Sunday, September 18, 2016

Potato Gnocchi with Late Summer Vegetables

One of the more frequent blog-related questions I get asked is: "how do you feel about shortcuts?". You know what I'm talking about... Cream of mushroom soup as a base, frozen casseroles, boxed cake mixes, or powdered potatoes. As much as I believe there is a time and place for these time savers (you can pry my boxes of Kraft Dinner from my cold, dead hands!), I feel that if you have the patience and just a few minutes, you can make so many convenience foods from scratch. In most cases, the "real" thing takes only a step or two longer than the short cut.

Take, for example, gnocchi; pillowy, bite-sized pasta that is easily found in the frozen foods section of any grocery store. Or, that's at least how I always found them. I wouldn't ever imagine making these impressive little bites fresh at home, that is, until my husband did just that.... And they were delicious! And easy! My husband went from cutting board to plate, in under 20 minutes with this potato gnocchi. To say I was impressed is an understatement!

With a couple of experiments, and a few seasonal ingredients for the sauce, this Potato Gnocchi with Late Summer Vegetables is a perfect dish for the time-constrained, but gourmet minded home cook. Soft potato pasta is smothered with a sauce of blistered tomatoes, shallots, basil and fresh corn. You'll never want to buy frozen gnocchi again after making these!

Potato Gnocchi with Late Summer Vegetables
makes 4-6 servings

1 lb (about 2 medium) Idaho potatoes
10 ounces (1 pack) of cherry tomatoes, halved
4 ounces of mushrooms, sliced (I like to use a variety of types)
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 large ear of fresh corn, cut from the cob
1 large handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 egg
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

** Important Note: there are two ways to go about this recipe. The first is you can boil all the gnocchi and fry in several batches, reserve, and then toss in the sauce once it's done. The second way is to work the gnocchi in batches and add the sauce to the pan in smaller portions to finish. Since I have a large family who hate to wait for their supper, I tend to do all the gnocchi separately, and then toss them with the finished sauce at the end. **

First, wash & dry your potatoes and prick several times with a fork. Place into a microwave safe bowl with enough water to cover the bottom of the bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes (for a 1200w microwave), or until cooked through. Peel (you can do this with a paper towel once the potato is cooked), and reserve.

While cooking the potatoes, set a large pot of salted water to boil (for the pasta).

Wash and dry your tomatoes, mushrooms, and herbs. Halve your tomatoes, slice the mushrooms, corn, and herbs. Set aside.

To start the pasta:

Once your cooked and peeled potatoes have cooled slightly, use a potato ricer (looks like a giant garlic press) on a 'fine' setting, and 'rice' the potatoes onto a large floured board. (If you don't have a potato ricer handy, mash them really well with a potato masher).

Sift 3/4 cup of flour over the pile of potatoes. Lightly beat an egg (in a bowl). Next, make a small well (hole) in the potato & flour mixture on your board, making sure to leave a layer of potatoes at the bottom. Pour your egg and the leaves of one large sprig of fresh thyme into the well. Give a generous pinch of salt (about 1 tsp) to the well as well as a few cracks of black pepper.

Now, gently fold the sides and front of the pile towards the center and then knead with the heel of your hand. Lift the sides of the squashed dough again, and repeat the above until just combined. You should have a loose dough (not too shiny or tacky). Do not over work your gnocchi dough!

Take a piece of your dough, and gently roll out a long snake, about the width of your index finger. Using a sharp knife, cut 1 inch sections. Indent the middle of each pasta with your fingertip (this lets it hold a bit of sauce), and transfer to a large plate. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Reserve until boiling.

To start the sauce:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Heat until foaming.

Add in your garlic and minced shallots. Cook while stirring, until fragrant but not browned. The shallot should soften slightly.

Next, add your mushrooms and season with a light pinch of salt, pepper and the leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme. Stirring often, allow the mushrooms to cook down and brown slightly. Add your tomatoes and allow to cook until softened and slightly blistered (two or three minutes). While the tomatoes are cooking down, continue with the pasta as below.

To finish the pasta:

Heat another large pan with 1 tablespoon of butter, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat.

Drop your pasta into your already boiling water. They will sink. Give the pot a little shake to make sure the gnocchi doesn't stick to the bottom, and allow to cook until they float (less than 2 min). Using a small strainer, lift the pasta from the water, give a little shake to drain, and place directly into the heated skillet, for about two minutes, or until golden, then flip over. Cook until golden on the second side (another minute or two)

To finish the sauce:

Once the gnocchi are in the frying pan getting toasted, add the corn, basil, and a squeeze of lemon juice to the sauce. Give a quick stir and taste. Adjust the seasoning if desired.

Add the finished gnocchi to the sauce and give a quick toss.

Immediately serve with a grate of fresh Parmesan on top.

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