Botched Recipe #1: Gnocchi delicate gratinati
I don’t know what I’m thinking about. Look, I’m a passable cook. I can take raw ingredients and produce something edible. Sometimes it’s even good! I generally do most of the cooking in the household, and for the most part I enjoy it. Sure, like most households there’s a consistent stable of meals that I make. Taco night is real. Having these consistent meals at hand is important, because there’s a lot of times when five or six o’clock rolls around I have no real interest in doing work to provide food but at the same time don’t want to rely on take-out. At that point I can just reluctantly go into the kitchen and bingo bango, twenty minutes later food is on and we can carry on with our lives. Other times, however, I get tired of routine and want something different. Not only different, but perhaps… fancy? I can follow instructions, how hard could it be?
Okay, so look at this enormous recipe book I have. It was my grandmother’s, a first-generation Italian lady who knew her way around a kitchen. She had something of a hoarding problem when it came to recipes, and she’d scrawl them out on any given writing surface (including a random paper plate jammed into one book or another). There are thousands of index cards with illegible recipes for who knows what scattered throughout the boxes of recipe books she left behind when she passed. One of those books is this gem from the dim distant 1970’s. I am almost certain she never used this book. For a forty year old book, it shows almost no signs of wear. There’s no oil spots on any of the pages, nothing is torn or creased. It’s possible that she simply transcribed the recipes she wanted to index cards and used those instead. Her reasoning for that would be “well I wouldn’t want to spoil such a lovely book,” and I can literally hear her voice saying that as I’m writing this.
So let’s talk about this book for a minute because it’s a serious thing. It’s massive, and contains well over 2,000 recipes. These consist of everything from how to boil an egg to massive, multi-layer dessert monstrosities that seem like they’d take a few days to create. It’s all very Continental, and very 70’s. All of this stuff is at or above the Julia Child old school level, and as such is probably way out of my amateur-hour league. I’m fairly certain about two-thirds of the recipes call for some sort of veal product, which, who even sells veal anymore? Ethics aside – and I get having reservations about veal, but I mean if you’re down for eating meat you probably shouldn’t – it’s just not something that’s readily available. So already I’m going to have to be choosy about what I try and make out of this thing. Like, I’m not ready to prepare an entire calf’s head for consumption, you know? I am working my up toward the octopus pie, though. Look, we all have to have goals.
If my first effort is any indication, it’s going to be a while before I’m producing Hotel Excelsior level cuisine. I chose a seemingly simple recipe, little gnocchi dumplings. The only special ingredient I needed to get was some Gruyere, which barely counts as special. It’s mildly expensive cheese, I can do that, and I did that! Like most of these recipes, it calls for an irresponsible amount of butter. I’m okay with that. I like butter. So I did the thing. It honestly doesn’t seem that hard. I mean, I posted the actual page from the book and it seems relatively straightforward. Brought the milk to a boil, melted the butter, added the salt, okay okay okay. Then I put the flour in as instructed, and that’s when it got weird.
I think that some of these chefs out there writing cookbooks forget that us amateur goofs maybe aren’t clear on the lingo sometimes. That, and their language isn’t always the clearest, which I feel is important when trying to impart instructions to people. Anyway, the only thing I can think of is that I screwed the heat instructions up somehow. Once I added flour the resulting goo took on a tapioca quality to it; it was batter-like with many, many little lumps in it. The recipe refers to the proto-gnocchi as a “paste,” which was maybe close enough to what I had so that I just went for it. Besides it was getting late. So I glooped my cheese-batter into a baking dish, I even tried to form them up into little goo-balls, and then baked as instructed. It, uh, didn’t work.
I made a giant, buttery, cheesy pancake. In retrospect, I guess I could have tried adding more flour to the situation to stiffen the batter up into more of a paste. I don’t know! I followed the ingredient list to the letter. So… much… butter. Here’s the thing about this… whatever it is I made. It’s delicious. Just ridiculously tasty, which totally makes sense considering it’s nothing but milk, semi-fancy cheese, and butter. I just cut it up and served it. I roasted a nice purple cauliflower to go with it. So this was clearly a massive failure, but at least it was an edible one. I’ve learned that I cannot yet make gnocchi. I’ve also learned that I can make delightful cheesy butter-cakes with approximately 17,000 calories a piece, so it’s not a total loss.