Once in a while, in a great, great while we go out. What I like to do best when I finally get out of the house is go over to a friends' house and cook with them. Yes, I know, I need help. But isn¹t a blog like cheap therapy? I¹m just going to kick back on the couch now, and settle in. Where was I?
So, yes, we cook for fun, but we also drink good wine while we cook good food. Something that is impossible to do at home navigating a busy kitchen, hot stove and helpful toddler. In fact, it might even get you arrested. Food and wine like this is also something you can't afford to do at a restaurant, not if you want anything left in the college fund.
There are sacrifices, of course. Since you are on the babysitter meter, the recipes can't be all-nighters like the old days. I've had to quicken-up some of my favorite adult fare like the following Gnocchi with Duck and Porcini Mushroom Ragout.
The first short cut was to buy the gnocchi. Last time we attempted to make the gnocchi for this dish and a round of ravioli in the same evening, I think we ate around midnight. Granted, in our pre-child days there was wine aplenty and we did not care.
These days, we need less wine and more short cuts. The other short cuts have to do with not doing the sloooooow braise on the duck. Slow is best, and if you have time, go slow and go with Lidia Bastianich's recipe for Duck Guazetto. Hers is perfection. I can only aspire to be an Italian grandmother in the greatest sense of the word.
Yet, this one is pretty darn good for Adult Night. It's not light, or low fat, or skim anything. Because now that I am a responsible parent-type my last hold out of rebellion, out there "gettin' crazy" is an occasional binge with butterfat. And duck fat. And bacon. And it's good. It's good like Sunday-morning-sleep-in, coffee-sex-and-newspaper-in-bed good. Afterall, it is Adult Night.
Gnocchi with Duck and Porcini Mushroom Ragout
4 duck breasts skin-on
1 strip of bacon
3 shallots, chopped
3 oz. tomato paste
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 oz. dried porcini, steeped for 1/2 hour in 1 cup of boiling water
2 oz glace de canard (duck demi-glaze)
3 tbs. butter
black pepper to taste
shavings of parmesean for garnish
2 packages good prepared gnocchi
Heat a heavy skillet and lay in the bacon slice to render the fat. Fry until crisp, and remove bacon. Lay in duck breasts, skin side down. Do not move around, just let them lay there until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Then turn them over and sear the other side until golden brown. Remove duck and let rest on plate. This is where you could, could, pour off some of the fat in the pan. Resist this temptation. Yield to the duck fat. Add chopped shallots and saute until golden brown.
Deglaze pan with wine (fancy word for pour in the wine and stir the brown bits up off the bottom). Add the tomato paste, glace de canard, thyme and stir. Add the mushrooms (not the liquid at this point). Strain the remaining liquid from the mushrooms to remove any grit, reserving the liquid. Add the strained liquid to the pan. Slice the duck breasts and cut into bite-sized pieces, add to pan. Crumble the bacon slice in as well. Cook for about 15 more minutes until duck is cooked through, you can serve duck medium rare, but let it cook in the braising liquid to get flavor. Add pepper to taste. Swirl in the butter to finish the sauce.
Now, you might be thinking, with all that duck fat, why do I need butter, too? Yield to the butterfat. The richness rounds out the sauce and gives it shine and extra flavor. The French call this "monter au beurre." Literally, "finish with butter." I call it another 50 grams of saturated fat well worth the worry.
Boil water and prepare gnocchi per package directions. Spoon cooked gnocchi into the duck sauce pan and toss to coat. Garnish with parmesean shavings. Serve with a nice red, something with a bit of body to stand up to the duck sauce.
Glace de canard (duck demi-glaze) is not easy to find unless you have a great grocery store. Try finding it online. Or, you can substitute beef base, but just 1 tbs. and it will not need salt as the base usually has a fair bit of salt in it. It will not be as good, but it won't be too darn shabby either. Nothing comprised of wine, porcini, duck fat and butter could taste too bad.
Now, the hard part. Enjoy guilt-free. It is your night. Then get home before the sitter finds your stash of the good chocolate.