About five years ago I became wheat-intolerant. I was ridiculously stressed and hated my job and, quelle surprise, as soon as I left I was suddenly able to eat bread and cake again without suffering excruciating stomach pains.
I’ve never had a recurrence (must remember not to take high-level publishing jobs for the sake of my stomach) but, for some reason, pasta remains painful. And how I miss it: its convenience, its cheapness and, of course, the sauces. Puttanesca was a summer staple, carbonara a winter comfort and spaghetti all’ aglio, olio e peperoncino got me through many late-night-nothing-in-the-fridge-to-eat moments.
But recently I’ve found a solution. And I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do so. Gnocchi. Not only is it equally cheap and fast, but also it has all the qualities of pasta (heavy-duty carbohydrate, filling, bland enough to be a chorus girl not a leading lady) with none of the wheat. Well, as long as you buy potato gnocchi.
So I’ve started regaling myself with my old favourites once again. Tonight it was gnocchi (rather than the more traditional spaghetti) with olive oil, garlic and chilli. I first came across this as a graduate student when a very worldly-wise Italian lecturer (who is now quite a famous writer) introduced myself and my friends to the late-night delights of the sauce. We were dubious at first. After all, it was the early nineties, we’d only just embraced garlic and good coffee and thought that was pretty daring. So his adamant assertions on the delights of olive oil for tasks such as frying eggs were, I’m embarrassed to say, pooh-poohed by us. When he regaled us with the prospect of a pasta sauce with just oil, garlic and chilli (what no cheese, no tomato?) we were, well, not particularly enthusiastic. But one mouthful of what is, I later realised, a classic pasta dish shut us all up. Simple, tasty, glorious, it’s memorable but takes minutes. Don’t save it just for post-pub-late-night suppers. This is an all-singing, all-dancing, all-day classic. Haven’t tried it for breakfast yet but there’s still time.
You will need…
Gnocchi (about 150g per person)
1 garlic clove per person
1 fresh or dried red chilli per person (to taste)
olive oil (not extra virgin for once; apparently it burns faster so best to use a less posh and expensive one for this). You’ll need a good glug per person, depending on how many people you make it for.
salt and pepper (of the sea salt and freshly ground varieties if you can; there’s no hiding crap condiments in this sauce)
There is very little to do: chop the chilli and garlic, put the gnocchi in boiling water for a couple of minutes till it floats and then drain it, heat up the oil, fry the garlic and chilli until brown but not burnt and then toss sauce and gnocchi together and season. More details below with pics. I find that I sometimes do steps 3 and 4 at the same time, sometimes in one order, sometimes in another: you know best if you prefer to drain your gnocchi before finishing off the sauce or vice versa. It’s not something to worry about…
1. Peel the garlic and chop/slice it finely (don’t crush it).
2. Cut the stalk off the chilli then chop it finely too. Remove the seeds if you can be bothered.
3. Heat several good glugs of olive oil in a large saucepan or frying pan then add the chilli and garlic and fry until golden brown. Don’t, as I did tonight, leave it even for a couple of seconds, because it will burn very quickly.
4. Meanwhile heat a pan of water until it boils. Tip in the gnocchi and, when they all float (depending on their size this will take about two minutes) drain them in a sieve or colander.
5. Toss gnocchi in the sauce, season and enjoy.
Five minutes to make, five years to figure out the solution. Ah well…