FoodBuzz 24–24-24: A Winning Combination of Lamb, Gnocchi, Morels & an Apron From Tyler Florence & #PBFW

I have a Lamb, Gnocchi, Morels tale to tell. It’s a tale with a simple lesson. The lesson is this, use great ingredients from quality vendors and you will bring something special to the table. This post may start with a lesson, but it ends with a Giveaway. A giveaway from Tyler Florence and Marx Foods. So I hope you’ll read through to the end and take place in this contest. In the meantime I have Roasted Lamb Loin with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnocchi, Morel Mushrooms, Pea Tendrils, and Lamb Jus.

You see it all started a couple of weeks ago. I went to the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival (#PBFW). I had a fantastic time.

I knew I would love it. It is just my kind of event. Mostly ‘cuz there was great food and lots of it. I certainly had my fair share of the offerings and that would have been enough to qualify the weekend as very special indeed. But it was also a great opportunity to learn. Because there were cooking demonstrations and wine tasting events too.

One of these events was a cooking demonstration by Tyler Florence.

So when proposals came due for this month’s FoodBuzz 24–24-24 challenge I immediately knew what I wanted to do. I decided I would recreate the meal he presented that day here on Sippity Sup for all of you. I realize it may not be quite the same as being there, but hey it’s better than a swift kick in the pants, right?

Tyler Florence at Pebble Beach 2010So I got to the Jenn-Aire cooking tent on the morning of his presentation. I was kind of excited because honestly, I have never been to any sort of cooking demonstration before. I am a completely self-taught, hands-on, make-it-up-as-you-go kind of cook. Which means I honestly have a lot to learn.

Tyler turned out to be a great teacher too. The recipe he prepared was Roasted Lamb Loin with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnocchi, Morel Mushrooms, Pea Tendrils, and Lamb Jus. Tyler cleverly called this dish The Mother and Child Reunion! It’s a terrific combination of spring flavors and not as difficult to prepare as you might think. Here’s a link to a printable recipe for my adapted version.

Tyler is a chef that is very comfortable with his audience. He comes across as enthusiastic with a wide-eyed love of great food that I can totally relate to. He’s very charming and really kept the audience gnocchi on trayinvolved during the presentation; taking questions from us, introducing us to his wife and (and adorable) kids while keeping the cooking moving forward and remaining very informative. It was a fun way to learn!

And I learned a lot, especially about making gnocchi. No longer will my gnocchi be dense little dumplings. Because I learned I had been using entirely too much flour and working the dough way too much. So, on this challenge I am really working on my gnocchi technique. I still have a ways to go, but that information alone made the weekend worth it to me. These are my sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi before blanching.

But I also learned a thing or two about how vitally important the very best ingredients are to the success of a dish like this. I mean intellectually I always knew this was the secret to great cooking. But Palm Springs poolside dinner tableto see Tyler absolutely gush over a lamb loin was downright contagious.

So contagious in fact that I decided then and there– not only would I re-create his menu, but I would re-create it using the very best ingredients I could lay my internet savvy hands on, and I would re-create it on Saturday, April 24 in Palm Springs, California in front of a group of my friends. I figured I may as well spread about some of the valuable lessons I learned that day in Pebble Beach.

In order to fulfill the challenge with the very best ingredients, I used some of Tyler’s recommended purveyors and even called upon of few of my favorite suppliers. I was amazed how receptive they were to my plan, even going as far as supplying some of the ingredients for the promotional bang this post might produce for them. I realize it’s not exactly one-stop shopping, and I spent a lot of time online sheep's milk ricotta from Hidden Hills Creamerymaking sure I was choosing the best of the best. But you know what? It turned out to be another valuable opportunity to learn even more about the food I so much enjoy presenting to you here.

Let’s start with the cheese. The gnocchi in this dish is made with ricotta cheese. Not just any ricotta cheese either, but sheep’s milk ricotta. If you have never tasted sheep’s milk ricotta you need to take care of that little faux pas and soon. It’s marvelously light and fluffy. It’s much more “buttery” tasting than cows milk ricotta, with a lovely tang that makes my saliva glands squirt! It’s the standard variety of ricotta in Italy, but it’s quite hard to come by in the United States.

At a loss as to where to get myself some of this very special cheese I turned to a professional. I turned to Barrie Lynn, The Cheese Impresario. It’s her mission in life to hook people up with the very Sippity Sup in Palm Springs with friendbest cheese in the world. When I told her what I was looking for she furrowed her brow a little. This was my first indication of the difficulty of my mission. She very politely suggested a few alternatives, did I know that “whole-milk ricotta had a lovely richness to it?” she asked.

But I carefully explained that I was quite familiar with all the virtues of the cow’s milk version, but that I was indeed on a mission. I would accept no substitutes and for once in my cooking life, I refused to compromise.

I think I earned her the respect that day. Because her furrowed brow transformed itself into a look of concentration. She turned to a resource I did not even know existed. She turned to the underground “cheese highway”. It’s headed up by a blogger named Jeanne Carpenter. Her website Cheese Underground is based in ricotta and eggWisconsin, “the Dairy Artisan Mecca of the World”.

