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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007 11:49 pm

Gnocchi and summer insanity

ItÂ’ll make you do crazy things

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Untitled Document Just the idea of a baked potato in the middle of summer makes me sweat. There are so many greener, leafier dinner choices at this time of year that keep the oven dial in its proper “off” position. What would possess someone to turn the house into a sauna just for a couple of baked spuds? Blame it on gnocchi. It’ll make you do crazy things. First, let’s get the pronunciation lesson out of the way: “nyo-kee.” There you go. It’s an Italian dumpling, and here’s the deal: You bake the spuds and then scoop out the insides. Then, with a hand-cranked food mill, you gently purée the tater flesh, which gives it a silky-smooth texture, a key component to feathery gnocchi.
First-timers, this cook included, make the mistake of using too much flour and handling the dough like bread. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know the error of your gnocchi fondling until it’s dinnertime, and, baby, if it’s overworked, there’s no way to run and hide. Pencil erasers come to mind. Instead, think of the process as one big whisper, or, if you prefer a dance analogy, something Martha Graham, with gentle gliding motions and swaying of arms. It’s a dance, and it’s quick, but it must be gentle to yield the desired delicate results. Summer gnocchi begs for basil pesto, which is a traditional accompaniment in Liguria, but a light marinara sauce of vine-ripened tomatoes that are slightly warmed would be a respectable stand-in. Warning: This is not a weeknight dish — unless you’re really crazy.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Potato Gnocchi Adapted from the blog “In Praise of Sardines” (www.inpraiseofsardines.com)
Two or three medium baking potatoes, such as russet or    Idaho, that are higher in starch and lower in    water content 1 teaspoon salt Pinch of grated nutmeg (optional) 3/4 cup all-purpose flour One large egg, beaten Black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes and, with a fork, prick all over the exteriors. Bake potatoes until fork-tender, about an hour and 15 minutes. Place potatoes on counter and, with a knife, slice in half lengthwise to allow steam to escape. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place it in a bowl. Pass the potatoes through a food mill or ricer until you have 2 cups’ worth of purée. Place the purée on a baking sheet and allow it to cool completely. When cool, place the potato purée in a mixing bowl and add salt, nutmeg (if using), flour, and beaten egg. Mix very gently, using a fork or (lightly) your hands. Mix just until combined and turn dough out onto a floured work surface.
Cut dough into four sections, working with one at a time. Cover the remaining three pieces with a dishtowel. Roll the dough into a cigar shape, 6 to 8 inches long. Cut into six to eight pieces and place them on a lightly floured baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough the same way. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. When water just begins to boil, add salt and then add eight gnocchi at a time, cooking somewhere between an active simmer and a boil. In about two minutes, gnocchi will rise to the top. With a slotted spoon, remove gnocchi and place them in a covered bowl. Add sauce of choice and gently stir; serve immediately. Serves about three people.
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