Saturday, January 29, 2011

No Famine Here

A wise woman said to me recently that as along as you have a bag of spuds in the house you'll never go hungry. Oh, how I can identify with that statement; in the lean, mean month of January the big bag of taters in the kitchen has come to my very hungry rescue on more than one occasion. Baked potatoes made a fine meal alongside the chilli that I had stashed in the freezer; when I had thoughts of impending hunger I popped a baking tray of hastily-chopped chips in the oven to stave off that state of slightly manic stupidity in between meals; and spiced-up spuds proved a very worthy sidekick to chana masala. But how has it happened that I have trundled through the month chowing down on spuds left, right and centre and managed to neglect the miniature dumplings of potatoey brilliance that are gnocci? It's a mystery to me, but I rectified the situation last Thursday evening, spurred on by the fact that a 12.5 mile run that morning required some major re-fuelling throughout the day.  

I have no idea where or when I first tasted gnocci, but it was without a doubt love at first bite. Those Italians, they know how to create a mealtime equation that marries all the elements in a thoroughly satisfying manner. The balance of carbs, veggies and meat somehow just comes together in Italian cooking, an effortless mix of complementary ingredients. Gnocci have a pleasing density that makes them even more filling than pasta, and since they have a serious stodge factor I like to keep it vegetarian when having them for dinner. Having done my grocery shopping in Superquinn at the weekend with a view to feeding myself for the entire week without a return visit, I was nearing the end of my kitchen supplies, and had some bits and bobs that needed using up. With parmesan, pine nuts and a little basil to spare - well, what else was it ever going to be?! Only, since I have never tried it before, and since I didn't have that much basil, I decided to make my pesto a sundried tomatoey one. I balked at the price of them in SQ, and hunted some down at half the price in Lidl.

There was also half a bag of spinach in the fridge, and I steamed this in a colander over a pot of boiling water before cracking into the gnocci; they cook so quickly that I didn't want to have them hanging around getting cold while I was waiting to prepare the rest of the dish.

Gnocci exemplify the simple beauty of Italian cooking; a couple of ingredients, a modest amount of time, an immense amount of taste and satisfaction. The spuds to flour ratio is 4:1. Here, I used 200g potatoes and 50g plain white flour. There are debates pro- and anti-the inclusion of egg. I left it out this time, but only because there were none in the fridge. I added a little extra flour instead, but to be honest I would prefer them with the addition of the egg. 

Mashed together, they combine to perform the deliciousness that is gnocci. The dough is rolled up into sausages, chopped into chunks and then furrowed a little with a fork so as to allow sauce to stick.

I had been an environmentally-conscious little bunny and kept the water that I boiled the potatoes in to cook the gnocci. They really do cook in a jiffy, which is why it's good to have everything else to make your meal on standby before you pop them in the pot. It's a speedy and simple matter of putting them into the boiling water, waiting until they pop up to the surface, giving them about ten seconds there and hey pres-tato, you have yourself some homemade gnocci. Whirled together with my sundried tomato pesto and steamed spinach, I felt myself very adequately rewarded for my almost-half-marathon that morning.

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