The first week of February 2017 my husband and I were in magnificent Jackson Hole, WY on a long anticipated vacation. Since it was February our main focus was snow skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And we did get in one good day. Why only one? Because for 5 days out of 7 we were under a winter storm warning for howling winds, many inches of blowing snow, and all around miserable skiing conditions. And I’ll admit it—I’m a total fair weather groomer girl. But as in all good getaways, exciting alternate opportunities presented themselves. So one stormy day during the week my husband Gary and I took a cooking class at the hotel we were staying at, a fabulous place called Spring Creek Ranch. Turns out a ‘celebrity’ chef from the Piemonte region of northern Italy was touring through the area, a guy named Carlo Zarri. I say celebrity in earrings not because the chef was such a celebrity, but because he had cooked for celebrities, Sophia Loren among them. Chef Carlo is a sweet, down to earth guy, and by all accounts, an excellent chef.
I had some reservations about this class, not for me, but for Gary. He has that pesky, hard-to-deal-with garlic allergy, and wondered if he would be able to eat anything that we cooked. Good thing they were serving wines with each course! Come to find out, however, the chef de cuisine at The Granary Restaurant, Marc Boussarie, who was co-hosting the class, informed Chef Carlo about Gary’s allergy and how serious it has become. Chef Carlo then constructed the menu to completely omit garlic. It didn’t hurt, either, that the Piemontese are not known for using lots of garlic in their cuisine, unlike certain areas of southern Italy that rely on garlic. (The chef of the kitchen did mention that garlic is routinely used in the kitchen and that cross contamination was a possibility. Gary was instructed to watch but not touch anything.)
What, then, did we cook? We made, and happily consumed, yellow bell pepper bisque with black truffles, gnocchi with olive oil, shallot, truffles, and parmesan sauce, sautéed chicken breast with a decadent hazelnut wine and cream sauce, and a traditional Piemontese mocha flan-like dessert.
I had three major takeaways from this class: 1) There is still a need and a desire for basic cooking skills, which is my wheelhouse. 2) Given the right motivation even a non-cook like Gary was actually eager to learn to cook. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, learned a lot, and was particularly intrigued with the gnocchi. He was so enthused by the technique and presentation that we prepared 3 pounds of tricolor gnocchi on our first full day back at home. 3) As I have long suspected, garlic is NOT necessary for full-flavored, delicious food. One of my fellow classmates, a woman from the East coast, declared in her strong Jersey accent that it had been decades since she had cooked food without garlic, and that she actually didn’t miss it at all. Music to my ears!
So about that gnocchi. Chef Carlo made it sound so very simple. One pound potatoes, half pound flour, and one egg for each pound of potatoes. Cook spuds until very soft, rice or mash or process through a food mill, add flour and egg, and then using your hands, mix the dough and knead it until it is smooth and elastic, adding additional flour as needed. Chef Carlo also added some pureed cooked spinach to the cooking class batch, just for some interesting color. Then let the dough rest for 5 minutes, roll into long ropes, and cut small quarter-sized pieces from the ropes. Drop those pieces into boiling salted water for 2 minutes, until the gnocchi rise to the surface.
Add cooked gnocchi to a sauce and voila! You’re savoring fresh, homemade, simple, and delicious food.
When we got home Gary was all afire to try his hand at gnocchi making, and to go one better than the chef, we would prepare three pounds of tricolored gnocchi, green, red, and plain white. I started making a spinach puree for the green gnocchi by simply sautéing a bag of over-the-hill spinach in olive oil until thoroughly wilted and then pureeing it in a mini food processor. The red color was produced by tomato paste, and the white was simply uncolored, plain dough.
We recreated the sauce that Chef Carlo had us make, which was simply shallots sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with a few slices of black truffles, with parmesan cheese added at the end of the cooking with salt and pepper to taste. Roll the cooked gnocchi in the sauce until well coated, add a sprinkling of extra parm, and serve. I made a few changes in my sauce, while trying to preserve the idea of the cooking class original. I used extra virgin olive oil (the only kind of olive oil I keep at home), shallots, and instead of black truffles (which I neither had nor had access to) I used a few drops of black truffle oil that I fortunately did have on hand. Instead of parmesan cheese, which melted into a singular gloppy piece, I decided to grate some gruyere cheese instead. I finished the dish with a sprinkling of thinly sliced green onions.
The final result was a quick, simple, and simply delicious dish of 100% carb-laden comfort food! Gary and I ate just a fraction of the 3 pounds that we made. We froze the rest in 3 separate ziplock bags. When we want more we simply reach into the freezer, pull out a handful of frozen gnocchi and dump it directly into boiling, salted water. No need to thaw the dough. Too easy.
Spring Creek Ranch is a wonderful place to stay while visiting Jackson. They offer rustically elegant western-style rooms for, comparatively, very reasonable prices and they offer a ski and stay package that includes lift tickets at nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The surroundings are breathtakingly gorgeous, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is only about 20 minutes away, and there is plenty to keep you busy and intrigued summer and winter. Just go!
If you do visit Spring Creek Ranch make sure to stop in at The Granary, Spring Creek Ranch’s premier restaurant. Everyone was made aware of Gary’s garlic issues, and everyone from the General Manager and chefs on down to the bartenders bent over backwards to accommodate him. The food is imaginative, generous, beautiful, and delicious.