Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Simple Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Peas
My family, despite being about as Italian-American as it gets, never had a tradition of making Gnocchi. They were something I knew existed, but never really paid much attention to until fairly recently. Thanks to the magic of television, and the ascendancy of cooking shows over the past fifteen years or so, Gnocchi gained my attention- these light, savory, pillows of pasta earned my respect quickly. I've had gnocchi out at a few restaurants, either as a main dish with a light, fresh tomato sauce, or sauteed with prosciutto and radicchio as a side dish that outshone the main entree... but I've never made them for myself, never even attempted it. This was a grievous omission that I could not let stand any longer, so tonight's dinner was a simple potato Gnocchi tossed in brown butter with peas.
I've read the Gnocchi are simple in concept, but are terribly difficult to make right. There is, apparently, a fine line between those light, fluffy, pillows of potato-based pasta, and an overly heavy plate of glutinous rocks- or, at the other end of the spectrum, little globs of slimy glue unable to hold their shape. This delicate balance, and stories of Gnocchi gone horribly wrong, were intimidating, and I would have to learn to get past them. A little internet research turned up a recipe belonging to former "Next Iron Chef" contestant, Chef Marco Canora, that contained a wealth of tips and general knowledge about Gnocchi that gave me the boost I needed to feel comfortable attempting them. Using the Canora recipe as my main guideline, I decided to trust my inner Italian, and go for it.
Once your dough is rolled out, take a sharp knife, and gently cut the rope into squares- they should look like little pillows at this point. Many traditionalists will take another step and shape them into ridged bean shapes by rolling each Gnocchi over the back of a fork so they look more attractive. I've also seen many people simply leave them as freshly cut pillows for a more rustic feel- either way works, and I've seen restaurant quality Gnocchi done both ways. Personally, I have a family to feed that's already getting annoyed that I'm stopping to take photos, so I'm opting for the rustic style- which I also happen to like. Repeat the process with a new chunk of dough until you've transformed all of your blob of dough into little Gnocchi.
For my meal, I am serving my brown butter coated Gnocchi with a handful of peas, and topping them with a little basil, grated parmesan cheese, and a little crushed chili flakes. In general, you can feel free to use just about any sauces or toppings you would use on just about any pasta dish- even in a baked pasta dish, or sauteed so they develop a little bit of a crust. You can go as simple, or as complex as you like, however, as I've come to learn, often the most simple approach end up with the most memorable and/or comforting results.