When you’re under quarantine during a global pandemic, you’re probably looking for recipes with similar qualities to your first-ever romantic date: pointlessly time-consuming and dirt cheap. And while you’re obviously horrified as you read the apocalyptic headlines about life in northern Italy, somewhere in the back of your mind as you read about Milan and Modena you’re also starting to crave some classic Italian cuisine, am I right? Too bad your favorite little Italian place is either closed or so overwhelmed with deliveries that by the time your order of pasta arrives it could best be used as a rubber ball for your dog.
Luckily, however, fresh homemade gnocchi is unbelievably cheap and easy, not to mention the most exciting possible thing to do when you can’t go anywhere (once again, the first girlfriend analogy probably still fits).
So here is my Day #22 of quarantine recipe from our apartment in Bologna:
Gnocchi cacio e Pepe
(i.e. gnocchi with pecorino cheese and black pepper…a fun twist on the classic Roman pasta dish, tonnarelli cacio e pepe).
Serves 4 (***or one day-drunk in quarantine***)
· 1 pound of potatoes
· 1 cup flour
(That’s it. For real. FOUR servings of deliciousness for the price of a stamp. I know this because I just bought a stamp for the first time in a decade in order write my neighbor, because the loneliness of quarantine is eating away at my very sense of existence…)
INSTRUCTIONS FOR HANDMADE GNOCCHI
1. Scrub your hands with soap and water until you see blood.
2. Peel the potatoes. This is also a great time to cry of loneliness, as tears can serve as an excellent low-sodium alternative to salt. If you find dried blood in the potatoes, don’t worry, as you’ll need all the extra iron you can get once supermarkets run out of nutritional supplements.
3. Cut the potatoes up into cubes with a dull knife. Don’t use a sharp knife because if you slice off a finger you can’t go to the hospital. Hospitals are already past capacity.
4. If you have a microwave, put the cubed potatoes in the microwave for 10–15 minutes, with a small glass of water inside. Stand as close to the microwave as possible while it’s cooking the potatoes, in hopes that the radiation will give you a coronavirus-immunity mutation. Or at least a brain tumor with some fun hallucinations.
(4a. If you don’t have a microwave, boil the potatoes whole, with the skins, then peel and dice them after they’re cooked. Feel free to stick your hand inside the pot to feel the boiling water on your skin. At least you’ll feel something.)
5. Once you have soft, peeled, diced potatoes, violently mash them with a fork. Pretend that they’re all your exciting plans and aspirations for 2020. Watch them fall apart.
6. Spread the mashed potatoes on a large board or countertop. If you didn’t produce enough tears, add some table salt on top. Wait for your hopes and dreams — sorry, potatoes — to chill to a tepid room temperature.
7. Now smash them into one concentrated ball, where they can’t move or spread out or feel the sun. Make the ball even more constricted. Tighter.
8. Now suffocate yourself — I mean your potatoes! — with flour. All-Purpose flour is fine, but if the specialty store still has Italian 00 flour and you want to pretend you still have expendable income for small luxuries in life, go for the imported 00.
9. Keep adding flour and mashing it into your potatoes until you start to consider changing out of your pajamas.
10. Once the potato and flour are so uniformly blended together that they feel like Monday morning and Friday night — because every day is the exact same as the one before it, and what’s the difference anymore anyway? Why do we even still have days of the week? — flatten out the dough with a rolling pin, or an empty wine bottle, because you probably don’t have a rolling pin but you sure as hell have empty wine bottles. Make sure to sprinkle some flour on top and underneath, so the dough doesn’t stick to the surface like your ass to the couch after 10 hours of mindless, quarantine-numbing Netflix.
11. Cut the flattened dough into long strips with your dull knife. Think about how the strips are all the same, one after another…
12. Roll up the strips into ropes. Ropes can be used to escape out windows. Maybe you could use this dough to… no. No. No. Stop thinking about it. Stay inside.
13. Cut up the ropes into small individual pieces of gnocchi. Each piece must be separated from the others. Keep them apart. If they won’t stay apart, smother them with flour until they can’t touch.
14. Put the separate, individual pieces of gnocchi into the boiling water.
15. When they float to the top (perhaps in hopes of witnessing sunlight), they’re ready to be swallowed into the dark abyss of your insides.
CACIO E PEPE SAUCE
· One teaspoon of crushed black pepper
· 7 ounces of grated pecorino cheese (or a mix of parmesan/gran padano if you can’t find pecorino)
INSTRUCTIONS FOR CACIO E PEPE SAUCE
1. Cover the cooked gnocchi in crushed black pepper. When the pepper makes you sneeze, start Googling coronavirus symptoms for the thousandth time.
2. Take a bunch of grated pecorino cheese in a bowl. I wrote 7 ounces, but in all honesty, I would put about a pound. Because eating cheese is our only comfort right now.
3. Scoop one or two ladles of the hot starchy water you used to boil the gnocchi and mix it with the cheese until it’s creamy enough to make you orgasm. Remember that you and cheese are your safest sex partners during a pandemic.
4. Toss the peppery gnocchi with the melty cheese. Put a small serving on a plate for an Instagram picture, then eat the rest directly from the bowl with your hands.
I hope you all enjoy this classic Italian recipe. Stay safe. Stay sane. Watch your fucking hands.