Lately I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands, which means that I’ve almost driven poor Wonk the Plank to distraction because I’ve been watching so much bad TV. He hit a new low when he found me watching the season premier of The Millionaire Matchmaker for the fifth time last weekend (But, like, seriously, what was up with David’s butler?).
So to keep myself away from the TV and to preserve Wonk’s sanity, I’ve been cooking a lot of recipes from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, the newest addition to The Great One’s long line of cookbooks. Why is this such an effective TV deterrent, you ask? Because the woman’s recipes are so incredibly complicated that they take up buckets of time.
We all know that Martha’s brand has been built around classic timelessness, so it’s no surprise that her latest cookbook showcases very classic cooking techniques. This means the recipes include lots of chopping and pureeing and straining liquids through multiple layers of cheese cloth. If I hadn’t been deliberately trying to keep myself busy, I doubt I would have had the stamina to attempt any of the recipes.
But if you do choose to devote your Saturday to a Martha creation, at least you’ll have beautiful images and detailed directions to guide you through a recipe that, inevitably, is more complicated than you imagined it to be. The book is gorgeous and full of stunning photos that will make your mouth water.
And let’s face it, there are times when doing things the “old fashioned” way – like making your own stock, baking your own bread, or rolling your own pasta dough, is pretty appealing.
So I’d like to share once of my Martha Stewart creations – homemade gnocchi, which I served with homemade basil-walnut pesto sauce. The gnocchi were definitely a project; you have to boil potatoes, skin them, make the dough, roll out the dough, and shape the dumplings. But it wasn’t difficult and, if you have the time, I found it to be quite fun. My favorite part was seeing all those little dumplings sitting out and waiting to be cooked – the tangible result of my hard work.
And how did they turn out? Soft and pillowy, with a slightly chewy texture that’s absolutely addictive, they were the perfect vehicles for the pesto sauce. The pesto sauce was entirely improvised, since I was low on basil, out of pine nuts, and almost out of olive oil. Thankfully I was able to rustle up a pesto with walnuts and basil that was heavy on the cheese. I won’t force my improvised recipe on you, but I based it on this recipe, if you’re interested.
I’d serve these with a nice bottle of Italian white wine and make your Saturday night extra special. And, best of all, they’re guaranteed to keep large swaths of your Saturday afternoon TV-free.
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School
2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes (approximately 3 large)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups flour, plus an extra 1/2 cup for mixing dough
1 tbs salt
Place potatoes (yes, that’s right, unpeeled) in a pot and cover with two inches of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are done – they should be easily pierced with a sharp knife or fork (approximately 35-40 minutes). Drain.
Peel potatoes (The Great One’s technique is to hold the hot potatoes in a towel while you peel with a paring knife or vegetable peeler) and mash or put through a potato ricer. Let cool.
For those of you who are extremely confident about your dough-mixing technique, place potatoes on a work surface, pour over egg, and cover with 1 1/2 cups flour and salt. Begin to combine mixture with your hands until it forms a dough and knead 4-5 minutes, adding reserved flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to work surface (don’t add more flour than the reserved 1/2 cup). The dough should be smooth and elastic. Pat into a rectangle.
Disclaimer: I did the entire above step in my Kitchen Aid mixer and then kneaded by hand for a minute or so at the end. As far as I could tell, it came out fine.
Cut the rectangle into six pieces, using a bench scraper. With the palms of your hands, roll one piece into a rope that is 1/2 inch thick. Cut ropes into 1 inch pieces with the bench scraper. Roll each piece against tines of a fork to create ridges. Repeat with other 5 pieces of dough. If not cooking immediately, place gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to 2 hours.
Cook gnocchi in a small batches in a large pot of salted boiling water. You will know they are done when they rise to the surface. When you remove each batch from the water and place in a bowl, make sure to cover the cooked gnocchi immediately with some pesto or olive oil, to keep them from sticking together.