Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gnocchi: Making Messes and Getting Creative

For the past couple of months, I have struggled with recipe rut. Either the recipes don’t turn out like I had hoped, or it just didn’t taste post-worthy. I am also dealing with wanting to do so much. Along with a full workweek at the NGO, I’m also doing six credits worth of work this semester for school. Hoping to make use of my free time more efficiently, I had this optimistic hope that I could cook, photograph, write, sew, draw, paint, exercise, sing, dance, and travel in my free time. I wanted to work on enhancing my skills in all of these simultaneously. I wanted to devote equal amount of time all of my creative outlets.

And then reality set in. I couldn’t do it all and still hold on to my sanity. In an effort to better myself to such extreme measures, without down time or people I cared about, I would be talented… but not a better person. I've had great advice from friends when I needed suggestions in making time for my passions: 

"Preferably mix the ones most compatible and develop them together (such as art and writing). If it can't be managed, stick with the one you love most and rotate the others."

"Combine them. Works the best for me. Although my hobbies are different, they mostly go hand in hand."

Worse still, I started to see the struggle CK goes through when he talks about making food as a chore. It isn’t as fun when you aren’t making it with or for other people. After the two Maltese dishes I made, I was left with tons of leftovers. It became monotonous and boring to eat the same thing day after day. Food really does taste better with other people to enjoy it with. The ambience and the company are equally important to eating as the food itself.
"Where love sets the table food tastes at its best."
- French Proverb

Making gnocchi, for example, just doesn't taste the same unless you're making a mess with another person.

When CK visited in December, we made gnocchi for the first time. Without a potato ricer, they turned out tasting like mashed potato pillows, but still good sautéed in butter with spinach and cheese. And when he visited again at the end of January, he surprised me with a potato ricer, and it made all the difference.

Trial 1: Delicious, but dense and mashed potatoey

And before you tsk tsk with the concept of getting a potato ricer because it is considered a single use kitchen appliance and will likely gather dust in your cabinet next to your fondue pot, think again! I've used it to make lump-free mashed sweet potato and squeezed excess water from shredded zucchini for nutrient-laden pancakes. I am also in the works to making gluten free spätzle and single serving apple sauce with it. (So there...)

Gnocchi is by far my favorite pasta to make from scratch. There is no expectation to have a perfect shape, although the smaller the pieces the firmer they are after boiling. While initially bland in flavor, they transform a dish to something filled with comfort and warmth. Making and preparing gnocchi takes longer (and creates such a satisfying mess) than it does to cook it. I find my favorite way of making a recipe with gnocchi is cooking them and then using them to make a casserole of sorts with bubbling sauce and cheese. If you ever need a dish that promotes a borderline meditative state in making and eating, gnocchi is for you.

I followed the instructions Heidi of 101 Cookbooks wrote in her post “How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother recipe”, and I found that the Maltese Derby worked quite well. And even better, I used my favorite flour (garbanzo bean/chickpea/besan) and turned it into a grain-free delight!

This is a dish to make with your sweetie on any date night you have coming up. It is also a great way to get your family and friends in on the fun of making a true blue homemade meal. In the midst of counters to scrub and flour to wipe off every surface, it’s certainly worth the mess.

Grain-free Gnocchi (inspired by Heidi’s recipe)

2 lbs Potatoes*
1 Large (50 g) Egg
120 g Garbanzo bean flour
Sea salt
Dried spices, optional**

Place the potatoes (washed) in a large pot and pour the water so it covers at least a couple of inches above. (Note: depending on their size, it may be a good idea to cut them in half. Since the Maltese Derby is medium-sized to small, I didn’t need to.)
Salt the water (a teaspoon or two will do), and bring to a boil until potatoes are tender, roughly 45 minutes depending on the potatoes’ respective sizes.
Remove the potatoes from the water one at a time with a slotted spoon, but save the potato water.
Place each potato on a large cutting board and peel it as soon as possible before moving on to the next potato (without burning yourself, mind. I find keeping a small bowl of cold water works wonders. Heidi recommends using a paring knife).***
While hot, push the potatoes through the ricer to create very light fluffy potato piles. (I found the potato ricer really does help in making quality gnocchi. It’s worth the buy.)
Let the potatoes cool spread out across the cutting board for roughly fifteen minutes, or long enough so that the egg won't cook when it is incorporated into the potatoes.
When ready, pull the potatoes into a soft mound, drizzle with the beaten egg and sprinkle 3/4 of the flour across the top.
With a spatula, scrape underneath and fold, scrape and fold until the mixture is a light crumble and add the remaining flour (a little at a time) until the dough is moist but not tacky, almost billowy.
Cut it into 8 pieces, and gently roll each piece of dough into a snake-shaped log, roughly the thickness of your thumb.
Use a knife to cut pieces every 3/4-inch/2 cm.
Shape the gnocchi by holding a fork in one hand and placing a gnocchi piece against the tines of the fork, cut ends out.
Use your thumb and press in and down the length of the fork, and the gnocchi should curl into a slight "C" shape as their backs capture the impression of the tines as tiny ridges (great for sauce).
Set each piece of gnocchi aside until you are ready to boil them.
Reheat your potato water or start with a fresh pot (salted), and bring to a boil.
Cook the gnocchi in batches by dropping them into the boiling water roughly twenty at a time (I’ve been able to do up to thirty or forty, but was conscious of where I dropped them into the water. I also found it easier to do so if they went in one at a time).
Once they are done, they will pop back up to the top.
Fish them out of the water a few at a time with a slotted spoon ten seconds or so**** after they've surfaced.
Place them in another bowl, either with sauce to serve immediately or in a pile to be used for later (they’ve yet to stick when I just place them on top of each other as I prepare to put them in the oven).
Continue cooking in batches until all the gnocchi are done.
Serve hot with sauce, pesto, or cheese.

Makes 3 – 6 Servings, depending on meal size or appetite.

* Heidi recommended using Russet potatoes because of their starch content. I found that the MDP also worked well, despite it’s texture being waxy and wet.
** Gnocchi by itself can be a little bland, so adding some dried spices like basil, oregano, or thyme to the dough will enhance the flavor. I would love to add nutmeg next time.
*** CK wanted me to mention "that after boiling long enough, the skin should slough off with a bit of pressure. It let me peel the potatoes quickly."
**** Depending on the size of the pieces or the flour you are using, you may find that ten seconds just isn’t enough time. My rule of thumb is to wait twenty seconds AFTER the entire batch (1/8 of the dough) has plopped to the surface.

No comments:

Post a Comment