Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gnocchi and Comfort Food for Dark Days

We will all have terrible days. To clarify, I do not mean days where you spill your coffee, are late to work, and spend an hour on the phone with the credit card company.

I mean those days that are so dark you wonder how everyone around you is proceeding with their everyday lives. Days where you just want to curl up in a room and cry alone. Days that are never forgotten. Usually these days start normally and then you get a phone call. Then it seems like nothing will be normal again.

I am young and am fortunate to have a fairly limited experience with tragedy. I do not know anyone (of adult maturity) who has been untouched by dark days.

I have never felt like cooking on my few dark days. But food is a tangible reminder of life and eating has always been an important part of grieving. I believe a home cooked meal of comfort food is the best thing a friend can do for someone in deep grief. These home cooked meals do not have to be presented on the dark day, they can come at anytime. Most people who are grieving do not want you to forget about their loss. They want you to tell them you know they are in pain and that you love them. This might be a day after the original darkness or on the anniversary the following year or the year after that. They do not need to come with expectations of socializing unless talking is needed. Sometimes filling a fridge or freezer and leaving is all that a person needs.

A dear friend of mine just experienced a profound loss. I am going to skip the details, but I decided to show my love and support through dinner.

Comfort food is hard in the summer. I asked a bunch of friends what their favorite comfort food is last night and they almost in unison replied, "homemade macaroni and cheese." I have a hard time making something like that in August. I decided to run with the cheese and starch themes though.

The result is this ricotta gnocchi with pesto sauce. We have tons of pesto this time of year. Basil seems to be very happy in the August heat and I know of no better way to eat vast quantities of basil than with cheese, garlic, and pine nuts. These little gnocchi are actually pretty easy to make and feel a little lighter to me than the potato varieties. Then all my friend has to do is boil the pasta and toss in the pesto sauce. Dinner, comfort, and a reminder of how much she is loved.

I doubled the recipe and we had this for dinner tonight, just in case you are wondering where the pictures are coming from...

Ricotta Gnocchi
serves 3 to 4
modified slightly from Gourmet

2 cups whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for sprinkling

1. Mix the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and nutmeg together until they are smooth. Then add the flour until you have a slightly sticky dough.

2. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two balls. With lightly floured hands roll each ball into a 1.5 inch diameter roll.
3. Put the rolls on half sheet pan covered with some parchment paper, cover those rolls and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

4. Cut the rolls into 1 inch gnocchi dumplings.

5. To cook the dumplings, boil a large pot of salted water. Add the gnocchi in small batches (about or a third at a time). Cook for 3 minutes, pull out using a slotted spoon and put them in a strainer until the whole batch is done.

There are a couple of ways to serve these gnocchi. We made a pesto sauce, but you could just brown some butter and and herbs in a large skillet and then toss in the cooked gnocchi. A simple tomato sauce would also be good (I want to try this one). Honestly, these would probably also be good with some olive oil drizzled on top.

Here is our adaptation of traditional basil pesto because it is summer, it is hot outside, and if we do not harvest our basil plants at least once every two weeks they get grumpy.

Basil Pesto
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

2 to 3 cups "loosely packed" fresh basil leaves (as much as you would like really)
3 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts (you can use less, we usually do because these can get expensive)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

1. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat. Heat until the nuts just start to get aromatic then remove from the pan immediately and allow them to cool to room temperature.

2. In your food processor* pulse the peeled garlic cloves until they are pretty fine. Add the pine nuts and pulse 2 to 3 times, just to get the pine nuts started.

3. Add the cheese and basil leaves (stemmed, washed and dried) and blend until pretty pasty in consistency. Do not blend until you have a syrup though.

4. Slowly add olive oil in a steady stream while the processor is running.

5. Scrape pesto into a bowl, taste it and season appropriately with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice if you want to make sure it does not brown. We did this for transport to my friend.

6. Stir in pasta, spread on bread, or eat with a spoon.

*We love our food processor, in the summer it is basically a pesto making machine. We have gone through about three different food processors over the past 6 years because I was too cheap to invest the serious money to get a Cuisinart full sized love machine. Let me say for the record, those big Cuisinarts are worth the cash. The little imitations do nothing for me anymore and have been discarded. However, if you do not have the funds or inclination to own a huge food processor you can chop your ingredients really small or use a blender. The little imitation things will do the job too.

1 comment:

  1. How sweet, Sarah! Your friend is lucky to have you and your comfort food.