Since I started experimenting in the kitchen a few years ago, there hasn’t been much that I’ve been too scared to attempt. Most of the time, my eagerness to jump right in to a new technique or use a new ingredient has proved well worth it, although I have to admit that I’ve had more than my fair share of culinary disasters. (In fact, that might be an understatement). Even so, I usually brush it off as a “learning experience” and keep trying until I get it right– no big deal. There hasn’t ever been much apprehension on my part, even with cheesecakes, which I’ve somehow managed to botch just enough to not be able to use them for the blog at least 5 or 6 times now. Yes, there have been a lot of “learning experiences” regarding cheesecakes. Don’t do this or it’ll crack. Don’t do that other thing or it’ll crack. Do a water bath and it won’t crack… oh wait, it still cracked.
And I still keep trying to get it right, and I’m never that worried that I won’t.
However, there is one thing that up until this point I have been too scared to even attempt: making my own pasta. I don’t know what about it seems so difficult, but I’ve always viewed pasta-making as sort of secret technique that Italian grandmothers labored over, wielding old rolling pins as aromas from simmering sauces filled the rooms of their warm Tuscan farmhouses. I’ve had no Italian grandmother to teach me her secrets. I’ve had no idea where to start.
That being said, as the temperature dropped, I began thinking more and more about making my own hearty pasta dishes from scratch, with interesting flavors and sauces to accompany them. With all of the daunting pasta varieties dancing in my head, I decided to do a little research, and was surprised to see that gnocchi– one of my favorite comfort foods– seemed easy enough to try.
Believe it or not, it really was easy. Much easier than I could have ever imagined.
The gnocchi, by the way, wound up pillowy and flavorful; better than any gnocchi I’ve ever tried before. It’s important to note that I used a potato ricer for my gnocchi, but if you can’t get one in time, grating the potatoes works too (although it does make them slightly less fluffy). These are the only two methods I recommend. Just mashing the potatoes can make the gnocchi really gummy, and no one wants gummy gnocchi. You want gnocchi that feels like little light angels gently dancing in your mouth. That’s the analogy I’m going with– just let it happen.
After mixing in the bacon and spinach, I topped everything with a seriously delicious smoked Gouda cream sauce, which I beg you to try because it might change your life (especially when combined with the gnocchi). Am I being a tad bit dramatic? I don’t think so, but I guess you’ll just have to find out for yourself. My brother thought I was being dramatic until he tasted it… and then he had second and third helpings and insisted on bringing the leftovers back up to the dorm with him. Don’t underestimate the power of Roasted Garlic Gnocchi with Bacon, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda Cream Sauce.
Don’t be afraid to make the gnocchi. I’m telling you, you can do it. Just follow the directions and you’ll surprise yourself. You don’t have to have an Italian grandmother in a farmhouse in Tuscany or a background in culinary arts. You just need to go for it, and you’ll be happy you did!
- 2 lbs baking potatoes (about 4)
- 1 head of garlic
- Olive oil for drizzling
- 2 large egg yolks
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- ½ lb bacon, cut into pieces
- ½ bag of fresh baby spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ pound smoked gouda, coarsely shredded
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
- Pinch nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel some of the excess outer paper away and cut off the top of the garlic. On a sheet of foil, drizzle the garlic with olive oil. Wrap the garlic up in the foil, and roast it for 30 minutes.
- As the garlic roasts, pierce the potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave the potatoes for 15 minutes, or until tender. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop the flesh into a potato ricers and rice the potatoes (alternatively, you can keep the potatoes whole and use a grater, although I really suggest a potato ricer). Transfer 2 cups of the riced potatoes to a bowl.
- Squeeze the now-roasted garlic into the mixture. Stir in the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon salt. Add ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of flour and stir until a stiff dough forms. Gently knead the dough until smooth.
- Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and dust with flour. Flour an even, sturdy surface like a counter top. On the floured surface, cut the dough into 4 equal-sized pieces, and then use pressure from your palms to roll each into ropes slightly under an inch thick. Cut the ropes into inch-long pieces and transfer to the baking sheet. (You can also roll the gnocchi against the tines of a fork to give it ridges, however gnocchi are often made without ridges in Italy, and I like to save time.)
- In a large, deep skillet of simmering salted water, cook the gnocchi until they rise to the surface, then simmer for 2 minutes longer.
- As the gnocchi cook, cook the bacon in a large skillet until nearly crisp, then add spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Transfer to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Leave the drippings in and keep heat on medium, remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and put them into the hot skillet, stirring until they begin to turn golden. Remove and add to the bowl with the spinach bacon mixture, toss to combine.
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
- Cook over medium heat, whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the cream, smoked Gouda, paprika and nutmeg and whisk until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper.
- If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk or cream to thin it and whisk to combine. When you reach the desired consistency, pour over the gnocchi and serve.