There is so much choice when it comes to ingredients, and such a range of qualities and price points that it can be hard to know where to save your dollars and where to splurge. I sometimes get asked about this, but my answer is always pretty wishy-washy, as it’s one of those personal preference issues I can’t really call one way or the other. What matters to you? What do you notice when it’s not there? I buy both good and crappy vanilla, because the good stuff has its place but the crappy stuff can pass unnoticed, which makes the good stuff last longer.
You don’t need fancy ingredients to make good food. Most people can’t tell the difference between The Best and Good Enough anyway, the way most people will taste a wine and only know for certain whether it is white or red. They might think they can, and the truly gauche might say it out loud, but the reality is that a thoughtful meal comprised of modest ingredients is more than the sum of its sale-priced parts.
For the experienced cook, this is not news. But the novice cook, the young person who is just starting out and is perhaps swayed by pretty pictures in magazines or on Pinterest might be led to believe that there is no sense in doing something half-assed.
This is important: the only thing culinary you ever have to use your full ass for is eating. This is home-cooking; we are not cheffing around. The people you’re serving are already impressed that they didn’t have to make dinner. You can haul out the big guns, the good stuff, the meticulous technique and gourmet ingredients for special occasions – fancy company or holiday dinners or desserts – but when it comes to getting dinner on the table on a weeknight, half your ass will do.
The secret to good home-cooking is knowing where to take shortcuts, and where to spend your time.
If it’s corn season, highlight corn by gently caramelizing it with a finely chopped onion until your kitchen smells like butter and brown sugar; this is one of those gratifying things you can do while your small person tears around, suddenly naked, shouting the Rescue Bots theme song. If a package of gnocchi was on sale for a dollar, don’t bother hand-rolling fresh gnocchi; no one wants to do that on a weeknight anyway and you’re, like, what? Not supposed to ever have gnocchi? No. The shortcuts you take will emphasize the ingredients you lingered over, and everyone will love you for your efforts.
What follows is a recipe that takes full advantage of leisurely caramelizing and store-bought potato dumplings and the seasoning effects of Polish sausage. The great thing about this dish is that it kind of seems like something fancy, but if your people are like my people they won’t quite know why and you’ll somehow manage extra credit which you can use to excuse yourself from unsavoury tasks like scrubbing the cast iron or trying to wrestle a big-for-his-age three-year-old into the pajamas he would prefer not to wear.
Gnocchi with kielbasa and caramelized corn
(Makes 4 servings.)
- 3 tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil, divided
- 1/2 lb. kielbasa or farmer’s sausage, diced
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (from two or three cobs if using fresh)
- 3 tbsp. garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 lb. store-bought gnocchi
- Smoked cheese, such as cheddar
- 2 tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
- 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
- 1 tsp. grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook kielbasa for about two minutes, until lightly browned, then scoop from pan onto a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.
Depending on how fatty your kielbasa is, you may or may not have to add additional oil at this point. If the pan is looking dry, add additional oil as needed. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add onion. Cook, stirring often, until browned, about five minutes. Add corn, and stir often until the colour has deepened and the kernels have browned in places, about fifteen minutes. Add a small amount of water as needed to dissolve the layer forming on the bottom of the pan. Add garlic, salt and pepper, and cook until garlic has softened.
Make the vinaigrette by combining oil, vinegar, fresh parsley, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl or jar and stirring or shaking to combine. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the corn has turned colour and smells buttery and sweet, add gnocchi to the pot and cook according to package directions. Gnocchi will cook for about two minutes, most likely.
Reserve half a cup of the gnocchi cooking water, then drain. Add gnocchi to the pan with the corn. Add the sausage back. Deglaze the pan with the water, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring to coat the gnocchi in the sauce that forms.
To serve, spoon vinaigrette over gnocchi and corn, and top with shaved or shredded smoked cheese. If you are not able to find smoked cheese, use an aged white cheddar.
(This is the soundtrack to my life right now. Just FYI.)