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Duck Ragù with Potato Gnocchi

As with all ragùs, the flavour of this dish is enhanced by making it in advance and it also freezes well. The recipe here is basically the same as Nancy Silverton’s in The Mozza Cookbook except that I omitted the duck liver and did not finish the dish with the added 6T. of finishing-quality olive oil that she suggests.

4 duck legs, skinned, cut apart at the joint, fat removed, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 c. Soffritto, recipe below
5 T. double concentrated tomato paste (see photo)
2 c. dry red wine
3 c. chicken stock
3 1/2 oz. duck or chicken livers (I omitted these, but I have included what to do with them if you choose to use them)
4 fresh sage leaves

Place the duck legs in a glass dish and season with salt and pepper. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Heat the oil and garlic together over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or sauté pan and cook the garlic, stirring constantly, until it is softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the Soffritto and cook it for 1 minute. Move the vegetables to create a bare spot in the pan, add the tomato paste to that spot, and cook for 1 minute, stirring, to caramelize the tomato paste slightly. Add the wine, chicken stock, livers if using, sage, and duck legs and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the duck legs for about 1 1/2 hours, until the duck is tender and falling off the bones. Turn off the heat and let the duck cool to room temperature in the braising liquid.

Transfer the duck and the braising liquid to an airtight container, or cover the pot, and refrigerate until you are ready to make the ragù. You can make the duck to this point up to a day in advance.

Remove the legs from the braising liquid, and pour the liquid into a medium saucepan. Pull the meat off the bones, discarding bones and tendons. Add the meat to the pan with the braising liquid and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the meat in the liquid, breaking it up as it cooks, until the liquid is reduced and the sauce has thickened somewhat. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if desired. Use the ragù, or allow it to cool to room temperature, transfer it to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze it for as long as 3 months. Warm the ragù over medium heat before serving, adding enough water to loosen it to a sauce-like consistency.

In her book, Silverton explains how this combination of vegetables is cooked over a long period of time until it becomes a thick, rich paste and is used to enhance the flavour of ragùs at Mozza. While the duck ragù recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of Soffritto, it is worth making a large batch at once since it can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for several months. Here is an example, though, of how it is difficult to translate restaurant cooking practices, with a line of sous chefs to do the chopping and sautéing, to the home kitchen. Further, Silverton writes that while the quantity of olive oil in Soffritto seems like a lot, it is used to start dishes where olive oil is normally used. Having said all this, I cut down the recipe to 1/2 c. olive oil, 1 c. onions, 1/2 c. carrots, and 1/2 c. celery, which was just enough for the duck recipe.

2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs. Spanish onions, finely chopped (about 7 cups)
1 lb. carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 3 1/2 c.)
1 lb. celery, finely chopped (about 3 1/4 c.)

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat until oil is almost smoking, about 2-3 minutes. Add the onions and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are tender and translucent. Add the carrots and celery, reduce the heat to medium, and cook the vegetables, stirring often, for about 3 hours, until the Soffritto is a deep caramel colour and the vegetables are almost melted. If the vegetables start to sizzle and stick to the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking. Use the Soffritto, or let it cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate or freeze.

Potato Gnocchi
I have tried making potato gnocchi before, with disappointing results. This recipe, with Silverton’s meticulous detail really worked. A few added notes from my experience: I skipped the part of the process for making the ridges on the gnocchi pieces, even though this step is what makes the gnocchi look authentic and helps to capture the sauce. But I find that this is not essential for my cooking standards or for the extra time it takes. Also, I froze some of the extra gnocchi since this recipe made more than I needed for 6 people and they froze very well.

2 t. kosher salt, plus about 1 1/2 c. for baking sheet and for boiling gnocchi
3 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350º F. Spread a layer of salt on a baking sheet. Rinse the potatoes, roll them in the salt, and place them, on the salt-covered baking sheet, in the oven to bake until they’re very soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the potatoes from the oven and use a small knife to remove half of the peel, discarding the peel. Squeeze the potatoes out of the peel into a food mill or potato ricer and discard remaining peel. Pass the potatoes through the mill or ricer into a large bowl. Sprinkle the 2 t. salt over the potatoes and cut the salt in with the tines of a fork, sweeping through the potatoes from side to side with the tips of the tines to avoid compressing the potato.

Drizzle the egg over the potatoes and cut it into the potatoes in the same way. Pass the potato and egg mixture through the food mill again into a large bowl. Sprinkle the potatoes with some of the flour, adding the flour gradually and cutting it in with the fork in the same manner, adding more flour as soon as the flour you have added is integrated and the dough begins to look wet again. Form the dough into a brick about 1″ thick, patting down on the top of the dough to make it square. Turn the brick out onto a baking sheet, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and cut the dough brick into 1″ long segments. Lightly flour a flat work surface and roll the segments into 1/2″ thick tubes. Dust the tubes generously with flour and line them up side by side. Cut the tubes into 1″ segments. Dust the work surface again with flour. One at a time, pick up one of the cut segments with one hand and a large dinner fork with the other. Holding the fork so that the tines are resting on the work surface and the convex side is facing out, and using your thumb, roll the gnocchi down the length of the fork to create ridges. Place the ridged gnocchi on the prepared baking sheet and repeat, forming the remaining segments in the same way. Use the gnocchi or cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

For finishing and serving the gnocchi:
1 c. tomato sauce (recipe below)
28 oz. gnocchi
1/2 c. thinly sliced Italian parsley leaves
1/2 c. grated Parmesan

To finish the gnocchi, fill a large saucepan with water, add 3T. salt and bring it to the boil over high heat. Meanwhile, combine 2 c. of the ragù with the tomato sauce in a large sauté pan, stirring occasionally and adding some hot pasta water to thin it, if necessary. Lower heat to keep it hot while the gnocchi cooks. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and cook until they float to the top, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat under the sauce up to high, and lift the gnocchi out of the cooking water with a wire strainer, and add them to the sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes, tossing gently with a rubber spatula to coat the gnocchi with the sauce. Add the parsley and some of the grated Parmesan. Spoon the gnocchi onto plates and adding any remaining sauce from the pan and grate some fresh Parmesan over top.

Tomato Sauce
This is the best tomato sauce and since it makes much more than called for in the duck recipe above, you can keep smaller containers of it in your freezer for other uses. It’s wonderful on pizza.

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced (about 2 cups)
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 t. pepper, plus more to taste
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
half a medium carrot, peeled and shredded
3 T. thyme leaves
2 28 oz.cans whole peeled plum tomatoes, including their juices (preferably San Marzano)

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until it is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn’t brown. Add the carrot and thyme leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrot is soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, including their juices: bring the liquid to the boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the sauce stirring often, for about 30 minutes, until it has thickened slightly. When the sauce is done, pass it through a food mill into a large bowl. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper, to taste. Use the sauce or set it aside to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to several days, or freeze up to several months. Makes about 2 quarts.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Diane Norton #

    Hi Diane, I was really fortunate to be in Hawaii this year when Nancy was a guest Chef at our Hotel. Her food was spectacular and I bought the Book but have not tried anything as it appears to be quite complicated. One of things she used was Fennel pollen. It added an incredible punch to the lamb dishes.
    I am thrilled you have tested these recipes and altered for our consumption.

    All the best, Di

    July 12, 2012
    • Thanks so much, Diane, for your comments. I agree that Nancy’s food is amazing, if a little daunting…and I’m so glad you mentioned the fennel pollen because it is an ingredient that I read about in her book and I am planning to experiment with it. So stay tuned!

      July 12, 2012

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