Thursday, January 3, 2008

Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce

With the discovery of a bag of potatoes in the cupboard, it was time to give gnocchi a second try. I ended up making a double batch to use all the spuds before they went bad.

On the sauce front, my general need to practice the tomato sauce from my Sauces 101 class was spurred on by the recent NPR story about the high sodium levels in processed food. Not that it should have been a shock, but the fact they cited that you often can't even taste the stuff gave me pause. If I'm going to eat something bad for me, I should at least get something out of it. Sure enough, my stand-by jarred marinara, Classico, is packed with the stuff.

The potatoes in question were Yukon Gold again, leftover from the holidays where I had planned to mash them. The recipe I used, from Becoming a Chef, called for Russet. I had my own reasons for not liking using the Yukon - when mixing yellow egg yolks with yellow-tinted potatoes, it's really hard to know when you're done. But at a Thanksgiving party, I learned from our friend and Trib Good Eats editor/writer, Joe Gray, that the real reason was that the Yukons are too waxy. Hmm. I never knew that there were qualities to potatoes varieties like that. Time for more reading. In regards to their suitability for gnocchi on that basis, I don't buy it. Aside from the prep issue, these batches again tasted great with almost perfect texture. I froze the second batch for later. I had tried refrigerating some uncooked ones last time and they almost immediately fell into a horrible, gloppy mess.

I also learned how to better roll the dumplings with a fork. When you chop up the rolled-out dough into pieces, the chunks are sort of squared off at the knife cuts. My trick is to grab one of the corners of the pieces with the back of the fork and roll the piece towards you, dipping the tines into the dough when they're on top. I do think that my pieces are about twice the size they should be, so next time, I’ll dial the chunks down, but they worked great. They were longer, rather than thicker, than they should be, so they cooked up just fine.

With the tomato sauce, I tried to go my usual route: the first time making anything, I try to follow the recipe verbatim. I make exceptions for doubling the quantities or beefing up a given dried spice if it's been on the shelf longer than it should. But 6 tb butter? Yikes. One of the points was to make a healthy alternative to jarred. That dairy was swapped for olive oil, but the volume stayed the same. Not only is olive oil generally better for you, it supposedly helps release the cancer-preventing components of the tomatoes.

I don't quite remember how it turned out in class, but I was pleased with the results this time. While cooking, the white wine gave a great, succulent aroma and taste to the reducing stock. Kind of like what I love about the veloute’ sauce. I used my still-new-enough-to-be-exciting immersion blender to puree it in the pot which worked great. The only “change” I made to the recipe was that I used about 1.5 tsp of dried oregano where they say to add spices at the end.
The resulting sauce was very tasty. I held off on adding salt (only about 1 tsp) or any more spices, as there was a fine delicate flavor that I didn’t want to mess with. The flavor of the wine came through in the finished product very subtly.

The pureed sauce also had sort of an orangey color with a hint of creaminess, more like a vodka sauce than a marinara. This makes a bit of sense since the red roma tomatoes were mixed into the beige wine and stock mixture, but seemed a bit “off” in a way. The tomatoes were definitely ripe, so I don’t think there was anything wrong with it. Next time, though, I may try using a red wine instead of the white (this was a pinot grigio) for the color and I will definitely extend the recipe even further (4x) so that I have more for use later.

Interestingly, the sauce didn’t have as much flavor when served with the gnocci and large diced broiled chicken breast. Both of those are bland enough that I was surprised, but the sauce by itself was a delicate flavor. However, I made the sauce on New Year’s Day and when I had the leftovers for lunch and used the last bit with angel hair tonight, the flavor had popped a bit, as you might expect.

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