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Cooking Off the Cuff: Too Many Gnocchi, Yet Not Quite Enough

If you eat a lot of it, you'll need to lie down for an hour or two, but in modest portions it is not a challenging dish.
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Last week I carelessly made too many potato gnocchi for a dinner generated by the purchase of half a pound of fresh porcini in uncommonly good condition, so I froze the excess for another occasion. But there weren't really enough for a full meal in which the gnocchi would be the star players, so I needed to devise a dish in which they'd play a smaller, though no less crucial, role.

It helped, I found, to think of the gnocchi as potatoes, which is what they mostly were. That made them best friends with the leeks and the third of a small Savoy cabbage that were in the fridge. This put me in mind of a stripped-down potée - a French soup/stew found in numerous versions, most (all?) of them containing those vegetables as well as some form of cured pork. It's hearty and simple; if you eat a lot of it, you'll need to lie down for an hour or two, but in modest portions it is not a challenging dish.

Here's what I did with my surplus gnocchi. For two portions, I squeezed the meat out of a large sweet Italian-style sausage (with fennel seed), about 6 ounces (170 g), and cooked it over medium-low heat with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooked. If it browned at all, it turned only slightly golden. Before it had cooked through, I added two medium leeks cut on the bias and carefully washed in two changes of water to remove any grit (and well drained), along with a handful of sliced fennel bulb, a quarter teaspoon of fennel seed and salt and pepper. My fennel bulb was very aromatic; if yours isn't, use a little more, and increase the dose of fennel seed to half a teaspoon. (A vegetarian/vegan version could substitute any variety of mushrooms for the sausage.)

When the vegetables began to grow tender, I added a couple of tablespoons of white wine (for its acidity) and reduced it to nearly nothing, then around 2/3 cup (160 ml) of stock: chicken as it happens, though a flavorful vegetable stock would have worked well too. With the pan (a shallow casserole or deep skillet) partly covered, I simmered this, stirring frequently, until the vegetables were tender enough to eat but still bright in color. This stage took no time at all; if your vegetables require more time, you may need to add some more stock. I turned off the heat and set the pan aside until dinner time.

I cut the paler internal leaves of the cabbage into half-inch (generous 1 cm) strips, wilted them in boiling salted water until just tender - this was the work of less than a minute - and drained them in a strainer.

I cooked the gnocchi from their frozen state in very gently boiling salted water. As they cooked, I added the cabbage to the vegetable mixture and brought this back up to the simmer, checking for seasoning. When the gnocchi were done (keep checking - they could take four minutes from frozen, or they could take six), I used a rubber spatula to fold them gently into the vegetables. I checked the seasoning again and added chopped parsley - enough to be tasted, but not so much that it changed the balance of the dish.

A very warm and friendly dish, sweet from the vegetables and earthy from the potatoes. It is easily adaptable to however many gnocchi you have in the freezer. Indeed, if you have none at all, potatoes, cut into large dice and boiled until tender, would be an excellent - and logical - substitute.

Sausage meat browning - lightly
Photograph by Edward Schneider.
Then, a couple of medium leeks and some really aromatic fennel, briefly braised with stock
Photograph by Edward Schneider.
Just before the gnocchi, gentle-tasting Savoy cabbage, previously par-cooked
Photograph by Edward Schneider.
The freshly boiled gnocchi were folded in at the last minute
Photograph by Edward Schneider.
The gnocchi were excess production from this porcini dish
Photograph by Edward Schneider.