One of the more inventive brands of beer in terms of self-promotion is the Scottish ale brewery, Innis & Gunn, which some deride as gimmicky but I honestly enjoy. (For the most part, I should add; some of the expressions are far superior to others.) Their latest effort was to send me – and, presumably, a gaggle of other drinks writers out there – a couple of bottles of their beer and a whole basketful of ingredients from Longo’s supermarket, plus a recipe for Brown Buttered Gnocchi with Garlic, Sage and Manchego topped with Enoki Mushroom Salad. The idea, obviously, was for me to cook the dish and pair it with the beers, they being the I&G Original Oak Aged and the to my mind less interesting I&G Blonde.
I was willing to give this a go for three reasons: Innis & Gunn are leaders in pushing Canadians toward the idea that beer and fine dining truly do go together; the recipe was developed by the renowned Langdon Hall chef, Jonathan Gushue; and I had nothing else at hand for dinner Friday. Here’s how it all went down.
Step one, as I saw it, was to make the enoki salad, which really couldn’t have been easier. Chopped parsley, grated Manchego, the enokis, olive oil, vinegar and salt were combined in a bowl and lightly tossed. No worries.
The gnocchi part of the dish proved a bit more problematic, though, as I quickly noted that the basket contained not fresh sage, as one might have assumed it would, but fresh basil. So I was faced with the option of making the recipe with basil – not really a suitable substitute for sage – or running out to get the proper ingredient. I opted for the latter, and so mealtime was pushed back a bit.
Sage obtained – albeit after visits to two separate stores – I set about chopping both the garlic and, quite by accident, the tip of one of my fingers. Much blood followed along with a vigorous debate with my wife over whether the hospital emergency room should be involved – it was a fairly serious cut, but I argued that emerg on a Friday night was definitely not a place I wanted to be – and ultimately a rather bulbous bandage was fashioned and preparations continued. Butter was melted with garlic and sage, cooked gnocchi and more Manchego added, and then the whole thing plated and topped with the salad. Dinner was served!
The dish on its own, we agreed, was good if not exactly mind-blowing. The freshness of the parsley and sage definitely worked in its favour, but I still figured a little extra seasoning wouldn’t have gone amiss. With the Innis & Gunn Original at its side, however, it was a true train wreck, with the oak flavours of the beer stomping all over the freshness of the dish and creating an entirely disharmonious whole.
Paired with the I&G Blonde, on the other hand, the experience was positively sublime, as all the flavours met and meshed and balanced beautifully, with light vanilla embracing sage and fruity malt dancing with cheese. As a good food and beverage pairing should, the whole added up to significantly more than the sum of its parts, even when tasted through the pain.