I am a very boring cook. My role in the family is largely to make staples – bread, biscuits, pizza, focaccia – during afternoons spent with the children. I enjoy the repetitiveness, the way it fills out time. It’s also a great help for the grocery budget, for such basics are where you can make the greater savings. Culture helps here in that the Italian cooking repertoire is all about stretching the food budget. What are even delicacies like ravioli or cappelletti but an elaborate device to make use of food scraps?
What you give up in exchange is time, or labour which is the same thing. My irritation at their use of social media folks as organic advertisers notwithstanding, I understand the attraction of My Food Bag – sort of. If I were the person in the household in charge of varying the diet, I might appreciate the parcels of food delivered to my door. Ultimately, however, I object to the transaction: it’s the convenience of having to cook yourself for the price of eating out. I am culturally conditioned to find this far too extravagant.
My own food bag plan would probably come down to six words: start buying flour in larger bags. Also: I’m not delivering that.
Lately I’ve started making fresh gnocchi, and I offer the procedure today to fulfil a pledge I made to fellow antiquarian blogger Ms Moreau, so all complaints should be directed to her. It’s a very budget-conscious preparation, as not only the ingredients are fantastically cheap but it requires virtually no equipment (chiefly: a pot, and fire). Just as importantly, gnocchi are very nice and children generally like them. You can even stuff vegetables in the gnocchi themselves, and the little blighters won’t suspect a thing.
Ingredients: four cups (500 g) or flour; two size 5 eggs; two teaspoons of salt; 1,300 grams of potatoes. This is actually a double batch, as it saves time to make two lots at once since the preparation is quite fiddly. Also: it may seem a bit odd but I actually put gnocchi straight in the freezer, rather than consuming them fresh – this helps with setting aside the time, and provides all-but-ready meals when needed since you just chuck them in boiling water anyway. There’s no need to thaw them out.
If you want to impress your friends, just halve the quantities and prepare on the day. The procedure is exactly the same.
First you put a pot of water on, then scrub your potatoes. Do it well, and it will save you from having to peel them later.
|What potatoes look like. Remember, this is the quantity for a double batch.|
|Yes, I own a camera|
Now, if you own a potato ricer, use that as it will separate the skin from the pulp. Otherwise, peel and mash. This is my heavy-duty ricer, sturdy enough to make mericonda.
Either way, you’ll end up with something like this.
This is the time to lay out the board or surface you plan to use, the remaining cup of flour and a lightly floured tray or plate that fits in your freezer. Get out a sharp knife and a fork as well. Your hands are about to get quite dirty.
Now mix the ingredients, first in the bowl, than on your working surface, until they form a soft, wet, slightly gelatinous ball. It’s really not very attractive.
Take a small ball of dough and place it on the working surface. What I do here – instead of incorporating flour into the dough at the start – is to add the remaining cup a little bit at a time while rolling the gnocchi out, as needed. This ensures I won’t add more than required to prevent them from sticking, as ideally you want to taste the potato more than the flour.
(But make sure you don’t skimp on the flour either. The first time Justine and I made gnocchi, back in Italy many years ago, they all stuck together into one giant glop.)
Roll the bit of dough out into a worm. Using a knife, cut the worm at regular intervals, roughly the width of a finger.
Using a fork, scour the square surface of each gnocco – where you made the cut – to give them the characteristic shape (it will provide folds for the sauce to cling to). Alternatively, you can use a special implement designed for this purpose. If you own one of those, please close this web page immediately.
Place the gnocchi on the floured tray or plate. Once full, move to the freezer for 20 minutes or so. As soon as the gnocchi have hardened, they will no longer stick together and you can put them in a plastic bag. In this state, they will keep in the freezer for a very long time and don’t take much room. The double batch should make two lots of roughly 800 grams each, good for two meals for 4 adults.
To cook, boil a pot of water, add salt, dunk in the gnocchi. When they come to the surface (it won’t take more than five minutes, even from frozen), they’re good to go.
Gnocchi are good with most sauces that go well with fresh pasta. Pictured is a basic butter and sage sauce. Even if you splash out for Parmigiano, it makes for a very cheap meal.
Alternative preparations: you can incorporate boiled seasonal vegetables into the dough. For instance you can make orange ones using pumpkin, or green ones using spinach. I’m told children enjoy this. What we did enjoy at school when I was a lad, and were served mushy gnocchi on Thursdays from the school canteen, was to carefully lick the tomato sauce off them one by one and put them back on the plate, thereby pretending that they came with no sauce to begin with. I couldn’t tell you why we found this funny but we did. Also, we still ate them afterwards.