Home on the Range
May 27, 2012
Gnocchi share much with their cousins, the pastas, yet retain a unique heritage: rolled from potatoes; hunched into dumplings; and led by that silent "g" cozied up to the "n."
A burden few words share. The gnome is used to the role of odd. He spends his days hunched underground, guarding treasure. Perhaps gnocchi.
Now and then the gnome may emerge, gnar at some woodland creature — a grazing gnu or fluttering gnatcatcher — and settle on a tree knot, or gnarl. The very gnarl that lends its bumpy character to gnarled and gnarly. And gnocchi. The rolled and grooved little lumps would never be named after a striated rock, like the gneiss, or sharp shape, like the gnomon.
The gnome gnashes at a passing gnat. He gnaws on gnocchi, thinking that gnawing is gnathic work — all jaw.
Gnome is also a phrase, tried and true. Strangely, the gnomic canon contains few aphorisms dedicated to gnocchi.
The Gnostic, adherent of Gnosticism, aspires to gnosis — capturing truth. His discipline compels him to seek the divine, to eschew the demiurge.
But the gnome, at least the gnocchi-noshing gnome, happily submits to the demiurge, even the full urge, to heap his platter with gnocchi. Why not? The potato dumplings, boiled tender, toasted in brown butter and sizzled with sage, are divine. And valuable. Without gnocchi, what would happen to Italy, and its GNP?
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 2 minutes
Serves: 4 as a first course
1 large (3/4 pound) Russet potato, not peeled
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
About ½ cup flour
4 tablespoons butter
8 sage leaves, slivered
Scrub potato and poke several times with a fork. Set directly on the rack of a 400-degree oven and bake until tender when poked, about 45 minutes, or zap until tender, about 10 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, press through a potato ricer onto a work surface. Let cool until no longer steaming.
Whisk together egg, nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Pour egg mixture over riced potato and stir very gently with a fork, just to combine. Sprinkle on about 1/3 cup flour and continue to mix very gently and sparingly with fork or fingers until a soft dough forms.
Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pinch off a bit of dough and drop it in. If it holds its shape, you're good to go. If it falls apart, add a little more flour to the dough.
Divide dough in two. On a floured surface, roll each portion into a ½-inch thick rope. Slice crosswise into ½-inch segments.
Flip a fork over. Roll each gnocchi down the back of the fork, pressing lightly, to imprint grooves. Not absolutely necessary, but what's the point of gnocchi if not looking adorable?
Drop gnocchi into boiling water in 2 batches. Gnocchi will sink. Then, in about 1 minute, float. Wait 10 seconds. Scoop out gnocchi with a slotted spoon and drain on a clean kitchen towel.
Heat butter over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. It will melt, then brown. Add sage, sizzle 1 minute. Add cooked gnocchi and toast, tossing gently until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Enjoy as an appetizer or scatter on an arugula salad as surprising croutons.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at email@example.com.