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Pasta Recipes & Techniques: Gnocchi is Nummy

gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi), sugo di pomodoro fresco (fresh tomato sauce)

Pasta Recipes & Techniques is a gorgeously illustrated cookbook from the Cooking Club of America, which is a membership organization that seems to be a very efficient way to sell you things. As with so many items in my collection, I got this through a book-of-the-month style setup where I was sent the book and had a certain period of time to return it. I did manage to send some back before quitting this particular group, but I kept Pasta because everything in it looked great and I really wanted to use it some day.

That day came yesterday, when I set about making gnocchi. Gnocchi are not exactly pasta, but are a dumpling that functions very like pasta in a sauce or soup. They don’t include egg, and you don’t roll them in the same way you do pasta. I decided to make gnocchi for two reasons: I had eaten them before in Cleveland’s Little Italy and thought they were grand, and I don’t own a pasta roller and wanted to get one before trying the pasta in this book.

I made potato gnocchi, which is the kind I had in Cleveland (you can also make them with ricotta or semolina as the defining ingredients). I started by baking some potatoes, then peeling and mashing them while still warm. (I should have let them cool a bit longer, my smarting fingertips informed me.) I worked the potatoes with some flour, salt and pepper to make a tender dough, which I divided into quarters and rolled into ropes about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. I then cut about inch-long chunks and rolled them into balls, which I then indented with my thumb as I ran the ball along a ridged surface, to create a concave dumpling with a textured underside. I don’t have pictures of this because my camera battery died at this point and I was too flour-coated to go see if I could borrow my husband’s. (He volunteered his near the end of the cooking, so I could get plate shots, and then his battery promptly died as well.)

At this point one can set the gnocchi aside in the fridge for up to three hours, but I let them rest briefly at room temperature while I got the sauce simmering. The recipe for gnocchi says they go well with just about any sauce, so I decided to take advantage of the fresh tomatoes at the Greenmarket and make a simple tomato sauce. While the potatoes were baking, I peeled, seeded and diced some tomatoes; as with the peaches, the easy way to peel a tomato is to score an x on the bottom, dunk the tomato briefly in boiling water, and then peel the now-loosened skin away. I let the tomato chunks sit in a strainer for a while so that any excess water could drain off, and in the meantime I diced a small onion and bruised some cloves of garlic by pressing them hard with the flat of a chef’s knife. When I was ready to start the sauce I poured some olive oil into a pan (more than I think was necessary — so many of the recipes I have been trying are wild with the oil) and sauteed the onion and garlic until the onions were soft and the garlic a bit darkened. Then I discarded the garlic and added the tomatoes and some salt, brought it all to a simmer, and let it cook and thicken a while. The recipe recommends 20 minutes; I let it go 30 as I got the gnocchi ready, and I think one could go a bit longer. When I decided it was done, I took it off the heat, added a bit of freshly ground pepper, and stirred in some coarsely shredded fresh basil.

Once I had the sauce under way I put a big pot of water to boil for the gnocchi. When it was nearly boiling I added salt, and when it was fully boiling I dropped in about a third of the gnocchi dumplings. They sank to the bottom and burbled along for several minutes; then they started popping up to the top, which was the sign that they were done. (I don’t have pictures of this part either, which is a shame — it’s really cool to watch.) I scooped them out with a slotted spoon as they surfaced, and dropped them into a colander for several minutes before putting them in serving dishes. I cooked the gnocchi in three batches; I could possibly have done more in each batch but you don’t want to crowd the dumplings.¬† Once they were done, I put some into bowls and added sauce. e, mangia.

The gnocchi were delicious: they had a smooth texture and a rich, subtle flavor, and the went very well with the sauce. The sauce was also delicious, bright and tomatoey and savory.

Verdict: Success. I will definitely be making these again, and soon; the cookbook advises that one can make them ahead, cook them and freeze them, so that on a busy weeknight they can go straight from the freezer into boiling water. And the sauce will be a starring player on pizza tonight.

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