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Truth be told, it’s sometimes hard to muster up the willingness to make dinner after a day of work. Sometimes, by the time I get home, the sky is dark, I am tired and all that beautiful daylight has just disappeared right out of the kitchen. Just picture me, madly cooking under fluorescent kitchen light, already starving and about to throw my spoon into the pot of sauce I’m making in frustration. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s nice to cook in the evening, maybe with friends under the glow of candlelight and some wine, some of my favourite evening memories were made like that. But oftentimes, I just want to get that meal cooked and on the table ASAP… or to hell with it, just order greasy, satisfying takeout.

But I’ve been trying to cook more, try more recipes, experiment, be curious in the kitchen, save money – all those good things, you know? So last night, I braved the kitchen and made some gnocchi, sauteed with spinach and then tossed in a simple tomato sauce. Now I’ve never made gnocchi before… but I have had disastrous experiences making pasta that was heavy and hard to swallow so understandably, I had my reservations. But what do you know? It wasn’t so bad. And really, that’s just the magic of getting my butt down to cooking at the end of the day (or getting my butt down to doing anything really)…I never have enough foresight to remind myself how good it feels to actually get it done (bonus if it actually works out in the end too.)

And if all else fails, there’s always takeout, isn’t there?

But back to the gnocchi – light and fluffy like little cloud pillows. So good and so worth a little extra effort in the kitchen, if you’re up to it, that is (you’re up to it, I just know it).

Here’s how it’s done:

Start out by boiling some Russet potatoes – just dunk them in a pot of salted boiling water. Once they’re done, you take the skin off (careful, really hot!) and put them through a potato ricer (my mom had one of these, I have no idea why!) or a grater (ala Deb) while they’re still hot. Then, you sprinkle a little egg and some flour and mix it in. 

The tip is to not be heavy handed with the flour. Sprinkle some on top and work it in every so lightly with the fingers. You don’t want to overflour the dough and you definitely don’t want to overwork or overknead it either. Once it’s come together, you’ll have a soft and still moist (but not sticky) ball of dough, you divide that up and roll each portion into a long log. Then cut the log into little pillows of fluffy goodness. 

You can totally leave them like this, or if you want to be fancy, you can make the traditional ridges on the gnocchi by putting them on the back or front of a fork and giving them a gentle but decisive roll, right off the fork. When you do this, the gnocchi will have little ridges on the back (indented by the fork) and will curl into a C shape. 

Then, boil them in a pot of salted water until they’re ready and all floating up to greet you in the pot and all.

To make the tomato sauce, you can start this while you’re boiling the potatoes actually, you cut up tomatoes (I like to use vine tomatoes since they’re sweeter and have a beautifully red) and sautee in a pan with some garlic. Just let it simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes and it’ll reduce to a beautiful red sauce. Add basil or coriander and salt and pepper.

When you’re ready to assemble, pop the spinach in the sauce until it wilts. Then, toss the gnocchi in the sauce and voila! Delicious, homemade dinner. 

Gnocchi Recipe
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

You’ll need:
2 pounds starchy potatoes (Russets)
1/4 cup egg, lightly beaten
I cup of unbleached all purpose flour
Fine grain sea salt

Tomato Sauce:
8 medium vine tomatoes, cubed
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Large bunch of spinach (optional)
Parmesan cheese, grated (to garnish, optional)

For the gnocchi:
Fill a large pot with cold water. Salt the water, then cut potatoes in half and place them in the pot. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender throughout, this takes roughly 40-50 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the water one at a time with a slotted spoon. Place each potato piece on a large cutting board and peel it before moving on to the next potato. Also, peel each potato as soon as possible after removing from the water (without burning yourself) – I’ve found a paring knife comes in handy here. Be mindful that you want to work relatively quickly so you can mash the potatoes when they are hot. To do this you can either push the potatoes through a ricer, or do what I do, deconstruct them one at a time on the cutting board using the tines of a fork – mash isn’t quite the right term here. I run the fork down the sides of the peeled potato creating a nice, fluffy potato base to work with (see photo). Don’t over-mash – you are simply after an even consistency with no noticable lumps.

Save the potato water.

Let the potatoes cool spread out across the cutting board – ten or fifteen minutes. Long enough that the egg won’t cook when it is incorporated into the potatoes. When you are ready, pull the potatoes into a soft mound – drizzle with the beaten egg and sprinkle 3/4 cup of the flour across the top. I’ve found that a metal spatula or large pastry scraper are both great utensils to use to incorporate the flour and eggs into the potatoes with the egg incorporated throughout – you can see the hint of yellow from the yolk. Scrape underneath and fold, scrape and fold until the mixture is a light crumble. Very gently, with a feathery touch knead the dough. This is also the point you can add more flour (a sprinkle at a time) if the dough is too tacky. I usually end up using most of the remaining 1/4 cup flour, but it all depends on the potatoes, the flour, the time of year, the weather, and whether the gnocchi gods are smiling on you. The dough should be moist but not sticky. It should feel almost billowy. Cut it into 8 pieces. Now gently roll each 1/8th of dough into a snake-shaped log, roughly the thickness of your thumb. Use a knife to cut pieces every 3/4-inch (see photo). Dust with a bit more flour.

To shape the gnocchi hold a fork in one hand (see photo) and place a gnocchi pillow against the tines of the fork, cut ends out. With confidence and an assertive (but light) touch, use your thumb and press in and down the length of the fork. The gnocchi should curl into a slight “C” shape, their backs will capture the impression of the tines as tiny ridges (good for catching sauce later). Set each gnocchi aside, dust with a bit more flour if needed, until you are ready to boil them. This step takes some practice, don’t get discouraged, once you get the hang of it it’s easy.

Now that you are on the final stretch, either reheat your potato water or start with a fresh pot (salted), and bring to a boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches by dropping them into the boiling water roughly twenty at a time. They will let you know when they are cooked because they will pop back up to the top. Fish them out of the water a few at a time with a slotted spoon ten seconds or so after they’ve surfaced.

For sauce:
Cook tomatoes and garlic on low/medium heat for about 20 minutes.
Add spinach, cook until wilted.
Add basil or coriander and salt and pepper to taste.

Toss gnocchi in sauce and garnish with parmesan cheese. Serve and enjoy!
Serves six.