whole wheat gnocchi with pesto and asparagus/green beans

One of the many benefits of living in Italy as a young adult was the early acquaintance with many terrific Italian foods that were virtually unknown to the American public during the last century. dr bob learned about gnocchi quickly on his first extended visit to the heart of Italy where a longstanding tradition in and around Rome has been the sale of freshly made gnocchi for the weekend on Thursdays [giovedi—gnocchi!]. Nowadays with increasing effectiveness, the public TV food shows and the Food Network cable TV channel itself have done an incredible job in spreading the good news here in the USA.

Authentic Italian cuisine has many pop stars now, from Mario Batali to Giada de Laurentiis, both of whom we highly respect, but let's face it, who can compete with the reigning face of the quintessential Italian mom in the kitchen: Lidia Bastianich, or just Lidia for short, since she seems to be the first celebrity to be able to claim this one name as sufficient for identification, fortunate since it is difficult to remember how to spell her family name. She exudes real family values, patience and love, but most of all exquisite good taste. After buying her first TV series book for the mother-in-law, who actually finds the time to watch her show frequently, we bought the second one after viewing her show on pesto gnocchi and nudi.

Pesto as we have learned, already has a natural affinity for potatoes and green beans, so potato gnocchi in place of the pasta is an easy stretch. The combination is a super comfort food that can be made from scratch in an almost reasonable amount of time, but if time is short, you can just use store-bought gnocchi of good quality. On our road trip to the gnocchi party we forgot to pack our homemade pesto sauce, frozen in the freezer without the cheese, so we stopped at Trader Joe's on the way and picked up his generic stuff together with a bag of frozen asparagus tips and cuts, bypassing the problem of the stringy ends of the asparagus stems. Everyone was hungry so we had to cool down the riced potatoes on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes to hurry up the process. With three pairs of hands making the gnocchi, it did not take long to get them ready for the stovetop. With the slightly delayed dinner, the appetite effect accentuated the impact factor of the finished dish. Six hungry adults. Not a single gnoccho remained standing.

ingredients

gnocchi
1 1/2 lbs baking potatoes (we got 4 big ones but forgot to weigh them)
3/4 t salt
1 large egg, beaten well
3/4-1 c all-purpose flour sifted together with 3/4-1 c whole wheat flour.
sauce
1 c pesto sauce (we used a 6.7oz = 190g jar)
about 3/4 lb asparagus or green beans angle cut into 1 inch lengths
optional 4 T butter, melted (we missed this step)
1/2 c freshly grated parmigiano plus enough for each serving.

instructions

  1. Boil your cleaned potatoes with or without skins. We tried to do them whole with skins, but impatiently waiting for a late dinner, tried to cut them up in quarters when they were taking so long. Remove skins when done, if still present.
  2. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer onto a cookie sheet, spreading them out evenly and sprinkling with the salt. Let cool and dry at least 20 minutes, or jam in the freezer if you can for half that time. Ours is a narrow side-by-side, so this was only possible at the in-laws.
  3. Sift your two flours together. Beat an egg.
  4. Dump the potatoes into a large bowl, pour the egg over them and then dump a cup of flour mixture on top.
  5. Get your hands into the stuff, and knead it all together, adding a little flour at a time until the dough seems to hang together, but don't add too much flour or the result will be dry and heavy.
  6. Cut off small chunks, about 10 altogether, and roll it between your hands to form it into an elongated blob, then use both hands to roll it on your floured wood cutting board back and forth to elongate it until it is roughly 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut with a sharp knife into 2/3 inch lengths.
  7. Place each gnoccho cut side down on a fork and roll it off the fork with your thumb to round it while imprinting it with ridges. Fake it. They don't have to be pretty. Practice makes not perfect but at least improved results.
  8. Prepare the boiling water.
  9. Cook the asparagus/green beans, frozen is allowed.
  10. Cook the gnocchi. Place them in batches into the boiling water. Don't crowd them too much. They are done when they rise to the surface. Use a big circular spoon full of holes to remove the ones from the surface that are done, adding new ones to eventually take their place. Place the done gnocchi in a big warmed pasta bowl, with optional melted butter.
  11. Stir in the slightly warmed pesto sauce and combine with the asparagus/green beans and parmigiano.
  12. Serve immediately, with additional grated parmigiano on each serving and optional freshly grated black pepper.

notes

  1. Our first gnocchi literary experience, sauce only, last century.
  2. Lidia's Italy.
  3. Lidia's Family Table: potato gnocchi, pages 210-212.
  4. Illustrations available.
gnocchipesto.htm: 14-nov-2006 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]