21 Mar Special of the Day~ Wine and Dine in Helena this Spring
Shaking things up and trying a new restaurant is right up my alley, and my pal Jame’s birthday was an excellent excuse to gather some great friends and hit the road a few weeks ago for an overnight shopping, wining and dining adventure in Helena.
Helena is an easy enough trek to tackle, 90 short miles from Great Falls through the wonderful Wolf Creek Canyon. We set off around noon on a Friday and arrived early enough to soak up an entire afternoon/evening of celebration in Helena hot spots.
After a brief check-in into our centrally-located and nicely-appointed accommodations, we popped into the hotel bar for a pre-shopping martini and off we went. Our itinerary included a first stop jaunt down Great Northern Boulevard to Cobblestone Clothing, then on for more shopping at Sole Sisters in Last Chance Gulch before celebratory sipping at the Hawthorn Bottle Shop and Tasting Room. We especially enjoyed noshing on the Hawthorn’s Jimmy Crack Corn, a sensational sweet and spicy snack mix that proprietor Jill Roberts invented. I was particularly pleased when Jill got right back to me with the recipe, as it was certainly special enough to want to replicate at home and share with all of you.
We were having so much fun we didn’t even make it back to the hotel to dress for dinner as originally planned and proceeded directly on to a delightful dinner at the relatively newly-opened Trattoria Bella Roma on South Park Avenue.
Dining at Trattoria Bella Roma was a lovely experience and a perfect place to toast our birthday girl, for sure. Chef Davide Giuliani, an Italian chef from Rome, Italy, presents a different four-course (antipasti, insalate, primi piatti, dolce) pre-fixe menu every month utilizing fresh, local ingredients as well as specialty products from Italy. Every single bite was fresh and fabulous, and portion sizes were never overwhelming, allowing us to savor a variety of authentic Italian dishes throughout the evening. I was thrilled to hear that Chef Davide was willing to share his gnocchi recipe, easy enough to make at home and so worth making for dinner party guests.
With thanks to Jill Roberts and Chef Davide Giuliani comes this week’s Special of the Day~ Wine and Dine in Helena this Spring and recipes for Jimmy Crack Corn from the Hawthorn and Gnocchi alla Sorrentina from Trattoria Bella Roma. Enjoy!
If you go:
Great Northern Hotel
Best Wester Premier
835 Great Northern Blvd.
828 Great Northern Blvd. Suite 103 (moving locations this spring, call before you go)
327 N. Last Chance Gulch, Helena
The Hawthorn Bottle Shop and Tasting Room
46 N. Last Chance Gulch, Helena
Trattoria Bella Roma
440 S. Park Avenue, Helena
Jimmy Crack Corn
Recipe by Jill Roberts
8 cups popped popcorn
2 cups lightly crushed UTZ Sourdough ‘Special’ pretzel Twists
1 ½ cups lightly crushed Trader Joes Bite Size ‘Everything’ Crackers
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped almonds
½ cup coarsely chopped dry roasted peanuts
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
10.5 oz. marshmallows
1 tsp. cayenne
Stove top – mix butter and brown sugar until well blended. Cook over medium heat until bubbly. Let bubble for 4 minutes stirring continuously. Add marshmallows and stir until combined and smooth. Stir in cayenne. Add all other ingredients and stir until well coated.
Spread on two buttered 9 by 13 pans and cook in 300F oven for 45 minutes stirring every 15 minutes.
When done, loosen immediately into smaller chunks so that pieces don’t stick to each other.
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina
Recipe by Davide Giuliani
Ingredients for Gnocchi:
300 g all-purpose flour
1 kg Yukon Gold potatoes
1 tsp salt
1 whole egg
50 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
Ingredients for tomato basil sauce:
1.2 kg tomato (passata) or whole tomatoes and puree them
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic minced
100 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup semolina flour (to prevent gnocchi from sticking)
2 – 3 tsp of salt (to taste)
200 g fresh mozzarella or provolone cheese
Instructions for making gnocchi:
Rinse the whole potatoes, do not cut. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, enough water to cover the potatoes. Add salt to the water (about 2 tablespoons). Boil 35 to 40 minutes. Check potatoes with a toothpick to see if they are cooked through. Drain and let potatoes cool until you are able to remove the skins. After removing all potato skins mash potatoes to a smooth consistency. Spread mashed potatoes out on a flat pan or surface and let cool completely. This is critical. If potatoes do not cool enough they will be too sticky to work with. Add flour, salt, egg and Parmigiano to the mashed potatoes. Work into a smooth dough. Do not over mix or the dough will be too tough. Once the dough is smooth, let sit for 30 minutes. To form the gnocchi, cut a small piece of dough and roll into a “snake” shape about 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter. Then cut into gnocchi. Repeat until all dough is used up. Flour the gnocchi with semolina as you make them to prevent sticking and place on a sheet pan covered with a towel or floured parchment paper, do not overlap the gnocchi on top of each other or they will stick.
Optional: once dough is cut into gnocchi, roll on a fork or gnocchi making tool to add texture.
Instructions for making tomato basil sauce:
Heat a sauté pan on low heat. Add olive oil, minced garlic and basil leaves hand torn. Let fry on low heat until the garlic is golden. Add the tomato plus a little water to clean the can (about 1/4 of the can) and salt. Reduce for 20 – 25 minutes. Once the sauce is done, cook the gnocchi.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi. Boil until the gnocchi float on top of the water. Drain the gnocchi and add them to the sauté pan in the tomato basil sauce. Heat on low tossing in the sauce and add Parmigiano. Once cheese is incorporated, top with mozzarella and put in the oven at 425 degrees F for 5 minutes. Plate gnocchi, top with basil to garnish and enjoy.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. Her first cookbook Little Red Book of Recipes to Love, a beautifully-curated collection of go-to tried-and-true favorites, is out now and available at Wines by Wednesday and the C.M. Russell Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at sydnegeorge.com.