An Estate Inspired Dinner

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Here we are at our second favorite mountain house. We love our place in the Smoky Mountains, but Asheville is just a short drive from there and it’s a great city to visit. Unfortunately, this second favorite mountain home doesn’t allow guests, except for the kind who pay for a brief tour. We are that kind, so we toured and then got to dine on Mr. Vanderbilt’s estate where we enjoyed delicious, freshly made gnocchi.  We noticed that it appeared on the menu in several Asheville restaurants as well, and were reminded of how much fun and how easy it is to make gnocchi at home.

I must have had gnocchi on the brain lately because just recently I reconnected with a former student who is now a professional chef and she had a gnocchi story to tell. She asked about Richard, remembering when she used to babysit for him when he was little. She reminisced about the first time she stayed with him, when he was 9 years old, and he demanded to make gnocchi. She had no idea what in the world he was talking about, but he showed her the cookbook with a recipe and that was it – they made gnocchi.  The original recipe was from a strange little cookbook, I can’t remember the name, of Dom Deluise’s favorite Italian recipes. Don’t you truly believe all cookbooks have small gems of recipes tucked away inside?

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Last night was the final night of our Spring Break trip and it seemed like the perfect ending to a great vacation to make gnocchi with Richard for dinner. We have our own recipe now, probably a combination of several. Ours are made with potatoes. There are two distinct schools on that subject, some folks use ricotta to make gnocchi and some use potatoes. Those are traditional, but you can find recipes using all kinds of ingredients, like butternut squash and other vegetables and cheeses. As with the ingredients for gnocchi, there are probably a hundred different sauces you could add, or you can just sauté your gnocchi in a little butter and add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.  We decided on a tomato sauce, which it was an easy choice since our other favorite sauce uses fresh sage and walnuts and our fresh sage garden was about 200 miles away!  

I hate to brag, but the Biltmore chef’s gnocchi took second place compared to ours. Our gnocchi were light and tender, just the perfect consistency and we had a blast making them together. We grilled a little chicken, added a spinach salad with a delicious dressing and enjoyed a feast! We ended the night with a mountain tradition; can you guess? Smores of course - Happy Spring Break!

Gnocchi

 Ingredients

2 very large Idaho potatoes

1 egg

1 cup flour, plus extra for rolling gnocchi

1 tsp salt

 Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bake potatoes until tender, about an hour. You can boil them if you prefer, but baking keeps the potatoes drier and fluffier.

Handling carefully, peel and mash while still hot. (This is vacation cooking so we made due with a quite ancient potato masher. Use what you have!)

Spread out mashed potatoes to cool and dry.

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When potatoes are cool, mix with the egg and add 1/2 cup of flour and the salt.

Mix until just blended adding more flour as needed.

On a floured surface, roll dough into two long ropes about 1/2 an inch thick.

Cut into 1/2 inch size pieces and press each piece with your finger or the tines of a fork to make a small indention for catching the sauce.

When you are ready to cook your gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi in batches, removing them to a warm platter as soon as they float.

Add sauce and a bit of Parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

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 Tomato Sauce

 Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained

8 oz can tomato sauce

1/4 cup wine (red or white – use what’s on hand)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

 1/2 tsp each, dried basil and oregano or 1 tsp each fresh

 Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.

Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Taste for seasonings and serve over gnocchi or pasta.

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