Well, once the cheese wheels were rolling I was told to go home and wait. I was not to speak to anyone about my mission. But remember I already committed to reproducing Tyler’s meal for my FoodBuzz 24–24-24 post. So there was no turning back. As I paced in front of my computer, it seems phone calls were being made on my behalf. Deals were made. It was all very hush-hush but eventually, I got an email from Brenda Jensen at Hidden Hills Creamery. Although they had no Sheep’s Milk Ricotta in stock at the moment, she understood the desperate nature of my plan. She vowed to get to work immediately and make that Sheep’s Milk Ricotta for me.

After all, they run a sheep farm and one of the best creameries in the country. Cheese is their specialty. Awards have been won. So I lamb loinbreathed a great sigh of relief. I would be getting 5 pounds of the very best sheep’s milk ricotta. My goal to recreate Tyler’s terrific menu moved one step closer to reality. Besides now I have a new resource and I have a feeling that the very best sheep’s milk cheese is going to become something I turn to again and again. Get to know this face Brenda, this is not the last you’ve seen of Sup!

Compared to the cheese the lamb was an easy get. I called Tyler’s favored purveyor of quality lamb products Martin Emigh (Superior Farms). They told me exactly where I could get their wonderful meat right in Los Angeles. Which was great news because the date for the FoodBuzz 24–24-24 event was looming. I had already invited people to the tasting party.

With the cheese and meat taken care of, I turned my attention to the vegetables. I needed perfectly fresh, young baby pea tendrils and pea tendrilsthe very best specimens of morel mushrooms. Well, they are both perfectly seasonal right now so I walked myself down to the Hollywood Farmers Market. Within minutes I had a big bag of tendrils in my procession. I was feeling pretty confident because I have bought many great vegetables from this particular farmer and I knew these tendrils would be of the highest possible quality. Bingo for me!

But as I scoured the market a panic began to set in. Where were the morels? It was their time, why wasn’t the market bursting with them. I asked my mushroom guy. He said, “too much rain they’ll be back in a week or two”.

A week or two? I didn’t have a “week or two”. If you know anything at all about these FoodBuzz 24–24-24 Pebble Beach Food and Wine challenges then you know that they have to happen all on the same day all across the globe. It’s morel mushroomspretty much the only rule attached to the challenge. I couldn’t see myself calling up Ryan “the girl” Stern at FoodBuzz and asking if I could have an extra “week or two” to get my meal together. She may not be big, but she’s strong and I am afraid of her. No– delays were simply not an option. Nor were substitutes or compromises, or gosh darn it all– failure! Nope, I needed 3 cups of the very best FRESH morels I could get my hands on and I needed them by Friday. Tyler suggested to me personally the golden variety and I would accept nothing less.

Fortunately, I have been around this great big internet kitchen some. I have a few tricks up my sleeve. In fact, I even know a few well-placed folks in the gourmet products trade. Not that I am bragging.

After my close call with the cheese, I was not going to take any Condado de Haza Ribera del Duero 2006chances with the mushrooms. I went straight to the top. I went to Marx Foods in Seattle, WA, my sponsor for the event.  My request for impeccable morel mushrooms sailed through the channels at Marx Foods like a silk hanky off a duck’s back (or some such simile). Justin’s only question to me was, “What day would you like them delivered, sir?”

“Sir”! Now that’s the kind of customer service Sup! likes.

But I was not finished yet. Nope, there was still the issue of wine. Tyler featured Spanish wines from the Ribera del Duero region. If I were to recreate this menu with any authority I would need great wine from the very same area. Naturally, I turned to my brother Sip! who stated definitively that a Spanish tempranillo was not only a great pairing for lamb, but it is the perfect choice for the classic springtime flavors we have going in this dish. Please read all about his choice by clicking here.

Well with all the food elements in place I knew that this was going to be a special meal. So I decided to transport all my gourmet booty and prepare this meal for friends in Palm Springs. Springtime in the desert is a special time. This was a special meal highlighting spring bounty, I am proud to say, the very best ingredients from the very best purveyors. Which if you remember was the lesson I Iearned at Pebble Beach Food and Wine and the entire point of this exercise.

Well, the cooking went great. My friends and I all pulled together in the kitchen and made Tyler’s meal.  I have included a few photos from the day, including some pretty pictures of the quality ingredients I have been gushing about.

So thanks to everyone who made this possible. Especially Tyler Florence for providing the inspiration for the recipe I am presenting today.

Food Buzz apron signed by Tyler FlorenceWhich brings me to the giveaway. I have one FoodBuzz apron signed by Mr. Tyler Florence himself. I also have 2 oz of dried morels from Marx Foods for the same lucky reader. All you need to do is retweet this post by using the handy retweet button at the top or sign up for my RSS feed which can also be found at the top of the page in the sidebar. Then leave a message here letting me know which you did. It would be great if you showed Marx Foods and Tyler Florence some appreciation too by following them on Twitter. Click on their names to see their profiles.

As usual, I will have a “live” video drawing to determine the winner on Wednesday, May 5 (updated). I will accept entries until that day at noon Pacific time.

And if you can’t wait that long to get yourself some morels of your own go to Marx Foods Fresh Morel Page. You can use the coupon code MOREL2010 for 10% off through April 30th.

In the meantime check out my adapted version of Tyler’s great recipe by clicking here for a printable screen.

And a Special THANKS to Pebble Beach Food and Wine for hosting me at this event!


Greg Henry