Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Potato Gnocchi Caprese

Seemingly out of the blue, I found myself with a craving for gnocchi a few weeks ago. Maybe it was the stress of final exams pushing me to consume nothing but carbs or that calm, nearly sedated feeling that arrives shortly after doing so. Either way I got to googling on how to make light-as-air gnocchi without a potato ricer or mill. Turns out there is a method using a fork, which I will detail in the instruction portion of the recipe. I reduced the flour a bit from the original since that's the key to keeping them light and fluffy. They didn't shape nearly as pretty as what you buy in the store, but they were much cheaper to make and tasted better.

As far as the caprese bit, it's a dish that's always befuddled me -- maybe that's because raw tomatoes skeeze me out. I don't know what it is, but something about the smell and texture of raw tomatoes drives me away almost as fast as green peppers. I had to make a dish for a class potluck and wanted to go with a balsamic salad of some sort and caprese was easy to make and transport. However, when I make something for a group, I don't scrimp. I cook to impress. So I got to thinking, how can I turn a caprese salad into something remarkable?

When I make a salad designed for sustenance, sometimes I put some hot pasta over the top to wilt the lettuce a bit and add some protein and carbs (whole wheat pasta has improved remarkably in the last few years, I must admit). That's where the thought of the gnocchi came in. The rest seemed to follow suit and the dish was a major hit at the potluck. Even if you've never made gnocchi before, with the right touch it can be done well the first time.

To make gnocchi:

2 lbs potatoes
2 eggs
dash of salt
3/4c whole wheat flour

Boil the potatoes until tender. Using gloves or some sort of protection from the heat, peel the potatoes while they're still hot. Take a fork and holding the potato in your left hand (if you're right handed) use your right to score the side of the potato. It should result in what I can only describe as soft crumbles; it should resemble streusel to an extent. Once you finish crumbing all of the potatoes, add the eggs and remaining ingredients. Mix gently until the dough is nonsticky enough to be handled, try not to overmix. Take small handfuls, roll them into snakes and chop into "1 sections. Set them aside and repeat until you don't have any potato dough left. Boil a large pot of water and add about a teaspoon of salt, throw in the gnocchis 10 or so at a time and let them cook for 2-3 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. One thing I can't emphasize enough is not to overcook, otherwise you'll just have mushy potato water.

For the caprese:

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp high quality extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 whole sundried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil and finely chopped(don't use dried)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 cup crumbled sheep's feta
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (to toss with gnocchi)
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 cups fresh greens salad

Put the salad in a large bowl or plate and drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and top the salad with the crumbled sheep's feta. Add the rest of the ingredients to the gnocchi and toss gently, making sure to coat each dumpling evenly. Scoop the gnocchi mixture on top of the salad and serve warm.

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