Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Used to Make Gnocchi All the Time

I used to make gnocchi all the time. Like twice a week. I don't know why, but I fell out of the habit. Feeling a twinge of nostalgia, when H-bomb needed dinner and we had nothing prepared, I made a batch. Gnocchi are an under-appreciated pasta, probably because when they're made badly they're heavy and tough

I've been adding apples to things recently, mostly because I'll see an apple sitting there while I'm making something and think, whatever, maybe that would be good with apple. When I decided to make gnocchi, I noticed an apple sitting there, and nature took its course.

Conventionally, potato gnocchi are made from cold cooked potato, flour and eggs. This requires the foresight to have cooked and cooled a potato in advance, something I do not have. I typically peel and dice the potatoes, boil them and shock them in cold water to make the temperature manageable. If the potato hits the flour and egg while the starch is still hot, the whole mass becomes elastic and gluey and no fun to work with or eat. For this batch, I diced the apple and added it to the potato prior to boiling. On a whim, instead of water I decided to boil the potato and apple in vegetable stock with a pinch of saffron. I love the way saffron brightens otherwise starchy foods and thought it might make the gnocchi a little more interesting on their own.

When the potato was ready, I mushed it up with a whisk since I don't have a ricer,* then added the egg and flour and kneaded it briefly. I don't use the whisk in a beating motion, but like a more conventional potato masher, up-and-down. It's important not to handle the dough too much or the gluten in the flour binds with the starch of the potato and the pasta gets tough and gluey. With a conventional pasta you need to work the dough so the gluten develops, which helps the texture of the finished noodle, not so with gnocchi.

Another difference is that once the gnocchi pasta is formed, I like to cut it quickly and get the gnocchi into boiling water immediately so the gluten in the flour doesn't have time to get rubbery. With a conventional pasta, I'd rest the pasta before rolling to make the dough sturdier. Gnocchi are relatively big on the fork and in the mouth, so they need to be tender and light or they're a drag. I try to get through the process quickly, without using my hands too much**

I rolled the gnocchi pasta into little logs and cut it into lumps, then grooved them with a fork and plopped them in the water. They cook fairly quickly, but not as quick as cut pasta. Once they float, they need about another minute on the boil and they're done. Normally I just dump the pasta pot through a colander to collect the cooked pasta, but gnocchi are fragile enough (when made well) that I usually scoop them out with a wire basket. This also drains them well enough that I can toss them straight into the skillet for finishing.

After boiling, I like to toast gnocchi a little in olive oil or butter. They can be served like that with some herbs, parmigiano, black pepper and salt, or dressed with a sauce. We didn't have much to make a sauce with, but we had some V8 juice, which is pretty tasty, so I thought I'd give that a shot. I've used V8 instead of vegetable stock in other applications and it has proven versatile enough to make me take occasional excursions into the unknown like this.

Once the gnocchi were browned a little, I splashed a glug of V8 into the skillet and tossed the gnocchi, and in no time at all the V8 combined with the olive oil to make a nice thick emulsion that glazed the gnocchi as it intensified. I crushed some dried herbs on them before a final toss, then plated them and grated some Asiago on top. The saffron was a great idea, it made the gnocchi a bright yellow color and gave the body of the gnocchi a delicious whiff of the exotic, and the mineral overtone was balanced by the sweet-sour character of the apple. The glaze was tasty, but the acid in the V8 changed during cooking, leaving a slight chemical undertaste, and made me wish I'd just served these little yellow marvels on their own. I'm sure I could make a reduction of fresh juices that would work better, but I'll still endorse V8 for future experiments.

*My birthday is July 22
**That's what she said

15 comments:

  1. I've made gnocchi with flour, but not potato...and love the ease. Nice job on making an appearance at No. 6 on Saveur's Top 100 list...

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  2. A) you make me laugh b) I love that you don't cook with fancy gadgets c) you make me want to cook more.

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  3. mr. albini,
    keep up the good work. i enjoy that these recipies are sometimes not planned, or rather "on the fly". i have no planning skills and like to cool. i mean cook.

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    1. Thank you, we played "Replacements Stink" off Todd's iPod in the van on our last trip. Todd's iPod is awesome. Half Dead Boys, half Uriah Heep.

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  4. Man, that looks tasty. I have found also V8 makes a great addition to soups. It is essentially vegetable stock in a can. I mean how often do you have watercress and beets to boil up into a stock? It works wonderfully in bean-y soups. Split pea, white bean...etc Thanks for this instructive lesson. My forays into gnocchi have been tough, dough bombs. Mayhap I'll try again. Loved the TapeOp interview, too.

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    1. Thank you. I use V8 all the time. By the way, no offense but you have replied a couple of times here, one time you "methinks" something, this time you let fly with "mayhap." Are you a LARPer or lute player or somehaps?

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    2. Haha. no. That is pretty funny though. Best I could muster is former banjoist. I think that's just dorkiness coming outhap.

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    3. Hey Steve, I think I am the one guilty of using "methinks" in the comments. Even so, my lute playing sucks (although in order use the practice rooms at my college, which were forbidden to those with amps, I would often pencil in "Lute Ensemble," which frankly was a better name than that of my actual band's...).

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  5. Oh my gawd I haven't read a single word--that picture is making my mouth water.

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  6. If cooking down the V8 results in a chemically taste maybe try one of the more natural brands. I like Knudsen Very Veggie Spicy, plus it makes an excellent Bloody Mary.

    Apple in gnocchi... you just blew my mind. Allow me to riff on that a min.
    -Apple Gnocchi
    -parsley walnut pesto
    -butter fried radicchio
    -fresh bias cut cubes of fresh apple tossed with lemon
    -shaved dry cheese, maybe raw milk gruyere
    -black pepper

    I'm hungry. Thanks Steve.

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  7. Hey, Steve, as an old hippie, I must confess I've never liked your record production, but you write a great food blog! I love your minimalist approach to gear in the kitchen. Keep up the good work!

    You know what else you did I really liked? That cartoon at NU, "Chip". Whatever happened to Chip, anyway?

    Thanks for the cool new bookmark. Got any good "Paleo" recipes?

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    1. Jb, nice to hear you like the thing. I didn't do a regular cartoon at Northwestern, but thanks for not liking my record production anyhow. I probably have some paleo recipes, I just don't know what that means.

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  8. I really enjoy making fresh sauces for pasta with a meat grinder. Just toss tomatoes, onions, zucchini, whatever into the grinder and give it a few quick turns (I've got a clamp-on model that runs on elbow grease). Catch the output in a bowl, quickly fry with olive oil and add pasta.

    If you have a grinder plate with smaller holes, you can make something close to a puree.

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  9. Steve, I just discovered this, and it's fantasic. The writing makes my mouth water, no frills, funny, sexy. Exactly what I like about food.

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