Also known as bee bread, bee pollen is plant pollen that's been collected by bees, brought back to the hive, and mixed with nectar and the bee's digestive enzymes. The deep yellow granules that result are a source of protein for the hive, and are also believed to be very nutritious for humans. Herbalists say that consuming bee pollen provides any number of health benefits, including increasing energy, alleviating allergies, and promoting weight loss, though scientific research hasn't confirmed these claims.
Giuseppe Tentori used to take bee pollen in smoothies, so he was already somewhat familiar with it. "I think it's used more for medicinal qualities than flavor," he said. "I really like the flavor, but it's not for everybody."
Tentori first tried putting the bee pollen into savory dishes, but said the taste was too earthy. "It's grassy, like when you go in a barn and smell the hay the horses are eating, that's what it smells like," he said. Among his initial experiments were a cauliflower puree that "didn't work" and a marinade for chicken breast that lost a lot of its flavor after being cooked. Tentori finally settled on a sweet dish: bee pollen gnocchi with chocolate sauce, raspberry, mint, and candied pistachios.
The gnocchi were a traditional potato variety, consisting of roasted potatoes passed through a food mill and mixed with egg yolk and a bit of flour; the one difference was the bee pollen paste Tentori made by heating the granules with a little water. After quickly kneading all the ingredients together, he let the dough rest before rolling it out and cutting tiny gnocchi out of it. They were small, he said, because the bee pollen was pretty intense: "It's got a long finish, deep flavor."
Tentori boiled the gnocchi before combining them with the chocolate sauce—70 percent Valrhona chocolate melted with cream—and topping the dish off with raspberry halves, pieces of mint leaves, and candied pistachios. The taste, he said, was "a little different. I really like the bee pollen, because it's a little bitter. Then you have the sweet from the chocolate, and the candied pistachios give it a little texture. Then the raspberries are just refreshing with the mint."
The dish, like the pollen itself, was "not for everybody," he conceded, but he liked the bee pollen gnocchi and said he was thinking about putting them on the menu at Boka with some game meat.
Sarah Grueneberg of Spiaggia, working with propolis, a resinous substance bees use to seal open spaces in their hives. "Pretty much, it is the poop from the bee," Tentori said. "When you smell the propolis, there is nothing similar. It's so deep—it's got a great, rich aroma. It's just very unique, earthy."
Yield: 6 portions
250 g Yukon Gold potatoes (3-4 large raw potatoes)
75 g all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to taste
50 g bee pollen
3 T water
6 T dark chocolate sauce, warm
6 T candied pistachios
½ bunch mint, chiffonaded
1 pint raspberries, cut in half
Place potatoes on an oven-safe tray and roast in a 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until they are fork tender. Remove from oven and allow them to cool. Peel the skins off and pass the fluffy centers through a food mill.
Place the potatoes, flour, salt, and pepper on a clean work surface. In a small pot, combine the pollen and three tablespoons of water and warm, stirring constantly to form a paste. Place the pollen paste and the egg yolk in the center of the pile of potatoes and knead all of the ingredients together. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Roll the dough into two long tubes and cut to the desired size.
Cooking and assembly:
Cook the gnocchi in boiling water just until they float to the surface. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and place in a saute pan with the warm chocolate sauce. Toss to coat. Place the gnocchi on six plates and garnish with the pistachios, raspberries, and mint. Serve immediately.