After much trial and error in the garden, my tomato plants are finally producing. I have an overabundance of red, ripe beauties and can’t think of a better way to put them to use than a kids’ cooking project. We embarked on this one because my daughter Virginia is crazy for gnocchi. And no wonder: little pillows of tender, handmade potato dumplings napped in a sauce made with tender Roma tomatoes.

Gnocchi is an Italian specialty. This version is the classic: cooked potatoes (minus the peel) combined with flour and eggs form the dough, which gets rolled out, cut, and cooked in boiling water. You can see a step-by-step demonstration of the process here. Gnocchi is best served with simple sauces. For summer, I’m partial to pesto or tomato sauce. Simple butter and Parmesan cheese has its merits as well. This recipe makes more than enough gnocchi for eight, likely with leftovers. Both gnocchi and sauce freeze quite well.

Consider delving into gnocchi-making much like you would any craft project. It’s creative, offers bonding time with your kids, and best of all, you get to eat the results. To help you along the way, here are a few tips for cooking with your kids:

Be organized – Have all of your ingredients and equipment laid out before you get started.

Let go of perfection – Cook with your kids when you are not hugely invested in the results and allow mistakes to be part of the learning process.

Know your limits – If it’s overwhelming for you to have more than one child cooking at a time, have them take turns cooking with you or invite them to participate at different intervals in the project.

Involve them in the clean up – Tidying up is part of the whole picture and you shouldn’t have to go it alone.

Eat the results together – Sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labor as a family. Give your kids strokes for their contribution. If things didn’t turn out as planned, share a laugh about it.

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Homemade Gnocchi with Nana's Tomato Sauce

The recipe hails from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Maria Helm Sinskey. She’s a mom herself and a big fan of getting your kids involved in the cooking. Best of all, every recipe I’ve ever cooked from her books has worked just like she said it would.
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients

Gnocchi:

  • 3 pounds large baking potatoes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt , plus more for cooking
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Parmesan cheese , for garnish

Nana's Tomato Sauce

  • 8 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes
  • 6 large cloves garlic , peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium yellow onions , peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon toasted whole fennel seeds
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano or 1 ½ tablespoons dried
  • 1 cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 bay leaf , fresh or dried
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • Salt

Instructions

For the gnocchi:

  1. Wash the potatoes, prick them with a fork, and place them on a sheet pan. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until they are very soft. Resist roasting them at a higher temperature; it will cause the skin and flesh just inside the skin to become crusty. Cool them slightly and scoop out the insides. Rice the scooped-out potato with a ricer or mash them with a fork. Place them in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth to retain their heat. The potatoes must be used while they are still very warm.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and yolk lightly together. Add them to the potatoes along with the salt, a few grinds of black pepper, the nutmeg and flour. Mix gently with your hands until all of the ingredients are combined well and the dough is smooth.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured flat surface. Knead lightly and add a little more flour if the dough is overly sticky. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, uncovered. Roll the dough into thin ½-inch logs and cut into ½-inch long pieces. Using a generous amount of flour, press each piece against your thumb tip to make a hollow or roll it over the back and off the tip of a floured fork to make the traditional ridge shape. Place the finished gnocchi on a lightly floured sheet pan. Cook them as soon as possible in boiling salted water (2 tablespoons of salt per 5 quarts of water).
  4. Lower the gnocchi into the boiling water; when they rise to the top let them cook for a minute or two more and then remove them with a slotted spoon. Drain and serve with Nana’s Tomato Sauce or the sauce of your choice along with grated Parmesan cheese.

For the sauce:

  1. Core the tomatoes and make an “X” on the bottom with a sharp knife.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes without crowding them. Boil them for 20 seconds, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon, and place in a bowl. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes. Let them cool enough to handle.
  3. Peel the tomatoes and divide them into two equal parts. Take one part, cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze out the seeds over a strainer and bowl to catch the juices. Chop the flesh coarsely and put into a large bowl. Add the strained juice to the bowl with the chopped tomatoes and set aside. Puree the remaining tomatoes in a food processor or blender and strain out the seeds. Add to the bowl with the other tomatoes.
  4. Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat and lightly brown the garlic in the olive oil, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until lightly browned.
  5. Add the red wine and reduce it until it is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, chili flakes, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Simmer over low heat for 1 ½ to 2 hour until the sauce has thickened and flavors have developed. Season the sauce to taste with salt. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Recipe Notes

The gnocchi can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and frozen on sheet pans. Once they are frozen solid they an be transferred to a Ziploc bag or wrapped tightly. Do not thaw them before cooking or they will stick together. The sauce can be made in advance and stored for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

From “The Vineyard Kitchen”. Reprinted with permission from Maria Helm Sinskey Gnocchi photo credit: shutterstock