Posted by: Feet Banks
Over in this week’s Whistler Sabbatical Project video we meet Araxi Executive Chef James Walt and venture out to Pemberton’s North Arm Farm where James sources ingredients for his award-winning regional cuisine.
“It’s a real gem that we have the Pemberton valley,” James says of the farming community a half-hour drive north of Whistler. He’s been tracking down local food up there since 1997. “In the first few years I had to search for ingredients, I’d call up people I didn’t know and say, ‘Hey I heard you have Hazelnuts growing on your property?’ These days we have mushroom pickers and farmers coming right to the back door of the restaurant. Farming, especially organic farming, is a lot of work so it’s great that Whistler restaurants can help drive the farming community.”
Farms and the process of growing and producing is something James values a lot. “I grew up on a farm with a huge garden” he says. “I would pull carrots out of the ground and not even wash them, peas right off the stalk. Once I had my own kids one of the first things we did was plant a sunflower together on Mother’s day and it was really special to watch my son watch that plant grow so huge. People need to make those connections, to know where your food is coming from. You can live without a lot of things but you can’t live without food— might as well put your time and effort in there.”
And the proof of James’ time, effort and passion is right there on the plate. He tables food that nourishes the soul as much as the body and every bite tastes better than the last. Fresh off a hugely successful 30th Anniversary Locals’ Appreciation menu (that saw Araxi fully booked almost every night this autumn) James Walt and his team are gearing up for winter with an après Fondue menu that starts in mid-December. To tide us over until then The Whistler Insider was able to nab a free recipe from James so our readers can get a taste of Araxi at home. Shop local, cook with love, and enjoy the food.
Ricotta Gnocchi with Toasted Hazelnuts and Sage
By: Chef James Walt
Araxi Restaurant, Whistler, BC
Serves 4 - 6 (Yields about 50 gnocchi)
The hazelnuts we have in British Columbia are almond shaped and have a pronounced nutty flavour, and I make this gnocchi with them in mind. Making gnocchi is really easy and they freeze well. Try a touch of hazelnut oil in the dough for even more of a nutty flavour.
1 1/8 lbs/500 g ricotta cheese, strained overnight to remove moisture
1 large egg
1 ½ tsp / 7.5 mL kosher salt
¼ tsp / 1 mL freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup / 240 mL all-purpose flour
1 cup / 250 mL vegetable nage
2 Tbsp / 30 mL butter, cold
1 Tbsp / 15 mL chopped chives
¾ cup / 180 mL hazelnuts, toasted
¼ cup / 60 mL grated pecorino Romano cheese
20 dried sage leaves
Combine the ricotta, egg, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix well until all the ingredients are incorporated. Add the flour all at once and, with a fork or a pastry cutter, gently but swiftly work the mixture into a soft dough. Be careful not to overwork the dough, as it could become tough when cooked.
Lightly dust a medium bowl with flour. Add the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Lightly flour a clean work surface and a large plate. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 parts, then roll each piece between your palms into a log 3/4 inch/2 cm in diameter. Using a small knife or a pastry scraper, cut each log into ten to twelve 1-inch/2.5-cm pieces, then transfer these gnocchi to the plate and refrigerate them for 30 minutes, until chilled.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on high heat. Add the gnocchi and cook them until they float, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and rinse the gnocchi. Transfer the gnocchi to a sauté pan, add the vegetable nage and heat on medium heat until the nage has nearly reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, chives and hazelnuts. Add half the pecorino Romano and toss gently.
Divide the gnocchi and sauce among 4 bowls. Garnish with sage leaves and the remaining pecorino Romano.
Serve the best: Russian River Chardonnay or white Burgundy, like Chassagne or Puligny-Montrachet; or, if you must have red, mature Barbaresco or Brunello could be magic.