Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Swiss Chard Gnocchi

Pasta is a staple here in our house.  Naturally, growing up in an Italian family, we had it at least once a week.  And that's still how it is around here.  It's simple and quick to make and everyone likes it.  But most people don't make their own pasta- why would they?  These days, you can buy great dried and fresh pasta in most grocery stores so there's almost no need to do it yourself (notice I said almost).  My Nana had a few specialties that she made by hand, and those were always the requests when it came to special  family dinners.  Not much can beat a big plateful of her ricotta cavatelli (they're like gnocchi, but made with ricotta instead of potatoes).  Some of my earliest memories are of standing on a stool next to her in the kitchen helping her roll them out with the special ridged tool she had.  My son loves to use that tool to help me make the cavatelli, too.  So, clearly, making pasta holds a special place in my heart.

Most people (if they've even heard of gnocchi) think that it's a fancy pasta that you can only get in restaurants.  They do sell a packaged version in many grocery stores now, and they're okay, but nothing can compare to making them at home.  Maybe you've watched "Top Chef"-one of my faves- and saw Fabio (yum!) make his Nonna's gnocchi several times.  If he can do it with absolutely no modern kitchen tools, you can do it at home, I promise.  The gnocchi recipe I'm presenting here is a great platform for as many spin offs as you can think of.  Swap the swiss chard for spinach (or any other leafy green for that matter).  Use sweet potato or butternut squash instead of the russet potato.  Vary the sauces.  You get my drift, right?

Swiss Chard Gnocchi
Adapted from Epicurious
1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 large)
1 large egg
1 tbs olive oil
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 pounds swiss chard, stems and ribs removed

Steam potatoes until very tender, about 50 minutes.  Let them cool enough so you can handle them and then peel the potatoes.  In a large bowl, mash the potatoes well.  Meanwhile, bring two inches of salted water to a boil in a large pot.  When the water comes to a boil, add the swiss chard and cook until wilted, 3-4 minutes.  Drain the chard well and squeeze out any extra water (you don't want soggy gnocchi).  Chop the chard finely.  Mix the chard into the potatoes and add the egg and oil.  Gradually stir in the flour until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.
Cutting the gnocchi

Lightly flour a baking sheet to act as a landing pad for the finished gnocchi.  With lightly floured hands, gently roll about 1/4 cup of the dough into a 12 inch long roll about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.  Cut the rope into one inch pieces.  You can shape the gnocchi further by gently taking each piece and rolling it into a slight oval, but the shape is just fine as is.  You don't want to overwork the dough or they will be tough, so work with gentle and light hands.  Place the gnocchi on the floured baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

The shaped gnocchi
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a big pinch (about a tbs) of salt to the water, then gently place the gnocchi into the water.  You've got to be careful with them, they are soft and you don't want them to fall apart.  Once all the gnocchi are in the pot give them a stir and then leave them be.  When they raise to the top of the water, which takes 3-4 minutes,  they are cooked.  Gently lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them right into a pot of tomato sauce.

What kind of tomato sauce?  Well, I really don't follow a recipe.  The easiest and tastiest sauce you can make is to saute half of an onion in some olive oil in a large saucepan for a few minutes.  Then add a can of good Italian tomatoes and let them simmer for 15-20 minutes.  At the last minute, add some chopped basil.  That's all it takes.  My husband would say that adding some crumbled Italian sausage to saute along with the onions would make it even better (and in the case of this gnocchi recipe, I might be inclined to agree with him).  In any case, serve the gnocchi and sauce with some grated cheese.   I prefer pecorino romano, but parmesean is good too.  Oh, and some good bread to soak up the extra sauce.  Mangia!

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