Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Favorite Food--Gnocchi

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Lately I have been loving cooking (and eating) gnocchi (which I believe is pronounced "no-key"). It's a rather time-consuming, somewhat elaborate (but not difficult) meal to prepare, not something you whip up after work on a Tuesday night. However, I don't mind cooking something a little elaborate every once in a while. Actually, in an ideal world, I would cook one big, fancy meal each week and not go near the kitchen again all week--not even to pour cereal or fix lunches. This is not an ideal world, however, so while I try to make one nice meal on the weekends, I still have to make a few quickish (but still mostly from scratch) things during the week, and fix lunches. C usually makes pizza the other weekend night and does most of our weeknight cooking, since he often works from home and can get started earlier. He's also the one who usually pours the cereal.

Anyhoo, back to the gnocchi. First I tried the Beet Gnocchi from Apples for Jam. This is basically a potato gnocchi with a little pureed beet root added for color. And what a color it is. Mixed with the last little bit of last summer's pesto, it looked like nothing so much as raw stew meat marinating in something green, which needless to say, freaked me out a bit (though I still managed to gobble down a heaping plateful). And the texture was a bit on the glutinous side (with the emphasis on "glue"). I'm not sure if that was the recipe's fault or mine.

(Photo by M)

Next I made Gnocchi di Patate alla Veronese (potato dumplings from Verona) out of my hand-me-down-from-my-mother The Romagnolis' Meatless Cookbook (c. 1976). This is a potato gnocchi, made in the traditional shell shape by rolling small pieces on a cheese grater. I had to start cooking at two in the afternoon, however, because the gnocchi required two hours to dry, which may have helped in the much improved texture of these (serving them with an entire stick of melted butter didn't hurt either!)

When I was in Denver, I went to a restaurant near my sister's apartment called Root Down. It's located in an old service station, with the works "breaks," "shocks," and "mufflers" still over the garage bays that are now big windows into the kitchen. I had just been to a conference about brownfields (i.e. redeveloping old industrial sites for new uses), so I was excited to be eating in one (and hoping they had done a good job with the cleanup). They also cook with a lot of local foods and use as many recycled materials as they can. I ordered a "little dish" of carrot gnocchi. I was already not feeling well the night we went there, so I'm afraid I didn't enjoy the gnocchi as much as I might otherwise have, but they kept haunting me--I wanted to go back and eat them again and give them my full appreciation.

With the long commute, however, I did the next best thing and Googled "carrot gnocchi" and came up with this recipe, which I think is a good approximation, flavor-wise. I doubled the recipe, because the first 1/2 pound of carrots didn't look anywhere near enough, and I ended up doubling the flour a second time because the dough was so sticky. These were made by blopping spoonfuls of dough into the water (you're supposed to somehow form a 3-sided pyramid with the spoons, but that was not working for me, even with all the extra flour), so they came out pretty ragged and unattractive. But delicious, and not at all gluey, and, with the doubled version, just enough for our family of five.

My kids have actually eaten every type of gnocchi I've made so far, with varying degrees of coercion and spoon-feeding (dinner is not a popular meal among the short people in our home). Now that I know you can substitute carrot for the potato, I think I'll try experimenting with other mushable vegetables, like sweet potato and winter squash. Parsnip perhaps? I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, here's the Romagnoli's recipe:

Potato Dumplings from Verona

2 lb baking potatoes
3-3 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour (approx.)
1/4 t. salt
6-8 T melted unsalted butter
4-6 T grated Parmesan cheese (I always use Peccarino Romano rather than Parmesan)

Boil the potatoes with their jackets on, drain them the minute they are tender and peel them as soon as they can be touched. Put them in a big bowl, add the salt and beat until smooth with an electric beater or mash well with a potato masher.

Add the flour gradually, working it in with a fork. Keep adding flour until you have a workable, rather solid dough.

Generously flour the pastry board or counter and your hands, take a handful of dough and roll it into a long cylinder no more than 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut it into 1-inch slices. Press each slice with your thumb against the side of a cheese grater. Roll your thumb gently downward and away, allowing the dough to curl up a bit and be dimpled by the grater, making a shell-like shape--a gnoccho. Keep on rolling cylinders, cutting slices, and shaping until all the dough is used. As you finish each gnoccho, line it up on a floured cookie sheet. Gnocchi should dry at least 2 hours.

When it's time to cook, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil in a big pot and add 1 teaspoon of salt for each quart of water. Drop in just enough gnocchi to cover the bottom of the pot. As they are done, the gnocchi rise to the top. Let them cook gently as they float for a minute or two more. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain well over the boiling pot and put in a warm serving dish. Repeat this process until all the gnocchi are cooked. Dress with the melted butter, sprinkle with the cheese, and serve. For 6 to 8.

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