Thursday, March 14, 2013

Potato Gnocchi with Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The summer after my junior year, by some miracle, I ended up living alone for about a month and a half. I've liked having roommates in the past, but there's something to be said for living alone. For one thing, I could cook big, elaborate meals without worrying about the equally big, elaborate messes they left in the kitchen. That same summer Michael was studying abroad, giving me yet another reason to test out some more involved recipes. If one was a flop, I was the only one who would have to eat the failed dish.

I've forgotten most of the dishes I made during that time living alone and free of culinary inhibitions. But there is one dish that has stuck in my mind. When I made it that summer, it was a roaring success. So much so that I tried to make it again once Michael came home from Europe. Unfortunately, the second time I made it, it was a disaster. The dish was Potato Gnocchi with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce from College Vegetarian Cooking by Megan and Jill Carle.

Feeling daring (and having a ten pound bag of potatoes to use up), I decided to give these gnocchi one more shot. I hoped that this time I could figure out where I went wrong the second time. This is actually a fairly easy recipe but it's very time-consuming. This is not a fix-it-and-forget-it kind of meal. You could definitely short-cut it by buying jarred roasted red peppers for the sauce and/or already prepared gnocchi. But it's not only much cheaper to make those things yourself, it also tastes about a million times better. Roasting the peppers on my gas stove was a little intimidating at first (let's just say I had the fire extinguisher close by), but with a good pair of tongs it's pretty easy once you get the hang of things.

There are two keys to making gnocchi that are not too heavy. First, you do not want to go crazy when you mash/rice/grate the potatoes. Ricing is the best route to go but if you don't have a ricer you can grate or mash them. Grating produces better results than mashing but is a lot messier. The point is, you want to break up the potatoes without breaking too many of the individual starch granules. If you break too many, your dough will stay sticky no matter how much flour you add (this was the problem that second, disastrous time I made this dish). If your gnocchi don't float after you boil them for about two minutes, your dough has too much flour and the gnocchi will be too dense. But don't fear, even if you do mess up the gnocchi, this sauce would be delicious on top of regular pasta.

Potato Gnocchi with Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Adapted from College Vegetarian Cooking by Jill and Megan Carle
Serves 4-6

2 lbs russet potatoes 
1 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Begin by poking holes in your potatoes with a fork and baking them at 400 degrees until they are soft all the way through (about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how large they are). Remove the potatoes from the oven and rice, mash, or grate them while they are still hot. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, salt, and egg yolks. Add the flour a small amount at a time, just until the dough holds together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about a minute. If your dough seems too sticky, add a little extra flour. 

Divide the dough into eight pieces. Take one piece and roll it out into a 1/2 inch thick rope. Cut the rope into pieces that are about an inch long. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches (about 1/8th of the total in each batch) for 2 minutes AFTER they float to the surface. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make the gnocchi up to six hours in advance. 

4 red bell peppers
2 onions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 tbsp canola oil
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the red peppers by placing them directly on top of your gas burner. Turn them occasionally and cook until the skin is black and the peppers are soft. If you don't have a gas burner, the recipe says you can roast them under the broiler. I haven't personally tried that though so I can't say how well it will work. Put them in a bowl and cover in plastic wrap. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. The steam from the hot peppers will loosen the skin and allow you to slip it right off. Peel the skin off and discard the seeds and stems. Purée the peppers in a blender or food processor until smooth. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots in the canola oil until soft. Add the puréed peppers, tomato paste, crushed red pepper, and water. If you aren't a fan of spicy food, you can decrease or omit the crushed red pepper. One teaspoon definitely gives the sauce a solid kick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. You'll notice that the veggies are cut fairly large. If you don't like a chunky sauce or are serving children who won't eat identifiable veggies, you can dice the onions, celery, and carrots into smaller pieces. 

To Serve:
3 tbsp butter
4 oz feta

When you are ready to serve, melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the gnocchi and cook until lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Top with the sauce and feta. Don't skip the feta. Trust me on this one, it really makes the dish. 

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