This post follows on from another entitled “The trouble with gnocchi” which is supposed to be a blow by blow account of how to make gnocchi from scratch. If anyone is foolish enough to want to try making gnocchi, and the result is not as spectacular as he or she desires … what can I suggest? the only thing left to do is make a really nice sauce that will overcome and vanquish any blemish in the gnocchi … if you can’t beat them, eat them is what I say!
“Quanto basta” is a catch-all phrase in Italian cookery parlance whose interpretation is either inspiring or thoroughly annoying, depending on your viewpoint, Quanto basta translates as “as much as is required”, or literally ‘as much as is enough’. In written recipes the initials “q. b.” can glare at you from the page and have been known to flummox more than one newcomer to the kitchen: after all, how does anyone know ‘how’ much is indeed enough? It’s enough to make anyone lose sleep over this question … Well, thankfully, when it comes to sauces, be they for pasta or for gnocchi, the term Quanto Basta is actually most helpful because what happens is that it will indeed be the pasta or the gnocchi themselves that will ‘tell’ you when they are ready to be eaten, when the sauce is exquisitely ‘enough’.
For this to take place, however, the rule of thumb is that there be plenty of sauce handy. Not that you want to drown your pasta or gnocchi in any sauce or make the end result ‘soupy’ but there has to be enough on hand for you to add it in stages, by and by, one step or ladle at a time, enough for the pasta or the gnocchi to absorb thoroughly. Tomato-based sauces are a lot easier in this respect, they are always more ‘liquidy’. It’s when you are making an oil-only or butter-only based sauce that things can get tricky. Sometimes cream can come to the rescue, sometimes a dollop of bechamel. It’s always a good idea to keep some extra tasty ‘liquid’ to hand with these sauces, because they tend to be drier than tomato sauces. And so today, when I knew I was going to make a sausage and asparagus sauce for my gnocchi, I made some asparagus-based stock to keep me going.
THE INGREDIENTS A big bunch of asparagus, 4 sausages, some red pepper corns (in the small glass jar), 1 carrot, a bowl of already cooked peas at room temperature, some grated parmesan cheese … and … fresh garlic! Yes, those two long thinguammy sprouts that look like spring onions — well they’re not, they are fresh garlic shoots! I’d never tried them before … quite ‘exotic’, for me, shall we say! Had I not found them, however, I would have used plain ol’ garlic. On the left are the tips of the asparagus … on the right are chopped asparaugs stems and the chopped carrot. Remove the skin from the sausages … that’s what I am stretching between my hands. In a large frying pan, dollop enough olive oil to cover the bottom … then add the chopped fresh garlic and the red pepper corns. Turn on the heat … After 3-4 minutes, add the roughly sausages, which have been peeled of their skins, broken up and roughly chopped … Use a wooden fork to mince up the sausage meat as it cooks … if you haven’t got a wooden fork … use whatever you have handy. But do make a point of buying a wooden cooking fork: they are great for this sort of dish and for stir-frying any kind of mince meat. While the sausage meat is sautéing away (forefront of the photo), add the chopped asparagus stems and carrot to a pan of boiling water (back of the photo), for about 5 minutes: this is the vegetable stock that is required for the sauce that will accompany the gnocchi. Without this stock, the sauce will be horrible and dry and tasteless. It really is a ‘must’. When the chopped up asparagus stems are almost tender to the bite (about 5 minutes, shall we say), add them to the large frying pan … a little at a time, using a slotted spoon at the beginning … and adding the stock a little at a time. Everything needs to meld together and to cook for a few minutes … You can see from the photo, that I’ve already used up quite a lot of the stock … The steam that you see is the result of a ladle of the asparagus stock I added to the frying pan … keep adding the stock until the chopped up asparagus stems are tender. When everything tastes just right, and is ready to be served, add the peas … give a good stir and turn the heat off (these peas are already cooked, rememeber). Now is the time to taste and add salt and pepper. COOKING THE GNOCCHI While I was preparing the sauce, I also put a large stockpot on the boil …. added salt … and now is the time to slide in the gnocchi, to be cooked. After a few minutes, the gnocchi will rise to the surface of the boiling water. This is how you know they are cooked and ready to eat. Use one of these contraptions to remove the cooked gnocchi from the boiling water … if you don’t own one, never mind, you can always use a vegetable strainer or a large slotted spoon. Drop the gnocchi into the frying pan with the asparagus and sausage and pea sauce … turn on the heat again … Add some parmesan cheese, and stir. Add the last drop of asparagus stock if required and let the gnocchi absorb that … remember: quanto basta! And the dish is crying out for ‘more, more parmesan!’ … which I add until it is all ‘absorbed’ into the sauce and the gnocchi … we are talking about a minute here …. More stirring. More tasting. And suddenly, before you know it, the dish cries out ” basta” — enough. It’s ready to serve. Here are the finishing touches … SERVING THE GNOCCHI WITH ASPARAGUS AND PEA SAUCE Some fresh mint leaves as garnish … Can you spot the mint leaves? As you can see, there is plenty of asparagus and pea sauce … might is right … the gnocchi can only succumb and render their flavour … noblesse oblige. There were seven of us at supper and we were only too happy to ‘oblige’!