Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hilarious Gnudity in the Duplay Kitchen!

Charlotte Duplay is one of my favorite foodie friends and muses and a few nights ago she invited me over to share a meal created from her latest box of bounty from the Inland Empire CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This group is great: a collective of farmers who pile their fresh fruits and vegetables together every few weeks and deliver them to certain stops in cities where all of their healthy-eating subscribers pick up treasure boxes full of food, never knowing exactly what delights they will discover inside. When I arrived to Charlotte's home, I was greeted with a lush still life that included tomatillos, red onions, avocado, cherry tomatoes, grapefruit, zucchini, leeks, yellow snap beans, cantaloupes, fennel, swiss chard, white carrots, and russian arugula!
A beautiful slate of roasted tomatoes was set upon the counter waiting for its starring role in a creative new form of bruschetta. As Charlotte, assembled the dish she explained the recipe. Take a bunch of cherry tomatoes, halve them, and roast them in an oven on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, sprinkled with honey, rosemary, thyme and olive oil until they shrivel and pop. Then cut up slices of a crispy, baguette and toast the bread in the oven. Spread ricotta cheese on the toasted bread and then top with the tomatoes. Add an additional drizzle of honey and top with basil. This appetizer was incredibly sweet and with the lightness of ricotta cheese, felt less sinful with every rich bite.

After the bruschetta was done, we went about preparing the special dish that Charlotte was trying for the first time: Gnudi. Sounds like gnocchi and is similar but is made usually from a blend of spinach, ricotta and flour and then piped through a pastry bag into a pot of boiling water in thick, inch long, noodle-like forms. This is when all hilarity ensued.

Whenever I go to meals at Charlotte's, we have a little assistant in the kitchen-Charlotte's cheeky monkey daughter Camilla. Armed with blue rubber boots, the perfect summer sundress and her tiny mitts in enormous potholders, she followed us around the kitchen as we cooked, even stepping in to help once in a while. This time, Camilla, who I hadn't seen in about five months, was extremely chatty and excited, she had grown into quite the personality and I noticed that the kitchen became much more slapstick than normal now that we had a little miniature addition to our preparations. In the past, she would just sit and stare at us from her baby chairs, but suddenly she was underneath our feet, chasing the dog, and providing a sense of comedy to Charlotte's normally smooth processes. The fact that she had just started potty training was a central point of the cooking as she would continue to tell me in finger pointing and demonstrations that she was now a big girl who could go to the bathroom. At one point, she presented me with her toilet bucket in which she had just dumped a "big girl gift", very pleased with her new found talent. I guess the fact that her big girl gift had all the same textures and shapes of the aforementioned gnudi we were trying to prepare was our first subliminal sign of things to come.
Cooking something for the first time is always a hit or miss, especially when one is also attempting to substitute ingredients. It started well: we blended the blanched russian arugula and swiss chard greens and ricotta together and then added small amounts of flour to the whole mix. Maybe there wasn't enough flour, or maybe we should have stuck with spinach for some textural depth reasoning, or maybe Camilla sitting at the blender and pressing the blend button too much caused the texture to lose its integrity, or maybe it was the fact that we didn't end up kneading the dough enough in consideration of time (at this rate we wouldn't be eating close to any dinner hour!) but whatever it was, by the time we piped the gnudi into the boiling water and waited for it to float to the top well done, we were most likely already doomed. Green pickle like forms rose to the top of the pot which we strained and set into a dish on the side. Realizing that it looked more like mush than pasta portions, we then started to add more flour to the dough hoping it would help it stick together. We persevered making the gnudi until the final batch was done but Charlotte snuck on a pot of wheat spiral pasta just in case the gnudi was going to end in disaster. She heated up a homemade pasta sauce made from chopped tomatoes simmered with onions and a whole stick of butter and we finally converged around the table.

The funny thing is that once we piled our gnudi into our bowls and topped it with the butter rich tomato sauce and a sprinking of parmesan cheese, it actually tasted really good. Aside from the bizarre way it looked, we actually all really enjoyed it. I would definitely be up for making this recipe again under better conditions, it could actually become a favorite. I didn't even have to eat the Plan B pasta!
For dessert, we were served warm grilled peach halves accompanied by a dollop of homemade peach ice cream. The perfect sweet and innocent end to a belly-laughter filled authentic evening!

The morning after my wonderful meal with the Duplay family, Charlotte wrote me this note: "Food blogs that recall the disasters in the kitchen are very entertaining - think of Julie and Julia. If you do end up blogging about last night's unique meal please tell the truth!"

So I did. I am looking for the next time I get to get gnudi in the kitchen with Charlotte!


  1. Never a dull moment at Chez Duplay! For anyone who would like to get in on the fun you can order your own weekly or bi-weekly box at

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