October 09, 2010

Challenge #4: Gnocchi Step-by-Step

I am still in shock that I made to Challenge #4 and the top 100 in Project Food Blog 2010! This contest has been inspiring and has reinforced my passion for food writing. Thank you FoodBuzz, judges, bloggers, family and friends for believing in me. I might be a food blogger newbie, but I can still compete with the big kids!

Now, onto Challenge #4: "Sure, you can take a pretty picture. But your task here is to go above and beyond and use photography to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial. It could be anything from how to bone a chicken to how to make your favorite recipe, but your photos need to guide the reader through the steps."


Potato gnocchi


For this challenge I decided to make pasta from scratch. I was inspired by Delia Smith and her books, “How to Cook” volumes 1 and 2, which were a gift from my Mom. The books have great photo tutorials and cover cooking basics like eggs, pastry, meat and potatoes. She keeps it simple and basic, which is a blessing in disguise for any new cook. I decided to try her “Gnocchi with Sage, Butter and Parmesan.” 


Delia Smith's How to Cook

Why did I choose this recipe? I will let Delia tell you herself: “Once again it’s the Italians who are so clever at inventing such simple things out of what seems to be fairly ordinary ingredients but then become something quite outstanding” (How to Cook, Volume 1, pg. 190). Potatoes, flour, eggs and butter; it can’t be anymore simple than that, right?


Whenever I think of making pasta, I think of those amazing Italian “nonnas” who vigorously knead and roll pasta for hours in their kitchens in Italy. I try to imagine what it would be like to have an Italian grandmother: “Laurrra,” she’d say, rolling her r’s, “I will teach you how to make pasta, but first, do I not feed you enough?” I think back to my trip to Italy and how I ate everything on my plate because the food was so delicious; a big no-no in Italian culture. Apparently, if you eat everything on your plate it means there wasn’t enough food. I couldn’t help myself. The antipasta, pasta, meat, seafood, gelato, and pizza were just too delicious.


I remember our last lunch in Rome. Mike and I just wanted a light, refreshing lunch before heading off. We found this quiet café in a winding, narrow street near the Coliseum and ordered some bruschetta to start. For the entree, I ordered a seafood salad and Mike ordered a small plate of pasta. Beside us, were two businessmen on their lunch break. They also started with the bruschetta, then pasta, then a fish course (a whole fish), a bottle of wine, and finally, some espresso. After that, they reluctantly shuffled back to work. I sat there -- slightly embarrassed with my little salad-- totally in awe of the way Italians truly savour their food.


With making pasta, my imaginary Italian grandmother would first probably tell me to take off my rings: “Laura, this is serious business. Rings come off.” Pasta making, at least in this experience, was messy. My hands were covered in flour and egg mush, my shirt was covered in flour spots and I had to stop myself from obsessively licking my fingers and washing my hands during cooking, like I usually do. I learned that the process is also long. By the time the pasta was rolled, cut and cooked, I had consumed a few essential snacks in between.

Delia Smith's Gnocchi with Sage, Butter and Parmesan (recipe also available online)

Ingredients: 

2 medium sized potatoes3 1/2 oz plain flour, sifted, plus more for rolling1 large egg, lightly beatenSalt and pepper

For the sauce:

8 fresh sage leaves2 oz butter1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed3-4 tbsp parmesan cheese (for serving)


Directions:

1. Place the potatoes, with skins on, in a pot of salted, boiling water. 2. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
3. Drain the potatoes and pare off the skins using a knife or potato peeler. 
4. Place the potatoes in a bowl and whisk on a slow speed using an electric hand mixer. Break up the potatoes and whisk until light and fluffy. 

5. Let the potatoes cool down. Then add the sifted flour and half of the beaten egg. 
6. Bring the mixture together using a fork. Then knead the mixture with your hands until it becomes a soft dough.
7. Transfer the dough to a floured surface. 
8. Divide the dough into quarters. 
9. Roll each quarter into long, sausage shapes approximately a 1/2 inch in diameter. 
10. Cut the sausage shapes on a diagonal into 1 inch pieces. 
11. Place the pieces on a floured plate. Cover and refrigerate the gnocchi for at least 30 minutes. 
12. Press a fork down onto the gnocchi to form a ridge and lightly form them into crescent shapes. 
13. Bring a large shallow pan of water to a simmer (3.5 litres of water or less depending on the pan).
14. Drop the gnocchi into the simmering water and cook for three minutes. The gnocchi should rise to the top of the water when they are ready. 
15. Scoop the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon onto a warmed serving plate. 
16. For the sauce, melt the butter and garlic in a pan until the garlic starts to brown. Add the sage leaves and cook for 30 seconds. 

