HAVE YOU MET my gnocchi? That’s plural, by the way, just like the plural of “sheep” is “sheep,” no “s”.
Gnocchi, pronounced nee-OCK-kee, are Italian dumplings made from potato, flour, egg yolks — three simple ingredients, make it four, if you add the salt. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that these little elliptical lumps of riced baked potatoes are difficult to make — they aren’t, especially after you’ve put in the requisite hours of practice, tuning into the rhythm and the meditative minutes making it affords.
“Take your time,” wrote Thomas Keller in his 1999 publication, The French Laundry. “Take a long time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention.”
That’s not to say you have to move through dinosaur ages to perfect your gnocchi, it just gets better at each attempt. And it’s entirely OK to have a botched batch, it’s part of growing up.
This time last year, I hadn’t even known what a gnocchi tastes or feels like. The first gnocchi I have ever eaten was the one I made a few weeks before the Christmas of 2018, using the recipe of Chef Keller, the greatest American chef of all time in the classical French tradition, the man who has opened my eyes to a million things in the extraordinary world of French cuisine.
Tomato Sauce from Scratch
The dish you see above is my gnocchi all dressed up with tomates concassées, that French culinary term referring to tomatoes that have been blanched, peeled, de-seeded, then chopped. Concassées doesn’t literally mean chopped, but crushed, but you get the drift.
That’s right, tomates concassées is the starting point of a tomato sauce made from scratch — the finest, most elemental pleasures of tomatoes, provided you get the plumpest, ripest, reddest, sweetest tomatoes at the height of their summer goodness.
Those superlatives are vital, but how much do I know about the seasons, poor pretentious chick living in an all-the-time-summer isle on the equator?
Even if I tried to follow the summers of America or France or Italy or Holland, or the down-south countries of Australia and New Zealand, the imported Roma tomatoes or vine tomatoes we find here do little justice to my imagination of a tomato that sings a gorgeous, soaring aria, the kind that makes you shudder with delight.
And every time I hear that hyphenated adjective, vine-ripe or vine-ripened, bandied about by chefs, including Chef Keller, I almost burn with a dreadful kind of jealousy: How come you get all those vine-ripened goodies, those sexy San Marzanos, and I don’t?
God’s Provision, Nature’s Bounty
But even in our perceived lack and shortage, God always grants us little blessings and sends us the warmest tidings to tell us that He loves us, He hasn’t forgotten us, and He always provides.
So what do I find at the neighborhood market at Jessica’s corner vegetable stall, and at Siew Lian’s, next to hers? These little jewels from Holland — sometimes, they show up as cherry tomatoes, other times, and more rarely, as strawberry tomatoes, which go by a fancier moniker at NTUC called strawmato — such a cheesy name, great branding though, but don’t ever get me to say it, just like you can’t make me swear like Gordon Ramsay ever again.
Naked Gnocchi Party
It may look like hard kitchen labor, making a concassées out of these tiny little tomatoes, but I will not make this dish if I didn’t have them. I suppose I could go with the next best option: canned whole tomatoes from Italy, peeled and macerated in tomato juice. But I’m so lousy and inflexible with next-best options, so can I do this instead?
I’d just invite everyone to a naked gnocchi party — not us naked, I mean, but the gnocchi, OK? Naked Gnocchi.
I’d toss frozen gnocchi I made yesterday into a hot, stick-free pan slicked with olive oil, and make them jump from the side of the slope-edged pan — jump, sauté, jump, jump, that’s exactly what sauté means in French, by the way: jump!
The day I can do my sauté on a stainless steel pan just like Chef Keller, and not a stick-free pan — such a master, how does he do that? — I’ll throw a jumping party. Here’s how Naked Gnocchi looks like, comme ça …
Don’t you love it? My next question to you, dear guest, is: Shall I serve them with toothpicks or little escargot forks, or shall we just use our fingers?