Monday, September 20, 2010

Trader Joe’s and Gnocchi

Day 112
            If you think like me, you think of Trader Joe’s and you think yummy, off-the-beaten-path kinds of food. If you do not think like me, chances are you are not reading this blog so the point is moot.
There is a newly built Trader Joe’s in a neighboring college town and they have a huge sign out front that indicates that they are accepting applications. Sarita and our 12-year-old daughter both suggested I apply. Later, another friend made the same suggestion. I figured such a popular idea should not go unattended so off I went to Trader Joe’s to apply. Well, not really, I received this information Sunday, and figured it was a Monday through Friday kind of thing.
I woke up bright and early this morning - Well, nothing “bright” about my mood, two of our cats misbehaved all night, so I didn’t get much sleep – ready to face another day of action-packed, fun-filled job hunting. I was further encouraged by an article I read this morning declaring the recession long since over. Fantastic! I was sure, now that businesses and agencies were aware that there is nothing to worry about in our economy, I would land a job today.
Dressed in khaki cargo pants and a bright blue shirt with suns, moons and stars on it, I drove to Trader Joe’s. There were a handful of people sitting on folding chairs filling out applications. WEARING BUSINESS SUITS. This position is for a part-time crew member position, not manager! I was taken aback at first, so I took and application and said I’d bring it back later (fully intending to change clothes before I returned). Ultimately I decided, the hell with it, and returned the completed application without changing. They are holding interviews next week.
So, what does all of this have to do with gnocchi’s? This morning as I was perusing my email, I noticed a new recipe for Gnocchi with shrimp, asparagus and pesto in my mailbox. The Trader Joe’s experience fresh in my memory, it just seemed like the right thing to make for dinner. This may seem like a huge leap for some of you, but it really is how my brain works. Scary, huh?
The recipe called for a 16-ounce, vacuum-packed package of gnocchi. I did not see any such animal while I was out doing my grocery shopping this morning. I came home, unloaded the car, and looked for a gnocchi recipe. I realized that I only had a vague recollection of what exactly a gnocchi was, but that did not deter me. The recipe I found at had a level of “Intermediate,” a cook time of 47 minutes, and prep time of 1 hour. I personally prefer the level of “ridiculously simple” but was willing to give it a shot and the hour and 47 minutes didn’t deter me; it gave me an excuse to put off mowing the lawn for another day. Damn project took me way longer!
The first part was easy, gather up the ingredients:
Kosher salt
1 pound russet potatoes
3 to 4 large egg yolks (if you are prepping ahead of time, only crack 3 of the eggs, you might not need the 4th)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon gray salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board and dough
Well, here is where I first started running into problems: 1) I had no idea what “gray salt” was, so I was standing in the grocery store using my cell phone to Google the darn phrase. Turns out it is basically fancy sea salt. I wound up buying red gold sea salt because neither of the two stores I went to had “gray.”  2) When I got home from running around looking for gray salt, I discovered I was mistaken in my belief that we had not one, but two open boxes of kosher salt in the cupboard. We had not two, but none. I glanced at the recipe again to make sure there was nothing else I was forgetting and set out to buy the kosher salt.
After gathering together all of the aforementioned ingredients, I set forth on putting them together. (Note: the entire, unedited recipe can be found at the link at the end of this post.)
I preheated the oven to 425 degrees and then spread a layer of kosher salt on a baking sheet and put the potatoes on top. There’s a Cook’s Note in the original recipe that I have not included here. Basically it helps them cook better from how I read it. Anyway, you cook them until they are a bit overcooked (45 minutes or so). Those suckers are going to be screaming hot when you take them out of the oven, so let them cool down a bit. And no, this is not one of those “speaking from experience” moments. There was no emergency room trip or first aid kits needed here. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half, and scoop out the flesh.
Here is where I wish I had read the entire recipe before starting. The next step instructs the cook to “Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer or grate them on the large holes of a box grater.” Had I known this ahead of time, I would have used much bigger potatoes. It was crazily difficult to grate the potato nubs that I pulled out of the skins. I pretty much wound up mashing them with a potato masher since, by this time, I had read the whole recipe and discovered you wind up smooshing it all up anyway so it’s pretty much the same result texture-wise. (Turns out mashing was a really bad idea and may have contributed to some of the issues I had later in the recipe).
 You should have about 2 cups of potatoes. The recipe instructs, “Make a mound out of the potatoes on a clean breadboard, or your counter with a well in the middle, add 3 of the egg yolks, the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix in the potatoes and mix well with hands.” May I note, this makes a gooey, sticky mess all over your hands? One might think a reasonable alternative would to be putting it in a bowl and maybe using an egg beater or the potato masher that I used in the previous step, but it is so sticky and thick one might discover that it doesn’t really help matters.
So, then you sprinkle 1/2 of the flour over the potatoes and press it into the sticky mass with your knuckles. (Damn! I had just gotten all the crud from the previous step off of my hands). The recipe says, “Fold the mass over on itself and press down again. Sprinkle on more flour, little by little, folding and pressing the dough until it just holds together, try not to knead it. Work any dough clinging to your fingers (my observation is that is quite a bit) back into the dough. If the mixture is too dry, add another egg yolk or a little water. The dough should give under slight pressure. It will feel firm but yielding.” At this point, I’m saying to myself, “What the hell was I thinking? These had better be good.”
Once you can get it rolled into a rope ½ inch in diameter, you’re done with this step. In case this is not obvious to you (it wasn’t to me) use a lightly floured surface to roll the dough. If the dough doesn’t hold together, keep adding flour little by little and pressing the dough until it does.
Okay, so now I’m supposed to (while keeping the work surface and the dough lightly floured) cut the dough into 4 pieces. Other than the knife kind of sticking to it, this went okay. Then you roll each piece on your lightly floured work surface into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. (I’m thinking, “Really, a half inch in diameter? I was only able to get my rope down to a little under an inch.) Lightly flour the gnocchi as you cut them. The recipe goes on to explain that you can cook these as they are, or form them into the classic gnocchi shape. Yeah, right! If you want to do the fancy stuff, check out the original recipe. Me, I’m skipping this part.
I transferred the lightly floured, cut gnocchi chunks onto a piece of waxed paper. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to put the waxed paper on a cookie sheet like the recipe says, so that they could be easily moved off of the counter if needed. Oh well, another lesson learned. The cook is then instructed to set the gnocchi filled cookie sheet in front of a fan on low for 1/2 hour (turning gnocchi after 15 minutes). I guess this is where you find out if you put too much flour on.
That’s pretty much it. I decided to cook them all (recipe says it serves 4 and I wanted to see how they held out as leftovers for Sarita’s lunch tomorrow.) To cook them you just drop the gnocchi into a big pot of salted boiling water. When the little buggers float to the top cook them for about 90 seconds longer. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer, shake off the excess water, and serve as desired.
If you want to freeze them, make space in your freezer, put the gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper dusted with flour and freeze until hard. Put them into freezer bags or whatever you use to store your frozen food. They keep for up to a month. When you are ready to cook them, just drop the frozen lumps into boiling salted water and cook for about 2 minutes after they rise to the surface.
I cooked up some asparagus and shrimp and a homemade pesto (used pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts because pine nuts were too expensive) and served it all up with a salad for dinner. I had purchased a cooked chicken while I was at CostCo, just in case the whole thing when to shit, but it turned out pretty damn tasty.
The gnocchi recipe was provided to Food Network by Michael Chiarello and can be found in its entirety at
I felt the need to add this adendum: A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video that 1) tells how to pronounce gnocchi, 2) recommends AGAINST using a potato masher, and 3) makes it look insanely easy!!


