Every so often, I’ll get together with a friend or two who also like to cook, and spend the day making something elaborate and extravagant. A couple weekends ago, my friend Phuong and her boyfriend came over, and we made gnocchi. And, in the process, I had another breakthrough.
Since this was our first time making gnocchi, we decided to go all out and make two batches: potato and ricotta. It was a long, starchy, floury, methodical process, and we were all dusted with white up to our elbows by the time we were done. After several hours of mixing and rolling and cutting and shaping and simmering–not to mention the sore feet from standing, and stiff arms from crowding four people into one tiny kitchen–we sat down to lunch: piles of dumplings blanketed with rich homemade tomato sauce. We passed a hunk of Parmesan and a grater around the table, and sipped wine from mismatched glasses. It was a solid, homey, nap-inducing meal.
My first discovery was not much of a surprise. As it turns out, I’m just not crazy about potato gnocchi. Even when I make them myself–when they’re delicately handled, coddled like newborns, so light they almost fall apart–I don’t like the way the starch stumbles over my tongue and settles like a brick in my stomach.
The ricotta gnocchi were something else: springy instead of starchy, soft but chewy, with just a whisper of milkiness from the cheese. Blanketed with tomato sauce and showered with cheese, they felt right at home–satisfying in that bone-deep, comfort-food way. We gobbled our portions like maniacs. But yet, as I was eating, I felt odd. It took me until later that day to put my finger on why.
When I first realized as a teenager that food was going to be my albatross, one of the things I mourned most was big bowls of pasta. I’d never even tasted gnocchi at that point, and now they would always be tainted. But, as I was eating those ricotta gnocchi, I felt none of the turmoil I was used to. I knew they were fresh, and made with my own hands, and not especially healthy. And I knew I could finish my portion, and enjoy it, and deal with the gut-rumbles and heavy eyelids that would come later in the afternoon, and then chalk it up as a lesson learned. I wasn’t thinking about gnocchi as a forbidden food, but as a fun and lively indulgence that I’d probably never make again.
That was worth all the hours and the delicate handling. A terrific-tasting batch of gnocchi, and another small weight lifted.