Beer and tapas at Portland Variety

photo by Jeffrey Chan courtesy of Estrella Damm

Wine is not the only thing you can pair with food. Personally, when it comes to beer, I tend to like one that is light, crisp, and clear. Nothing to heavy, and nothing to hoppy. There is something so refreshing about an ice-cold beer on a hot summer day. On the dock, on a patio, or even better, on a beach. Let’s dream that this beach is in Spain and the beer is Estrella Damm.

Just recently I was introduced to the pilsner lager Estrella Damm and heard about its story. Created in Spain for Spain. For people who want a beer that can be sipped in the hot Spanish sun with all the flavors of the mediterranean. A beer that can be drank on the beach with fresh off-the-boat seafood, with a spicy pasta, or an aromatic rice dish. A beer that can be drank with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. So it makes sense that this is a beer I should sip while dining in one of my favorite local hangouts in Toronto, Portland Variety. Portland Variety, owned by Milton Nunes of Le Gourmand and Ralf Madi of Capture, is known for its European inspired menu designed for sharing. Chef Matty Cowan has nailed it. Recently I shared a tasting menu with some fellow foodie friends and tried Chef Matty’s ricotta gnocchi, then I begged him for the recipe. I love a classic simple recipe like this one. Here he is telling us how he makes gnocchi. I adapted his recipe into a template below, and decided to try see how easy it really is to make this at home. Within 15 minutes I had little pillows of heaven. I decided to toss mine in sautéed garlic, chorizo and red kale. What will you do with yours?


Chef Matty’s Gnocchi by Chef Matty Cowan

So, you want to learn how to make my famous ricotta gnocchi? Well, I guess I can share the recipe with you. It’s fairly straight forward, but does take a little love! I’ll give you the weights for all the ingredients, but lets talk method first, as it’s what will make or break it! First step is to press the ricotta overnight. This is not a step you can miss! Your ricotta will be too wet and you’ll have to add way to much flour to the dough, ending up with super rubbery little bullets. The way I press the ricotta is line a strainer (in a bowl) with cheesecloth, put the ricotta in the cheesecloth, wrap the cloth lightly around the ricotta, place a plate on top with a weight (a large can of tomatoes or the like works great!) Next day, it’s time for gnocchi! First, get a large pot of water on and let it come up to a boil while you work. Make sure it’s salted, like the ocean! Dump the ricotta out into a dry bowl. Make a little “well” in the middle of the ricotta and add your egg yolks. Mix the ricotta and egg yolks until the yolks are evenly distributed and there are no “streaks” of yolk. Also make sure you break up any lumps of ricotta! We want a nice uniform texture! Add ¾ of the flour and mix into the ricotta mixture. Knead the dough for a minute or two. We’re looking for a slightly tacky dough, not wet, not super dry. If you need, add the rest of the flour and knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. Kneading-Lightly flour your work surface. Put the gnocchi dough on the counter. Push your palm down into the middle of the dough and away from you. Pull the dough back up onto itself (folded in ½) and turn it ½ turn. Continue this process until your dough holds together when a small piece is rolled out. Try not to over work your dough or it will get too chewy. Next up, it’s time roll “snakes”! Using a bench scraper, cut manageable chunks of dough. If it’s your first time, don’t cut them too big! Big is a pain in the butt! I’d say about a 2 cup size would be about right. Scrape all the flour off of the work surface, for the first few “pushes” of rolling out the gnocchi snakes, you want the dough to stick to the counter for “traction”. It’ll help get the shape of the snake started. Now, lightly flour your board and continue to roll out the gnocchi. You want to end up with “snakes” with the diameter of about a quarter, as in $.25. Continue until all of your dough is rolled out into “snakes”. Make sure you flour them liberally as to avoid sticking! Now to cut the little pillows of joy! Bring all of the “snakes” together close to the edge of your work surface. Using a long sharp knife, cut gnocchi’s about 1.5cm wide. Once all of the gnocchi’s are cut, add a little more flour and roll them around in it. Blanch your gnocchi’s in the simmering (not boiling! boiling will break up the lovely little pillows!) water. Make sure to only do a few gnocchi’s at a time, so your water stays at a simmer, once the gnocchi’s float, let them cook for another minute or so. They are now good to serve! What we do at the restaurant though, is cool them on a tray tossed with a little oil. We portion them and to order we fry them off in a little brown butter until they are a lovely golden brown. Feel free to get creative with your sauce! At the restaurant we serve them with whatever is seasonal! Currently we do them with buttercup squash puree, crispy sage and pinenuts. A really great Bolognese or tomato ragu would be great! Some sautéed mushrooms, sweet peas and roasted garlic would be killer! Anything with bacon is always a win! They are super versatile little fella’s, let your imagination do it’s thing!

Chef Matty's Ricotta Gnocchi
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8 servings
  • 1 kg ricotta, drained (see method)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 225 g all purpose flour
  • Lots of love
  1. Drain ricotta. Line mesh strainer with 2 layers of cheesecloth and place ricotta in lined strainer. Wrap cheesecloth around ricotta and place a plate on top with something to weigh it down, like a can of tomatoes or beans. Let drain overnight in fridge.
  2. In a large bowl, place drained ricotta and make a little well in the centre. Add egg yolks and mix until fully incorporated with no streaks of yolk remaining. Break up any lumps of ricotta for a nice uniform texture.
  3. Mix in ¾ of the flour into ricotta mixture by hand. Knead for a few minutes in the bowl until you have a slightly tacky dough. Not too wet, not too dry, adding in remaining flour if needed.
  4. Transfer dough to floured work surface and continue to knead until dough holds together when a small piece is rolled out. Avoid overworking dough since this will create chewy gnocchi.
  5. Divide dough in half, then take each half and divide into quarters for easier rolling. Roll into manageable snakes about 1-inch in diameter. Flour work surface as needed to avoid sticking.
  6. Line up snakes together close to edge of work surface and using a long sharp knife, cut into gnocchi pillows about 1.5cm in length. I find dusting the knife with flour helps gnocchi from sticking. Once cut, place in a bowl and toss gently in flour, lightly coating each pillow.
  7. Cook gnocchi in 2-3 batches in simmering salted water. Once floating, let simmer for an additional minute, then scoop up with slotted spoon or spider and serve anyway you like. Fry off in a little brown butter, toss with your favourite tomato sauce, or sauté with some olive oil, garlic, and sweet peas.