The coronavirus quarantine, for me and for how I cook, boils down to stolen time. And the new temporal reality cuts both ways.

On the upside, staying home gives me more time to pull off those culinary projects I’ve had on the back burner for years. I know I am not alone in this regard. Based on information in my social media feeds and bread-baking chronicles in newspapers across the country, I’d bet good money more sourdough starters have been birthed during these months of confinement than babies will be born come eight or nine months from now.

Talk of babies brings me to the downside of this stolen time. My son opted to shelter in place in Chicago as the girlfriend, the foster dog and any hope of salvaging a semblance of festivity as his college career draws to a close are all resident there. I, too, was supposed to be there this weekend, celebrating his 22nd birthday, cooking some meals, pulling out my credit card for others at restaurants he can’t afford on his student budget. Among my immediate family, had he and I been locked up together, rather than 1,100 miles apart, we’d have had the most fun cooking together.

To fill the divide forged by the pandemic, Owen and I have taken to cooking together virtually. Our preferred platform is FaceTime because it’s nimble enough to let us move freely between refrigerators, workspaces, sinks and stoves. Early in the week, we compare the ingredients in our cupboards and freezers, decide on a menu, and negotiate on wine – he’s always trying to push naturally bubbly Portuguese vinho verde while I like dryer sauvignon blanc from Down Under. At the agreed-upon time, usually Thursday nights, we pour ourselves a glass in our respective kitchens, hop on the call and start cooking. When we’re done, I put him on speaker and the whole family eats together.

Since I took pains to teach him to cook four years ago so he wouldn’t starve as an adult, I am pleased to report it’s his culinary experimentation that drives the menu. Week One we had his favorite cheap meal – pasta Aglio e Olio – but we amped up the protein with a bit of crumbled Italian sausage. Week Two he’d run low on groceries, so I had an online order delivered to him that included a handful of ingredients he doesn’t typically buy on his budget. He was excited by the fresh salmon and developed a recipe for jalapeno, cilantro, garlic and lime salsa to top it off. Week Three brought an Asian chicken noodle stir-fry with a ginger soy sauce to the table. There were vegetables in our bowls – but not matching ones, mainly because he still refuses to eat mushrooms.

“I really want to play with browned butter sauces this week, Mom,” he said, explaining he’d discovered how to make it by accident. He’d turned away while melting butter in the pan and the milk solids went from white to golden brown. He didn’t want to waste it, so he ate it with great results. Browned butter is certainly one of those waste-not, want-not lessons that’s pretty easy to swallow. Especially if you add a little sage and pour it over gnocchi. That’s the dish we’ll be cooking “together” tonight.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

 

Pantry Gnocchi with Browned Butter, Sage, Pepitas and Breadcrumbs
“Pantry” in the title of this recipe can be defined in two ways: You can follow the entire recipe and make these little Italian dumplings from the potato and flour in your pantry as my Nonna taught me to do. I have better luck making gnocchi with waxy, boiling potatoes than with russet baking ones as the flesh of the former holds more moisture, making the dough easier to work with. If you don’t have time to make gnocchi, you can simply boil up shelf-stable or frozen gnocchi you can find in the grocery store as my son Owen likes to do. The brown butter sauce works equally well with either.

Browned butter in the foreground with handmade, rolled, uncooked gnocchi. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds potatoes (about 6 medium)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 egg, beaten
Kosher salt
Semolina or rice flour
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 small, fresh sage leaves, torn
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup salted, roasted pepitas

Place the whole, unpeeled potatoes in a pot. Cover with cold water, place over high heat, bring to a boil and cook until fork tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain the water and cool the potatoes on kitchen towels. Peel the potatoes and finely grate using a box grater or, ideally, a potato ricer.

Mound the grated potatoes on a clean work surface. Add flour around the base of the mound. Make a well in the center of the mound and add beaten egg and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk with a fork, starting in the center and working your way out to incorporate the flour into a shaggy dough. Use your hands to gently bring the mixture together into a smooth dough.

Form into a 6-inch square loaf. Cut the loaf into 1-inch slices. Roll each slice into a rope. Cut each rope into small pieces. You can roll each gnocchi down the tines of a fork if you want to be like my Nonna. She said the lines made the sauce stick better.

Place the formed gnocchi on a sheet tray dusted with semolina or rice flour.

While the gnocchi rests, melt 1 tablespoon butter into 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stainless-steel skillet over medium high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until all the crumbs are golden brown and crispy, 3-5 minutes. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and use a cloth to wipe out the skillet.

Add the remaining 7 tablespoons butter to the skillet and place the skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the butter turns golden, develops brown flecks and smells nutty. Watch it closely to keep the butter solids from burning. Remove from the heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi; wait until they float to the surface, then simmer 30 more seconds. Return the browned butter to medium-low heat. Scoop the gnocchi from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon, transfer to the skillet and toss until some of the brown-butter flecks stick to the gnocchi. Add the red pepper flakes, sage and a few tablespoons of the gnocchi cooking water; toss again. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Divide among bowls and top with the toasted breadcrumbs and pepitas and serve.


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