It begins with an unappeasable yearning for gnocchi, those doughy little Italian dumplings. Try as I might, my brain refuses to cough up info on where I can partake of those gooey balls, and frenzied texts to my foodie network spew only lots of Italian restaurants with plenty of “???” attached at the end. An Italian chef-acquaintance offers to make them for me if I book in advance, but I’m a bit embarrassed to take him out of his busy schedule. Besides, I start to have delusions that perhaps I can make gnocchi on my own.
Pronounced (NYOH-kee; NOH-kee), I used to call them (NOH-chee), that is, when I used to have them at the now defunct Angelino’s, a place that I remain in an active state of mourning for. Chewy and slathered in a creamy sauce, I remember thinking back then that they were just the most delicious things my little high school palate had experienced.
Gnocchi is a simple affair of flour, eggs, and water, though I decide to add potatoes for lightness. Because the potatoes need to be devoid of moisture in order to produce the best-textured dough, I bake them for an hour, scoop them out of their skins, and then put them through a ricer (see photo above). The process is identical to making other kinds of fresh pasta: make a well out of the flour on the work surface, add the eggs and other seasonings. The ingredients are then mixed from the outside over the top. Of course there’s a very real possibility of my well not being deep enough, hence an egg overflow, so I need to work quickly but carefully.
Pasta dough is very hard to roll out, it’s leathery and it looks like a pie crust gone awry. Before being rolled out it needs to dry out for an hour or so before being put through the pasta machine and then cut into the desired shape. I make the gnocchi dough as well as a fresh pasta dough which I cut into fettuccine and angel hair.
The gnocchi dough is a bit spongy because of the potatoes. I mix in a half cup of Parmesan cheese and some assorted herbs. Cutting the dough with a knife doesn’t work, so I use my new wooden bench scraper which works like a charm. It cuts the dough cleanly and the cutting action produces little gnocchi “noodles,” which I later cut in half, what you see in the upper left of the photo. So far, I’m feeling pretty good about my pasta making venture.
Gnocchi is cooked by immersing it in boiling water and then removing it when it floats to the surface. In my experience, this results in undercooked gnocchi, so I let it cook for ten minutes before I scoop out the little suckers with a slotted spoon.
As I’m cooking, my good friend Kaie drops in. Viewing the earthquake that is now my kitchen, she asks in amusement, “So what brought on this pasta-making frenzy, Lor?” I can only manage a smirk in the midst of the food facial that I’m getting from the steam of the boiling water.
Meanwhile, I’m loving this pasta maker that I’ve borrowed from my mom. It rolls out the pasta dough to a thinness impossible to achieve with just my rolling pin. I effortlessly make both angel hair and fettuccine, which need only two minutes in boiling water to cook to al dente stage. When drained, the steam that arises is redolent of eggs and flour, something I don’t detect when cooking dried pasta.
see why I call this my “pasta bowl?”
I make a simple sauce Mornay for the fettuccine ”“ a decadent white sauce (béchamel) made even richer with cream, egg yolks, and shavings of the cheese I have at home: Parmesan and cheddarella, a hybrid of cheddar and mozzarella. I make a separate sauce with a pinch of saffron which bleeds attractively into the white sauce. It lends a delicate, refined air to the dish. I even pull out my special “pasta bowls,” a wedding gift from eight years back. If you look at the photo closely, you can see why I call them that.
The gnocchi doesn’t turn out too well. It comes out looking like kinilaw (ceviche), with an unappealing off-white shade to boot. Kaie looks at it queerly: “Isn’t it supposed to be yellow and somewhat shell-shaped?” She asks. I can only snort in reply, since exhaustion is sneaking up on me. Still, the gnocchi is chewy-good and I enjoy it with all the pleasure of a craving satiated.
Two days later…
Today is Sunday, and since my Bin has just arrived from a business trip overseas, I make him a special sauce to go with the fresh pasta: I add some chopped liver which I sauté in butter and olive oil and mix it in with some of the leftover sauce Mornay. I push this dish over the edge with gratings of Fontina cheese and cave-aged Gruyere (ooh, gourmet!) which I procure on a quick trip to SantÃ¯s. A dash of fresh sage kicks up the dish together with some bread and good EVOO (extra virgin olive oil).
After this experience, I may never underestimate the convenience of dried noodles ever again.