thursday night smackdown: things stuffed in other things

riced-3608.png
The Great Cheez Doodle Sea (All-Natural White Cheddar) as seen from Mars.

On tonight’s menu, via the esteemed Lidia Bastianich: Offelle Triestine, or Trieste-style stuffed gnocchi.

I should say up front that I have a soft spot for Lidia Bastianich, her severe hairstyle and brusque mannerisms, having been raised by an Italian woman named Lidia with a severe hairstyle and brusque mannerisms.

I think I also have fond memories of Trieste. Although most of my time in Italy has been spent in Puglia (the heel of the boot), where my family lives, we spent one summer in Trieste (up north) staying with friends of my mom’s who ran a school for girls. My only truly clear memory is of the rows of tiny sinks in the school bathrooms. However, all my recollections of this time are shrouded in mystery, since I think I was only about 4 at the time and I’m not sure why we would have gone on vacation to a girl’s school, so it could have been a fever dream. I think we ate a lot of rice dishes. Possibly also there was a talking pig.


Gnocchi are one of my favorite Italian dishes when done well, but more often than not they’re dense little glutenous balls that sit in your stomach for weeks after any accompanying food has left. Many people attempt to mitigate dreadful gnocchi by covering them with melted mozzarella cheese, which does very little either for taste or ease of digestion.

I’ve never tried to make them for this very reason; the risk of failure seemed high, and I don’t want to bring shame down upon my family – my Nonna makes the gnocchi to end all gnocchi, and I didn’t want to discover that I hadn’t inherited that gene (it’s recessive). There’s probably some kind of traditional Italian ritual culinary suicide I’d have to perform where I lose a finger or am excommunicated from cooking with garlic for the rest of my life, or maybe I’d have to run a gauntlet of nonnas who whack me with wooden spoons. Nonnas have well-developed upper bodies from making homemade gnocchi and can whack hard.

pan1-3608.pngpan2-3608.png

spinach-pan-3608.jpgpan4-3608.jpg
The four stages of grief.*

Traditional gnocchi start with hot, cooked potato that are run through a ricer or food mill and then spread out on a tray to cool and dry – so far so good. I gave Brian the job of peeling the scorching hot potatoes, because I’m a delicate goddamn flower. The filling came together quickly while the potato cooled: onions sauteed in olive oil (the foundation from which all good things come), Italian sausage (the recipe specified sweet, the butcher accidentally gave me hot), and baby spinach.

*Yes, I know there are more than four. Please don’t email me.

tater-adn-egg-3608.jpg
The villagers in the shadow of the great butter volcano live in perpetual fear.

While the filling cooled, the dough came together. It’s nothing more than potato, egg, flour and a little salt but is shockingly easy to fuck up. The keys are cool, dry potatoes – ricing and spreading them out while they’re hot helps ensure that as much moisture can escape as possible – and not too much flour. Spreading the hot potato on a marble slab helped them cool quickly; otherwise, you might need to plan ahead and wait a few hours for your potato to fully cool and dry. I don’t have that kind of time, and I do have a husband who does things like buy me a marble slab for Christmas, so I don’t have to wait like the rest of you suckers.

dough1-3608.jpg
Until the day their prayers were answered and the hands of doom vanquished the mountain.

Brian was also the designated dough-mixer while I took the photos, despite the fact that I learned this evening that I don’t know how 99% of the functions on our camera work. I was also the designated flour-sprinkler, adding it little by little to make sure we wouldn’t cross the line from fluffy gnocchi into lead nuggets. Lidia said we could add up to a cup and a half, and I think we hit that pretty much dead center.

cicles-3608.jpg
I rolled this dough out with an empty beer bottle. I’ll say it again: classy motherfucker.

We rolled the dough out, and it was remarkably easy to roll with a little beer bottle. Apparently, we rolled it way too thick, since we only got half the gnocchi Lidia advised we would get. I got to use my marble pastry board and bench scraper, both of which always make me feel delightfully cheffy.

filling-3608.jpg
Looks like walnuts. You know, walnuts wouldn’t be half bad in this.

