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Snowstorms, Gnocchi & Cheese

It's been snowing for two days and we have about 20 inches on the ground. Charlie and Meg built an elaborate snow fort (I guess it takes a snow storm to get them to work together without fighting), Will and Sadie were the targets for their snow ball assault and George was leaping and bounding all over the place— it was a good day. When I got the call at 10 am that school was canceled, my brain went immediately to, 'what's for dinner?', I wanted to make something to celebrate our first snow storm and snow day of the school year. What's better on a snowy day than cheese and carbs? Save for a bottle of red wine, not much...in my opinion.

I wanted to keep it easy and this frozen gnocchi from Scotti Pecotti was not only easy but also really good. In my experience, frozen gnocchi typically means chewy potato nuggets but Scotti's had a nice soft texture. Plus, it's made in Montreal, WI— a town about 60 miles away and near ground zero for the Penokee Mine debacle. The Hurley/Montreal area has a large Italian population and our area's only Italian deli, The Bell Chalet, is in Hurley. When I saw the gnocchi were made in Montreal, I knew they were going to be good.

This was a super easy dinner to put together, I had the whole thing prepped and in the oven in about 30 minutes. It was a big hit— the gnocchi puffed up a little and the sauce was creamy and cheesy with a little salty and savory kick from the bacon and sun-dried tomatoes. It was a good way to end our first day in Bayfield's winter wonderland.

Gnocchi Mac & Cheese

3 pounds gnocchi, purchased or homemade
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. dry mustard, I used Colman's
3/4 cup Havarti, shredded
3/4 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
3/4 cup Fontina, shredded
1/2 cup bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp. salt, more to taste
1 tsp. pepper
1 cup Ritz crackers, crumbled

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Cook the bacon in a medium skillet until crisp, remove from pan and set aside. In the bacon skillet, sauté the onions until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant and then remove the onions and garlic from the pan and set aside.

Cook the gnocchi according to package directions and then drain (reserving a cup of cooking water), rinse with cold water and place in buttered dish.

Lightly beat the egg in a bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and whisk in flour. Cook the flour/butter mixture until it thickens and starts to bubble, about 2 - 3 minutes. Gradually add the milk, cream and mustard, whisking constantly, and cook until slightly thickened, about another 3 - 5 minutes. Gradually add all the cheeses and stir until melted and thoroughly combined. Remove 1/4 cup of the cheese sauce and slowly whisk into the beaten egg.  Pour the egg mixture back into the sauce, add the reserved bacon, onion/garlic mixture and sun-dried tomatoes and stir to combine.

Pour the sauce over the gnocchi, stir to make sure the sauce is evenly distributed over the gnocchi (if the sauce is too thick, gradually add gnocchi cooking water until it loosens up) and then sprinkle the crumbled Ritz over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.