Sauteed Gnocchi with Basil Pesto


Imagine that you are a bird. You are flying in the air, free as can be, when you spot a delicious morsel of bread sitting on a table inside a building, just waiting for you to snatch it up. You veer to the left and begin your smooth descent towards that bread. And just when it is two feet away, WHAM! You smash into an invisible wall and die a horrible death.

Anyways, that was an accurate metaphor for my first experience trying to learning Italian cuisine. I keep hearing Italian chefs talk about focusing on “simplicity” and “keeping things simple”. But as soon as you try out that “simple” recipe with the 5 ingredients it kicks you right in the balls and your own creation turns out nothing like it’s supposed to be. Both gnocchi and pesto are simple recipes with a short list of ingredients, yet if you wish to make them well, the procedures are thoroughly nuanced and difficult to master.

Ingredients

Most people try to spend as little time as possible cooking as much as possible. I spend as much time as possible cooking as little as possible, then microwave up a frozen pizza later to make up for the deficit. Something is wrong here.

Most people try to spend as little time as possible cooking as much as possible. I spend as much time as possible cooking as little as possible, then microwave up a frozen pizza later to make up for the deficit. Something is wrong here.

Prep + Wait time: 2-3 hours

Gnocchi recipe by Thomas Keller. Basil recipe from here.

Basil Pesto:

1 1/2 – 2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, loosely packed
~1 cup olive oil

Gnocchi:

2 lb russet potatoes (roughly 3.5 medium potatoes)*
1 tbsp salt
1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks

*Russets are recommended by most recipes. They are the cheapest brown potatoes in American supermarkets. Yukon gold is an acceptable substitute.

A dough scraper is highly recommended for making gnocchi.

Cooking

Pre-heat your oven to 350F (175C). Pop your potatoes in for 1-2 hours, depending on size (2 hours for large, 1 hour for medium). Flip them every half-hour until thoroughly cooked. Crack 3 eggs and separate out the yolks. Leave the yolks outside to warm at room temperature. Meanwhile, make basil pesto.

We're in for some chop.

We’re in for some chop.

We are going to hand chop the basil pesto. Apparently it’s supposed to turn out with a better texture or whatever, but here is my personal reasoning about the process. Ideally, a sharp knife is sharper than a food processor’s blade, and will bruise the herb leaves less as it slices through the basil. Italians have a special moon-shaped knife called the [url=http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20121231130904/wowwiki/images/d/d9/Illidan.png]mezzaluna[/url] that allows you to easily slice through herbs with minimal bruisage. While you can replicate this process with a regular knife by rocking the knife through the herbs instead of chopping straight down, the process becomes extremely time consuming. Ultimately, bruising will occur and the basil itself will not be hugely improved from what comes out of a food processor.

This is, coincidentally, also how the Amish make pesto.

This is, coincidentally, also how the Amish make pesto.

In any case, ri0nse and pat dry your basil, and pick the leaves from the stems. Pile your ingredients into neat piles where you can access them easily. Start by chopping a third of your basil along with your garlic. When this is a fine mince, add a third of your pine nuts and continue chopping. Then, at approximate three minute intervals, add a third of your shaved parmesan, a third of the basil, another third of the pine nuts, then cheese, then basil, then the last of your pine nuts, and the last of the parmesan. Chop until you have a very fine mince on the last batch of pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

If you add urine it becomes pissto, a unique beverage favored by Bear Grylls.

If you add urine it becomes pissto, a unique beverage favored by Bear Grylls.

Add olive oil and mix. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Go play outside until the potatoes are done. When the potatoes are cooked, take them out of the oven. While hot, cut them in half and scoop out the insides onto a clean work surface. Ideally you want at least 4 square feet of work surface, or about 0.66 square meters. Mash the potatoes until they are lumpless, using a potato ricer if available. Make a ring with the hot potatoes and a well in the middle. Sprinkle half a cup of flour into the well. Dump onto the flour (NOT onto the hot potatoes! they will cook the yolks instantly) the three yolks, then the second half cup of flour on top of the yolks. Now, working as fast as possible, mix everything together into a homogenous mass. If you do it fast enough the dough will not be too sticky to work with, If it is very sticky, sprinkle flour around.

If you balk at the idea of using so many yolks, some recipes recommend using whole eggs. Try one and a half eggs as a substitute. Some people just can't take a yolk.

If you balk at the idea of using so many yolks, some recipes recommend using whole eggs. Try one and a half eggs as a substitute. Some people just can’t take a yolk.

Divide your dough into fourths. Sprinkle flour onto your work surface and prepare a sheet pan, either dusted with flour or lined with parchment paper. Roll a fourth of dough out into a long roll close to an inch thick, or about 2 cm. Use your dough scraper to divide the roll into sections of dough about 3/4 of an inch or 2 cm in length.

I'll show you a real tunnel snake.

I’ll show you a real tunnel snake.

Now to shape the gnocchi. I didn’t quite understand how to shape them while I made these gnocchi, but here is the proper way to shape them with a fork: Press the section of dough gently into the fork to flatten the gnocchi while creating an indentation on the reverse side, then roll the gnocchi into a roll shape with the indentation on the outside. They should look like tiny rolls with ridges on the outside.

Yeah thanks Youtube you were a real fucking help. I've been doing it wrong all this time. I AM A FAILURE!!! *Runs off a cliff*

Yeah thanks Youtube you were a real fucking help. I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. I AM A FAILURE!!! *Runs off a cliff*

Anyways, you are ready to cook! Bring a big pot of water to a boil, generously adding a large amount of salt and oil (1/3 of a cup of each per gallon of water or so). Place 2 tablespoons of butter into a non-stick pan, but do not turn on the heat yet. When the water comes to a boil, add the gnocchi to the water and turn on the heat to your pan at the same time. The gnocchi will take about 2 minutes to cook. When they float to the surface, wait 20 seconds and they are done. The butter in your pan should be nice and hot by then. Scoop the gnocchi out of the pot of water and into your pan. Saute, letting the gnocchi get nice and brown.

You can just serve after boiling, but this is just because Italians really aren't getting enough grease in their diet.

You can just serve after boiling, but this is just because Italians really aren’t getting enough grease in their diet.

When the gnocchi is nicely browned spoon some pesto onto them and mix together. Serve immediately.

The Result

Yeah motherfucker. Someone eating this might think you spent a summer vacationing in Italy or learning from an Italian grandmother, but only YOU know the truth. You sat on your ass and read this blog, like an unsung hero would.

Yeah motherfucker. Someone eating this might think you spent a summer vacationing in Italy or learning from an Italian grandmother, but only YOU know the truth. You sat on your ass and read this blog, like an unsung hero would.

People have described gnocchi as “light, fluffy pillows”, but that’s really too flattering. They’re kind of like… potato-y dumplings. Still, when fried up they are quite nice. Crispy on the outside, with a fluffy potato texture on the inside. The pesto adds a nice touch of aromatic flavor that brings it all together. Not the best dish ever, but certainly something nice to have tried and said that you have tried. Veni, vidi, vici.

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