  1. Not sure if anyone is reading comment, but if you are, check out this link
    It shows a video of making gnocchi. Also, it does recommend AGAINST mashing.

  2. Hey I have a very awesome recipe for Ricotta Gnocchi that you make with a cavatelli maker. It only has 4 EZ ingredients. Next time you are in the mood for that kind of pasta, call me, I will bring over the cavatelli maker and help you out - you freeze it and can use it later.

  3. Sounds great!!! I will take you up on that one.

  4. Well I don't recall that I've ever actually had gnocchi before (although I have wanted to try it many times) but I have to say this was one of the best COMFORT FOODS I have ever tasted. It was all warm and squishy and tasty on my tongue. AND she forgot to mention that the homemade pesto was made with homegrown Basil (thank you very much!). I have now eaten the left overs for two days in a row at lunch and am sad that it's gone for tomorrow...YUMMY!!

    Baby, next I think you should blog about what it's like to be the tomboy/butch acting as a wife...Cuz I gotta say, for the first time EVER I HAVE a wife, instead of I AM the wife...and I think I might be starting to like it!!
    Love you sweetie!!!

  5. Not sure about the long-term possibilities of me being the "housewife" (especially since I still have all the "househusband" duties.) But for now, it's tolerable.

  6. Don't know if you know who Michael Chiarello is, but here ya go! and here's where you can buy his stuff online: ... I used to watch his show on PBS.