Saturday, March 15, 2008

Comfort

Much has been written on the subject of comfort food. It's a subject that always elicits a response from people, usually strong opinions on what says comfort to them.

Usually it's things like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, stews, soups or pastas. Rarely, if ever, have I heard anyone mentioning desserts or sweets. Carbs seem to rule in the land of comfort.

One my favorite comfort foods is a good Hungarian Goulash with a dollop of sour cream. I love the complex flavors and the hearty mix of ingredients. But my all time number one comfort food would be those delicious little Italian dumplings called Gnocchi (pronounced N-yocki).

In the wintertime, when eggs were scarce, cooks would make these delicious, dense dumplings. Because they're made from potatoes with smaller amounts of flour, they have a different taste.

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They do require a fair amount of work, since each dumpling is formed by hand. You can make a large batch and freeze the extra to enjoy at another time.

I eat mine with a little butter and some quality grated Italian cheese. And of course, lots of fresh coarsely ground black pepper. They're also good with fresh herbs or mushrooms.

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Here's a recipe if you'd like to give Gnocchi a try. Don't be afraid to buy them frozen at the grocery store. Most brands are good, certainly not the same as homemade but worth a try.

2 lbs Idaho potatoes
1 large egg
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook, partially covered, until you can pierce them with a knife, but before the skins split open, about 30-35 min.

Drain the potatoes and let them cool enough to handle.

(The hotter the potatoes are when they're peeled and riced, the lighter the gnocchi will be). Place the potato on a clean oven mitt and peel off the skin. Put the potatoes through a ricer. (A food mill can be used but results in heavier Gnocchi).
Spread the riced potatoes on a work surface being careful not to press or compact them. Let cool completely.

In a small bowl, beat the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg together.

Gather the cold potatoes into a mound and form a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well. Knead the potatoe and egg mixture together, using both hand. Gradually add the grated cheese and enough of the flour, about 1 1/2 cups, to form a smooth but slightly sticky dought. It should only take about 3 min. to work the flour in. The longer the dough is kneaded, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will be.

Dust your hands, the dough and the work surface with some of the remaining flour. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and set off to the side. Place one piece of dough in front of you and rool into a rope 1/2 inch thick, flouring the surface if needed to keep from sticking.

Slice the rope into 1/2 inch thick pieces.

Sprinkle the pieces lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a rough ball, flouring to prevent sticking. Roll the balls of dough across the tines of a fork to create the ridges. Continue forming Gnocchi. Now they must be either cooked or frozen.

COOKING - Boil water. Drop a batch of gnocchi into the water a, stirring gently and constantly. After about 1-2 min. they will rise to the surface. Remove from the water, drain and serve.

I'd love to hear about your favorite comfort food - - and the memories connected with it.

Don't forget - tomorrow is another trip in the Way Back Machine!

6 comments:

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Another food I don't remember hearing of...odd since my husband's family was Italian. Must be from some other region than where his family was from. (All I know about that is that his grandfather cooked everything in tomato sauce including eggs.)

And, they look scrumptious! I'll take your word for it. I don't need another scrumptious food in my diet. I'll share with my son who enjoys cooking a lot and loves a nod in his Italian heritage's direction.

Glad to know that your snow is disappearing. The snow didn't amount to much thankfully.

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Just fired it off to my son; I even offered him the use of my ricer...and I forgot to say that I have very bland comfort foods...meatloaf and a baked potato with sour cream works for me every time.

Mary said...

One of my comfort foods is tuna casserole...tuna, egg noodles, Velveeta, cream of mushroom soup, milk. With lots of Tabasco on top! My mother grew up eating it, then me and my brother, and now my kids. We all love it.

Eating at a Chinese restaurant is a big comfort food experience for me, too - brings back wonderful memories of eating in Chinatown in NYC as a little girl. : )

tumbleweed said...

mmm, gnocchi. we make them with roasted pumpkin when the harvest is over-abundant (there's only so much pumpkin pie you can eat and not end up the size of a house).
they're also very good when stinging nettles (previously briefly wilted in a steamer) are included in the mix (especially if one is anaemic). have just discovered your blog through a comment you made somewhere else...nothing like taking a new path throught the woods

Primitive Peddlers said...

Oh I am so glad to have found your Gnocchi recipe! We had it at Olive Garden for the first time last year and loved it. I bought some frozen, but it just wasn't as good. I can't wait to try this! Thank you!

Cathy :)

Stacey said...

Growing up with Italian Grandparents, my Grandmother and Mom made them quite alot. We had them with left over sause, or with a little olive oil and chopped sundried tomatoes. Oh the memories that you bring!!