Front Burner: Gnocchi di Farina turns nothing into something

Shaped and flour-dusted gnocchi di farina  rest before cooking. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Shaped and flour-dusted gnocchi di farina rest before cooking. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Gnocchi di Farina definitely isn't my favorite gnocchi -- that honor goes to tender, pillow-soft ricotta gnocchi -- but this recipe is a good reminder that even when you think there's nothing to cook, there's probably a filling meal lurking in your pantry and refrigerator.

The gnocchi themselves require just flour, salt and water. That's all there is to them. In this recipe, I adapted from Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, the little dumplings are dressed in olive oil, bacon, garlic, parmesan, parsley, lemon, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

The parsley could easily be swapped out for a different herb -- I'm thinking basil, rosemary or sage. Milk Street's version called for pancetta, but I used thick-cut American bacon. In another departure from the original, I forgot to add the olive oil at the end, but we didn't miss it. Dairy lovers might prefer a glug of heavy cream.

To up the nutrition and round out the meal, add a couple of handfuls tiny green peas, steamed asparagus or broccoli florets.

Gnocchi di Farina with bacon and garlic

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

6 medium cloves garlic , thinly sliced

¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil, or more to taste

1 ounce parmesan cheese, finely grated (about ½ cup; I used a microplane)

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set a wire rack (a crisscross grid works best) in a second rimmed baking sheet.

In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil over medium-high. Reduce to low and add 1 teaspoon salt. While stirring with a flexible, heat-safe spatula, gradually add the flour. After all the flour has been added, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it forms a smooth, stiff, evenly moistened dough, about two minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and lightly flour the dough. It will be hot to the touch. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough about ½ inch thick (exact dimensions do not matter), then use a bench scraper to fold the dough into thirds. Repeat the process, dusting with flour as needed, three or four more times, or until the dough is still warm to the touch but workable. Using your hands, knead the dough, continuing to dust with flour as needed, until dough is smooth and elastic, about three minutes. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Using the bench scraper, divide the dough into three equal pieces and re-cover with the towel. Working with one portion at a time, using your hands, roll one piece of dough against the counter into a rope about 18 inches long and about ¾ inch in diameter. Cut the rope into ½-inch pieces and lightly dust the pieces with flour. Dip the back of the tines of a fork into flour, then gently press into each piece to create a ridged surface. Transfer the gnocchi to the parchment-lined baking sheet; try to not allow them to touch. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and about one-third of the gnocchi. Return to a boil, stirring once or twice, and cook for two minutes. Using a slotted spoon and allowing excess water to fall back into the pot, transfer the gnocchi in batches to the wire rack set over the baking sheet; spread them out so they don't touch. The gnocchi will be very soft at this point, but will firm up as they cool. Cook and drain the remaining gnocchi in the same way, in two more batches.

After the final batch of gnocchi has been transferred to the rack, reserve about 1½ cups of the cooking water; discard the remainder. Let the gnocchi cool 10-60 minutes. They will firm up as they cool.

When you are ready to serve, in a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium, cook the pancetta or bacon, stirring often, until browned and crisped. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl; set aside. Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, then add 1 tablespoon oil and the garlic to the pan. Cook over medium-low, stirring, until the garlic is light golden brown, about two minutes. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to the bowl with the bacon. Return the pan to medium and add the gnocchi and red pepper flakes; cook one to two minutes and then add ½ cup of the reserved cooking water. Cook, stirring and tossing often, until the gnocchi are heated through, three to five minutes; add up to ½ cup more reserved water as needed to form a silky sauce. Return the bacon and garlic to the skillet and cook one to two minutes more.

Remove pan from heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice and parsley. Taste and season with salt and black pepper and more lemon juice as needed. Serve sprinkled with the parmesan.

Makes about four servings.

photo Kelly Brant/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Gnocchi di Farina with bacon and garlic
photo Gnocchi di Farina With Bacon and Garlic (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

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