Live from El Born: Online Cooking Class
Kneading dough, it turns out, is the best way to escape the online COVID-19 insanity. It’s near impossible (unless you really don’t care about your cellphone or laptop) to text, scroll, and comment once your hands are covered in gluey flour and water. Gnocchi – that Italian dish that can be either a bowl of chewy gumballs or dreamy puffs of melt-in-your-mouth pasta – was the dish. Alberto, the charming Italian co-owner from Bear on Bike catering, was our fearless leader for this online cooking class.
Quarantine presents unique cooking challenges. My grocery had not a single package of flour and, in these quarantine times, I couldn’t just pop over to the neighbors to borrow a cup. After trying three different stores, I finally wandered into a hopeless looking 24-hour alimentacio (you know the kind — more liquor than food) and found a tiny bag on a dusty (with flour, I hope) shelf in the back of the store.
Unfortunately, the time it took to find flour meant I didn’t get the potatoes roasted and prepped before the online class, so I couldn’t actually cook along with Alberto. I committed to note-taking instead, which turned out to be a better option because writing or typing would not have been possible with dough-covered hands if I had cooked along with him.
Bear on Bike’s live cooking class reminded me of Food Network’s early days. Back then, the shows at least tried to focus on the lesson and recipe quality and not just show us a bowl of food porn served up by a photogenic chef with a toothy smile. Plus, unlike television cooking shows, live webinar cooking classes don’t allow the viewer to sit on the sofa and passively consume content along with a bag of chips. After all, everyone else on the call can see you. Before you point out that the computer camera can be turned off, remember that the point of live chats during this quarantine is to get some much-needed socializing time. Regardless of how introverted you may be, at some point, moping around your flat like Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations becomes creepy and boring.
Gnocchi from Scratch
– 500gr potatoes (Désirée potatoes, which have red skin and yellow flesh are ideal. Potatoes for frying, such as for French fries, should not be used.)
– 170gr flour per kg of cooked and peeled potatoes
– 1 egg yolk for every 1 kg of cooked potatoes
First, put on some pants and change out of that bathrobe. And wash your hands (again).
- Wash and scrub potatoes. Do not peel. Stab them all over with a fork so that they do not spectacularly explode in the oven (unless that’s your intent). Set them on a bed of lightly sprinkled sea or rock salt, and toss them into the oven at 170 degrees Celsius with oven fan on or 180 degrees with fan off.
- Leave them alone for 45 minutes or so and go online to publicly declare your intent to abandon all social media and WhatsApp chats for the afternoon.
- Wash your hands (again) because you just touched your phone and/or laptop, both of which are breeding grounds for germs.
- Take the potatoes out of the oven and test them with a fork for doneness. They should give easily; tender, but not falling apart.
- Wait a few minutes to let them cool enough to handle with your COVID-19 free hands. Resist the urge to touch your face or anything else while you wait.
- Once you can hold the potatoes, strip the peels off. Don’t be a perfectionist princess; work quickly while the potatoes are still warm so that they need less flour and egg later on.
- Dump the peeled potatoes into a bowl and then, using either a ricer (preferred) or a fork (reality), smash them well. Do NOT use a mixer or blender
- Now comes the messy part. But first, wash your hands (again) so that you can confidently deny that you were the transmitter of COVID-19 to your flatmates or family.
- Put the mashed potato on a floured cutting board. Shape it into a small mound and and create a well in the middle.
- This is the part where Alberto did some mystery math in his head to tell us how much flour to use. Bottom line: add the flour poco a poco as you mix the dough. Err on the side of less, don’t overthink it, and never, ever, add water.
- Add your egg yolk, flour, plus any spices into the well in the mashed potato mound. Nutmeg is popular, especially if you’re planning on a brown butter and sage sauce – you’re planning your sauce already, right?
- Incorporate everything using the fold and turn technique. (Fold the dough in half, like an omelet. Turn it and fold again. Turn and fold, turn and fold. Minimize pressing on the dough or using other excessive force.)
- The key here is to handle the mix as little as possible. As with most dough, the more you handle the mix, the tougher the final product.
Once you have a good-looking dough log, it’s time to roll out the pieces.
- Slice the dough into 4-5 slices of about 2 centimeters (that’s about an inch to you Norte [email protected]). Sprinkle a little flour on the board.
- Flatten the first slice a little and start rolling it into a rope. Channel your inner Bob Fosse by slowly widening your fingers as you roll to lengthen the rope and give it an even shape.
- Slice the potato rope into bite-size pieces.
Next, flatten each piece with a fork and fold it gently, with the ridges facing outwards. No need to press the piece closed. The ridges and slightly open shell will allow the piece to hold on to more of the delicious sauce you pour on top (surely, you’ve figured the sauce out by now, right?). Finish by washing your hands (again).
Now, bring a pot of salted water to a gentle boil and drop in a few gnocchi at a time. When they float, fish them out. Continue this until you’ve boiled all the gnocchi you plan to eat. Freeze unboiled whatever you don’t plan to eat right away.
Pour whatever sauce you want on top. No judgment if you decide to use something from a jar and pass it off as homemade. After all, you just made freaking gnocchi from scratch. Eat while wearing the smug smile of someone who did a thing and didn’t check social media all afternoon. Refuse to share the gnocchi with anyone who hasn’t washed their hands at least as often as you have today.
Quick-fire Quarantine Questions
for Bear on Bike’s Ella & Alberto
What’s your go-to comfort dish during this quarantine?
As our sourdough starter is in full swing at the moment, we’ve been enjoying sourdough pancakes every morning as well as delicious homemade focaccia and pizza. Nothing is as comforting as the smell of focaccia in the oven.
How have you adapted your small business to this situation?
Our main business is catering and events, all of which have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. When we had to close up shop, we decided to start these online classes to keep us occupied and connected with the outside world, and with the hope that we might be able to make a little pocket money to tie us over.
What are you missing most about Barcelona living right now?
We are definitely missing being at work. We love cooking for people, hosting events, working in collaboration with all our wonderful producers and all the great foodie projects and coworkers that normally surround us. That, and bike riding (especially Alberto).
And what new thing have you discovered about living in Barcelona?
We live right above all the bars on Passeig del Born and from morning to night there is a constant buzz, which then goes mad in the evenings. The silence and absolute tranquility on the street right now is incredible and very much appreciated.
What’s the first thing you plan to do when the quarantine is lifted?
We can’t wait to see and hug all our friends and just be in each other’s (non-virtual) company again. That, and bike riding (again, especially Alberto).
Also check out recipes for traditional Catalan holiday dishes.