Discovery can happen anywhere. For William Kelley it was on a Left Hand Mountain hike, helping out a friend whose four wheeler was sporting a flat. That was the day Kelley traded in his chef’s hat for a head lamp, so he helped his friend by lighting the way down the mountain.
“Before we left, I caught a whiff of something and realized I was standing in a mint field,” Kelley said. “So I picked some of that mint and brought it home.”
That’s how the chef at Zucca Italian Ristorante once came upon our challenging element. As he hovered over a steaming pan in the restaurant’s kitchen, he flipped around its contents with the precision of practice. Gnocchi made of mint, potato and carrots jumped around as he continued the story. “When I got home,” he said. “My wife had bought tons of heirloom tomatoes, so I made a mint salsa with them and added a little heat.”
The result of the mint, tomato concoction? “It was delicious and refreshing,” he said.
Mint is synonymous with that word, refreshing. In toothpastes, chewing gums and breath fresheners, we’ve experienced the herb in it’s most exaggerated form. So we at YS wanted to change it up, and we thought Zucca Italian Ristorante, a Louisville favorite that cooks with vegetables fresh from its garden, was the perfect place to do it. Turns out, we were right.
Taking the gnocchi off the heat, Kelley placed it delicately onto the plate. He topped it with a compote inspired by that mint salsa. Only this time, he added red onion, pancetta, a squeeze of lemon, a touch of sugar and chili flakes. On top of that: the house Alfredo sauce, and a mint garnish to finish.
The vibrant, earthy colors that exploded from the dish complemented the golden brown of the gnocchi—a color that hinted it had been cooked to perfection.
Forking a bit of the compote along with the gnocchi into my mouth, I was instantly reassured that the dish tasted as good as it looked. The mint brightened up the tomatoes and onions, and was paired perfectly with the salty pancetta. The Alfredo, light and slightly cheesy, tied it all together for a combined tangy, sweet, slightly buttery taste. And every bite was punctuated by that crispy gnocchi with a creamy center.
When Kelley came by to ask how everything was, my blank plate spoke for my full mouth.
So here’s the answer: It was delicious. It was also an exercise in savoring a dish that every bone in my body called for me to devour. And while employing my knife to shovel leftover crumbs onto my spoon, I made some discoveries of my own. I discovered how the herb can actually enhance a dish without overpowering it, and also—what it’s like to be in the right restaurant with the right challenge.
Zucca Italian Ristorante is located at 808 Main Street, Louisville. If you ask William nicely, he might make you this refreshing take on gnocchi. Call 303-666-6499 or visit zuccalouisville.com