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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!