Monday, May 3, 2010

Cornmeal Gnocchi

I have never really understood obsession that some people have with pasta.  It's good, but it's rarely so good I crave a repeat.  Honestly, I probably ate a ton of it in college with plain old jarred sauce and just got sick of it,  forgetting how great fresh pasta with a delicate and flavorful sauce can really be.  This being said, I really and truly appreciate fresh, homemade pasta, probably more than the average joe.  I have tried my hand at making pasta a few times and know it isn't foolproof.  Even simple semolina pasta made by hand involves skill, practice, and a handful of luck.

Well, this weekend with my foodie friend, Lori, in town for a visit, we headed to Little Italy on Saturday night.   Along with a few other food-loving girls, we headed to Holly's favorite, Da Nico Ristorante.  They don't take reservations, but we were seated in their huge, sprawling garden within ten minutes.  A beautiful and unique house-made bruschetta-type flatbread came to the table right away.  It was delicious.  It was a round flatbread-type crust that suggested a brick oven in action.  This crisp and flaky crust was topped with ripe, sweet tomato chunks just chopped and tossed with garlic, lemon, and basil.  When your ingredients are this fresh and impeccable, simplicity like this is the way to go!

On such a warm and beautiful night, we ordered a crisp and citrus-y Pinot Grigio and took our time perusing the menu.  The pasta selection was great!  Traditional preparations like pomodoro sauce and Bolognese sauce were offered, as well as creative preparations like spicy vodka sauce with olives and fresh mozzarella, pesto, and various chicken and seafood preparations.  All pastas were made in house.  They also had a vast selection of pizzas and non-pasta entrees/secondo corso as well.  Delectable.

Potato gnocchi is always where I gravitate on an Italian menu if it is offered.  Those chewy little potato dumplings are so addictive and I like them with just about any sauce.  So that is what I ordered--Gnocchi Napolitana.

It arrived and was outrageously delicious.  It may be the most tender, yet flavorful gnocchi I have had.  Very fresh mozzarella was chopped into pieces about the size of the gnocchi and the mixture was gently tossed in a very fresh and delicate tomato sauce and topped with a huge sprig of aromatic basil.

My friends enjoyed the Rigatoni with Olives and Fresh Tomatoes, a special that offered Lobster Chunks in a Spicy Vodka Sauce that was divine, and a classic Spaghetti with Bolognese.  We ate well.  At the end, the waiter brought us a plate of zeppoles on the house (not that we were able to eat much more!).

The service here was great and we felt not a bit rushed, which is a rarity and a huge plus for a busy garden restaurant like this in NYC.  What a great spot!  This is a place to remember for great Italian eats.  A hidden gem!

Now that I am thinking about gnocchi, I will share a gnocchi recipe that I haven't made in ages, but was a huge hit and often-requested dish with my clients a few years back.  I would serve this with a roasted pepper-infused tomato sauce or cilantro butter.  It isn't traditional like what we had on Saturday, but it is a guaranteed hit!

Buon Appetito!

Cornmeal Gnocchi

1 cup cold mashed potatoes
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 tsp sea salt

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together to make a soft dough.  The best way to do this is mashing everything together with clean hands.

Divide the dough into fourths.  On a floured board with floured hands, roll each quarter into a rope 12 inches long.  Slice each rope into 15 pieces.  After slicing, roll the dough between two forks the make some cute ridges, if you like.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the gnocchi.  Cook until the gnocchi float to the top.  Drain and serve with a classic or creative sauce.

The simplest homemade pasta that there is!

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