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Friday, July 30, 2010

Gnocchi with Spinach, Ham and Gorgonzola {Cooks Illustrated Challenge}

I did not fully do my challenge of making two new recipes this month because of some things that were going on for our family.  I don’t know that I will “officially” do it in August either (you’ll see why in a few days).  But I did want to share one dish that I did make.

At the store one day a couple of months ago, I saw a special edition of Cook’s Illustrated that was entitled 30-Minute Suppers.  Being the busy working outside of the home mom that I am, the idea of fresh and quick suppers appealed to me.  So I picked it up and thought I’d give it a try.  Some of the ideas don’t look like a fit for our family, but some of them do.  Here’s one that we tried recently.

Gnocchi with Spinach, Ham and Gorgonzola


This was exciting for me because I had never worked with Gnocchi before.  My family had never even had the opportunity to try it before. 

What makes it a quick meal is using store purchased vacuum-packed gnocchi.  It cooks quickly and clearly is less time consuming than making your own gnocchi (which I totally want to do sometime).  You’re also using deli ham so you aren’t waiting for raw meat to cook.  We used Boar’s Head ham and got it sliced just slightly thicker than we usually do for sandwiches. 

This, as with many of the other recipes in this book feel a little more like food assembly than cooking with the simplicity of techniques and ingredients.  And yet, the complexity of the flavors and textures just in this one dish make it taste like you spent an hour in the kitchen.


1 pound vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 slices deli ham, cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 ounces baby spinach
salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock (optional)

You will also need:

Large non-stick skillet
Large pot for boiling gnocchi


1.  In a dry non-stick skillet, lightly toast the pine nuts over medium-high heat; constantly shake the skillet to turn the pine nuts over so that they don’t burn.  Set pine nuts aside in a small bowl and keep the skillet out for use in a minute.

2.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and gnocchi to boiling water and cook until tender and floating, about 4 minutes.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain gnocchi and transfer gnocchi to paper towel-lined plate.

3.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add gnocchi to skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes.

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Stir in ham and cook until it begins to brown, 2 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

100_8642 4.  Add reserved cooking water (or wine or chicken stock – I think I may have replaced 1/2 the water with white wine here), pine nuts, cheese and lemon juice to skillet and stir until cheese starts to melt and sauce becomes creamy.  100_8643Add spinach and stir just until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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And that’s it. 


We liked this dish pretty well.  I was surprised, but my daughter particularly liked the pine nuts in it.  However, the Gorgonzola is a strong flavored cheese.  Clearly it is a major player in this dish and if you don’t like it, you really won’t enjoy eating this dish.  It may have been a little strong for my kids’ palettes so I think next time I will go with some Asiago which would still have the salty flavor but be a little milder.  Feta might also work here.  I also think it could have used a little more spinach.

The great thing about this dish (and any recipe for that matter) is that it gives me a starting point with a new ingredient like gnocchi.  There are a million different combinations that you could put together with the concept of this dish.  Use turkey or chicken instead of ham.  Add a different vegetable or use a different cheese. 

The key is to know what your family likes and will eat while encouraging them to try new things.  My family had not tried gnocchi before.  Nor had they experienced whole pine nuts in a dish.  And now, after trying something new, I know that I could fix something like this again and feel confident that they will enjoy it.

So go out there and try something new with your family.  You never know.  They just might LOVE it.