Monday, November 29, 2010

Gnocchi Courage

As I watched Craig making gnocchi for the first time, I thought about how the kitchen is a good place to face your fears. Identifying your fears and finding a path through them is an important skill and cooking can be a forgiving and rewarding place to practice.
Craig starts with reading. He reads cookbooks for fun, for inspiration and for knowledge. The new Canal House had a recipe for gnocchi and several ways to serve it. And his long love, Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook has an extensive recipe for gnocchi. After pouring over these two sources for a few weeks, he was ready.
For me, gnocchi is something to order at a restaurant. Like many things in the dough family, I am too intimidated to explore making it myself. So, I was thrilled that Craig wanted to make at home what I have placed firmly in the “food to have at restaurants” category. And because of my own dough intimidation, I watched Craig especially closely as he took this project on.
There is a stillness to Craig in the kitchen when he is trying something new and particularly ambitious. It is the rare time he is not playing music while he preps and cooks. He organizes his ingredients and finds all the tools. Then, and this is the most interesting part to me, he stands back, in the middle of the kitchen, body facing his work area, and thinks through the whole process. Actually it is much more than thinking it through, he is visualizing it, eyes opening and closing, moving his body, he looks like a conductor going over music in his head.
He has this moment of visualization almost every time he starts to cook. It is the main tool that allows him to overcome the space constraints of our house, and was essential in the tiny kitchen in NYC. However, visualization serves not just a useful but a profound purpose as well, it actually sets the outcome in motion. His ability to visualize the process is probably the reason he has so few real failures in the kitchen.
The gnocchi was delicious. And he learned as he went. Watching the dough come together was magic, and the moment that the gnocchi shapes hit the gently boiling water, and did not fall apart, was triumphant.
As the dark nights of winter envelop us, and the cold pressing in on the windows has us consider our physical fragility, we turn to the kitchen to explore our fears and warm our souls. Find your courage in a gnocchi experiment and ease the grip of the winter cold with a steaming plateful, served with brown butter and sage.
This is a classic recipe that changes little, find one in your favorite source.


  1. Elvina, maybe this explains why I love trying new things in the kitchen too. I'm facing fear and it feels exhilarating. Thanks once again for a beautiful post.

  2. Mmmmm! I'm way behind in reading your blog, it's disgraceful, and what a treat I have been depriving myself of. This post brought up two things for me. One was the lovely and delicious New years Eve dinner with Serena. We made butternut squash ravioli and she made the brown butter with crispy little sage leaves. Yes, something I thought was only available in restaurants! When we finished the last of the ravioli there at the table, I thought, "Thank God there are not more, because it would be impossible to stop before they were all eaten up!". I also thought about my dance students trying to use visualization. It is so hard for them to close off their visual selves and look inward, even for 20 seconds. I remember so many nights after long dance rehearsals laying in bed and going through a new choreography step by step in my mind, it was such a powerful tool. I will keep trying to get the little video game junkies to use their inner artist, to get quiet and embrace the possibilities.