Working With What You Have: Mom and Pop Shopping

EVENT: Patrick’s Post-Election City Visit
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
TYPE: Casual Weekend Dinner
MENU: Baked Gnocchi with Pesto, Peas, and Pancetta; Spinach Salad with Avocado, Red Onion, and Toasted Pecans; Gummy Delights
SHOPPING: Rafetto’s-144 West Houston Street; Economy Candy-108 Rivington Street

As our recent blurb on The Feed Bag reminded us, we aren’t the only ones retreating to our small kitchens to drink and eat away the bleak New York Times headlines. Now that the initial high of Election Day has worn off, our conversations have once again turned from Michelle Obama’s J. Crew couture to the economy, and I find myself adding extra cups of cream to my sauces, and doubling the sugar intake at the end of the meal to compensate for the scarcity elsewhere.

I hate the topic of my 401k almost as much as politics in general and try all sorts of tactics to avoid these conversations in the comfort of my home. Mainly by making sure I’m shoving enough rich food in everyone’s mouths to induce a false state of security and recessionary bliss. If that fails, I usually resort to screening David After the Dentist or playing Jenga.

My political and economic commentary is a little more subtle when it comes to my food, by way of how I budget, but also where I buy. In New York it’s hard to find a happy medium between powerhouse health markets and overpriced gourmet foods shops like Dean and Deluca. So while the idea of stopping by the Union Square Whole Foods at 6pm on a weeknight is enough to make me break out into hives, I usually go there anyway to avoid spending 7 dollars on a sausage link at Garden of Eden around the corner. Recently, after making an effort to explore the food offerings outside my ten block radius, I’ve discovered that some small specialty shops—particularly those in Chinatown—debunk this myth, offering cheap, authentic regional delicacies without prices that reflect their importation.

So when my friend Patrick, who spent the greater part of his time post-college working on the Obama campaign in New Mexico (yay, him!), came to visit, I decided to make a recession-friendly menu, not just by staying within a meager budget, but also purchasing items from the folks still plugging away on “Main Street” (or Rivington), who have experienced the obscene escalation of rent in their up-and-coming neighborhoods, but still manage to honor the prices of what people pay for their condiments at corner groceries across the country.

Filling our bellies with creamy, fresh gnocchi may not have changed the climate forty blocks south on Wall Street. But it did create a temporary diversion from the realities we’d all like to avoid. And, with bulk candy for dessert, I gave my city-fearing friend a little taste of the mom ‘n pop shopping that the rest of pre-recession America has always known and loved.

From my small, recession-friendly kitchen, to yours,


Keith and Patrick talking about the economy. Ew.

Baked Gnocchi with Pesto, Peas, and Pancetta
Makes 5 servings

This dish was inspired by a truffle gnocchi mac n’ cheese I had a month or so back and am still dreaming about. Since the truffles didn’t quite fit in with the theme of the meal, I opted for pancetta, because when in doubt, add bacon.


2 lb fresh gnocchi
4 oz pancetta, finely diced
4 tbsp butter
1/3 cup flour
3 cups milk
1/4 tbsp nutmeg
1/3 cup pesto
1 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup grated fontina
1/3 cup bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the gnocci for 1-2 minutes, just to defrost them. They cook extremely quickly and will finish off in the oven, so don’t over do them.

In the meantime, fry the pancetta in 1/2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Set aside.

NOTE: if you fry extra bacon, it is an excellent addition to the salad recipe below.

In the same pan, melt the butter over a medium flame. When fully liquified, whisk in the flour to create a roue. Add the milk and nutmeg, and simmer until reduced by half. Add the pesto, peas, pancetta, and gnocchi, and stir to combine.

Place mixture in a large caserole dish and cover with the grated fontina. Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese has become brown and crispy. It is delicious at this point. But for an extra crunch, remove from oven, cover with breadcrumbs, and return for another 5 minutes. The top should have a nice brown crust.

Serve immediately with a side salad.

Spinach Salad with Avocado, Red Onion, and Toasted Pecans
Makes 3-4 servings


5oz baby spinach
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced

For the dressing:

2 tbsp balsamic
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, combine salad ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and add to the spinach mixture. Toss well and serve.

Gummy Delights

No recipe necessary

  • Frankie

    Is this like storebought pesto? Bottled or fresh made? It’s so brilliant that you added that and bacon and peas – never would have thought of it. But that’s the difference between a mediocre cook (me) and a star (yay Phoebe and Cara)!

  • Puff Daddy J

    Give this cook a cabinet job.

  • 123

    if you’re using “fresh gnocchi”, then why are you boiling it to “defrost” it?? Poor recipe construction….

    • BGSK

      Hi 123. The gnocchi from the mom and pop shop I go to is made fresh and then immediately frozen. I’ve often found this to be the case when buying fresh gnocchi. By fresh, I mean not barilla or imported/packaged gnocchi. When I make gnocchi at home I often freeze a portion to have for later. Either way, you’ll still want to cook them for a minute or two. Thanks!

  • Chris Cook from “FoodForBlog”

    I grew up on Gnocchi, but have never tried it like this… I’m hooked. Can’t wait to try this and share my results!

  • Rigoberto

    My gnocci turned into mashed potatoes. Sad face.

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