Vegan Dinner Idea: Gnocchi with Rainbow Swiss Chard and Tomato Sauce

What is gnocchi? It’s small potato dumplings. I’ve loved these ever since I was a kid. When I was 12 and home alone with nothing to do on summer vacation I decided I’d fire up the stove and try cooking something. I didn’t know what to make so I went digging through my mother’s pantry. I found a vacuum-sealed package inside a box which contained what was going to be one of the best meals I’ve ever made and also the worst stomach ache I’ve ever had. I read the directions on the box on how to cook these little buggers: Put in boiling water, when floats to top of pot just skim them off the surface with a spoon and enjoy. The box recommended putting something on the gnocchi for a little more flavor and butter was one of the recommendations. I took half of a stick of butter, put it in a large Pyrex measuring glass and let it melt in the microwave. I poured the half stick of butter over the entire package of gnocchi and enjoyed. This was one of the most decadent meals I’ve ever had. Whenever I see gnocchi on a restaurant menu I think back to that day when I was lapping up the butter and gnocchi. I also remember back to the horrible stomach ache I had when I finished my creation. Thankfully I was a 12 year old girl and not an overweight 50 year old man on the verge of a heart attack because I can guarantee I would’ve been feeling chest pains!

Bottom line: I like gnocchi! These little potato dumplings can be prepared a number of ways. A non-vegan example of that would be pouring a little (not half of a stick) of butter with a little parmesan cheese over it.

If you’re looking for a slightly healthier and vegan/vegetarian approach, you could prepare gnocchi the way Pete and I did tonight!

1. Vegan basil and gnocchi (organic)-Whole Foods (marked Vegan right on the package)
2. Fresh basil (organic)-Whole Foods
3. Onion (organic)-Whole Foods
4. Sliced Mushrooms (organic)-Whole Foods
5. Rainbow Swiss Chard (organic)-Whole Foods
6. Garlic (organic)-Whole Foods
7. Canned plain tomato sauce (organic)-Whole Foods
8. Red wine (not organic)-Whole Foods

This makes about 6 servings the way we did it.

We sauteed the minced garlic and chopped onion until they were translucent. Then we added the garlic and onion to following mixture: chopped basil, 2 packages of sliced mushrooms, 4 cans of tomato sauce and some dry red wine to taste (we used Shiraz). We let that come to a boil and then let simmer for a while so the sauce would thicken. Let it simmer as long as you like to get to the thickness you desire. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil, put in 2 bunches of chopped rainbow Swiss chard and let that blanch for about 4 minutes. The Swiss chard will float so take a large slotted spoon and skim the chard off of the water surface and place into a bowl. You can set your oven on warm and put the bowl containing the chard into the oven to keep warm while you prepare the gnocchi. After the chard is done, take the FROZEN gnocchi (we used 4 packages) and place into the boiling water. They will sink to the bottom at first and you’ll know they are done when they float to the top. They will look soft and pillowy. Take a spoon and skim them off the surface of water and put them into a bowl.

Now you are ready to serve! Take a bowl and place some gnocchi on the bottom and some rainbow Swiss chard on top. Then ladle some of the sauce over the gnocchi and chard and enjoy. This goes great with a glass of dry red wine–like Shiraz for example!

Note from the Chef (actually, two): We ended up using about a half-bottle of wine in the sauce. Add to your liking, of course, but with plain tomato sauce as the base, this added a rich flavor that wouldn’t have been present otherwise. If you do follow this suggestion, remember to add a little extra simmer time for the sauce, as that much wine will thin the sauce out noticeably. Also, I recommend adding the gnocchi in 1 or 2 box batches, and definitely not all four at once, unless you’re cooking in a blast furnace, behind a jet engine, or over a blacksmith’s fire. Anytime you add anything below 212°F to boiling water&mdash (and frozen gnocchi are well below 212°F!), the second law of thermodynamics the water temperature drop below boiling, and the larger the mass you add, the further the water temperature will drop. So, the less gnocchi you add at once, the quicker the water will return to a boil, and the less time your gnocchi will spend sitting in hot-but-not-quite-boiling water.

I explained the vegan way to make this dish. If you are vegetarian you could always add a little parmesan cheese on top.

These little dumplings may be tiny but believe me they are filling. Even if you are an omnivore, I don’t recommend adding meat to this dish because it will be way too filling. There’s something about these little dumplings that really fill you up. Don’t judge them by their size. You will be deceived. I kept warning Pete tonight not to take so many as he was loading up his plate. After not listening to me and finishing his meal, he exploded back in his chair, belly fully inflated stating, “Wow, that was really filling!”

There are lots of ways to play with this dish to dress it up and if you’re not vegan, you can still take the vegan idea and run with it to make it your own non-vegan dish. Do whatever makes you happy!