Lidia instructed us to fill each gnocchi with 2 teaspoons of filling and to do a little fancy crimp-y fold-y edge thing to seal. “Ability to create fancy dumpling edges” is low on the list of Brian’s many sterling qualities, so I took charge of that while he filled. The filling, simple as it is, sent up a wonderful smell; we have some leftovers that are going to make quite the tasty omelet come Saturday morning.

finished-3608.jpg
I have a better picture than this, but my computer won’t let me re-size it. Not my fault.

After a 6-minute bath in some boiling water – no salt necessary, since all the components, gnocchi dough included, are pre-salted for your boiling convenience – the gnocchi are ready to go. While they cook, we browned some butter and sage together for a simple sauce.

Can I tell you about this butter for a minute? Because I wanted to rub this butter all over myself. I decided to get some good stuff; when a dish is this simple, you might as well get the highest quality ingredients you can. I was reaching for a brick of cultured butter – richer and tangy-er than plain ol’ butter – when my jaundiced eye spied a brick of cultured pastured butter. It was a gorgeous bright yellow and had a pronounced grassy smell. Eaten on its own, it was nutty and tangy, with parmigiano-like undertones. When browned, the nuttiness came out even more, along with a pronounced sweetness that was perfectly offset by the sage and a pinch of salt.

This is really fucking good butter.

The whole dish – offelle Trietine in sage brown butter – was unanimously declared a tie with the pan-seared halibut with yellow pepper hominy and poblano vinaigrette as the best Smackdown dish to date. The potato dough came out just right – tender but toothsome, and not at all heavy. There was enough dough that we knew we were actually eating gnocchi (and not just ravioli), but not so much that the filling became an afterthought. The filling itself was oh-so-simple but oh-so-tasty. The sweet butter, spicy sausage, punchy spinach and smooth dough same together in perfect harmony.

I put a little extra butter on mine after I took the picture. Because this butter is really, really good.

Final Score: Us 1, Food 0. Long live Lidia!

23 thoughts on “thursday night smackdown: things stuffed in other things

  1. coupla things here… k?
    first of all – love love love the template
    it is excellently cool and wonderous
    i want it
    second – cheffy? the f key is below the r…
    i know you were drinking, it was late…
    blah blah blah
    thirdly
    this blog is gonna be big
    i like it – keep up the good work

    and remember the little people, ok?

    thanking you in advance

  2. Gnocchi is somewhere on my list of things to do. I have never seen or eaten one since it’s not offered in Italian restaurants here, and it’s a shame. I think I’ll start with the usual honeydipper-shaped ones before filling them :)

  3. This all sounds delicious. Especially the butter. I’ll have that please. And a husband who buys you a marble slab ranks right up there with one who doesn’t mind that I wouldn’t know what to do with one if he bought it for me. We’re so lucky.

  4. LOVE gnocchi! My absolute favorite. Never had or made them stuffed though. Looks fab.

    Also? Sincerest congrats on your molto impressive showing in the most recent Foodie Joust! Another amazing creation.

  5. claudia: do you have a sense of when this “hitting it big” will happen? i really need a haircut, and want to make sure i don’t start getting major media attention before i have a chance to visit my stylist.

    this theme is just the stand-in until my custom one is done, so feel free to nab it.

    manggy: if you’re going to do it, do it all the way!

    jodi: i’ll say it again: really fucking good butter. and our husbands *are* pretty great…if only they weren’t secretly dating one another.

    espresso: thanks! i’m honored to have come in third. you can’t beat spare ribs with a stick.

  6. Hats off to you, gnocchi scares the hell out of me. So stuffed gnocchi would have me hiding under the bed. However, I do order it every time its on the menu and stuff my face thoroughly. Great post! If people knew how I really was in the kitchen they’d never read my blog again. Let’s just say I should probably rename my site http://www.erinstantrum.com

  7. Great looking gnocchi. I have always been scared of making it myself, and now I know why – if I stuff it up, either a Nonna with a well-developed upper body or an Italian lady with severe hair and brusque mannareisms will come to get me.

