About me

December 15, 2010

Ricotta Gnocchi with Chanterelles: Frances at Home

What do you do when the cozy restaurant that opens in your neighborhood becomes so popular you can't get near it? When the place is so booked, you need to plan eight weeks in advance to pay it a visit? Well, you stave off any resentment you might feel by cooking a few of their dishes at home and patiently wait it out until the hype dies down

Frances defines "neighborhood restaurant" in nearly every sense. It's a small, simply furnished space that holds roughly 20 tables--plus 10 or so seats in a tiny, slightly cramped bar area--tucked away in a quiet residential block of the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco. 

The menu is built on the popular premise that dishes made with fresh, locally grown, in-season ingredients are best prepared simply and honestly. Staple items include light, crispy bacon-specked beignet served with a tangy creme fraiche dipping sauce; blocks of chick pea batter fritters, stacked on tiny plates; sides of silky butter beans cooked in pigs trotters; and soft ricotta gnocchi in creamy tomato, mushroom, and fresh corn sauce nestled in the bottom of over-sized bowls. 

The extensive wine list features two rotating house wines--a white and a red--served in carafes resembling lab beakers with lines etched into the glass marking two-ounce portions; you pour it yourself and pay $1 per ounce for the amount you drink.

I was excited to hear that this restaurant was opening just a few blocks from my apartment. It's the kind of place I'd want to pop into spontaneously for a quick bite after work, often enough that the wait staff would start to know me, if not by name, at least by face. But apparently I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for Frances--good for Frances, not for me--because it's attracted the attention of the James Beard Foundation, Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle, Bon Appetit magazine, the Michelin Guide, and more than likely many others. It's on the map. Everyone knows about it and everyone wants to eat there--meaning that it's now a neighborhood restaurant only in terms of size, location, and simplicity of fare.

I've been lucky enough to eat there twice. Once, when I slipped in just after the doors opened and grabbed a seat at the bar, a space reserved for walk-ins. And a second time when my mom was in town. She'd heard about Frances--all the way back in Maine--and mentioned it when we were planning her visit, so I thought it would be fun to take her there. This is when I discovered just how popular the place had become; my six-week advance planning wasn't advance enough: I was told they were booked solid two months out. Fortunately, a friend pulled some strings and got us a table. 

The trouble is that now I want to go back--often. And I obviously can't ask this friend to pull strings for me again...and again... So, until things calm down at Frances--if ever--I'll attempt to recreate the experience at home. 

I won't try to make those pillowy fried beignet in my tiny kitchen since that's too messy and hazardous an undertaking. I've started instead with the sheep's-milk ricotta gnocchi with mushrooms based on a recipe from Frances' owner and chef Melissa Perello that I found online on the Food and Wine magazine website. They're easy to prepare and pure comfort food: like little squarish-shaped, puffy pancakes, crisp and browned on the outside and soft and tender inside; fresh-grated Parmesan cheese sharpens the sweet sheep's-milk ricotta dough. I topped them with buttery bacon- and thyme-flecked chanterelles.

I invited a few friends from the neighborhood over and we got our Frances fix--pretty much spontaneously. I suggest you do the same!

Sheep's-Milk Ricotta Gnocchi with Chanterelle Mushrooms
From FoodandWine.com (with a few alterations to the mushroom sauce)

The gnocchi dough is easy to make. The most challenging part, depending on where you live, is locating sheep's milk ricotta. If you're not able to find it, you can substitute cow's-milk ricotta. (Cow's-milk ricotta is moister than sheep's-milk ricotta, so you'll need to drain it overnight in a fine strainer.)

The dough sets for at least three hours in the freezer, so be sure to build the chilling time into your schedule. You cook the gnocchi in a skillet in batches. It's a bit of a scramble as you try to flip them quickly in the pan and get them into the oven to stay warm. I recommend using a fork and your fingers to make quick work of the frying (I initially used a spatula, but found that it was too big and clumsy for the job). 

I made some adjustments to the mushroom corn sauce in the recipe: I left out the corn, since it's not in season right now, and substituted thyme for tarragon; I added bacon to give the meaty chanterelles a smoky flavor, as well as garlic and shallots for more flavor:

Sautee two chopped strips of bacon with three minced cloves of garlic and two thinly sliced shallots over medium-high heat until the bacon is nearly crisp, the shallots are transluscent, and the garlic is fragrant but not brown. Add one tablespoon of butter to the pan and cook the chanterelles in batches, sprinkling each batch with thyme leaves and salt and pepper. Add more butter to the pan for each batch. Finish the sauce with a reduction of wine and low-sodium chicken stock and more butter, as called for in the recipe.

You'll find the complete recipe here on FoodandWine.com (for copyright reasons, I can't post it to my site).

Leftovers: If any chanterelle mushrooms are left over, fold them into scrambled eggs or an omelette with cheese for breakfast.

    1 comment: