That Time We Made Gnocchi

That Time We Made Gnocchi

Stay with me here, everyone. Gnocchi?! How can I make gnocchi with kids - I don't even know how to make it without kids! And I hear you. But this is the easiest gnocchi you'll ever make, and it turns out beautifully. 

Gnocchi is a dish of pasta dumplings, typically made with a base of potatoes, flour and eggs (though I've made a mean vegan gnocchi in my time). I have always made gnocchi with potatoes, either standard or sweet, and that is a recipe that takes some time - turns out that's mainly due to cooking, cooling, peeling and sieving the potatoes, since this potato-free version was on the table in about 30 minutes. On the table! Co-effort of one adult and two young children! Half an hour! Substantial dinner! This is good news for all of us.

Cash grating Parmesan, Polly snacking on cooked spinach

Cash grating Parmesan, Polly snacking on cooked spinach

Breaking eggs to add 

Breaking eggs to add 

Spinach is in!

Spinach is in!

The dough is made from two cheeses, flour, eggs, salt and spinach. You don't even have to saute the spinach - simply pour boiling water over it, drain and squeeze, and finely chop. (This step I did before the kids joined in, but squeezing out the water with a dish towel would be fun kid task, I bet). Some of my previous potato gnocchi efforts ended in lumpy dough (and resulted in a tough final product), but this easily came together into a very smooth dough.

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As I have said before, kids + dough is a dreamy match. Dough is sticky, messy, soft, squishable, rollable, and in this case quite fluffy and easy to mold into logs. The more they work with different types of dough, the more kids will get used to how each type of dough feels and how it needs to be handled. For example, this dough is far lighter than either bread dough or pizza dough (much stretchier), or pie dough (much crumblier). Kids are naturally very sensory and hands-on creatures and using dough to cook with is one great way to harness that interest. In the video below, Cash (5) wanted to explain why he was turning over the log of dough, and entirely independently, over at her station, Polly (3.5) started cutting her logs up into gnocchi pieces. 

So as you can see from my 3.5-year-old's handling, this gnocchi dough isn't delicate. It's worth the flour on the floor to see your children delight in eating the meal they made. This is a truly manageable recipe for a couple of youngsters after school on a weekday. Really!

Simple Gnocchi with Cheese and Spinach
Adapted from Donna Hay

For gnocchi dough:
1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
6-10 oz baby spinach leaves
extra flour, for rolling out the gnocchi

For the dressing: 
Lemon zest from half a lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice - from 1 whole lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

While you prepare the dough, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.

To make the gnocchi dough, place the ricotta, Parmesan, flour, eggs, and salt in a large bowl.

Set the spinach in a large heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and set aside for 1 minute. Drain, place in a clean tea towel, squeeze to remove the excess liquid and finely chop. Add spinach to gnocchi dough and mix to combine.

Dust a clean surface heavily with flour. In the photos above, we used a very large cutting board for one kid station and two overlapping silipat mats for the other station. Make sure you have bowls of extra flour handy, for sprinkling on the work surface and the dough and for dipping sticky hands. 

Divide the dough in four, and mold/roll the pieces, one at a time, into a 1-inch-wide log. Using a pastry cutter or a flat spatula, slice dough into 3/4-inch thick pieces and set aside on a lightly floured or parchment paper-lined tray. Cook the gnocchi, in 2 batches, in your large saucepan of salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until risen to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a serving platter. Drizzle pieces with a little olive oil. 

Place lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl, and whisk to combine. Get kids to taste for seasoning (more lemon? more salt?). You could dip a piece of cooked gnocchi in the dressing to test it. Serve this dressing separately at the table, for kids to add themselves if they like. Personally, I found the combination of lemon, olive oil and gnocchi to be irresistible. 

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