This, my friends, is where it all began.
A bold statement for a simple dish, but hear me out. A few years ago I made a resolution of sorts (no, not a New Year’s Resolution, I don’t really believe in those) to cook a new recipe every week, so as to expand my kitchen repertoire, and make use of the piles of recipes I had been accumulating. Simple, measurable and achievable, this was, and still is, my kind of resolution (none of this get fit, lose weight, be a better person vague nonsense for me), and one I’m forever grateful for undertaking.
With a ragged-edged recipe torn from a magazine, I set out into the kitchen and turned on the stove. Thirty minutes later, I dug into a heaping pile of tender gnocchi and spinach perfumed with nutty browned butter and lemon juice, and smiled with the satisfaction of accomplishment. With every new recipe prepared my skills improved, but more importantly I found I felt a sense of purpose, of competency, and above all joy in the kitchen. I didn’t know it then, but this small change in habit was the catalyst in many ways for the creation of this blog.
Naturally, it goes without saying that I may have a bit of sentimental attachment to this dish, but believe me, there’s a reason I’ve made it time and time again. Satisfying and wholesome, with just the right amount of naughtiness from the browned butter, this is just the thing I turn to when nothing else sounds quite right.
This is in my regular lunch rotation, as it’s quick to put together, is essentially a pantry meal, and above all is delicious! If you omit the gnocchi it makes a great side dish as well. This can also be made gluten-free, if you use gluten-free gnocchi (most gnocchi has some wheat flour added to it).
Adapted, quite a bit, from Cooking Light: January 2009
≈ 8 oz (1 ½ cups) vacuum-packed gnocchi (Trader Joe’s is my go-to source for this) 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter 1 tablespoon pine nuts 2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 oz baby spinach
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper ½ a lemon
Place the gnocchi in a large pot of well-salted boiling water; stir a couple times to ensure they don’t stick to the bottom. Once they begin to float (this shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes), cook for one more minute, then drain.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet and add the pine nuts. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the gnocchi. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the gnocchi and pine nuts have begun to turn a golden brown. Add the garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds (it won’t brown much – you don’t want it to, as it will continue to cook as the spinach wilts and the garlic is prone to burning), then add the spinach and a pinch of salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stirring occasionally, cook for a couple minutes, until the spinach has wilted, then take off the heat.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, a few squeezes of lemon juice and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
I wrote out this recipe for two servings as that’s how I most often make it, but it can easily be scaled up or down for 1 to 4 people (I wouldn’t try to make it for more than 4 unless you have a mammoth sized skillet, as the spinach takes up a lot of space before it wilts down).
Unfortunately, this is not good as leftovers (the gnocchi gets rubbery and unpalatable), so don’t make more than you think you’ll eat in one sitting.
I’d argue that browning the gnocchi is one of the most important, but often overlooked steps, so don’t skimp there! It boosts the flavor, and the gnocchi takes on a lovely contrast between the chewy browned exterior and pillowy insides.