5 hours
Cooking time: 10 minutes
250g Swiss brown mushrooms
50g dried forest mushrooms
250ml duck or chicken stock
100g Grana Padano or parmesan
2kg Dutch cream potatoes, washed
1kg Italian pasta flour
10g fine salt
Start by roasting your potatoes for the gnocchi, whole and in skins, at 180°C for 75 minutes.
While they’re cooking, prepare mushroom crumb. Finely dice the Swiss brown mushrooms and add to frypan with ghee. Fry lightly on a low setting for about 30 minutes, or until all the moisture has evaporated. Strain ghee and let them drain on a paper towel or dry in the oven (or air fryer) at 50°C.
For the sauce, rehydrate the dried forest mushrooms by standing in 300ml of boiling water for 10 minutes.
Strain water from forest mushrooms and add to a medium saucepan. Add duck stock and bring to a boil. Add mascarpone and simmer for 20 minutes, until it thickens slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
Next, remove the roasted Dutch creams from the oven and flour the bench. Crack skin on the potatoes, scoop out the flesh and mash with a ricer. Add salt and 500g of the flour. Begin working the dough into a ball. When ready, the dough shouldn’t crack when squeezed, but rather have a little bounce-back.
Separate your dough into quarters and roll into logs about 1cm thick. Then chop the logs into 2cm pieces, and place on a clean tray.
For the parmesan crisp, finely grate the Grana Padano into a bowl. Arrange on a lined baking tray in 5mm-thick circles 5cm in diameter. Bake in oven or under grill until golden. Allow to cool, and carefully place aside for serving.
Bring sauce to a gentle simmer while you blanch the gnocchi.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Stir to create a whirlpool and add the dumplings in batches no larger than the circumference of the pot. After approximately 30 minutes, gently scoop the cooked gnocchi from the pot and add to sauce.
Top with mushroom crumb and parmesan wafer, and pair with a Hunter Valley chardonnay (Lake’s Folly will go quite nicely), and you’re ready to enjoy.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Spicers Retreats.