While living in Florence, Marni learned many Tuscan tips and techniques firsthand and excitedly recorded them in her trusty paisley-covered notebook. Five years later, we open the makeshift recipe book and flip through to find a unique pasta-making method. To be honest, neither of us had heard of gnocchi until traveling to Italy. Growing up, we associated pasta with semolina flour and egg. A favorite weeknight dinner featured bowls of spaghetti with a sprinkling of Mizithra cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. We were not familiar with these delectable Italian dumplings made from potatoes and flour.
On a whim with friends, Marni took a cooking class in a vine-covered villa in Florence and rolled out the light and fluffy pillows, from scratch. With a glass of Chianti in hand, the chef demonstrated the tricks of the trade to form, shape and cook his nonna’s famous gnocchi recipe with gusto. Sauteed with local olive oil, an abundance of fresh herbs, and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the finished product was delicious.
Inspired by the first buds of spring along the Charles River, we decide to spruce up a pasta dish with homemade gnocchi tossed with seasonal produce. Freshly sown spring greens, subtly sweet leeks, lemon zest and crispy pink pancetta add color and fragrance. The texture and flavor of the kneaded bits of dough surpass any pre-made version. With this in mind, the tiny handmade pillows are extremely delicate, so make sure to toss them lightly when sauteing with all of the accompanying ingredients.
Gnocchi with Sauteed Leeks, Pancetta and Spring Greens
2 lbs Russet potatoes
1 egg, beaten
1 c flour, plus more for working surface
pinch of salt
8 oz pancetta diced
2 T unsalted butter
1 leek, stem and tops removed, sliced thinly
1/4 c white wine (whatever you’re drinking!)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 t lemon zest
1 t dried oregano
1 large bunch of spring greens, chopped, we used baby spinach
juice of half a lemon
1/2 c grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
salt and pepper throughout
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Turn heat to high and boil the potatoes until completely soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and while still slightly hot, peel off the skin. With a fine grater, grate the potatoes into a bowl. Stir in the egg, flour, and salt. Mix until the egg and flour are incorporated. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Dust your work surface with flour and knead the dough until smooth, about 4-5 minutes. Form into a ball.
Cut the ball into quarters. With floured hands, roll out one of the quarters into a 1-inch thick log. With a pastry cutter or knife, cut the log into 1-inch squares. Repeat with the remaining three quarters.
Hold a fork with the tines facing down, and roll each potato square down the tines to create crimped grooves. Dust the finished gnocchi pillows lightly with flour and lay them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta until crispy, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.
Reduce heat to medium and spoon off all but 1 T fat from the pan. Add leeks, salt and pepper and sautee for 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add the wine. Allow the wine to boil, scraping up the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter, garlic, lemon zest, oregano, salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes.
When you are ready to serve the gnocchi, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches and cook until floating, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon directly to the sautee pan. Add the greens, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the sautee pan and toss with a wooden spoon for two minutes. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese with extra on the side and serve. Serves 4.