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Gnocchi, bechamel: A comfort food combo that can't be beat

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Cathy Pollak
Creamy Gnocchi with Walnuts and Sage
Fotolia
Gnocchi

Is there a dish you make that gets your family a little excited for mealtime? At my house, it's gnocchi. When word gets out gnocchi is showing up for dinner, everyone starts milling around the kitchen, just waiting. Thank goodness this pasta only takes a few minutes to boil.

Gnocchi is a wonderful comfort food, and a blank canvas to shape into any combination of flavors. We recently had some amazing homemade mushroom gnocchi while in Hawaii, and ever since we haven't stopped talking about that meal. Making homemade gnocchi is definitely on my culinary bucket list. I will get to it. Sooner than later, I hope.

Making a bechamel sauce for this dish is also really easy. If you have never made this creamy sauce before, don't worry. The great thing about a bechamel sauce is that once you know how to execute it, you'll be able to whip one up for a variety of dishes. It's simple to change the flavor to go with almost anything. You will never be at a loss when it comes to needing something creamy for one of your recipe creations.

The flavors of walnut and sage are also a classic pairing. They are the driving force behind this dish. The toasted walnuts add texture and the fried sage leaves boost flavor, add a little crunch and are visually appealing. If you are not a walnut fan, you could use pine nuts. It won't be the same slightly sweet, slightly bitter flavor walnuts give, but the pine nuts will add the texture this meal needs.

Spend time toasting your walnuts over low heat. The slow toast brings out the walnut's meaty character. Push the walnuts around with a spatula until they just start to brown. Remove them immediately from the heat and the pan to let them cool.

Cathy Pollak is a contributing writer for noblepig.com and www.oneforthetable.com.

Creamy Gnocchi With Walnuts and Sage

For the fried sage leaves and walnuts:

12 fresh sage leaves

14 cup extra-virgin olive oil

12 cup whole walnuts

For the bechamel sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

14 cup flour

1 12 cups whole milk

3 large cloves garlic, pressed or made into a paste

12 teaspoon dried sage leaves

14 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

14 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the pasta:

1 pound gnocchi, uncooked

Parmesan cheese

Add the oil to a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil is heated, add the sage leaves, 4 at a time, and fry for 30 seconds. Place on a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Set aside.

In another nonstick, dry skillet, toast the walnuts over low heat until they are slightly browned and fragrant, for about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and pan. Set aside.

To make the bechamel sauce, add the butter to a large saucepan (a 12-inch pan works great) over medium heat. Once it's melted, add the flour and whisk until it is fully incorporated. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly to remove any lumps. Add the garlic, sage, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer until the sauce has thickened, for 7 to 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Place it directly into the sauce when it is finished cooking.

To serve, place the gnocchi in a bowl and garnish with the fried sage leaves, walnuts and parmesan cheese.

Makes 3-4 servings.

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