August has reared its head and then hastily ducked out of sight. Already the sunlight is noticeably absent from the late evening horizon. Even the air takes on a different texture and scent. Fall is just around the corner.
But before we pack up our grills and prepare to exhume our deeply buried wool sweaters, take in your surroundings, inhale a deep breath of summer air and savor the opportunity to enjoy the fading notes of summer’s iconic foods.
To me, nothing speaks of summer more than lobster- the crack of the shell, the squirt of the juice, the ceremonial dipping in drawn butter, the smell of sea-like air wafting from a giant salted pot of water. It invokes images of the rolling surf, majestic sand dunes and late-night salmon colored sunsets.
A well cooked lobster, tender and soft rather than rubbery, is the king of foods. It speaks of elegance to some and to others it suggests a relaxed backyard feast. Either way, there’s no denying the pleasure of sinking your teeth into the succulent, sweet and seductive meat of a perfectly cooked lobster.
On the other hand, gnocchi is a food I associate more with winter. Making homemade gnocchi is a labor of love and not necessarily an undertaking I crave on a warm summer’s day. It is time consuming to hand sculpt the little pillows, each with their own quirky shape and character yet uniformly light and fluffy. Tender gnocchi require respect, patience and a gentle touch and beckon one to spend quality time at the kitchen counter, rolling and cutting the dough simply to keep warm on a cold day. A little tip: if you don’t have a potato ricer, an ordinary food mill is an infallible alternative for ricing potatoes.
I love Chef Steve Corry’s Meyer lemon gnocchi. Adding the essence of fragrant Meyer lemons to the potato dumplings unequivocally gives the gnocchi a fresh, summer appeal. After boiling his pasta dumplings, he sautés them in a light butter bath to crisp them up. This adds an enticing texture dimension and provides a nice contrast between the soft center and the crispy exterior. When tossed with a rich lemon butter broth and topped off with butter poached lobster, you get a hearty, comforting and luxurious dish that’s flirty, zesty and a consummate use of summer’s finest and most symbolic ingredients.
Meyer Lemon Gnocchi with Butter Poached Lobster
For poached lobster:
2 lobsters, 1 1/2 pound each
1 pound butter for poaching lobster
Salt for boiling lobsters
1 pound baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
3 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, preferably Meyer lemons
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Snipped chives, for garnish
1. To remove the lobsters from their shells, flash boiling the lobsters for 1 to 2 minutes in heavily salted water with a dash of vinegar. Remove lobster from the water and twist its tail off in one motion. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, cut from the belly towards the head and down each claw. Cut down the belly-side of the tail and spread back the shell. Pull the meat out, keeping pieces as intact as possible. Set aside in refrigerator while you make the gnocchi.
2. In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately high heat until the potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pan; shake over moderately high heat until dry.
3. Working over a large rimmed baking sheet, rice the hot potatoes in an even layer. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of olive oil and the salt and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and stir gently just until a dough forms.
4. Gently roll the dough into four 1/2-inch-thick ropes. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make ridges. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
5. In a small saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the 1 stick of butter, a few pieces at a time, until the sauce is creamy. Warm the sauce on low heat if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt.
6. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the gnocchi until they rise to the surface, then cook them for 1 minute longer. Gently drain the gnocchi, toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and transfer to a baking sheet until cool.
7. To clarify the butter, slowly melt 1 pound of butter and remove the foam that appears with a ladle. Discard foam and reserve remaining clarified butter.
8. Cook lobster tail and claws in clarified butter for 4 minutes over medium heat. The butter should barely be simmering. Remove from butter and break up the lobster meat with your fingers.
9. In a large nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter reserved for the gnocchi. Add half of the gnocchi and cook in a single layer over high heat until browned on the bottom, 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and gnocchi.
10. Reheat the sauce; pour it over the gnocchi and fold gently with a rubber spatula until they are evenly coated. Transfer to a platter and garnish with the chives and the lobster meat.
Yield: Makes 8 first course servings or 4 main course servings.