For executive chef Chris Whittaker, sustainability is more than just a trend. At Forage, which opened in the Listel Hotel (1300 Robson Street) last November, Whittaker is as concerned about environmental responsibility as he is about how his food tastes.
The restaurant prides itself on using local, seasonal ingredients—some sourced as close as the hotel’s rooftop garden. Solar panels help heat the restaurant and the hotel, and food waste is composted.
Chef Whittaker’s ecominded practices extend to his home life. The Ontario transplant grows his own vegetables, hunts and fishes, and shops locally.
Whether he’s cooking for his family or entertaining guests, his mainstay is herb gnocchi. He learned to make the potato pasta a decade ago and serves it with everything, including as a side for fish and as a main course with crumbled blue cheese.
“It’s really something I use as a go-to a lot of the time because it’s versatile,” he told the Georgia Straight. “You can get creative with it. You don’t have to do just herb gnocchi. You can get yams in there, sweet potato, squash, that sort of thing.”
These days, he’s making the dish with stinging nettle, which is in season and available at Vancouver farmers markets until the end of April. A word of caution: this refreshing, grassy-tasting plant requires careful handling. The tiny, stinging hairs on the underside of the leaves can hurt you, so Whittaker recommends wearing gloves until the leaves are cooked. To avoid the problem altogether, substitute kale or spinach.
“There are times in the garden where we have lots of kale and stuff like that, and you get tired of rough salads. To meld these in with gnocchi and a nice cheese is really wholeseome and comforting,” Whittaker said.
He suggests pairing the dish with Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale from Parallel 49 Brewing Co.
Chris Whittaker’s herb and brown butter gnocchi with stinging nettle
- 3 medium Kennebec potatoes
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh chives
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tsp (5 mL) fresh tarragon
- 1 tsp (5 mL) fresh thyme
- Pinch nutmeg
- 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
- 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) pepper
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup (187 mL) all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) clarified butter or ghee
(available at South Asian markets)
- 1 lb (454 g) fresh stinging nettle
(see precautions above), kale, spinach, or other leafy greens
- 1 1/2 Tbsp (22 mL) butter
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) Parmesan (or any hard cheese)
- Bake potatoes at 400 ° F (200 ° C) for 40 minutes. Split each potato in half and push through a tamis, a potato ricer, or a mesh strainer to get very fine mashed potatoes. Allow potatoes to cool.
- Chop chives, parsley, tarragon, and thyme, and add to potatoes in a large bowl. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
- Separate egg yolks and add to potato mixture. (Save whites for another use.)
- Add flour to potato mixture and mix in using your hands. The finished dough should be slightly wet but not sticky. If it feels sticky, add a pinch more flour.
- Dust a flat surface with flour. Divide dough into four portions. Roll each portion into a log 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut each log into 1-inch gnocchi using a pastry scraper or knife.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add gnocchi and cook for 1 minute or until gnocchi float. Transfer the cooked gnocchi into a container and toss with 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter. Allow gnocchi to cool.
- Remove stalks from stinging nettle or other greens. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Blanch greens for 1 minute. Plunge greens into an ice-water bath for a few minutes to halt cooking. Remove greens from water and wrap in a tea towel; squeeze to get rid of water. Set greens aside.
- In a large pan on medium-high heat, put 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter. Add gnocchi. Gnocchi can be crowded in the pan, but every piece should touch the bottom. Flip gnocchi occasionally to lightly brown all sides. Add butter, melt, and brown. Add blanched nettle or greens and mix. Total cooking time should be about 7 minutes. Squeeze juice of half a lemon over top to stop butter from browning, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide gnocchi among 4 plates. Top with grated cheese and serve.
Yield: four servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.