I have a pretty clear, likely obsessive, memory for food. Most of my memories are either associated with eating or making food. This is particularly true for foods that I would consider remarkable in some way or form; those foods that I consider to be in my repertoire of favorites or those important to my family history. Gnocchi is one of those that qualifies as meeting both criteria. It is by far one of my most preferred dishes as well as one that is important to my Italian roots. If gnocchi is on the menu, I will order it – no exceptions (except if it is slathered in cream sauce).
When I think of gnocchi, I think of Vince’s – the candy dispenser in the lobby; the dim lighting that makes you feel like you are on some kind of romantic date (except that fact that you are actually with you parents, grandparents, brother, and cousin); the plastic checkered red and white table cloths and plastic red booths that squeak as you slither in; the cheesy Italian memorabilia and statues scattered about; the foil wrapped pats of room temperature butter; short and crisp breadsticks wrapped in plastic; and huge murals of Italian coastal villages lining the walls. Each meal is served in courses, starting with small cups of steaming minestrone or iceberg lettuce salads with salami, cubed cheese and a tangy Italian vinaigrette or blue cheese, if that’s your kind of thing-your choice. Next, a decently sized plate of pasta paired with a glass of mediocre Chianti (grandpa’s go-to), followed by Profittaroli, cream puffs filled with whipped cream and topped with a rich chocolate sauce (i.e., simple ecstasy). However, don’t let me fool you – this place is by no means five star or Michelin star caliber, three stars at best on Yelp. But for some reason, God help me, it sure tasted like the best. It was a neighborhood, family – owned restaurant in Burien, WA, near my grandparent’s home. In some ways, it almost felt like a second home – it was “our place”.
My family spent many casual outings there as well as celebrations, birthdays-you name it. My first beloved dish was the simple penne marinara with a good helping of grated Parmesan cheese from one of those glass cheese dispensers with the metal top you find at Cash & Carry and other restaurant supply stores. I eventually moved on to the gnocchi with pesto (sans cream) which started off as my grandmother’s usual order, however, hers included the cream. This was the start of my love affair with gnocchi, and specifically, gnocchi pesto. I would still argue that Vince’s makes the best. I loved the plumpness of their potato dumplings – large, oval, full, and blanketed with an oily pesto sauce and topped again with a good helping of Parmesan. The gnocchi was served in ceramic oblong dishes with handles on the ends. It was stuffed full of the dumplings and piping hot. I ate every last bit of the gnocchi without sharing even a taste.
Despite my love for gnocchi, I don’t recall making gnocchi growing up which is quite surprising since my family talks about it frequently and made homemade pasta on a regular basis. I didn’t begin making gnocchi until I was in college, living in a crowded on-campus apartment with a dingy galley kitchen. My first attempt was with my now-husband, then-boyfriend based off a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis. While it was quite rewarding to produce on our own, I recall purchasing the air-packed gnocchi (usually shipped from Italy) from the supermarket more often or not, and topping it with some homemade pesto. We’ve played with several recipes over the years but have never found a truly dependable one worth sharing. And it doesn’t help that I can’t eat gluten anymore which is in most gnocchi. However, a couple weeks ago, I came across a lovely recipe for sweet potato gnocchi that I knew i needed to try. This recipe consists of a mere five ingredients, is gluten-free, and takes about 15-20 minutes at most to throw together. These gnocchi are light and pillowy, stay together when boiled, and taste absolutely wonderful. After making the gnocchi, I boiled them and let them cool in the fridge for about five minutes. Then, I tossed the dumplings in a large skillet with some olive oil, garlic, a bit of homemade bone broth, and fresh sage until they were nice and crispy on the outside. The next week, I made some additions using the same basic gnocchi recipe to create an entirely different dish based off a meal my husband recently experienced at Il Corvo, an inspiring little hole in the wall restaurant in Pioneer Square that serves handmade pasta that is literally out of this world. For this dish, I made a double batch of the gnocchi above, substituting Yukon gold potatoes for the sweet potatoes, and topped them with olive oil garlic, pancetta, and sliced cabbage. Let’s just say, it was kind of out of this world as well.
Gnocchi with Pancetta and Cabbage
Based off a recipe from Il Corvo
1 cup + 4 tablespoons of mashed & smooth, Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 cup sweet white sorghum (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon almond flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon tapioca starch
heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, minced
6-8 ounces thinly sliced or cubed good quality pancetta
1/2 head thinly sliced red or green cabbage
3-4 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid
Roast the potatoes until soft (or cook them in the microwave for approximately 10-12 minutes which is what I did).Let the potatoes cool slightly, removed the skin, mash them until smooth. Whisk the flours, starch and salt together. Put the mashed potato in a large bowl and gradually add the flour mixture. Lightly kneed it with your hands until the flour is entirely incorporated. Form the dough into one ball. The mixture should not be too sticky. If it is, add another tablespoon of almond flour and 1/2 tablespoon tapioca starch. However, this hasn’t been necessary for me.
Dust a clean surface with the sorghum flour and pull off small pieces of dough. Knead thedough a bit in your hands so it becomes a bit more elastic and then roll out each piece with your hands & fingers until you create a snake-like piece about 1/2 inch wide. Then with a knife cut individual gnocchi, about 1 inch long (or smaller, if preferred). Press the tines of your fork lightly into each piece to make indents that will absorb the sauce. Repeat for each piece of dough. Coat the surface lightly with more of the flour mix so it doesn’t stick when you cut it.
Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a slow boil and pour in about a quarter of the gnocchi. Wait a couple of minutes (2-3 minute) until they begin to float to the top, then remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and lay on a cutting board. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi until you’ve used about half the gnocchi; freeze the rest for another meal. Reserve a few tablespoons of cooking liquid for the sauce. Put the cooked gnocchi in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. Next, add olive oil to a skillet. Add the pancetta and garlic, and sauté until they start to turn brown. Add the cabbage and reserved cooking water and sauté for 5-6 minutes. Gently toss the gnocchi with the sauce and serve with a dusting of fresh Parmesan cheese and hot pepper flakes, if desired, but not necessary.