On the first 90 degree day of the year, two pots of water are boiling away on the stove. We’re elbow deep in steaming potatoes plunked down and kneaded right on top of the kitchen table. Children are pouting. Children are running. Strangers are introducing themselves. I’m orchestrating a complex training scheme to facilitate efficient, non-stop production. . .
Ever enamored by ancient craft and emerging practice, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to celebrate the Argentinian tradition of making gnocchi on the 29th day of each month merging with the Bay-area trend of inviting the neighbors for an economical pasta feast each Friday.
For some reason I got in my head that children were essential to this manifestation. Perhaps I thought their tiny fingers would be effective tools for tenderly rolling slim snakes of dough? Or that the imprint of a tradition from childhood is more alluring than the compelled practice of adults?
Regardless, children were sought and their parents secured. The child-free and the child-averse filled out our tribe.
A google sheet assured all labor was shared and our diet was balanced (antipasti, salad, a veggie sauce and a meaty sauce, plus dessert). . . I just had to figure out how to make gnocchi for 12. . .
Mercifully there are many online tutorials and the potato dumplings are essentially simple in their ingredients and technique. There are some tips: bake don’t boil the starchy not waxy potatoes, use as little flour as possible, and don’t work too hard.
Our expectations were low.
Gnocchi has a reputation for being leaden and gummy in even the best intentioned restaurants. We could surely only aspire to such mediocrity?
Inspired by a circulating kitchen vignette, I decided at the last minute to make gnocchi two ways: one, traditional potato; a second, with the addition of parsnips.
Why do just one hard thing, when two would be so much more interesting!
The texture of the parsnips was very different from the potatoes. The texture of the parsnip dough was very different from the potato dough. Would it work? Was it a disaster?
In short, yes and definitely not.
We ended up with two platters brimming with airy pillows of starch that everyone felt some ownership of. The parsnips were a revelation; their earthiness contrasting beautifully with the grassiness of a bright pesto. The traditional variation was a lesson in contrasts: delicate dumplings with a satisfying ragu blanket.
We could have prepared three times as much and still wanted more.
Will I continue to religiously observe these rituals?
Nevertheless, now that I’ve learned some basic techniques trained a pool of skilled laborers, I could imagine seeing the 29th coming up on my calendar and dreaming of some alternative root veg to roast, knead with flour and transform into a feast. . .
So too with Fridays. We need not be legalistic about these things, but when opportunity and desire converge, why not boil an extra pound of spaghetti and invite a friend you haven’t met yet?