Monday, 31 January 2011

A Little Trip to Italy and Spain: Homemade Gnocchi with Romesco-esque Sauce, Fresh Dill, and Grated Parmesan

When I first bought my bag of mini red skin potatoes a few weeks ago, I had intended on cooking them up with some dill and calling it a day. Yesterday, I had purchased some hazelnuts I intended to use in my Nutella chip cookies but never got around to doing so, and alongside some leftover jarred pasta sauce and mini Italian bread, it was about time I used up some of these ingredients. To get this accomplished, and as alluded to in the title for this post, I revisited one of my favourite (but nevertheless challenging) recipes: gnocchi. Thankfully, I can report it was one of the best rounds of gnocchi I've made to date, and my Romesco-esque sauce brought in a ton of flavour that's much needed for essentially boiled potatoes.

So, first thing's first: boil seven mini redskin potatoes (1 lb) in a pot of seasoned water. (You can also use 1 lb russet potatoes if you'd like.) Much like preparing to deskin tomatoes, boil the potatoes until the skin "cracks." This will take about 20-25 min.

In the meantime, crack a handful of hazelnuts (or less if you have shelled hazelnuts) and place them on a baking sheet. I didn't have nutcracker with me, so I improvised, using both my potato ricer and a can opener; the can opener won. Put the hazelnuts in a preheated 350°F oven for about 7-10 min. You want to be sure they're toasted and not scorched by the heat, so do keep an eye on them. If you're more on the cautious side, you could toast these up in a stovetop pan. Don't skip this step! Otherwise, you'll actually be leaving the bitter skin of the hazelnut. After the hazelnuts have been toasted, transfer them to a rough dish towel and pack them up "hobo" style. This allows the heat to steam the hazelnuts a bit as they cool. Then, rub the dish towel, essentially using the rough texture to scrape off the toasted skins. What you're left with are beautifully toasted and golden brown hazelnuts. Let these cool and after cleaning off the baking sheet, toast three pieces of mini Italian bread.

By now, the potatoes should be done. Drop these in an ice water bath and deskin the potatoes. Press those through a potato ricer or food mill. If you don't have either, mash them really well with a fork. Check on your toasty bread at this point; those should be done, too.

Get your mise en place all nice and situated: have about 1/2 c flour in a bowl and 1 egg beaten well in a separate bowl. To the potatoes, add about 1/4 c flour and mix that in to the potatoes. Add a bit of flour at a time until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl itself. At that point, you should have about 1/8 c flour left in the bowl. Onto a lightly floured surface, take this mound of potato-flour dough and make a bit of a well in it, just as you would prep for making fresh pasta. Add only 1/2 the beaten egg into the well (and cook a bit of scrambled egg with the rest), top off with a sprinkling of flour, and using a fork to help you, incorporate the egg into the dough. If need be, add a touch more flour to this dough. You know you're good to go when the dough is barely sticking to the palms of your hands. In actuality, you don't really need the egg at all, but it certainly helps provide some richness and "glue" to the gnocchi. The dough itself should feel like light playdough. And do be careful not to overdo it on the flour. The more flour you have, the less airy and light the gnocchi will be.

Now, let's form the gnocchi. You should still have some flour left over at this point; if not, get some flour and refill your bowl (just a few teaspoons will do). Sprinkle some of this flour onto the surface (e.g., a plate) you'll be putting your home made gnocchi (the flour, of course, will help prevent the gnocchi from sticking to the surface). If the dough is made correctly, the process is quite simple: take a bit of dough, roll it into a ball, and roll it over the tines of a fork. If the dough is made incorrectly, you'll need to add a touch of flour to the dough so that the gnocchi holds it shape. It's okay if you're hands get a bit sticky with the dough; the quicker you work, the less of a chance you'll have to worry about that. As for how much dough, I suppose it depends on the size of gnocchi you want; I'd estimate the ones I made to be the equivalent of a few peas. Note: you could very well just roll the gnocchi into whatever shape you want, but getting the classic ridge impressions into the gnocchi actually serves a purpose. From what I've both read and experienced, the ridges help to collect whatever sauce you eat this with. (Remember, the only ingredients in this are potatoes, a touch of flour and a bit of egg.)

Great! So now the gnocchi are done. Let's cook them. Bring some seasoned water to a boil and once the water is boiling, lower the temp to a bit of a simmer so everything doesn't splatter. To the water, add a few teaspoons of olive oil. This will help the gnocchi to not stick to each other. Drop some gnocchi in the water and wait for them to float on up. Once they're floating (about 3-4 min), they're done cooking... so go save them! Transfer the cooked gnocchi to a clean plate to cool.

In between gnocchi batches, return to the sauce. For this meal, I went with a Romesco-esque sauce, named as such because I want to emphasize my take on this traditional Catalonian sauce. Research tells me this sauce goes very well with seafood, and a typical Romesco sauce includes various peppers and seasonings. However, not only do I not have all the ingredients that go into a Romesco sauce, I also don't have tomatoes sitting haphazardly in my pantry. As alluded to earlier, I made use of some leftover jarred (six cheese) pasta sauce which adds to the substitutionary character of the sauce.

Anyway, into the food processor goes the toasted hazelnuts, the toasted bread slice (broken into chunks), about 1 tbsp olive oil, and 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Give that a whirl and incorporate 1/2 c jarred pasta sauce; add 1/2 c more jarred pasta sauce to the party, chop it all up in the processor and you're good to go!

Time for a taste... See how the ridges hold onto the sauce? The sauce itself has a deeper taste than the pasta sauce on its own, with added texture from both the toasted bread and welcomed smoky hazelnut crunch.

With the gnocchi and sauce now finished, prep the garnish by mixing together some freshly chopped dill and grated parmesan cheese. Plate it all up and, with some toasted bread on the side, enjoy!

This particular recipe made 43 gnocchi, but could easily have been stretched to 4 dozen, had I been conscientious of serving proportions. This is safely serves two (or definitely one hungry person with leftovers), and could easily be a starter course for four as part of a larger meal.

For more photos of my take on these classic dishes, check them out here.

No comments:

Post a Comment