Gnocchi puts Italian spin on old favorite
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By J.M. Hirsch
By J.M. Hirsch
It's sad but true: The best comfort food is often the richest.
This Italian-inspired take on macaroni and cheese, for example, calls for 3 cups of cheese, a container of creme fraiche, a half pound of prosciutto and a stick of butter. Combined with pillowy-soft gnocchi, it is breathtakingly good.
Not sure you need that much comfort? For a slimmed-down version, use fat-free Greek-style yogurt in place of the creme fraiche, reduce the amount of butter and prosciutto by half, and switch to low-fat cheeses.
While you could use any pasta in this recipe, gnocchi (a fluffy potato-based pasta that resembles tiny eggs) is what makes it special. They are a pain to make from scratch, but packaged versions can be a blessing for cooking on deadline.
Like fresh, refrigerated pastas, packaged gnocchi cook in just minutes and taste sublime. But most packaged gnocchi are shelf-stable, meaning they don't need to be refrigerated and can happily sit in your pantry until needed.
The topping, a blend of chopped pine nuts, bread crumbs and butter, calls for panko, Japanese-style bread crumbs, because they are light and crunchy. Any coarse bread crumb could be substituted.
This recipe was developed with potlucks in mind. If 3 pounds of pasta is too much, the recipe is easily halved.
THREE-CHEESE BAKED GNOCCHI
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Lightly coat a 13-by-9-inch (3-quart) baking pan with cooking spray.
While the water heats, in a large bowl mix the pumpkin puree, creme fraiche, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the water is boiling, add the gnocchi and cook according to package directions (usually just until they float). Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water, then drain the gnocchi.
Return the gnocchi to the pan, then add the cheese mixture. Stir well until everything is thoroughly mixed and the cheese is mostly melted. Stir in the reserved cooking water.
Transfer the gnocchi and sauce to the prepared baking pan, spreading it in an even layer. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the ground pine nuts, bread crumbs and butter. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly over the gnocchi, then bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.
* Nonfat Greek yogurt can be found in health food stores and some Star Markets. You can make a substitute by making yogurt cheese: Place an 8-ounce container of plain yogurt (full-fat or low-fat, but it must have real cultures in it), in a cheesecloth-lined colander and allow whey to drain off overnight, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator.