Monday, April 18, 2011

Meatless Monday: Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage Sauce

One of the main complaints meat eaters have about meatless meals is the fact that they are too light, not filling enough.  
Today, I'm going to share a dish with you that's hearty and filling while being nuanced and flavorful.  The bonus of this dish is that it's thrifty and simple, too.  We'll make a meal for two with lots of leftovers using only what you see here:
DSC01368That's right, we're making gnocchi!
If you've never heard of gnocchi, you obviously don't watch much tv.  People on cooking shows constantly rave about these little pillows of flavor (and almost as often rant about them being poorly executed).  Today, I'm going to show you how I made the most basic and classic style of gnocchi, served with brown butter sauce with sage.
Gnocchi are very much like a homemade pasta.  When you make pasta, like I've done here, you use flour, (traditionally semolina) egg, and water to make the dough.  Gnocchi includes all of these but is built around potatoes.  This gives the gnocchi a more earthy and robust flavor than plain old pasta, and does amazing things when it comes time to brown later on.  I'm getting ahead of myself here, so let's start at the beginning.
Whenever I want to try a new dish, I have certain cooks whose advice I seek out.  For Southern food, it's Alton Brown.  For Italian, I trust Ms. Lidia Bastianich, nonna to the world.  I used this recipe as a guideline, along with a few others.  Most of the recipes, including Lidia's, start with boiled starchy potatoes.  Some baked them, but I thought boiled would make for flesh that was more moist, so that's what I went with.
This isn't so much a recipe as it is a tutorial, and can easily be multiplied.  I'll even show you what to do with leftovers, so you can double this and have some waiting in the freezer for a future weeknight.
1.5 lbs russet potatoes 
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. flour of your choice (I used white whole wheat)

Begin by boiling your potatoes.  You'll have to peel them later, so slice an X in the bottom.
DSC01374Boil in salted water.  These were taking too long and I got impatient so I cut them into quarters later.
DSC01377For this recipe you're going to need a ricer.  I haven't found any gnocchi recipes that don't use one.  I can vouch for the fact that they make the lightest, fluffiest potatoes ever, so one is well worth your $15.
DSC01384Don't overload the ricer, and be sure you have the skins totally removed.  Mash 'em through.  (Unlike traditional mashers, you will never get gummy potatoes from a ricer!)
DSC01388Squeeze them out onto a sheet pan so they cool quickly.
DSC01390Two potatoes worth.  Let this cool for 10-15 minutes so it doesn't cook the eggs and is easy to handle.
DSC01392Pour the beaten egg over the top.
DSC01394Sprinkle with the flour and some salt and pepper.
DSC01396Use your dough scraper to bring it all together.
DSC01397Knead the dough just enough to bring it together.
DSC01398Divide the dough into 4-8 pieces, depending on how much space you have, and roll into dowels around 1/2" thick on a floured surface.
DSC01400Use your dough scraper or a knife to slice into little pieces, around 1" each.  Dust the blade with flour so nothing sticks.  If you'd like to stop here, you can.  They will cook up nicely and taste just fine this way. But most people do a little trick to make ridges on the gnocchi so they hold their sauce better.  It's really easy, but entirely optional.
DSC01401Start with the back of your fork.
DSC01402Use one finger to press one side of each piece onto the back of your fork.
DSC01403Roll it toward you leaving an impression of your finger on the back as you pull the dough toward yourself.
DSC01406All rolled up.
DSC01411As this point, you can put any extra gnocchi onto a floured sheet pan and into the freezer.  Once they're frozen solid, you can throw them into a baggie or container and keep them frozen.
DSC01442If you're hungry now, boil those guys.  Give them lots of room (again in well salted water) so they don't stick together.
DSC01413Once they float to the top they're done.
DSC01417Meanwhile, make your sauce by browning up some butter over medium heat.

Brown Butter Sauce
1 stick butter (best at room temp.)
1 tbsp. rubbed sage (more if you want to use fresh)
the juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

After the butter melts, it'll start to foam and make noise.
DSC01415Once the pieces at the bottom begin to brown, remove the butter from heat and add the remaining ingredients.  Taste for seasoning.
DSC01425Finish the boiled gnocchi by frying them in a pan with oil or butter, generously browning on each side.  This is where the potatoes come into play.  Having all those sugars, the gnocchi will brown beautifully and get crispy on the outside while staying fluffy and airy on the inside.
Garnish with just a little of the sauce, since it's so rich and flavorful.  Gnocchi is excellent on its own or with a big crunchy salad.
DSC01437You could throw on some parmesan if you just have to.
DSC01438I sincerely hope you try gnocchi for a fun family dinner or even a party.  They are so addicting and satisfying that they'll keep any meat eater happy.  I think a mushroom sauce would be amazing with these.
Have you ever made gnocchi?  It turned out to be much easier than I thought it would.  Give it a try and tell me how it goes.
This week I have a friend photo to share with you (it makes me so stinkin proud when my friends make recipes from my blog and take pictures) and I'll update you on all things garden.  Soon.
Here's hoping it feels like spring where you are!

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