(Morrow Cookbooks, $25)
Cesare Casella doesn't pull people from burning buildings, but he does something almost as heroic: He re-creates in New York City - at restaurants Beppe (recently sold) and Maremma Trattoria Toscana - Italian food in all its simple glory.
Yet Casella's Basic Gnocchi are anything but basic. They incorporate two egg yolks, a whole egg, nutmeg, ricotta cheese, and grated parmesan cheese, along with flour and potatoes. His Fast Fresh Tomato Sauce is as advertised, but the gnocchi recipe takes hours as I struggle to unstick the soft dough from the cutting board.
When we finally sit down to eat, I understand Casella's warning that the recipe "makes a lot." I pop five or six morsels into my mouth and push my plate away. All that cheese and egg makes them incredibly filling.
Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home by Mario Batali
Mario Batali is a one-man brand. His name appears on everything from silicone spatulas to pepper mills. In his trademark orange clogs, he's hosted three different television shows. But Batali is primarily a chef and a restaurateur. And he exhibits all the signs of being a chef in this cookbook, meaning he uses restaurant techniques that are either unwieldy or unnecessary at home.
Batali's gnocchi recipe concludes with instructions to cook the gnocchi in advance, shock them in ice water, and then toss them with canola oil. Precooking may be necessary at Babbo, Batali's flagship New York City restaurant, which seats 90, but not for a recipe that serves four as a main course. I point out these instructions to Paolo, who looks grim and makes the sign of the cross.
Scott Conant's New Italian Cooking by Scott Conant with Joanne McAllister Smart
Like Batali, Scott Conant is a New York City restaurant chef/owner (L'Impero and Alto), so I turn to his recipe for Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchetti with trepidation. I needn't have worried. Conant may cook like an Italian, but he writes recipes like an American.
There's only one tricky part to making gnocchi, and that's knowing when to stop adding flour. Add too much and you'll have potato bricks; add too little and they'll dissolve when they hit the cooking water. Conant's is the only recipe that offers specific guidelines and proposes making test gnocchi. (My method for the others is to lob a few pieces of dough to Paolo, who claims to be able to recognize the right proportion by taste.)
I am not nearly as enamored of the egg Conant puts into his gnocchi, nor of the shrimp and peas overpowered by rosemary that he puts on top of them.