Blue Ox’s Matt O’Neil Knows His Gnocchi

Posted: June 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blue Ox, Event, Lynn | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Potato gnocchi, pea puree, ham, mint, mascarpone. Sound like spring on a plate? It was, and it tasted even better than it sounds. This was the main event at last night’s cooking demonstration at The Blue Ox in Lynn.

Chef/owner Matt O’Neil charmed an audience of about 40 with both his cooking advice and his food at this special event ($29). We had expected more of a stand-around-watching-the-chef type of demonstration and were pleasantly surprised when we were led to a table and handed a wine list along with the night’s menu and several recipes to take home.

We tried the house white ($5.50), a dry blended wine that’s very good for the price, while snacking on an antipasto of sopressata, prosciutto de parma, fresh mozzarella, shaved parmesan, roasted peppers and asparagus, grilled artichokes, and aged balsamic.

Then Chef O’Neil began demonstrating the gnocchi recipe on a large table at the front of the room. While he worked, he gave us tips on many of the ingredients he uses in the restaurant along with things to avoid when making gnocchi.

Here are a few take-aways from the chef:

  • Use kosher salt or sea salt that has not been iodized. The iodizing process changes the salt, preventing it from drawing out moisture from food you are trying to sear.
  • Splurge on a bottle of aged balsamic. You only need a few drops in a salad or antipasto, so a small bottle will last quite a while.
  • Likewise, spend the money to get a good bottle of fruity olive oil, not for cooking but for salads and adding to pasta or gnocchi. O’Neil uses one from Greece.
  • With the right ingredients, it’s easy to “doctor up” something like a jar of roasted peppers. Just sprinkle with lemon juice, good olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • For gnocchi, use Russet or Idaho potatoes, bake them in the oven, and rice them while they are hot.
  • For extra flavor, O’Neil drizzles a tablespoon of good olive oil into the gnocchi dough when he adds the eggs. He also adds a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg.
  • He cautions never to overwork the dough. It should still be bit rough when you begin rolling it out, or the final product will be chewy rather than fluffy.
  • After rolling the gnocchi (O’Neil uses a fork for this), place them on a sheet pan sprinkled with semolina flour. All-purpose flour would get absorbed into the dough and make it gummy.
  • To freeze the gnocchi, put them in the freezer still on the tray. Once frozen, you can pack them in a plastic bag or container.

At the end of the demonstration, we were invited to try rolling out dough and forming the gnocchi up at the front table, and then we were served a steaming bowl with the aforementioned sauce and ham. The gnocchi were tender, the sauce was to-die-for delicious, and the mint puree drizzled on top added incredible freshness. The main course was followed by a cannoli with a crisp shell and an extra-creamy filling.

O’Neil, a Swampscott native who now lives in Nahant, is clearly one of the area’s top culinary talents. We look forward to returning to sample the dinner menu, which the chef describes as American style with a twist. The main dining room features a handsome bar area and the gorgeous art of Martha’s Vineyard-based painter Traeger DiPietro. There is a free parking lot a few yards away from the front door.

After seeing Chef O’Neil in action, we’re also hoping for more cooking demonstrations. Eating, drinking and learning—the perfect way to spend an evening.

The Blue Ox
191 Oxford Street, Lynn
(781) 780-5722
www.theblueoxlynn.com

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3 Comments on “Blue Ox’s Matt O’Neil Knows His Gnocchi”

  1. #1 Jen said at 10:22 am on June 10th, 2009:

    These fresh gnocchi sound delectable. Thanks for sharing all of his very useful tips! I need to pick up some fruity olive oil now…

  2. #2 El said at 3:29 pm on June 15th, 2009:

    Love the gnocchi great photos too. Thanks.

  3. #3 Dennis Aikman said at 2:34 pm on September 11th, 2009:

    nice job! Blue Ox- Best New Restaurant North Shore 2009


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