GNOCCHI BECKONED FOR A COVERING OF CARBONARA, WHY NOT?
Gnocchi does not get much fresher than made that morning, unless of course you are making it right before it goes in the pot at dinnertime. On the way home from work there is a little old-fashioned Italian deli. The fresh asparagus salad and roasted peppers drew me in, but the package I walked out with was full of fresh gnocchi. The shopkeeper told me to top it with a homemade tomato sauce, and fresh parmesan. It is a sweet flavor, and the perfect sauce to savor with such a potato puff of pasta, I replied. I am sorry. I lied. When I got home and saw the freshly sliced ham, the golden-yolked eggs and the hunk of parmesan, awaiting its fate with a grater-CARBONARA-screamed from the rafters.
Rouge? Out there, live on the edge. In the Bleuberet kitchen, I love to keep it simple, savory and ever so interesting. It is not just because I write a food blog, it is because I get sheer pleasure out of creating new-fangled meals from easily sourced ingredients. Once in a while I stray, but I want to offer recipes that others really want to try. So, veer off the beaten path, be unique, but not absurdly so.
Back to Gnocchi
From where does gnocchi hail?
Predominantly found in Italy, the actual origins are not really known. What is known is that it is commonly found in Italian cooking, and frequently made by Italian home cooks. Saveur Magazine wrote an in-depth piece explaining the arrival of potatoes in the Italian cuisine and the emergence of gnocchi shortly after that. Gnocchi is found all over the Italy and is made from a variety of ingredients. (For our purposes we will stick to the potato kind that are most commonly known.)
How is gnocchi made? Is it potato or pasta?
Gnocchi is frequently made of just potato, as opposed to pasta that is made of semolina flour (usually). Some recipes call for just cooked potatoes, others have the addition of different types of flour or flavoring ingredients. What is unique to the making of gnocchi is getting the texture from kneading the dough, and knowing what that texture should be. Therefore, the process to create the necessary texture of the dough is at the heart of the matter in getting it right. If you have an Italian grandmother on hand, she can do this recipe by heart, and probably blindfolded, knows when it is ready to form the gnocchi pillows from how the dough feels. I have never mastered this technique and am grateful for the Italian delis that sell fresh boxes of the little dumplings. I am certain there is a lovely gray-haired lady, with a smudge of potato on her apron, kneading and knowing when to stop, hence creating the perfect density, somewhere in the back room.
The dough is made, kneaded, cut and then rolled into the little pillow-shaped dumplings. The ridges come from the careful and precise rolling with a fork. Critical to the shape, these little gorges and peaks will hold the sauce and give you the burst of flavor that comes with every bite. Creamy, tangy, tomatoey, gnocchi is a clean backdrop to lots of different sauces. Be bold-experiment. I did.
How does one cook gnocchi?
Much like pasta, in a big pot of boiling water. BUT-when the pillows float, they are done. Cooked too long and the fluff turns to mush. Thought of as delicate and temperamental, they really are not a food to fear. If purchased fresh at a deli, ask how to cook them and how to know when they are done. The cooking time might change a bit based on the ingredients used to make them and the size. Found in the fresh pasta section of the grocery store, the bag or box will give you directions that are easy to follow. Don’t get it right the first time? They will taste good anyway, sauce them up and buy another box tomorrow.
What type of sauce goes best with gnocchi?
Sauces that can sit in the crevices. Chunks of veggies or thickly sliced chicken go nicely on the side, but smaller pieces and creamy or looser sauces are more typical for wiggling into those little valleys. This does not mean to avoid a hearty ragu, but just make sure the meat is finely ground. Carbonara was unique, and people said, huh, when it hit the table. Huh turned to hmmmm, and the yums rounded out the evening. The red streak you see is an extra topping called Avjar. Realtively tasty and easy to make-it can be bought pre-made as well. It is a richly flavored roasted red pepper sauce commonly found in Slavic cooking. It seemed like a nice contrast to the creaminess of the carbonara sauce, plus a fun color perk.
Gnocchi takes to a host of sauces and if you want to make your own…
A Grand Dame of Italian cooking, learn from Lydia Bastianich how to master gnocchi with this easy to follow video.
Guilano Hazan, the son of master Italian chef, Marcella Hazan (another Grand Dame of Italian cuisine, unfortunately no longer in the terrestrial kitchen), recreates his mother’s gnocchi recipe.
And, cheese, a perennial favorite in our kitchen, paired with the gnocchi, looked too good to pass up. From Rosemary of the food blog, An Italian in my Kitchen, Baked Gnocchi Double Cheese Tomato Sauce. My fork is so ready!
- 16oz/450g gnocchi
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 4oz/120g chopped ham
- 2 large shallots, diced
- 2oz/60ml EVOO
- freshly grated parmesan (as much or as little as you want!)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Avjar, optional
Boil a pot of water, but prepare sauce prior to cooking gnocchi.
Beat eggs in a bowl.
Grate cheese and add it to the beaten egg.
Chop ham and dice shallots.
In a large skillet, sauté shallots in olive oil until softened.
Turn heat down as low as possible.
Cook gnocchi according to directions on package (remember when they float, they are more than likely done).
Reserve a cup of the cooking water and drain the remainder.
Place the gnocchi in the pan with the onions and ham.
Beat the cheese/egg mixture again.
Turn off the heat or, if you must, keep it on the lowest possible setting.
Pour the cheese/egg mixture over the gnocchi, stirring with one hand constantly, and add a little bit of the pasta water to loosen the sauce.
Coat the gnocchi with the sauce. REMOVE IT FROM THE HEAT!!!!!! You will otherwise be serving scrambled eggs.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add a dollop of Avjar, as we did, or not.
Salad and crusty Italian bread, a nice Chianti, and dinner is served.