April 22, 2015

Gnocchi with Kale Pesto and Mushrooms

Despite the freezing cold and flurries (and the fact that the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands banned the term climate change and projects related to it), the calendar does say it's April 22, which means it's still technically spring but, more importantly, it's Earth Day. As usual, I'm posting an (almost) vegan dish that will satisfy just about anyone. However, if this isn't quite your thing, I also have recipes for ratatouille pastaapple muffinssweet potato chili, and roasted tomato soup. I personally now love gnocchi, and it's so rewarding to make it from scratch. It's great with just about any sauce, so here I decided to make a kale pesto and saute some mushrooms.

The only animal products in this dish are the single egg in the gnocchi and the garlic butter I saute the mushrooms in. I've heard rumors about making eggless gnocchi with just potatoes and flour, but I didn't want to risk it, so I stuck with a traditional recipe. If you want to avoid eggs, you can attempt to make it without it or simply use pasta, which is often eggless. As for the mushrooms, you can always saute them with olive oil and garlic instead of garlic butter.

By now, you may have seen those plastic packages of gnocchi sitting unrefrigerated by the pasta section. I'm not a huge fan, and the homemade ones taste so much better (good enough to justify the extra time, in other words). They only have four ingredients: potatoes, flour, salt, and an egg. You have to cook the potatoes first; I bake them until tender instead of boiling them because the goal is to introduce as little water as possible. Extra water will make the gnocchi gummy and not particularly appetizing, and baking is such an easy alternative.

Once the whole baked potatoes are fork tender, I remove them from the oven and peel and rice them as quickly as possible. This releases the most steam, which again reduces the water content. To do so, I grab a potato with a towel and, wearing gloves as additional heat protection, use a butter knife to gently but quickly peel the skins off in large pieces. I break the potatoes into manageable chunks and press them through a ricer, which makes them into tiny rice-like granules. After all the potatoes are riced, I gently spread them in a thin layer on a cookie tray to cool and release all the steam. I try to do this very carefully to avoid packing the potatoes down; you want these to be fluffy from start to finish.

After they cool to room temperature, I combine the potatoes and the egg before gradually adding the flour. I find that a stand mixer does this quickly and evenly, especially when using such large amounts of potato. I then gradually add the salt and flour until a thick dough forms; you may use more or less than the suggested amount depending on the moisture of your potatoes. To shape the gnocchi, I break off large pieces of dough, roll them into ropes about 3/4" in diameter, and cut them into nuggets. You can cook the gnocchi as nuggets or take it a step further and roll them with a fork. This gives them that pretty, ridged shape that catches even more sauce. All you have to do is press a fork onto the top of each nugget and roll it towards you; it should become a spiral with ridges running throughout. Those are all boiled in a big pot of salted water until they are cooked through and floating, about 5 minutes.

Gnocchi are certainly delicious, but they desperately need a sauce. Kale pesto is healthy, vegan, and has a gorgeous green color, all of which are perfect for Earth Day. Again, there are only a few ingredients: kale, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. I start by blanching and shocking the kale, which brightens and preserves the green color (as you can see clearly in the pictures). The leaves are then blended with nuts, garlic, and lemon juice until smooth. I prefer walnuts since they are much cheaper than the traditional pine nuts, have a fairly neutral flavor, and still act as a thickening agent. My family likes a lot of garlic in pesto, but feel free to add as many cloves as you see fit. Finally, olive oil is slowly poured in as the food processor continues running until the whole batch is nice and smooth.

Finally, I top the whole dish with some garlicky mushrooms. My grocery store had a fancy blend of oyster, shiitake, and baby portobellos, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like (or none at all). They are also pretty simple to make; I just heat some butter (or olive oil for you vegans) and minced garlic in a skillet, add the mushrooms, and cook until tender. Any remaining garlic butter is delicious drizzled on top of the dish.

2 lbs Potatoes
1 Egg
1 tsp Salt
2 Cups Flour

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash and scrub the potatoes. Prick with a fork and bake for 1 hour or until tender.

Quickly remove the potatoes from the oven, peel off the skin, and press through a ricer. Gently spread into a thin layer without compacting and allow to cool fully.

Transfer the riced potatoes into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg and salt and mix until just combined. Gradually add the flour until a thick dough forms; you may use more or less than the 2 cups.

Heat a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, roll the dough into ropes about 3/4" in diameter. Cut into nuggets and roll with a fork to make indentations. Drop into the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes or until they float and are cooked through.

Kale Pesto:
2 Cups Chopped Kale
1/3 Cup Walnuts, Toasted
4-5 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
2 T Lemon Juice
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Boil the kale for 30-45 seconds and immediately transfer to the ice bath to blanch and shock it, doing so in batches as necessary. Pulse the walnuts, garlic, and lemon juice together until finely ground. Add the kale and pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

1 1/2 Cups Mushrooms, Rinsed
4 T Butter
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced

Heat the butter and garlic in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.

Serves 4-6
Recipes Adapted from Lidia Bastianich and Fifty Shades of Kale

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