Friday, March 8, 2013

Light as Air Gnocchi


I am slowly knocking things of my ‘to-cook’ board, which seems to contain only winter comfort food, the rich, the fatty, the kind that send you straight to hibernation, which is exactly how I feel.  I wish I can cozy up in my pajamas, wrap myself in the fluffiest blanket and burry my head under the softest pillow, close my eyes and wake up when everything is in bloom and I don’t have to wear 20 things just to go walk the dog…. But spring will mean that I have to paint my deck… and I am not looking forward to doing that either…
Since blankets and pillows are on my mind too much these days, and sleeping till spring is not an option, I decided to try my hand at Gnocchi, which is the food equivalent of your favorite pillow.  All I knew about making gnocchi is that they must come out tasting light, if they are heavy and dense, you must have gone wrong.  For an ultimate starchy treat of combining my two favorite vices, potatoes and pasta, lightness is hard to achieve.  After reading numerous recipes I decided to rely on my own judgment so the recipe below is more of a reference than an exact.  I also wanted to toss the gnocchi with a very simple sauce that would not mask the gnocchi taste or texture, so I can really taste test this recipe
 And for a little spring nostalgia I shelled some fresh peas into the sauce.
So if you are still looking at a snow out of your window, before you hibernate for the weekend, I strongly recommend you try this dish…it will give you pleasant dreams.

For the Gnocchi
3 lbs russet potatoes
2 eggs
1.5 tsp of kosher salt
½ tsp nutmeg
Approximately 2 cups of Pasta flour plus more for dusting ( I use King Arthur “perfect Pasta” flour but any other ‘00’ flour should be ok, you may need to adjust the amount)
6 tbs of butter for pan frying

For the sauce
1 lb of sweet Italian sausage
2 cups of slow roasted or fresh tomatoes
1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 shallot (chopped)
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1.5 cups dry white wine
½ tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
½ cup of fresh chopped basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan cheese
Boil the potatoes unpeeled until easily pierced with a fork.  Drain the water and cool them slightly until they are not too hot to handle.  Peel the potatoes and press them through a potatoes ricer onto a wooden board.  You want to do this while they are still very warm.  You can use a potato masher if you don’t have a ricer, or a fork, just don’t put them in a food processor, or they will become gummy.
Spread the riced potatoes in an even layer and let them cool a little more, but not all the way to room temperature.  When you add the eggs the potatoes should be just cool enough not to cook the eggs.  Whisk the eggs, salt and nutmeg in a bowl.  Make a mound of the potatoes very gently trying not to mush them too much.  Make the well in the middle and pour the egg mixture.  Sprinkle one cup of flour on top.  On a floured board knead the dough adding more flour as needed.  As soon as the dough stops sticking to your hands and the board, stop adding the flour.  The dough should feel very soft, warm and resemble more of a pillow than cohesive dough.  Form the dough into a loose ball, dust with a little flour and cover with a kitchen towel.  Let the dough rest 10 – 15 minutes.
To roll the gnocchi, divide the dough into 4 parts, about the size of a baseball.  Gently roll with the palms of your hand to form an even rope ½ inch in diameter ( or smaller if you want smaller gnocchi).  Cut with a knife or dough cutter into ½ inch “pillows”.  Dust with flour and lay out on a baking sheet covered with wax or parchment paper in a single layer.  Let the tray sit on your counter for an hour to dry the dough a bit or you can set it under a low fan for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, make the sauce.  Heat a large skillet and brown the sausage with a few tsp of olive oil.  Lower the heat and add shallot and garlic and sauté until soft.  Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, oregano and white wine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sauté until ½ the white wine evaporates than add the peas.  Cook for 1 -2 more minutes than turn lower the heat all the way, you just want to keep the sauce warm while you cook the gnocchi
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water generously, as if you were cooking pasta.  In a skillet, gently brown the butter and keep it on very low heat so that it does not burn.
Boil the gnocchi until they float plus 30 seconds, if you are making a lot, you may have to do it in batches because if you dump too many into the water they will stick to each other.  With a slotted spoon transfer the gnocchi form the boiling water to the skillet with brown butter, increase the heat to medium and toss fry them until slightly brown on both sides.  Toss them with the sausage mixture and keep warm while you are working on boiling and frying the next batch.
When ready to serve, garnish with fresh basil and parmesan cheese.
This dish may not be light as air in calories, but it feels like it is…
Cuddle up with a big bowl of that in front of a good movie and don’t think about the snow in the forecast!
Now if you execuse me I am going to go ponder my next off-the-board project..."Asian noodles with duck meatballs in a spicy broth"...No idea what I had in mind when I put that on a board but it sounds good and it's up there in chalk, which means I better come up with the recipe...


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