After all of this, you will have perfect gnocchi:


I'm just kidding. That picture is Delia's rendition. THIS picture is mine:


The pasta wasn’t that hard to make. The only difficulty came in making the sauce. I love Delia, but pure butter, melted, then poured onto pasta is insane. Of course, I can eat butter in numerous desserts and pastries, but the sauce made the dish an oily, greasy plate of butter with a side of pasta. After the first batch, I literally lay on the floor in overdramatic discomfort, yelling, “I ate too much butter!”

Potato gnocchi

The next night, with the second batch of gnocchi, I cooked the garlic and sage in a little bit of margarine, then drizzled a bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese on top of the pasta. The pasta wasn’t drenched in sauce and I found I could actually enjoy the dish without worrying how my arteries would react. Nonna would probably say, “Nonsense, butter makes you tough. You’re a growing girl.” 

In case you were wondering, I WAS that child who constantly made up imaginary people and friends. I also never had an Italian grandmother (obviously), but I will always have a place in my heart for Italy.

If you liked this post, then please vote. I have some cool ideas for the next few rounds, so let's get this "food fight" started! Check out my profile and vote here (your Italian Nonna will thank you). 

24 comments:

  1. Ah gnocchi seems to be a popular choice! Nicely done - you make what can sometimes be a complicated dish (or sound like one) seem do-able. Good luck.

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  2. Great post! I love that picture with the reflection of the bottles!! The gnocchi looks perfect!!

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  3. Wow. These gnocchi look really delicious. And you make the process look really easy, and very approachable. nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! hope to see us both in round 5!!! =)

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  4. Gnocchi has been on my list of things to make for SO long! I need to just get to it!

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  5. Great job! Your gnocchi came out beautifully! You made it look easy! (VOTE!)

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  6. Gotta love Delia Smith! Good luck in the competition and hope to join you in the next round!

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  7. I've been wanting to try my own gnocchi forever and you make it seem totally approachable and simple. Awesome job and good luck!! :)

    Sues

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  8. HAH i am of the school of Delia, butter over pasta = devine! Congrats on a great job!


    Whit @ Amuse Bouche

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  9. Ha ha, making gnocchi totally makes your hands really messy, doesn't it? Your gnocchi came out beautifully!

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  10. I love gnocchi and ive somehow never thought of making it from scratch! I love this post; you've inspired me to try this!

    Good luck!

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  11. I love gnocchi and sage- great choice!

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  12. I have those Delia books and love 'em! Having attempted gnocchi myself, I do appreciate what's involved and you've made a very nice job of it. I suspect that channelling an Italian nonna helped, too :)

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  13. I've never attempted to even THINK about making gnocchi. After seeing this, I must try it! Congrats on round 4 and good luck!

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  14. Excellent post - you got my vote for this! Good luck :) Feel free to hop over to leave a comment :)

    Have a wonderful day!
    jen @ www.passion4food.ca

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  15. Great post, you got my vote :) I have an Italian Nonna who makes fresh pasta and she's always trying to feed me too, so it really resonated!

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  16. Gnocchi is something I've always meant to try but haven't. Now I will and I'll use your excellent tutorial as a guide. Good luck in round 4...you've got my vote.

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  17. I loved the story behind this post. Lovely :) I always forget to take off my rings when I'm baking LOL and such a wonderful recipe! I hope you make it through to the next round...Cheers!

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  18. Thanks everyone! I thought the gnocchi would be tedious and difficult, but it wasn't actually that bad to make. I'm glad I challenged myself to make something complex like pasta. A huge thanks to Delia on this one for her amazing book. Pasta making does get your hands a little dirty though, lol.

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  19. Your Italian Grandmother, bless her invisible soul, would have been so proud! Voted!

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  20. I'd go for the plate with less butter too. Good luck!
    LL

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  21. You've demystified gnocchi for me with this excellent tutorial!

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  22. congratulations! this looks yummy. got to try it out.
    Happy holidays!

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