August 8, 2010

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Morels, Peas, and Corn

Many people are intimidated by the idea of making pasta, and it is certainly difficult without a pasta maker. But if you don't feel like spending $70, you can make some excellent gnocchi with the most common kitchen accessories. If you have flour, a potato, a cheese grater, and a knife, you can make the tasty little dumplings with minimal effort. We do, in fact, have a pasta maker - a gift from Michael's parents (Michael was at first disappointed as he felt that this was a gift really more for Amanda - but he soon came to appreciate the delicious results, and is in fact now the primary dough maker in our household). But making gnocchi is a lot of fun - in fact, it's a lot like playing with play-doh - and sometimes we just want to keep it simpler and play around with potatoes and flour.

Since it's summer, this recipe calls for yummy summer seasonals of corn, peas, and morel mushrooms. If you can't find morels in your area, or they're just outrageously expensive (Amanda's dad reports that the cheapest morels he can find in North Carolina are on sale at $40 a pound! We are lucky to get them here for $12, but we try not to taunt him with our good mushroom fortune), any of your favorite mushrooms will work.

Here's what you'll need to feed four people:

- 1 pound of white potatoes, or any other non-starchy boiling potato
- 1 cup of flour
- 4 tablespoons of butter (half stick)
- A few leaves of sage
- 1 large ear of corn
- 1/2 pound of morels (or any other mushrooms)
- 1 pound of fresh peas in their pods
- Olive oil
- Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste

Prepare the gnocchi (We learned from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, and have tweaked our recipe and technique slightly)
Boil potatoes with their skins on for 30 minutes, or until soft all the way through. Drain and let cool (unless you feel like burning your fingers, which we sometimes do if we're in a hurry. We have to build up callouses on our fingers like real chefs, after all.) Grate the potato using the smallest holes on a cheese grater, or using a food mill. Put the potato out on a lightly floured surface (a countertop will do). Add the flour, a half cup at a time, mixing and kneading the dough with your hands. When the dough feels smooth and slightly sticky, it's ready (you can add a little bit more flour if you don't get this texture). Divide the dough in two and, making sure that your surface is well floured, roll each ball out into a long snake of about a three quarter inch diameter (see? Didn't we say it was like play-doh?). Then use a sharp knife to cut the snake into pieces (about an inch long).

Prepare the vegetables
- Peas: Boil the peas in water for five minutes, then drain and set aside.
- Corn: Dry roast the corn (a delicious cooking tip we got from Mark Miller's Taco book): Slice corn off the cob. Put the corn in a pan over medium high heat (no oil or butter - trust us on this one). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kernels of corn start to turn brown and emit a delicious smell.
- Morels: First soak them in water with a little salt to get any dirt out of their little crevices. Slice and saute over medium high heat in a little butter or oil. Cook until slightly browned.

Make brown butter
In a small saucepan, melt four tablespoons of butter over medium heat. The butter will start to foam, then you will see the solids separating out. Stir frequently until those solids start to brown (you can see this process happening but the easiest way to tell is the smell - you will immediately notice a delicious nutty smell coming out of the pan).

Put it all together
Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the gnocchi. They are ready one minute after they float to the top.

Heat some olive oil over medium-low heat in a sauce pan; when the oil is hot, add the gnocchi and sage and cook until the gnocchi begin to brown on the outside. Add the brown butter, peas, corn, and mushrooms, and stir until everything is hot. Add parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste, and serve!

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