Potato gnocchi with sage & brown butter: 63 cents/serving

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—making good gnocchi is HARD. No matter how much of an expert you think you are, it doesn’t take much to overwork the dough, or keep it so wet that instead of light, delicate pillows you get dense, gummy cubes.

I’m also not going to pretend that these are the most perfect gnocchi to ever grace a plate outside of a professional restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not terrible…given that I’ve only been cooking in earnest for about two years and don’t have a drop of Italian blood in my body, they’re actually pretty good. But real Italians, the kind who believe there is only one way to make gnocchi—their way—might want to just pass this post on by.

The basics of this particular method come from the Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. Is it the “correct” method? Probably not. Is it the best method? Again, probably not. But it’s the only one I know, and it results in gnocchi that, while nowhere near perfect, are totally acceptable for a Saturday night where 63 cents takes precedence over form and authenticity.

1 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes (the brown baking ones; the older and drier, the better): 72 cents
Salt: 1 cent
1 egg: 15 cents
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving: 50 cents
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour: 10 cents
6 T unsalted butter: 36 cents
Splash of lemon juice: 5 cents
2 T minced sage (garden): $0
TOTAL: $1.89/3 = 63 cents

Peel, rinse, and quarter the potatoes. Cover with about 3 inches of cold water and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer until, when sliced into with a thin knife, the interior looks crystallized. This takes a lot less time than you think it would, but, of course, I didn’t set a timer and there are no times indicated in the original recipe either.

When the potatoes are cooked, immediately push them through a ricer into a bowl. Let them cool slightly. Add 1/4 cup of the grated cheese, the egg, a pinch of salt, and the flour. Mix until just combined into a shaggy mass. Turn out onto a flour-lined cutting board and knead until everything is integrated into a stiff dough. Err on the side of under-kneading—over-kneading is what turns things gummy.

Keeping everything well dusted with flour, pinch off a small-apple-sized ball of dough, keeping the rest in the bowl, covered with a damp towel. Lightly roll it into a cigar shape, thicker in the middle than at the ends, then continue to roll it on the cutting board until it’s a long snake the width of your thumb.

Cut it into gnocchi-sized pieces; place the pieces on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. (This is the point at which you’d make those grooves with the tines of a fork or a gnocchi board; I personally choose not to because I don’t think it makes a difference in terms of the gnocchi picking up sauce, and it adds another layer of handling that may flatten the gnocchi and turn it gummy.) Repeat the process with the remaining dough. You will probably need two cookie sheets; when one is full, keep it in the fridge, then keep both in the fridge while you prepare the sauce. The gnocchi can be kept in the fridge for several hours if need be.

Fill a large soup or stock pot with water and a large amount of salt—to the point of it tasting like seawater; otherwise the gnocchi will be bland—and put it on to boil.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the sage leaves and a pinch of salt and stir well. Continue to cook the butter until it’s light brown; the milk solids should be beginning to turn dark brown on the bottom of the pan. Take care not to burn it, or else you’ll have to start over.

When the water is boiling, add the gnocchi. When they’re finished, they’ll float to the top—only 2 minutes or so. Remove them with a skimmer or spider and add them to the sauce, turning often to coat. Add a squeeze of lemon to the sauce, top with the cheese, and serve immediately—preferably alongside a salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.

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