Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi with Thyme Butter Sauce

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Barefoot and Friends – Cooking with Giada DeLaurentiis”

The Set-up: Ina and Giada have been talking about a cooking date for ages and today’s the day!

The Menu: Lobster Potato Salad, Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi, Chocolate Cassis Cake

0:47 – It’s a two-for-one deal - Giada is coming to cook with Ina today! Before she arrives, Ina is making lunch for them: Lobster Potato Salad.

1:20 – Pro Tip #1: To get perfectly cooked potatoes, after straining the boiled potatoes cover the colander with a kitchen towel to trap the steam.

2:32 – The inclusion of lobster in the potato salad is a nod to the last time Giada visited and they went to Montauk for lobster rolls. A new tradition in the making?

3:18 – Pro Tip #2: Buy pre-cooked lobster from the fish counter and avoid the messy (and traumatic?) process of boiling your own. Word.

5:14 – Giada, managing the most Italian errand ever, stops by Cavaniola’s Cheese Shop in a Fiat to pick up mascarpone, parmigiano and pecorino for gnocchi.

6:29 – As they’re sitting down to lunch it’s revealed that Ina makes lobster-something almost every time they get together, which G (may I call you G?) interprets as “I’m so happy to see you” special occasion food. Lucky girl, it could be worse!

7:55 – It’s decided that first they will make dessert and then move on to the gnocchi, which seems like an easy sell for both.

9:23 – They’re in the pantry gathering ingredients for the Chocolate Cassis Cake, which is right up Giada’s alley.

10:36 – Crème de Cassis for those not in the know (me) is black currant liqueur, which Ina says brings out the flavor in the raspberries that she’s serving with the cake.

11:21 – Ina asks Giada whether she considers herself a “cook” or a “baker" and learns that when G started she was more of a baker, due to her love of dessert, but now she’s both. Huh, never knew…

12:44 – Ina’s next question is whether Giada lines her cake pans with parchment paper. The answer: she knows she should, but she’s lazy. Love it.

13:05 – While the cake is in the oven, Ina and Giada take a tour of the gardens. G by her own description is the “world’s worst gardener” but does recognize the fresh thyme growing in the kitchen garden and gets permission to snip some stems for their gnocchi.

14:42 – Back in the kitchen to melt chocolate for the ganache that will cover the cake with Giada acting as sous chef taking direction from chef Ina.

15:39 – The parchment paper has done its work and the cake is released from the springform pan without incident. Ganache time!!!

16:50 – To her credit, I think Giada has licked every chocolate coated bowl and spatula in the kitchen. A girl after my own heart.

19:13 – Onward to the Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi which will be Ina’s first attempt at gnocchi. I've never made gnocchi either, we can be twins!

20:48 – Giada says that these are non-traditional gnocchi because the mascarpone cheese and flour take the place of the potatoes. Works for me!

21:24 – Now that the gnocchi dough is made it’s time to form them using two small table spoons. Ina wonders how many she has to make before she becomes Italian.

22:17 – The little golden gnocchi are into the salted boiling water to cook – only 4 minutes per batch!

23:12 – In a bit of garden-to-table action Ina is put in charge of making a butter sauce with the thyme they picked earlier. (They agree that thyme + lemon is heavenly match.)

24:30 – Just so we’re clear, a cheese based dumpling/pasta, has been covered in butter sauce, and then sprinkled in more cheese. Giada and Ina laugh at their own wicked ingenuity.

27:29 – I suppose it’s dinner time by now, so they sit down to a gnocchi dinner while Giada agitate s for dinner to be served.

28:35 – Back to finish off the Chocolate Cassis Cake with some berries marinated in sugar and MOAR cassis, which they joke they’ve been getting into over the afternoon.

29:51 – Giada is literally jumping up and down a la a small child on a sugar high with excitement over the chance to eat some cake. Looks like someone is going to be in a boozy dessert coma….

Final Thoughts:
I love that Ina’s recipes are so adaptable. Lobster, salmon, tuna – any of them work.

Flourless chocolate cake. That is all.

I wonder if it’s awkward when two famous people in the same field socialize for the first time? What do they talk about?

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’m just dipping my toe into fresh pasta making and know just enough to be dangerous when it comes to bread dough – both of which made trying Giada’s unconventional Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi (no potatoes involved!) intriguing. I naturally learned a ton…

Mixing – I was a little unsure about the texture of the gnocchi dough but upon closely observing Giada’s I was convinced that I had it right. Strangely it closely resembles a cross between buttercream frosting (fluffy) and scone dough (sticky).

Forming the Gnocchi – This does take some time, but thankfully there’s no special equipment needed just two teaspoons from your silverware drawer. Giada suggests the “quenelle” shape, which is made by scraping a teaspoon of dough back and forth between the two spoons until it forms an oblong oval. Without weighing the dough it’s tough to be sure that they’re all the same size but do your best to eyeball it so that they’ll cook at a similar rate. Use a light touch when rolling the final shape like forming the most delicate meatball.

Storage – I wasn’t quite ready to cook the gnocchi once I was done forming them, so I was thankful to discover that the can be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic on a sheet tray. I just left them on the floured one I used when I was forming them.

Cooking – I used a 3 quart sauce pan and put between 4-5 gnocchi in at a time so they’d have plenty of space and wouldn’t drop the water temperature too much. The recipe calls for waiting until the gnocchi begin to float, then start timing (5 minutes only, 6 is too long). It’s easy to over cook gnocchi and I found the best results were to start timing as soon as the gnocchi just began their ascent, otherwise the pasta began to deteriorate. Not good!

Serving Size – I was able to form about 28 gnocchi with the dough, which would serve two to three very generously or four people as a smaller portion. These are quite rich and puff up when cooked, so a little goes a long way. I’d recommend serving these as a small starter course and or as a main balanced with a nice bright green salad or light vegetable side.

Flavors – I made one very small change to the butter sauce to lighten it up – cheese, plus cheese, plus butter seemed a little much – adding the juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons). I also didn’t allow it to brown since I thought the nuttiness would overwhelm the delicate flavors in the gnocchi. I think my way is perfect, but I leave it up to your moods and preference.

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Fairly, yes. I needed a large mixing bowl, electric hand mixer, microplane grater, rubber spatula, measuring cups, two teaspoons, a rimmed baking sheet, large sauce pan, medium sauté pan and a utility knife.

The Verdict:
I’m fairly obsessed with anything bright and lemony, especially pasta and Giada's Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi has lemon in spades, even more so with my tweaks. I handled the gnocchi as gently as I could to keep them from becoming tough and they came out light as a feather and beautifully tender. Somewhat surprising given the amount of cheese involved.  This is a rich dish, not for the counter of calories, and would be perfect as a first course in small portions or as the most elegant of comfort food dishes when only something decadent will do and the summer feels far away. 

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi | Image: Laura Messersmith