My first interaction with celebrity chef and Food Network star Tyler Florence was a phone conversation that went something like this:
Tyler: “Hey Shay, I’m calling to invite you out to San Francisco in March for a weekend of wine and food and fun and everything is free because I think your food is awesome so do you think you can make it?” (paraphrase)
Me: “Shut up. Shut up. Shut your mouth. Who is this? Okay. Yes. A thousand times yes. I mean I have to check my schedule but I’m a cashier at a taco truck so yes. Okay talk to you later Tyler can I call you Tyler k thx love you byeee” (exact quote)
I should note that this wasn’t, like, an out-of-the-blue call. That would be a super cool story, but also really weird and like how did you even get my number?
The deal is that a few months back, I had entered a contest in which I created a recipe to pair with one of Tyler’s wines. Based on online votes, I made it to the Top 20, and from there Tyler chose five winners to fly out to San Francisco for the “Ultimate Food & Wine Experience.” This entailed free flights, hotel accommodations, multiple course dinners at both of Tyler’s upscale restaurants, a private tour of the Mondavi Estate winery in Napa (where Tyler’s wines are made), and a two-hour personal cooking class taught by T-Flo himself at his kitchen supply store.
So, just to recap here: five winners. Each brings a plus one. Private tours with a food industry titan of his own facilities. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Yes. This is a total Willy Wonka situation. Except instead of chocolate, we are dealing with wine, which is so much more my bag…
Of course, if this truly was the scenario, that would mean that all of these “fun” activities were ultimately just a facade for an underlying competition, so obviously I came mentally prepared. No slip ups. Don’t shovel wine into my face from directly from the giant wine river. Don’t sell Tyler’s secrets to suspiciously omnipresent men. And for the love of God, DON’T STEAL THE FUCKING FIZZY LIFTING DRINKS, no matter what that dirtbag old freeloader Grandpa Joe tries to pull.
Alas, this did not turn out to be the case, despite my best efforts to make it so. There was no competition. No one blew up into a giant grape. Tyler did not hand over the keys to his empire. I guess it’s probably for the better; as much as I like to tell myself I would be the Charlie Buckett of the group I think we all know I am much more of a Mike Teavee at heart.
What DID happen over the weekend was that I met some genuinely lovely humans, ate lots and lots of amazing food, drank my weight in wine, and got to chat with and learn cooking techniques from a guy whose career I respect and idolize to an insane degree. I have to mention that Tyler is, without a doubt, one of the nicest and most genuine people out there. He went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable and accommodated throughout the trip and took a sincere interest in all of us. So thanks, Ty!
(Probably too soon for Ty.)
And, in my free time, I pretty much just wandered around San Francisco pretending I was DJ Tanner.
Now let’s get to the meat of the matter here. What glorious concoction could I have created to achieve such fame and riches? Allow me to introduce you to my beloved brainchild: gnocchi with short rib ragu. When you go to a restaurant and order short ribs, it is usually served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and the whole situation is so tender and succulent that it melts in your mouth. This is the same concept I am working with here, I just jazzed it up a little and gave it an Italian spin.
Let me warn you that this is not a weeknight “whip up something after work” type of dinner. This is a labor of love, and so worth it in the end. You can simplify your life a little if you want and buy pre-made gnocchi at your grocery store and just make the ragu, but if you have the time and patience for making your own you will achieve the best quality. So here’s how the story goes…
First, you brown some short ribs in a dutch oven over VERY high heat. You want to achieve a dark brown, caramelized color on all sides, like so:
Now puree some veggies in the food processor, and brown those as well.
Add tomato paste and let cook out for a minute; return meat to the pot, add red wine, beef stock (chicken works too), sage bundle, and bay leaves.
Cover this and toss it in the oven for three hours, flipping halfway through and adding more stock if necessary. (The meat should be mostly covered in liquid.) For the last 30 minutes, uncover the pot and allow the liquid to reduce and all the flavors to concentrate. It should look very dark and rich when it comes out of the oven.
Now remove the meat from the pot, shred it, skim any grease off the top of the liquid, and return the meat to the pot.
You are done with the ragu! Was that so hard? Now for the gnocchi…
First, you will need to bake potatoes and pass them through a food mill or potato ricer. (This is the caveat to making gnocchi, you need to have special equipment. Luckily these are easy to find and inexpensive.) On a large baking sheet, mix potatoes with flour, parmesan, and egg whites.
Get your hands in there and form it into a ball.
Once dough has formed, break it into chunks and roll it out into long, thin strips.
Cut into bite size pieces…
Hey! You have gnocchi! It’s that easy. Gnocchi-dding. (Sorry.)
Now all you have to do is drop the gnocchi in boiling, well-salted water (just as you would with pasta), and when they are done they will float to the top! Scoop them directly from the boiling water into the sauce to form the most perfectly blissful union.
Parmesan Gnocchi with Short Rib Ragu
Serves: 4 – 6
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 lb. bone-in short ribs
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 ½ cups dry red wine, such as Tyler Florence Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1 bunch fresh sage leaves (about 6 leaves)
2 bay leaves
4 to 5 russet potatoes
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 ½ to 2 cups all-purpose flour
3 egg whites
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Start with the short ribs. Season them with salt and pepper and get them into a dutch oven or any oven-safe pot coated with olive oil. Brown them on all sides and remove them from the pan onto a plate lined with a paper towel. Drain all but 1 tbsp of the fat out of the pot.
Meanwhile, pulse celery, carrots, and onion in a food processor until it forms a course mixture. Toss these into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and allow them to brown over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomato paste and stir continuously for one minute. Pour in red wine and beef broth. Bring everything to a boil, and return the short ribs to the pot. Add bay leaves and sage and toss in the oven, covered, for about 3 hours. Flip the short ribs half way through (if it looks like it needs more liquid, add more broth or water.)
Now for the gnocchi (these can be made ahead as well.) Pierce potatoes with a fork and bake them in the same oven at 350 degrees for about an hour until they are tender and cooked through. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides then put them through a potato ricer or food mill and spread into a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in refrigerator until potatoes cool.
Once cooled, add in flour a little bit at a time, mixing it all together with your hands. When you have added most of the flour, toss in egg whites, and parmesan. Continue mixing with your hands until it has formed a ball. If the dough feels too moist or tacky, add more flour. If it feels too dry or crumbly, add another egg white.
To form the gnocchi, take off a little bit of the dough at a time and roll it into about ½-inch thick rope. Cut into one inch pieces. Continue doing this until you have formed all of your gnocchi and put them in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, until you are ready to use. (If more than a few hours, put them in the freezer.)
Take short ribs out of the oven after they have been cooking for 3 hours. Remove the meat from the pot and discard bay leaves and sage bundle. Shred the meat, skim the grease off the top of the liquid, and return meat to the pot. Put on the stove top over low heat to keep warm while you cook the gnocchi.
Boil the gnocchi in a pot of salty water for 1-2 minutes, until they float to the top. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the cooked gnocchi directly into the sauce until you have cooked all of them.
Transfer to serving dish, garnish with parmesan cheese and enjoy!