Gnocchi Soup with Chard or Fun with Snakes - january 22, 2011

I may sound out of my head when I say this, but I had a great time making homemade gnocchi with my 3 1/2 year old son last week. It was the most enjoyable cooking experience I’ve shared with either of my kids so far. While I like to get messy and watch them engage their senses, I am not an unusually patient parent, so fully enjoying their help in the kitchen doesn't really happen very often. Anyone who has attempted cooking with young kids will probably know what I mean.

Gardening with elementary students is a similarly challenging activity. I'd spent that same afternoon planting peas with my daughter’s Kindergarten and planted natives with two classes of first graders the day before. If nothing else, these were  great experiences for me to witness firsthand how much kids love to dig in the dirt. Their excitement was palpable: they shoved and lunged for shovels, fought to be the first to dig in, shrieked and beat watering cans on the pavement and hovered by the hose, hoping for a chance to spray themselves and others. Even the ones who ordinarily cry when they get messy and don’t like to touch tape or eat mayonnaise liked the dirt, they just took a little longer to get in it. 

The gnocchi, in comparison, was a sweet, quiet time I shared with my son, while his older sister covered our deck in chalk - mess making is much better handled one on one. We put on our aprons, floured our hands and our table and rolled potato flour snakes together. He then took great pride in cutting them up all by himself. The wonderful thing about gnocchi is that the pieces don’t need to be perfect, or even close to the same size. Just smush them long ways with a fork and roll them with your fingers, turning each one almost into a tube. That way they all look presentable.

But all too soon my reverie was broken as he refused to eat the gnocchi, once they were made into soup. 

“Too slimy!” he yelled, “I don’t think its healthy!” 

I’m hoping, that like the tamales he formerly refused to eat and now asks for by name, he’ll come around in time.

Potato Gnocchi: (adapted from Cuisine at Home Magazine)

This is a recipe that should be done in two stages. Cook and mash the potatoes early in the day or even the night before, then make the gnocchi later.

 1 1/2 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2” chunks

2/3 c flour, plus more for dusting

1/4 c grated parmesan

1 egg

1 t salt

1 t olive oil

pinch grated fresh nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain into a colander in the sink, then spread the potatoes on the baking sheet and dry them in the oven until they look white and chalky, about ten minutes. Mash the potatoes. I like using a potato ricer, but you could also push them through a mesh colander or sieve. Leave them to cool. If you are going to be continuing the project more than a couple hours from now, put them in the fridge.

When you are ready to make the gnocchi, knead the rest of the ingredients into the potatoes to make a soft dough. Flour your work surface and hands well, then divide the dough into five pieces and roll each one into a thin log, or snake. Cut your snakes into 1/2” squares. The pieces don’t need to be perfect, but smaller seems to be better than larger. Shape each piece by pressing it with a fork, then roll the gnocchi off the fork with your fingers into a nearly tubelike little pillow.

Boil the gnocchi in batches for about two minutes, until they float. Drop them in cold water to stop their cooking, then drain them in a colander and toss with olive oil to coat. You can eat them a million different ways, this soup below is pretty good.

Gnocchi Soup with Chard: (adapted from Canal House Cooking Vol 5)

1 large bunch chard

2 T butter

2 T olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

6 c chicken broth

1 bunch parsley leaves, chopped

1 recipe fresh cooked gnocchi

grated parmesan, for garnish

Trim the chard stems from their leaves, then wash both and finely chop the stems. Tear the leaves into small pieces and put them in a different bowl. Melt the butter and olive oil in a pot over medium-low heat, then add the onion, chard stems and garlic. Cover the pot and let it cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or so. Stir in the chard leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables are as tender as you want them to be. Taste and add salt if necessary. Then put some gnocchi in a bowl, ladle the soup on top of it and stir in a small handful of chopped parsley. You can grate some parmesan on as well, if you’d like.


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