I pair this gnocchi with fresh green chickpeas, a dense tomato jam, and some fresh Pecorino cheese. Fresh chickpeas are in season in spring, and are available in many farmers' markets and in Mexican markets. They come in little papery pods of two to three chickpeas, and require just a short bath in salty boiling water to be ready to eat. They are a little sweet, definitely beany and have a "green" taste to them. If you can't find them, use peas.
The gnocchi look like chickpeas, and that's the beauty of the dish: at first glance it looks like a plate of fresh and dried chickpeas with tomato sauce, but when you eat it, it is so much better.
Some keys to the dish are good saffron and semolina—you can get both online from Scott at the Sausage Debauchery—and a seriously rich tomato sauce. I make a tomato jam in the summer by reducing pureed tomatoes with salt until they are denser than a sauce, but looser than a paste. You can approximate this by putting a can of tomato puree in the oven at 300 degrees until you get the right consistency.
A little goes a long way, so serve this in small plates as an appetizer. Save any leftover gnocchi and serve with meat sauce. Oh, and you don't need pecorino here: Parmigiano, ricotta salata, or a Greek Mizythra work fine.
Serves 4, with gnocchi leftover for another dish
For the gnocchi: • 13 ounces durum semolina flour
• 4 eggs • 1 teaspoon olive oil
• pinch of salt • large pinch of saffron, crumbled into 2 tablespoons warm water
• extra regular flour for dusting work surface
For the sauce and garnish: • about a pound of fresh green chickpeas or peas
• 2 cups dense tomato sauce • salt
• grated pecorino or other hard cheese
Make the gnocchi:
Whisk eggs, oil and saffron water together. Whisk together the salt and semolina. Make a well in the flour, then pour the wet ingredients in and slowly mix them together. Knead well, about five minutes. The dough should be soft and pliable, not hard. If you find the dough too hard, sprinkle some water in at the beginning of kneading. If for some reason it is too sticky, add just a little more flour.
Let the dough rest, covered in plastic wrap, for two to four hours.
Cut off a small piece of dough and roll it into a snake about the diameter of a pencil. Cut off small pieces about the size of a chickpea.
Roll each piece gently between your palms to round it out. If you want to get fancy, pinch one end of each gnoccho with your thumb and first three fingers to dimple it—this makes it look more like a real chickpea.
Let the finished gnocchi rest on a board or screen while you finish the dish.
Assemble the dish:
Bring a large kettle of very salty water—it should taste like the sea—to a rolling boil and pour in the chickpeas. Remove with a slotted spoon one minute after the water returns to a boil. Taste—it should be sweet and delicious. If the chickpeas are still dry and starchy, boil some more, checking each minute.
Remove the chickpeas to a bowl and pour the gnocchi into the boiling water.
Put the tomato jam on medium heat. When it simmers, turn the heat to low.
Let the gnocchi cook at least five minutes. Taste one. It should be chewy, and not dry and chalky at the center. They may need more time. Test every minute until they are cooked to the center.
Pour about half the tomato jam into the bowl with the green chickpeas and add the cooked gnocchi. Toss to combine.
To plate, spread a pool of tomato jam on each plate and top with some of the chickpeas and gnocchi. Top with grated cheese and serve at once.
To read Hank's story about the Zen of making ciciones, click here.