Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My fucking food bag: fresh gnocchi with a sauce of some kind

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.
Put the potatoes in the pot as soon as the water starts boiling. The time taken here depends on the age and type of the potatoes (older, floury ones require less boiling). Test the consistency of the biggest potato with a knife, which should find very little resistance. In the meantime, you will have mixed three cups of flour with the salt, and added the eggs.

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 four adults. Or eight meals for one adult. You see how this works.

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.


Deborah said...

I make gnocchi from time to time. I learned how to do it from my father, who does in fact use a special implement for rolling gnocchi - my mother's butter paddles which she used to use for making pats of butter from the butter she made herself.

Ray said...

I always peel the potatoes before they are cooked
Better flavour your way?
Will I need to do taste trials or does someone know the answer

Giovanni Tiso said...

If you have potatoes of very different sizes, if you peel them before boiling them what will likely happen is that by the time the big ones have cooked on the inside, the small ones would have fallen apart with grievous loss of flesh.

Marie said...

My daughter Grace is a champion gnocchi-maker. She showed me how to make kumara gnocchi by peeling and roasting the kumara first and then gutting them for the gnocchi; allowing us to eat the chewy outsides as a snack. Boiling the kumara makes them too watery.

Jono said...

Ha! last week we ran short of spuds and my wife made gnocchi with beauregard kumara. The kids, who despise kumara but love mum's homemade gnocchi, inhaled it and didnt notice the difference.

Elisabeth said...

Ray, I've always peeled them first too, and cut them into even-sized chunks so they cook at the same rate. But I'm following the recipe as written, so I guess I'll get to see the difference this evening (not that I've ever made gnocchi before).

LearnCanterbury said...

Definitely going to try this. Thanks.

Heatherbelle said...

This is enormously informative and I'm going to try it! It's even clearer than Marcella Hazan's instructions and considerably more good-humoured (I don't think she has a sense of humour).
My Food Bag strikes me as a total ripoff too.

Unknown said...

Definitely use Agria potatoes, boiled whole to minimise water absorption. And the Umbrian way is to press each gnocco with your thumb - we don't make grooves. And the sauce is often a rich pesto of basil and olive oil.