In my world, gnocchi are luscious little dumplings of potato, egg, and flour that get boiled and mixed with any number of sauces and accompaniments. I have been re-educated. Apparently, gnocchi pop up in a variety of incarnations dependent on the region of Italy you happen to be in. Last night for dinner we had Gnocchi a la Romana, the second recipe tested from the Todd English cookbook, The Figs Table: More Than 100 Recipes for Pizzas, Pastas, Salads, and Desserts .
If any of you have ever made potato gnocchi before, you know that it can be a bit tedious and the results can occasionally be described as “gummy” instead of the aforementioned “luscious”. I won’t call them fool-proof, but these gnocchi, made from semolina boiled in milk and augmented with cream and parmesan cheese were comparatively simple to put together. After cooking the semolina (a process not unlike cooking polenta, if you’ve ever done that), it was spread out in a greased glass dish and allowed to solidify in the refrigerator for about an hour. After that, I used a 1 ½" biscuit cutter to cut rounds from the solidified dough . (The recipe advised to cut out 12 rounds, but the size biscuit cutter I’d have needed for that would’ve made really huge gnocchi, so I diverged from the recipe here and cut 23 rounds with my smallest cutter). Because I can’t seem to help myself, I nibbled on a few of the scraps, just to see how things turned out. Pillowy, hearty, sensuous and smooth are all words I would’ve used to describe the semolina gnocchi dough. (I saved the scraps in hopes that I could come up with some clever way to enjoy them later.)
The base of the dish consisted of sauted thinly sliced savoy cabbage with ham and onions and garlic that was then boiled in chicken stock to soften. This was spread across a baking dish and then topped with the gnocchi. The gnocchi were then sprinkled with blue cheese (I used Oregonzola – which is really delicious), some more parmesan, some more cream, and then salt and pepper. The instructions were unclear at this point, telling me to simply bake it for 15 minutes without any indication of temperature or oven rack placement. I baked it in the center of the oven at 400F for about 15 minutes, then broiled it for a minute or two to brown the cheese a bit, and that seemed to work out really well.
The dish was fantastic. Believe it or not, the cheeses did not overpower that wonderful semolina gnocchi, and the cabbage provided a nice crunchy, mildly salty (with the ham) counter to the creamy goodness of the gnocchi and cheese. Though there were lots of steps in preparing this recipe, I didn’t find it to be overly complicated. And with the most expensive ingredients being the two cheeses, I would count this as a very economical dinner as well. If you’re keeping track, the Figs cookbook is now two for two (as least by my scoring). I’ll likely try another recipe or two over the next couple weeks, so if you’re interested, please check back in. If you’re prepared your own recipes from this book, thumbs up or thumbs down, let us know! The Internet is curious about your cooking experiences.