The secret is in your hand. Even if the recipe is the same, it’s the hand of the one who makes it that matters in the end. These words play a pivotal role in Jim Casey’s cooking career. “I heard this from a chef once and it’s stayed with me for a long time,” says Casey, chef-owner of Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations in New Hartford. “It represents my culinary point of view because in cooking there’s so much room for interpretation and creativity. I might see something and say, ‘Hey, that looks awesome, I want to try something like that,’ but I won’t follow the recipe. I’ll look at the dish as a whole, understand its flavor profile, then come up with my own way of doing it.”
Casey embraces tailoring a dish to his own style, just like the potato gnocchi he learned from other chefs. “Gnocchi is one of the simplest pastas to make at home. People are really impressed when you say you made the gnocchi yourself. Kind of makes you feel like you’ve learned it from an old Italian grandmother,” he says. “That’s what makes cooking so great and intimate. It’s a piece of your mind and soul that you’re materializing on a plate and sharing with others for them to enjoy.”
This simple, feel-good dish has many nuances. “It’s hearty, yet light and refreshing,” says Casey, noting it’s best to use fresh corn and peas, but frozen vegetables can be substituted. “You can serve it hot or chilled. Make a little pesto and toss that in there, too. The versatility of this dish is amazing. I’ve given you a canvas and a bit of direction. I have one rule — make it taste good.”
Preparation time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
3 russet potatoes
2 ears of corn (can substitute about 1½ cups frozen corn)
1 teaspoon salt
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup fresh peas (can substitute frozen)
3 sprigs thyme
1 bunch asparagus (cut on the bias, or diagonally, about 1 inch in length)
¼ stick of unsalted butter
Juice of 3 lemons
½ ounce chopped parsley
½ ounce chopped cilantro
Bake potatoes at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.
While potatoes are cooling, cut the corn from the cob and roast in the oven for approximately 10 minutes.
Once potatoes are cooled, remove the skin, cut the potatoes and put them in a mixer. Add salt. Slowly mix the potatoes, adding 2 cups of flour and Parmesan cheese until you have a dough-like consistency.
Roll the dough into ropes and cut into 1-inch lengths. Dust with a half-cup of flour and then drop them individually into a sauce pot filled with about 6 quarts of salted boiling water. Once the gnocchi float to the surface, wait about 3 minutes before removing them.
Put a sauté pan on medium-high heat and lubricate with vegetable oil. Add the corn, peas, shallots, thyme, asparagus and butter.
Once vegetables are cooked, add the gnocchi. Pour into a serving dish and top with lemon juice and chopped parsley and cilantro.
Chef’s tip: “Respect the gnocchi dough and don’t overwork it. There’s not really a way to describe when to know if the dough is ready, you just have to feel it. Take your time with it, learn it. Make some mistakes — that’s the only real way to learn how to do anything in life.”