I fear I will come off as a real snob here, but for years I’ve been vehemently – and I’m talking veeeeehemently – anti mass-produced, packaged gnocchi. (In my defense, just the sound of ‘mass-produced, packaged gnocchi’ makes me consider eating wood bark and chocolate-covered crickets as a more alluring substitute for dinner.)
So imagine my surprise when I found myself actually enjoying a plate featuring these little critters.
It was last week, when I was cooking in the kitchen of a rented house that didn’t have even the meagerest of cooking supplies…I’m talking basics here, folks, like a spatula. Given that I wasn’t digging my environment too much, I also didn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking something for dinner as I silently suffered. Okay, maybe not that silently. I think my sighs could probably be heard a few houses down from us.
So I perused the refrigerator looking for a fast solution and came upon a very unassuming package of gnocchi. I touched the top of the package and felt the gnocchi’s rather gummy consistency and turned to Erik, who thankfully was in the middle of making me a Campari soda, and said:
“Pre-made gnocchi? Really?” I scoffed in his general direction.
I could picture my beloved potato ricer, the one I use to make those coveted tender, pillowy homemade gnocchi, convulsing at the mere thought of her low-life, deadbeat cousin.
“Don’t be too dismissive there, babe.” Erik said. “They are not as bad as your snobby, bad-ass self thinks. You’d be surprised if you actually gave them a chance. I made some last week with Brussels sprouts and pancetta.”
I looked at him with a smirk. “Not so bad? Quite the endorsement, love.”
“Really, Serena, they were quite good.”
I don’t know if it was his indignant persuasiveness or the ‘ready in 2-3 minutes’ on the gnocchi packaging that convinced me to give these oval ping pong balls a chance, but a chance I gave them.
And I am glad I did.
While packaged gnocchi don’t hold a candle to homemade ones, they are not as chewy and pasty-tasting as I previously thought. Ok, so that’s not a huge endorsement either…
Let’s try again.
With a really good, tasty sauce, a good-quality pre-made gnocchi can make for a very satisfying dinner experience. Without spending the 2 hours or so it takes to make them fresh. And without having to deal with an unsatisfactorily equipped kitchen for longer than need be.
There. I think that about sums it up.
Once I made the decision to proceed with my packaged friends, I looked at what else what I had at my disposal to create that savory sauce I needed for the gnocchi.
As it turned out, I had a package of baby spinach leaves, a red onion, some plum tomatoes and of course, my old standby, Parmigiano-Reggiano. A great starting point, but I still needed something with which to tie all of these wonderful ingredients together. My head went back into the fridge.
That’s when I saw a container of crème fraîche.
Some women may be surprised to find such a container in a man’s fridge, but then, they would not be associating with a man of the metro sexual persuasion. My hubby can also talk fabric – perhaps because his sister is an über talented fashion designer. He can also differentiate between chartreuse and mint green. As a matter of fact, it was his idea to add the nutmeg, which was genius!
Now, I haven’t used crème fraîche a lot in my life, though I had heard that it is thicker and less sour than standard sour cream and that it cooks well without turning into curdly sludge. I decided to give it a shot.
I think I’ve stayed away from it because it’s yet another ingredient to keep on hand, and refrigerator real estate comes at a mighty premium with me. But I’ve since learned from food and cooking authority Harold McGee in a New York Times article that, if you’re willing to think a day ahead, you can actually make crème fraîche in your own kitchen. All you do is take room-temperature whipping cream and a little room-temperature buttermilk in a glass jar and shake it. Then you let it rest overnight on your kitchen counter, giving it a good stir once or twice. That’s it. Whipped cream??? No wonder it’s so delicious!
And this dish is delicious too. My girls…. oh how my girls loved this dish! It was a pleasure to watch them eat!
It’s comfort food. Plain and simple. It is not fancy. It is not over-the-top savory, though the Parmigiano-Reggiano does add its coveted umami, or pleasant savory taste, to it. It is slightly creamy and sweet and tomato-y and offers a most satisfying chew. I was quite sorry I hadn’t doubled the recipe, to tell you the truth, because it’s almost lunch time and it would have been wonderful to have some leftovers in the fridge.
But enough talk.
Let’s make some packaged gnocchi taste phenomenal.
making spinach, crème fraîche & nutmeg gnocchi
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare 4 plum tomatoes by removing their skin. Bring a small of pot of water to a boil and throw the tomatoes in, allowing them to cook for 1 minute. Immediately remove them. Once they’ve sufficiently cooled, remove their skins with your hands.
Then slice them in half and remove the seeds and the little hard section that connected them to the vine.
Now chop them up.
Now, you don’t have to remove the skin from the tomatoes. Not doing so speeds things up to be sure. I add this step in, however, because if I don’t, I end up spending a lot of time picking the cooked pieces of tomato skin from my plate. They are pesky. They get on my nerves. So I get rid of them. Follow your own bliss on that one,
Also, rinse 1 10-oz. pagacke of baby spinach leaves in a colander under cold tap water and chop 1 small red onion into little pieces.
Heat up a large skillet on medium heat, adding 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the butter stops bubbling, add the onion and cook for 10 minutes uncovered.
Add a little sea or Kosher salt. They will look translucent.
Add the chopped tomatoes and a little more salt and cook for 5 minutes, covered.
Add the spinach and a little more salt.
At this point, add a good handful of Kosher salt to the pot of boiling water and add a 1.1 lb. (500 gr.) of packaged gnocchi. I used ‘Gnocchi Italiani’ from Trader Joe’s, which turned out quite tender once cooked. Cook according to package instructions and then drain well.
Once the spinach completely wilts, cook for an additional 3 minutes before adding the 4-5 oz. of crème fraîche.
Add a 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Mix well. Cook for another 2 minutes to heat it through. Add the drained gnocchi and mix well one more time.Taste for proper seasoning.
Serve immediately topped with a little more Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh-cracked pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.