Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Potatoes. Part 3. Gnocchi, three ways.

So, as promised, GNOCCHI!!!  This is one of those things that one of my college roommates and best friends ALWAYS orders.  You know how you have a group of people that eats together often enough and you get a feel for each others' tastes?  Like one guy I dated ALWAYS ordered fish.  This other guy was unpredictable, he loved getting something different each time.  My dad invariably gets calamari or chicken wings (at non-Korean places).  My mom will get any salad that mixes fruits and balsamic vinaigrette.  I will almost always order scallops if that's an option.  Or anything that comes with french fries hehe.

My college roommate will order anything on the menu that has beef short ribs or gnocchi.  She was the one who introduced me to gnocchi.  I never thought it'd be that hard to make but I once attended a seder where the hostess served hand/homemade gnocchi and everyone was so impressed that I assumed it was a difficult feat.  Imagine my disappointment (that I hadn't attempted this earlier) but also my excitement upon finding out just how easy this is.

My sister really likes gnocchi and I've been meaning to make some for her from scratch.  (This is how I show my love, I make your favorite foods from scratch - tell the boys! haha).  Anyway, I looked up a few recipes and was always confused at the simplicity, surely it had to be more difficult for people to be so impressed.  As it turns out, the recipe/process is not difficult, just labor-intensive.  (To be honest, I've only rolled a few of the gnocchi myself - my mom and sister are much better at actually producing the little buggers - I just prep the "dough" and cook them up).

The recipe I've relied on is from allrecipes.  It's insanely simple.  Boil two potatoes, mash 'em up, then add 2 cups of flour and 1 egg.  Mix.  Oh, here's a lazy woman's tip: dice up your potato before boiling - or at least quarter them.   They'll cook so much faster and you're gonna mash 'em anyway so looks don't matter.

Then, flour your work surface, and start rolling and cutting.  I was pretty blase about the prettiness of my gnocchi (it's going in your stomach, so the most important thing is how it tastes right?) so my mom took over pretty quickly, telling me my food was ugly.  Actually, it went something like this, I was ripping off chunks of dough and throwing them into the pot.  My mom walks over to see the cooked ones in a bowl and says, "What is that?  That doesn't look like the gnocchi in restaurants - those are pretty and round."  I said, "They have underpaid Hispanic workers doing it all day.  I just got home from work, I'm hungry now, and don't have time to make pretty gnocchi."  She then pushed me aside and started making "pretty" gnocchi.
From left to right: dough, rolled dough, pinched off gnocchi waiting to be boiled

Pop 'em into boiling water a slotted spoonful at a time.  When they float up, they're ready to eat!  You can see my ugly gnocchi in the middle of the plate and my mom's pretty rounded gnocchi at the bottom.

So, now we've made the gnocchi, how to serve it up 3 ways.  It's really simple actually.  I just made two sauces, and combined one.

I've never liked tomato sauce.  Not on pizza and not on pasta.  But I DO like it when I make it myself.  I'm sure purists would be appalled at my method.  Usually I make a super-light tomato sauce, heating olive oil and minced garlic, then adding cut up cherry tomatoes and serving when hot.  For a more "traditional" (and the word is used SUPER-loosely here) sauce, I just add a little more tomato.  I heat up a whole bunch of olive oil, throw in a tablespoon or two of minced garlic, chop up at least 4 normal-sized tomatoes, and let that all stew/simmer for 10 minutes (or however long it takes for the pasta to cook).  I break down the tomato a bit with the back of a wooden spoon (because I don't like chunks/lumps in my food but my sister likes the chunks so I leave some for her).  Here's my secret ingredient, miso paste (the original flavor).  Just a healthy squirt.  It adds a depth and umami flavor to the simplicity of the tomato mush.
Tomato sauce w/some gnocchi keeping warm in it.
Since the gnocchi gets cooked in smallish batches, I keep the sauce not even simmering (just on the lowest heat level) and keep dumping the cooked gnocchi in there.  By the time all the gnocchi is cooked, the sauce is heated through and the gnocchi's been kept warm  but not overcooked.  It's kinda like having a chafing dish, but not really.

1 way: Tomato sauce
As you've seen before, I'm also super-into carbonara sauce.  This was a bit of a failed experiment.  Unless you can figure out some genius way of keeping all your gnocchi boiling temperature at once, I would not recommend it.  That being said, if you DO figure out a method, do come back and share.  The problem is that the gnocchi gets cooked just a handful of pieces at a time.  This is not conducive to the carbonara method of using the pasta's own heat to "cook" the egg/cheese sauce.  I "solved" it (being so generous to myself) by adding the just-cooked gnocchi to the egg/cheese mixture as it was done, a few pieces at a time.  This really was an improvised measure and didn't produce the creamy beautiful carbonara sauce that I normally get.  There were clumps of unmelted/not totally melted cheese and I'm sure some uncooked egg as well.  As it was, it was edible and yummy but I wouldn't make it for friends/guests (which is my measure of confidence in cooking).
Look at the edamame and shrimp - fancy!
Seasoned edamame and chopped shrimp.
This is a real cheat, because I called it "vodka sauce" but really it's just a mixture of the 1st two sauces.  The parmesan we had bought (I normally try to get parmigianno reggiano but the grocery didn't have any) was too strong and pungent so we just mixed the tomato sauce in to tone down the sharpness of the cheese.  It was a good compromise.  For the record, I have it on information and belief that parmesan is MADE the same way as parmigianno reggiano but it's just made IN AMERICA (or outside the reggiano(?) region of Italy).  It's more of a designation marker (like champagne vs. sparkling wine vs. prosecco) than a genre/type marker.
3rd way: Vodka sauce
And just in case you think that all that work was for naught, here's the kicker - you can make a WHOLE bunch at once and freeze them (UNCOOKED) to have homemade gnocchi ready to go any day!  Place them on a flat surface (I used a cookie sheet covered in wax paper) and pop into the freezer (it's important that they freeze without touching, so they don't get stuck together).  Once they're frozen you can put them all in a baggie or Tupperware container.
All lined up to go into the freezer

I ate frozen gnocchi all last week for dinner!  I barely even thaw them.  Take out as many as you want to eat (I just filled a plate to the fullness I could handle) and let them sit in the fridge or on the counter while you wait for the water to boil.  They still pop up in only a few minutes.  I actually had them on the counter first then put them in the fridge when I realized they were starting to stick to each other in the bowl as they were thawing.  I'm so in love.

And just in case you don't even like waiting for potatoes to boil, here's the first recipe I wanted to try and still haven't.  They use instant mashed potatoes to speed it up.  I'll definitely report back if I try it.  But now that I've seen how easy these are, I really see no reason for the hack.


sylvia said...

i had gnocchi for lunch
it was super delicious but a little too mushy. is it supposed to be mushy? or can it be al dente like regular pasta? im confused

Christine said...

it's not supposed to be mushy/soggy. just chewy and fun to eat!

sylvia said...

i had gnocchi again monday night
it was mushy again
are all these places making gnocchi incorrectly?