Monday, January 10, 2011

Not Quite Gnocchi (aka Homemade Tater Tots)

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch (or join us) as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.
P.S. It has occurred to me that you might want to know how much time I spend cooking. Do I have to slave away all day to make cheap foods? Is that why the food industry is blessing us with all this quick processed food? Well, have a look. I've begun including the amount of time I cook each day in Jean's Food Journal. (Boy, you don't get more exciting than that.)

A few days ago I carelessly compared gnocchi to tater tots. Clearly, I angered the gnocchi gods because when I went to make gnocchi yesterday, I couldn't get the potatoes crumbly enough. They sat there stubbornly the size of little pearls, looking like caviar (that is what caviar looks like, right?).

Fine, I told the culinary gods (actually, I didn't because I don't believe in culinary gods), I'll just make real tater tots instead.

And I did. And they were good.

It took a little longer than it will take you considering I had the whole error thing going on.

But first, let me tell you how to make gnocchi, should you wish for something smoother than a humble tater tot. After that, I'll tell you how I messed it up and ended up with a more traditional, though healthier than traditional, tater tot.

Gnocchi is a type of potato pasta. Once formed it can be boiled as is traditional. It can also be pan fried, for those of you who don't like to take the risk of watching your hard work crumble apart into potato paste in a pot of boiling water. I have--do I need to say it--always pan fried mine. (P.S. If you're new to cooking, pan fry means to cook in just a bit of oil or butter in a skillet. As opposed to deep-fry, which means to let the little boogers be submersed in oil, ala McDonald's french fries.)

Gnocchi (tater tots if you mess em up)
Serves: 2 generously; 4 side-dishishly
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour for potato baking; 15 minutes for pan frying
Cost: $.60

about 2 lb (about 4 medium large ones) starchy potatoes (you want something dry like a russet as opposed to something wet or waxy like a red)
1/4 C egg, lightly beaten (about 1 egg)
1 scant C flour
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
salt and pepper

Roast or bake  potatoes. (I use leftover baked potatoes.) Let cool. If baked, scoop flesh out of skins. Use a fork or grate them to flake them and break them up. You don't want to mash them because you don't want the potato fibers (for lack of a better word) to be tight and compact. You want the potato to be kind of loose and all broken apart. If your potatoes are warmish, you can probably flake them apart with a fork and get a nice "crumb"--the potatoes should be broken enough that you can add the other ingredients and form them into a type of dough. If your potatoes are cold and stubborn and determined not to separate from themselves as mine were, I suggest you remove the skins and them grate them. That's right--either manually grate them (it won't take long--they're soft) or throw them into the grater thing on a food processor

Gather the potato crumbs into a blob (again, not a mashed down blob--a soft blob) and drizzle the egg over it. Then sprinkle about 3/4 C flour over top of it. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Work it together with your fingers. I do this by swirling my hand in a circle through the stuff utnil it kind of comes together and then I bring it together in a dough like lump and begin to knead it. When it looks like dough, roll it out into snakes (as though it were playdough) and then cut the snakes into 1-inch segments.

Heat some oil or butter or--my favorite--a combination thereof (2 T oil; 1 T butter) in a skillet and pan fry till golden on all sides. Alternately, you could throw them into a pot of boiling water and cook like pasta. (When they're done they should float to the top of the water.) Or (and this is surely gnocchi blasphemy) you could deep fry them, or bake them at 400 for about 15 minutes, flipping them halfway through cooking time. But the pan-fried is my favorite--more full-proof than the boiled, tastier than the baked and not so darn fried (or such a hassle) as the deep fried.

Gnocchi can be served anyway pasta is--with marinara, with a cream sauce, with pesto, or with a type of butter/sage sauce that is often used. Should I succeed on my next gnocchi attempt, I'll work on a sage butter post for you.

Now: How I messed up and made tater tots instead.

My potatoes were cold and they did not want to be flaked in any way with a fork. In an effort to get them to break apart, I used 2 knives to sort of pastry cut them (cut through them with the knives moving in opposition to each other). And I ended up with the little balls seen above. It was too late to grate them and I knew those balls wouldn't form into real gnocchi, but I was tired of pastry cutting. (It doesn't take much to get me tired of pastry cutting.) So I drizzled the egg and flour on them and then rolled them out into snakes and cut them up. Then I pan-fried them. It was fun.

If you want to make tater tots, just take cold baked potatoes and get them into smallish chunks--use a pastry cutter or 2 knives if that helps, or just a fork to hack at them. Then put them together following the recipe for gnocchi above.


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