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Preparing Gnocchi The Right Way

FILE - In this April 27, 2009 file photo, Cameron Douglas, son of Michael Douglas, arrives at the premiere of the film "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File
Chef Scott Conant believes many Americans haven't tasted good gnocchi.

He says bad gnocchi usually has too much flour and tastes "heavy." And most Americans have come to believe that's what gnocchi should taste like.

To prove that gnocchi can taste good on a budget, Conant took The Saturday Early Show's Chef on a Shoestring challenge: create a three-course meal for four with just $30.

Conant, who had worked at the now-closed "City Eatery," is opening a new restaurant, "L'Impero." In preparation for L'Impero's opening, he embarked on an extensive three-month cooking-and-eating tour of Italy. Conant was able to reconnect with his roots, spending time with his mother's relatives in Beneveto, reliving childhood memories and gathering heirloom recipes.

Conant was first introduced to the pleasures of good food by his family as a boy growing up in Waterbury, Conn. His maternal grandfather spent afternoons with Conant cultivating the garden and evenings sharing the authentic Neapolitan cooking of his heritage.

His father's parents owned a potato farm in Maine, where Conant learned to appreciate simple, rustic New England cuisine.
The Menu:

Asparagus and Mussel Soup
Gnocchi With Chorizo, Peas and Mushrooms
Roasted Peaches With Rosemary and Honey

Food Defenition:

Gnocchi: Gnocchi in Italian for dumplings. It can be made from potatoes or flour. Eggs or cheese can be added to the dough, and finely chopped spinach is also a popular addition. Gnocchi are generally shaped into little balls, cooked in boiling water and served with butter and Parmesan or a savory sauce. The dough can be chilled, sliced, and either baked or fried. Gnocchi are usually served as a side dish and make excellent accompaniments for meat or poultry.

Recipes:

Asparagus and Mussel Soup
Serves four

1 bunch asparagus, chopped with tips reserved
20 mussels
1 clove garlic
crushed red pepper, to taste
2 shallots, sliced
3 oz. olive oil, mild
4 leaves basil, cut in chiffonade
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 quart chicken stock

Optional:
4 slices ciabatta or Italian bread, grilled

In a pot, sauté the shallots with the chopped asparagus (no tips), crushed red pepper and olive oil. Add three-quarters of the chicken stock and bring to boil. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender. Puree mixture thoroughly in a blender.

In a separate pan, place the mussels with remaining chicken stock and garlic. Simmer over medium-to-low temperature until mussels open up and are cooked. Cool.

Remove mussels from shells and clean. Reserve.

Blanch asparagus tips. Reserve.

Strain mussel juice into asparagus puree and bring to a boil. Add basil, scallions and mussels. Garnish with blanched asparagus tips.

Serve with grilled bread.

Gnocchi with Chorizo, Peas and Mushrooms
Serves four

6 medium Yukon gold potatoes
4 oz. flour
1 egg
3 egg yolks
nutmeg, to taste
salt, to taste
1 oz. olive oil
6 shiitake mushrooms, quartered
one-half cup peas, blanched
4 oz. chorizo, diced

The key to good gnocchi is making sure the potatoes are properly cooked. That means not overcooking them. Have them cook at a nice medium heat and the potatoes should all cook at the same rate.

Boil potatoes in salted water until cooked soft. Rice the potatoes and cool to room temperature. Mix in remaining ingredients.

Roll out potato pasta dough into logs that are approximately one-half inch in diameter. Cut into one-half inch pieces.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook a few of the gnocchi in the boiling water to check the texture and consistency. If the gnocchi are too soft and do not hold together, add more flour to the dough. Boil the remaining gnocchi. It should take approximately 3-4 minutes; the gnocchi will float up when done. Reserve.

In a pan, sauté the shiitake mushrooms in oil, add diced chorizo and peas. Add a touch of the water used to boil the gnocchi, along with the cooked gnocchi. Toss together and serve.

Note: Gnocchi dough can be made ahead and stored in the freezer for up to one week.

Roasted Peaches with Rosemary and Honey
Serves four

one-quarter cup honey
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
2 each peaches, halved
Ricotta Cheese

In a small saucepot, heat honey and rosemary. Reserve.

Place peach halves in a shallow baking pan, skin side down. Coat peaches with rosemary-infused honey. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 250 degrees until soft and semi-carmelized. This can take about an hour.
Top off with ricotta cheese when you serve.