It was so charming.
The decoration in the basement-level café evoked a cross between a grotto and a market. A glass display case held tiramisus and Oranginas, and light leaked in from the little basement windows near the ceiling. Shelves on the walls displayed those Italian “nona’s” cookies, lots of stick crackers, and bags of the fancy-looking colored pastas that no one buys. There was even an ogling bartender with slicked hair, a carafe of house wine on our little table, and Franky blaring out mood ballads on the stereo.
The old roommate and I had popped into a trattoria on Newbury, the big shopping street in Boston, and were staving off afternoon hanger with baskets of 3 PM-stale bread in one of our spots for quick Italian food.
The server slid a bowl of gnocchi in cherry tomato sauce in front of me and a heaping lasagna in front of Ker. She left a bill on our table and walked away.
“This is not homemade gnocchi,” I said, unimpressed, already dredging it in olive oil and gulping down the still steaming dumplings.
“Oh?” Ker says, in a voice that said please-tell-me-how-dissatisfied-you-are-no-really.
“Yeah! The server said this was homemade, but these are the prepackaged kind of gnocchi.”
“How can you tell?”
“I just can. They’re so consistent. All the exact same size. And they probably don’t have the budget to employ an old professional gnocchi roller to labor over fresh potato dumplings every day anyway – if you think about it.”
And neither do I. And neither do you.
Look, I know that I am a pasta snob. “Real” pasta is the fresh-made kind, and “housemade gnocchi” means there is a grandma back there rolling fresh dumplings off her thumbs. But I have a schedule too, and I have settled for the prepackaged gnocchi twice this week already. Did you hear that?? “Settled!” I’m insufferable.
As hard as it has been for me to get my brain around it, that prepackaged gnocchi is good! I declare that they have mastered it. It’s pillowy and fluffy, rich without being dense, and it COOKS IN TWO MINUTES. Sure, buying the premade gnocchi might be more expensive than cooking potatoes and rolling out gnocchi by hand, but everyone deserves a treat sometimes, and I’m all about treats that come together in two minutes, doused in olive oil.
One of my favorite sauces is simple too – sautéed leeks and garlic with a fresh cherry tomatoes thrown in at the last minute, and lots of lemon and olive oil.
Mangia bene! We’ll make hand-rolled gnocchi another time. 🙂
Weeknight Gnocchi with Leeks & Cherry Tomatoes
Note: I used sweet potato gnocchi, which is why they are orange, but any variety of packaged gnocchi will do. Don’t tell, but my favorite is the gluten-free kind! So potato-y. 🙂
500g/17.6 oz. shrinkwrapped or frozen gnocchi
2 cups leeks (1 large)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups spinach, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2–3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Olive oil or vegan butter spread
Salt & freshly-cracked black pepper
Fresh parsley or basil for garnish, optional
1. In a large (4-qt.) pot, bring salted water to a boil.
2. To prepare leeks, cut off the root and the dark green leaves, so you have a stalk of leek that runs from white to green. Slice longways, so you have two long stalks, then run under cold water, lifting apart the layers to rinse away any dirt. Dry on a paper towel. Then slice each half of the stalk into quarter-inch wide half moons.
3. In a large nonstick or cast iron skillet, bring 2 Tablespoons oil or butter to medium or medium-low. Sauté leeks until just softened (5 minutes), then add garlic. Sautée for 5 minutes more, reducing heat if leeks begin to brown.
4. When leeks and garlic are translucent and soft, add spinach and cherry tomatoes and stir, turning heat up to medium-high. When tomato skins begin to blister, scoop all of the vegetables into a large heatproof bowl and put a lid (or a dinner plate!) over it to keep it warm.
5. Return skillet to the burner and raise heat to high. Add butter or oil.
6. Meanwhile, cook gnocchi in boiling water according to package directions. When gnocchi floats to the top of the pot, use a slotted spoon or a spider to lift gnocchi out of the pot, shake gently to get rid of excess water, and transfer to hot skillet. (Reserve pasta water.) Toss gnocchi in the oil and let sear for 2-3 minutes. Toss the pan to sear the other side of the gnocchi.
7. Pour gnocchi into the bowl of vegetables and toss to coat. Add hot, starchy pasta water to the bowl a tablespoon at a time if the sauce is too dry.
8. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then toss in 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, reserving the rest for diners to add in their own bowls.
Serve with extra lemon juice and strong olive oil for drizzling.