I think I loved gnocchi the moment I tasted my first little potato pillow. I’d been craving potato dumplings. Back in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, there was this little restaurant downtown on State Street that sold pelmeni, or Russian dumplings. Some were filled with ground sirloin, and others were filled with potato. Covered with dusting of curry powder and squirts of spicy-sweet Srichara, it was perfect for lunch, dinner, or after a night out at the bars.
But then I moved away to Tucson, Arizona (and sadly, the restaurant eventually closed so when I go home it is no more) and I wasn’t sure where I’d get my fix. Of course I attempted to make pelmeni myself, but I was still growing as a cook then and it turned out pretty disastrous. Before I boiled them the dumplings were about the size of a Superball. Neat little balls of dough filled with mashed potato season and salted. But a few minutes in a boiling water caused them to go supernova. The potato burst out of the dough. The dough quadrupled in size and suddenly I was faced with a pot full of potato bits and doughballs the size of baseballs. I still ate it of course, but needless to say, it wasn’t the same.
Enter Trader Joe’s. Enter gnocchi.
I spotted them in the freezer section (they’ve recently been vacuum-sealed and moved to the past section) and seeing “potato” and “dumpling,” I went in for it. They were pelmeni, but that day another food love affair began. I served them with curry powder and Sriacha. I combined them with kielbasa and vegetables. Just last night, I cooked them up and served them with a Boursin garlic cheese sauce with grilled portobella mushrooms.
But last night’s dish didn’t involve Trader Joe’s. I’ve gone rogue, you see. I make my own gnocchi now.
In June of 2009 my boyfriend and I went to Rome. On our last night there, my boyfriend’s brother and his girlfriend (who were living in Trastevere at the time) took us for one last great roman meal. We went to the a restaurant in Rome’s Jewish ghetto, a wonderful, dreamy place called Il Giardino Romano where I watched a man peeling crate after crateful of fresh artichokes (we ordered fried artichoke hearts for an appetizer) while we waited for our meal.
I ordered the gnocchi in a fontina sauce, and the first bite I won’t ever forget. Soft. Pillowy. Delicious. Sorry, TJ’s, I love you, but you just don’t compare. Homemade gnocchi, friends, that what I bit into.