Friday, October 8, 2010

I gnocchi all about it.

There was a time in my life when I was not a good cook. Hard to believe, I know. I had moved out of my parent's house, and while I had many a baking skills and could follow a recipe, I would not have classified myself as a good cook. Not to say that I was bad, average, perhaps?

I was also a vegetarian; now the world of vegetarians can be very boring. There's only so many types of pasta you can eat, so I decided to branch out one day and try gnocchi. In my innocence I bought some sort of dried gnocchi product. I made a tomato sauce, I'm sure the sauce wasn't bad, followed the package directions and smothered the little nuggets in sauce.

It was horrible. The gnocchi had a weird plastic taste and the consistency of rubber. That was over ten years ago. I wrote gnocchi off as disgusting.

Over the years my food values have changed and it came to my attention that there are more than one country where people eat gnocchi and it's apparently considered a wonderful thing. I decided I had to try again. I was spurred into action by, God only knows what. I suppose it was when I spied these fantastic heirloom potatoes at the Sunday market. This potato farm was growing the most wonderful types of hard to find potatoes. I bought some German Butterballs and went home with my prize. I also picked up some hand forged chevre, yellow beets and a bunch of flowers for my kitchen window.

I knew what I was going to do with those potatoes when I bought them, I was going to make gnocchi, it can't be that hard right?

I poked around on the internet and landed on a good source of how to make gnocchi. Mario Batali. I also looked at a bunch of other recipes, some that claimed they came from Italian grandmothers, and finally I decided to go with the pro. His seemed the most authentic, and he didn't use cheese in his potato pasta. I mashed and riced, and decided I need a potato ricer, not just the standard ricer I have. When I was done, I made a light cheese sauce, fixed a salad and voila! Dinner accomplished. I offered my toils to my husband, who has only had gnocchi once himself at an upscale restaurant.

It was great. So tender, yet soft and the texture was good. The potato flavor was unbelievable, I highly recommend German Butterball potatoes. My husband was impressed, and offered his permission to make these again. Stirred by my initial success I dug deeper and found a lot of people think that gnocchi is really hard to make. I had a conversation with an Italian friend and she sided with me, no they aren't hard to make and are delicious.

Now onto my initial idea. Beet Gnocchi. Yes, that's right, gnocchi made with beets and a chevre sauce. I scoured the interwebs and nerts! Someone else thought of it first. I threw caution into the wind and came up with my own idea. I also invited people over to eat my creation and they liked it. I probably won't do it again, it was messy, it was sticky, and the beet color didn't stay like I wanted it too. And the texture wasn't as good as potato gnocchi. Still, a success under my belt.

This is just another example of how you shouldn't be intimidated because some people are bad cooks. You should fling yourself out there and if you fall on your face, just do what Julia Child suggests and pretend that's what you meant to do.

I have plans to make one more type of gnocchi. As it turns out the French also make a type of gnocchi. This makes sense to me because France and Italy are close together, and the French were probably like "oh, this gnocchi is good, but it could use more butter and eggs." I read the recipe that Julia Child uses (she even calls it gnocchi, a potato pasta), and it uses a pate a choux, the base for eclairs and puff pastry, but mixes in a bunch of eggs, butter and potatoes. It sounds fantastic, and I'm sure it is. I would only make it for a party, as it's sure to be very rich, especially because she serves it with a beurre blanc sauce or something of the sort.

Well I will tell you what to do for beet gnocchi, I would suggest you make a balsamic based sauce Bearnaise for this. I'm sure you can do it, or I will probably do it later.

You must start the day before you want to eat. Even if you use ricotta instead of cottage cheese. Your cheese needs to be very dry for this, no whey at all in the cheese.

Beet Gnocchi


3 large golden beets - roasted whole
1 lb. boiled Yukon potatoes
2 C. King Arthur all purpose flour
1 lb. fat free organic cottage cheese
1 farm fresh egg
Chicken Stock


The day before you plan to eat: put a fine mesh strainer in a bowl, line with cheese cloth, dump the cottage cheese into the cheese cloth, wrap the cheese cloth over the top of the cheese. Fill the now empty container with water and place on top of the cheese. Put this in the fridge.

Roast the beets whole. Boil the potatoes whole and when they are done peel both of them, do not let them cool off before you peel them. Finely shred the potatoes and beets until there are no large lumps. The beets may be put through a food processor, but not the potatoes. If you have a potato ricer, that would be ideal.

Put the mashed potato and beet into a bowl. In a food processor place the drained cheese, grind it till it is very fine. Add this to the bowl, stir in the egg, and a bit of salt. If you want you could add a pinch of nutmeg. Add the flour and do the best you can with the mixture, it will not come together into a ball very well. It should be rather soft, but still workable. Flour the working surface well. Divide the mixture into three balls and form each one into a tube. Cut off small sections and set aside on a floured surface.

Bring your chicken stock to a boil. Twenty at a time boil the gnocchi until they float, then boil them another minute or two. Lift out with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.

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