Tuesday, January 15, 2013

gnocchi in tomato broth + more book tour

gnocchi in tomato broth

I realize that when it comes to January Food — carrot sticks, soup, legumes and other things I suspect, what with it being the third week of the month, you are already tiring of — gnocchi, thick dumpling-like pasta made from potatoes, hardly makes the cut. It’s, in fact, not even invited to the party, having no place among the sweatband-ed, pumped up, high-topped aerobicized… okay, maybe my brain went straight past “earnest attempts at resolution-inspired rebalance” to a Richard Simmons video, circa 1982. These things, they happen.

readying the tomato broth
a hearty tomato soup's elegant leavings

But a kale-apple-ginger smoothie, gnocchi is not. And yet, this dish from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is one of my favorite things to make after a month of holiday gluttony because it is both light and filling, yet warm enough for the coldest day. The thing with gnocchi is that it’s so plagued by a reputation of being bad for you that it’s presumed that if you’re eating it, your arteries/girth/sense of proportion must already be doomed so let’s just ladle on the blue cheese, okay? And, indeed, most restaurants will serve it with butter, cream, cheese and other rich ingredients, such as truffles, probably with more butter. It’s not my thing; I think such preparations wreck the delicacy that’s at the heart of perfect gnocchi, which is featherlight, dumpling-like and best appreciated in a puddle of intensely flavored broth. It’s true: I turned the Italian classic of gnocchi and red sauce into a riff on matzo ball soup, and I’m not even a little sorry.

a snowdrift of riced potato

cutting the gnocchi rope into pillows
scattered gnocchi pillows

Of course, waiting until the third paragraph to argue that featherlight homemade gnocchi is both doable and worth it at home is akin to burying the lede, but I insist that it is. I think gnocchi is one of those dishes that has been made needlessly intimidating to make at home by well-intentioned but ultimated head-spinning recipes. In early attempts, I too have been flummoxed by the idea that without a potato ricer or food mill and gnocchi rolling board, I shouldn’t even bother and even when I did, I was still plagued by leaden, gluey globs of pasta that never cooked through. But once I got it right, I realized how easy it was and, being me, immediately had to tell the world. I’m going to argue below that not only none of these things are necessary, that once you have some potatoes baked and ready to use, gnocchi is the kind of dish that’s so easy to pull together, you could even have it for dinner this very evening. I dare you to argue this doesn’t trump the fifth bottle of that juice cleanse you had planned.

gnocchi assembled with tomato broth

Book Tour, Part II When The Smitten Kitchen Book Tour worked its way from Washington to Houston to Los Angeles, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto and Boston in late 2012, did you feel left out? Did you say something? Because we were listening, and decided at the earliest interval decided it would be fun to get back out there and make things right. This second tour, between mid-February and mid-March, will include eight unintentionally overlooked cities and I hope if we missed you the first time that yours is one of them. I hope we finally get to hang out. [The Smitten Kitchen Book Tour, Part II]

Nevertheless, I realize we’re still missing some great towns, and want to very seriously encourage those of you who live in far-flung ports — say, The Caribbean, Paris, Morocco or Hawaii — to lobby loud and vigorously for additional stops. For me. Ahem, us.

One year ago… Coming in a bit!

Gnocchi in Tomato Broth
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 2 1/2 to 3 cups broth and 85 to 100 gnocchi, serving 4

Tomato broth
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine
One 28-ounce (795 grams) can whole or chopped tomatoes with juices
Small handful fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Gnocchi
2 pounds (905 grams) Russet potatoes (3 to 4)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups (156 to 190 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface

To finish
Fresh ricotta or shaved Parmesan, to taste, plus addition slivers of basil leaves (optional)

Bake potatoes: Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size, until a thin knife can easily pierce through them. Meanwhile, prepare the tomato broth.

Make tomato broth: Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. One it’s hot, add the carrot, celery, and onion, and cook together for 5 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if they begin to brown. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute more. Pour in the wine, and use it to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then cook the wine unti it is reduced by half, for several minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, mashing them a bit with a spoon if they’re whole, and the basil and stock, and simmer until the tomato broth thickens slightly, for about 45 minutes. Strain out the vegetables in a fine-mesh colander, and season the broth with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until needed.

Make gnocchi: Let the potatoes cool for 10 minutes after baking, then peel them with a knife or a peeler. Run the potatoes through a potato ricer or grate them on the large holes of a box grater (grated baked potatoes will fall apart, which is the goal). Cool them to lukewarm, about another 10 minutes. Add the egg and salt, mixing to combine. Add 1/2 cup flour, and mix to combine. Add the next 1/2 cup flour, mixing again. Add 1/4 cup flour, and see if this is enough to form a dough that does not easily stick to your hands. If not, add the last 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft but only a little sticky, and able to hold its shape enough to be rolled into a rope. Knead the dough together briefly, gently, on a counter, just for a minute.

Divide the dough into quarters. Roll each piece into a long rope, about 3/4-inch thick. Cut each rope into 3/4-inch lengths. At this point, you can use a floured fork or a gnocchi board to give each piece the traditional ridges, but I never bother. (The ridges are supposed to help sauce adhere, but here, we’re just floating them in a broth so it’s not a top concern.) Place the gnocchi on a a parchment-lined tray.

[Do ahead: If you'd like to freeze gnocchi for later user, do so on this tray. Once they are frozen, drop them into a freezer bag until needed. No need to defrost before cooking them; it will just take a minute or two longer.]

Cook gnocchi: Place the gnocchi, a quarter-batch at a time, into a pot of boiling well-salted water. Cook the gnocchi until they float — about 2 minutes — then drain.

Assemble dish: Meanwhile, reheat broth to a simmer. Add drained gnocchi then reheat through. Serve gnocchi and broth together, garnished with a few slivers of basil leaves and/or a dollop of fresh ricotto or some Parmesan shavings, if desired.


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