  8. ahem…perhaps that school for girls thing was not a dream afterall…with language like that, young lady, that trip may have been a visitation to breathe life into a threat that may have begun at age four: “If you don’t clean up your language, young lady, I’m sending you to…blah, blah, blah…” (Not sure where the talking pig may have come in.)*

    This looks delicious. (And it was a fun read!) And the butter…I follow the idea that butter is our friend and would have spooned more over my plate after the picture, too.

    * Just a note to make sure that it is understood…the above comment about “language like that” is offered in a playful sense. It seems we share the same tendency (if not affection) for such language. I didn’t want you or your readers to think there was some retro nun showing up to Thursday Night Smackdown to slap you with a ruler…after jotting down the recipe.

  9. erin: it was not nearly as scary as i thought, really! try it! but don’t blame me if you fuck it up royally. :)

    emiline: ditto the above.

    jodi: yes, i do. shut up. what am i supposed to call her – hairdresser? beautician? is it 1954?

    cakelaw: i think that only happens if you yourself are italian. so if you’re not, all systems go! but if you are, then, you know, look out.

    soopling: thanks!

    fourchette: my language at age four was a pristine as the first fucking crocus of the goddamn spring, i’ll have you know.

    it would be AWESOME if a retro nun with a rule was showing up here. if there is one, please make yourself known to me.

  10. Love your blog. We’ve gotta start using muthafucker in our blog more often. I do love Lidia… her balding hairstyle actually doesn’t scare me off. Maybe it’s because she knows her shit and has boobs like my mother? I think she wears that Madonna-looking bra from the 80’s – their cone-like! Also, I want to break into her house one night and steal her mother – that adorable NONI! If you watch the show/read her cookbooks you’ll know who I’m talking about and I’m SURE you’d agree with me.

    Regardless, I like this idea of these stuffed gnocchi. We make gnocchi all the time (the normal ones) and in fact we just blogged about it a few days ago (http://www.weareneverfull.com/2008/03/01/gnocchi-little-pillows-of-joy-and-even-better-with-a-brown-butter-breadcrumb-sauce/) and used a Lidia sauce! Are we twins?

    Also, a small tip. If you sprinkle salt over your cooling taters, it will draw out even more moisture which make for some even nicer, lighter gnocc’s. YUM! See you again soon, i’m adding you to my blogroll.

    amy @ http://www.weareneverfull.com

  11. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Weekend Breakfast Blogging: Now 65% More Beige!

  12. Those look like perogi instead of gnocchi. But I ain’t mad atcha.

    I make that very same filling for stuffed onions and to just go on pasta! Add a little cream and nutmeg and you’re there.

  13. Great post! The gnocchi look wonderful. I’ve made the regular kind with potato and also ricotta, but never stuffed. What a nice husband you have. The only help I ever get in the kitchen from mine is when he announces the time every 5 minutes while his ass is glued to his chair in front of the TV and I’m scrambling to get dinner on the table. Sigh…At least he’s home every night. ;)

  14. Love this blog! Glad to see another writer with good taste, good skills, AND a strong personality. Your food looks incredible, and this recipe is a must try. Lidia is one of my favorite chefs-always keeping it real. Oh, and to Susan,I also wish my boyfriend would help out in the kitchen…he likes to talk about how much he “used to love baking” but in 3+ years, never have I seen him cook or bake something…whats his deal? :)

  15. Hey, wait, I thought gnocchi were supposed to be dense and doughy and sit in your stomach until Christmas 2 years later! You are telling me they can actually be good????? I am in awe of your talents, oh goddess of gnocchi!

  16. amy: i DO want to steal her mother. also – thanks for mentioning the salt thing. i did that, and totally forgot to include it in the post.

    chriesi: let me know how it goes!

    heather: i had the leftovers for dinner over the weekend and crispified them a little in butter, like pierogi. and they were damn good.

    susan: he IS a good one. and he does the dishes!

    maddy: all the compliments! i’m blushing!

    traci: even if you don’t need one to make gnocchi (which you can make on your plan ol’ kitchen counter), you need one to make you feel fancy.

    ellieut: if i can do it, anyone can do it!

  17. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » TACOGATE 2008: SWEET POTATO & RED CHARD

  18. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » TACOGATE 2008: SWEET POTATO & RED CHARD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s