Considering today’s weather and the fact that schools are closed, I want to share a really fun, kid-friendly cooking activity that’s perfect to make when it’s freezing outside.

gnocchiOne of my husband’s and my favorite things to do at home is to get our eight-year-old daughter and four-year-old son involved in whatever cooking or baking project is happening in the kitchen. Certain recipes are more kid-friendly than others, and one I’ve found that’s always a blast preparing with Delilah and Jake is gnocchi.

There are, of course, several different forms of gnocchi found throughout the various regions of Italy, but the one that’s most fun for little hands to play with is most definitely potato gnocchi.

gnocchirawEvery form of gnocchi is basically just a dough-based dumpling, and the dough for potato gnocchi is nothing more than cooked mashed potato, flour, and beaten egg all smooshed together. Simple enough, right? After Delilah and Jake got the basic dough ball formed, we tore off chunks of it and rolled them into long “snakes” about an inch in diameter. Next, we used plastic knives to cut the ropes into inch and a half long cylinders, and shaped them by rolling each one off the tines of a fork.

While the water for boiling our dumplings was heating up, I cut up some bacon which Delilah then sautéed until it was golden brown and crispy. Into the pan went some sliced onions, a few cloves of minced garlic, two or three handfuls of chopped spinach, and then some basic tomato sauce.

gnocchiAfter a bit of simmering, we tossed a couple dozen peeled shrimp into the sauce. The gnocchi then hit the boiling water, and cooked until they floated to the surface. By that time, the shrimp were perfectly cooked, so the gnocchi went from the boiling water right into the sauce to be tossed with all that goodness. We finished with a bit of fresh chopped rosemary, and sat down at the table as a family to enjoy a great meal that all started out as an early life lesson in basic culinary technique.

If you would like to learn a variety of gnocchi recipes and techniques, join us for The Chopping Block’s Know your Gnocchi class this winter. It will be sure to warm you to the core and satisfy your soul. In the meantime, here’s a recipe that you can use at home today. Adapt it to whatever you have in your fridge, so you don’t have to leave the house. Let me know how it turns out in the comments.

Potato Gnocchi with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes

1 pound russet potatoes
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 pound bacon, cut into lardons
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, toasted (see note, below)

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Pierce the potato in several places with fork. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet tray until tender, about 1 hour. Let stand until just cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.
3. Peel the potato and press through a ricer or a food mill into a large bowl. Add the flour, egg, parmesan, olive oil, salt and pepper and stir just until blended.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt.
5. Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the ropes into 1-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on a lightly floured sheet tray.
6. Cook in the boiling water until they float to the top, about 2 minutes. Test one to be sure they are cooked through. Drain well and transfer to a lightly-oiled sheet tray.
7. While the gnocchi are cooking, start the bacon. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just crispy.
8. Stir in the shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Mix in the brussels sprouts and cook until lightly caramelized.
9. Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan. Toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a platter and top with the toasted breadcrumbs.

NOTE: To toast breadcrumbs, preheat your oven to 350º. Toss the panko with just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Spread out on a sheet tray and toast in the oven until golden brown.