Tonight I made gnocchi for myself and the kids. It was my first time cooking it. It was my first time eating it. Even as I opened the package, I had no idea what I was going to do.
This was the perfect opportunity to open a cookbook and find a recipe. The cookbooks sit on a shelf at eye level. That’s intentional. I absorb the recipes by osmosis. Line of sight keeps me from putting them under my pillow. If you saw the books, you might agree. The only stained pages are the ones with favorite bread recipes. I cannot make bread without a recipe.
So no cookbooks were used. No google search was made. Time was of the essence. The kids were hungry. I was too. Then I remembered, there are directions on the package! But they only tell you when the gnocchi are ready. They say nothing about related preparation or presentation.
How did I find myself in this predicament? I was grocery shopping and saw a package. That’s it. I’ve looked at packages of gnocchi before. Package in hand, I’ve even wondered what it tasted like. But I never made the purchase. Who buys foods they’ve never eaten, nor thought about preparing? Well, I’ve been thinking about gnocchi for twenty years. It was a favorite food of an old flame. Even the sound of the word delighted her. That it stuck is less a testimony to our relationship than her love for this food.
Somehow I never tried it. Perhaps I wasn’t good enough to share it with her. I did ask her to marry me. Maybe that was a sign. No gnocchi, no nookie? In any case, I didn’t eat it then. She was in school and I was living in a community where we pooled our monies and six people lived on a common grocery bill of $60 a week. Was it out of our price range? Maybe that’s my answer.
We did eat a lot of pasta in the house. Mostly “mmm” pasta, a name that took me weeks to get. It was one example of many where I was Lou Costello to the Bud Abbott of one of my housemates.
“What’s for dinner?” I asked.
“Mmmm pasta.” Matty said.
“I just told you.” At this point Matty usually shook his head and smiled.
I would miss this and continue. “Told me what?”
“We’re having “mmm” pasta for dinner.”
“That’s what I want to know. What kind of pasta?”
We’d go round and round. I’d hearing “Ummm… pasta?” and Matty would almost revel in my error. After a few turns, I’d give up. It became part of our regular banter. One day he finally said, “Y’know, pasta that you eat and it’s so good that you say “mmm?” That’s “mmm” pasta.”
There was no gnocchi at the Brookside community. Tofu, yes. Frozen burrito’s, galore. Beans and rice in every variation. But Gnocchi, no.
These days, when pasta is on the menu, I only make one kind. Yep. “Mmm” pasta. It comes in different shapes and sizes but the name remains the same.
Tonight I served the gnocchi with a little marinara sauce and grated cheese over the top – an aged asiago that was on hand. The big question of course is not whether I would like it–I did–but would they? Gnocchi doesn’t look like any of the pasta we usually eat. That could be a problem. I grabbed my little one.
“Sweets, can you put these in the water? Be careful the water’s hot.”
“What are they?”
“It’s a kind of pasta called gnocchi.”
“That’s right. It’s pasta. Now watch the pot and tell me when they start to float.”
A few minutes pass.
“Daddy, they’re floating!”
“Thank you Sweets! I’m so glad you helped.”
We sit down at the table.
Sweets says, “Bud, I helped Daddy make dinner.”
“What is it?” he says.
“Neo. . . Daddy I forget.”
“Gnochhi” I say.
“What?” he says.
“It’s pasta, Bud.”
“It doesn’t look like pasta” he says.
“Just give it a try. Maybe you’ll like it” I reply.
We say grace and they each stare at their food before taking a bite.
“Mmm.” Sweets says. “This is good.”
Bud is silent. When he asks for seconds I know he concurs. Gnocchi has become “Mmm pasta.”