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Vegan gnocchi pesto bake for a satisfying dinner on Meatless Monday

No one's saying you

have

to go meatless just because it's Monday -- but as incentive to join the growing movement, every week we're offering an animal-free recipe.

Last week, we showed you how to roast red potatoes and use a parsley pesto to make a vegan-friendly potato salad. This week, we're using good, old-fashioned basil pesto and russet potatoes to make some gnocchi, delicious potato dumplings that we'll toss with pasta and bake in the oven.

You will need:

2 pounds russet potatoes (3-4 large potatoes) 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for cooking) 1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves 6 tablespoons pine nuts 5 large cloves garlic Salt to taste Cracked black pepper to taste

There aren't many ingredients in this dish, but don't be fooled: It's labor-intensive. Recruit a friend to help you roll all those little dumplings into shape. And you'll have to use both the oven and the stove, so if it's really hot outside, you might want to consider a different meatless dish. You could also microwave the potatoes instead of baking them and serve the gnocchi immediately with the pesto instead of baking it, which would only require the stovetop.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

1. Prick the potatoes several times each with a fork. When the oven is warm, bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until soft. (You can microwave these if you don't want to turn the oven on right now.) While the potatoes are baking, get started on the pesto.

2. Peel the cloves of garlic and place them in the food processor.

Add the pine nuts and basil leaves and a pinch or two of salt.

Blend the ingredients, pausing to scrape down the sides. Add more salt as needed.

When the basil, pine nuts and garlic are finely chopped, it's time to add some olive oil. Add about six tablespoons of fruity, extra-virgin olive oil. Continue processing until creamy and thick. Scrape the pesto into a small bowl and set aside. 3. When the potatoes have finished baking, set aside until they are cool enough to handle. Put a large stock pot full of water on to boil with some salt and a little bit of oil, and lightly oil or spray a nine-by-thirteen-inch pan. Cut each potato in half. Use a spoon to scoop the insides of the potatoes out into a medium bowl; discard the skins. When you've got all the potato flesh in the bowl, start mashing. Add a pinch of salt and some cracks of freshly-ground black pepper. 4. You can use a potato masher to start mashing the potatoes, but you'll want to use a fork eventually. Mash them as thoroughly as you possibly can, which will make for smooth dumplings. Little by little, add the flour and use the fork to mash it into the potatoes. This will take a while. Quarter-cup by quarter-cup, keep adding the flour. When the flour and the potatoes are thoroughly mixed, add a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of olive oil and combine it into the dough. Use the fork to mash the olive oil into the dough. Knead it gently for three minutes or so, adding more flour as needed. You should have a ball of easy-to-manipulate dough. Form it into a rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut the rectangle into eight equal strips. Cut each strip in half. Take each piece and roll it out until it's about 1/2 an inch in diameter between your palms (lightly floured). Beautiful. Cut the cylinders into 1/2-inch pieces. Use your thumb to press each piece of gnocchi (gently!) against a fork. All finished! By now, your water should be boiling nicely. 6. In batches, drop the gnocchi dumplings into the water. Turn the water down to medium-low, still bubbling but not all the way on high. The dumplings will sink at first, bob up and down as they cook and rise to float at the top of the water when they're done. It should only take one to two minutes to cook them. Scoop them out of the hot water and drain in a colander in the sink. Continue cooking in batches until you've cooked all the gnocchi. As the gnocchi drains, you can start arranging it in the baking dish. 7. When all of the dumplings have been cooked, use a glass measuring cup to scoop out about 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the liquid to the pesto in the bowl. Mix thoroughly. Spoon the pesto mixture over the gnocchi in the dish. Toss the ingredients gently until the gnocchi is coated with the pesto. Bake for ten minutes, until everything is hot. Serve immediately.

If you don't like pesto or don't do nuts, you could cut bake the gnocchi with pre-prepared tomato sauce -- and if you're short on time or don't want to take the extra step, there's no harm in just tossing the pesto and serving as-is before baking.

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