As a little girl I absolutely loved gnocchi. I didn’t really know what it was, I just knew I always wanted more.
In second grade each child had a turn at “kid of the week”, complete with a board full of pictures and a list of “favorites” presented in colors of the child’s choice. When my turn came, the teacher sat me down to fill out my list of favorites, and when we came to food I said without hesitation, “Gnocchi”. She stopped, pen poised over the paper, looked up, and replied, “What?”
“Gnocchi,” I repeated, as if everyone should know it. It was, after all, the Best Food Ever. She asked me how to spell it, and after a little thought I took my best guess beginning with “Y” and ending with “E” because that’s how it sounded, and being 8 years old I didn’t really know much better.
How sad a day was the day our local grocery store stopped selling my precious gnocchi. I remember my mother attempting it from scratch once, but after hours of labor we all decided it wasn’t worth it and gnocchi seemed gone from my life forever.
Since marrying the GHE (Great Hidden Eyes), my cooking has improved a lot, and not too long ago I found myself wondering if gnocchi from scratch really was as difficult as I remembered it. The answer? Moderately difficult and extremely time consuming, yes, but it’s worth it to me, because it’s still one of my favorite foods.
Gnocchi in simplest terms are Italian potato dumplings. They are typically very subtle in their flavor and are designed to accept whatever flavor of sauce you put on it. I will eat them plain (most people would consider this too bland, I think), but I like them with pesto sauce best. They’re also really good with simple butter and parmesan cheese. Yum!
6 medium russet potatoes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
~2 cu white and/or wheat flour
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 T Parmesan cheese
1/2 t garlic powder
1) Cook potatoes as you like with the skins on. Microwave, steam, boil…the important thing is to not overcook, as overcooked potatoes will affect the texture of the dough. The other thing to note is that the more water used, the more of it potatoes will absorb and therefore the more flour you’ll need in order to form the dough. I prefer to steam mine, and about 15 minutes of cook-time is perfect for this. A fork should be able to pierce with little resistance, and the potato shouldn’t fall apart. I highly recommend letting them cool a bit before continuing.
2) Peel and mash the potatoes. This is one of those recipes where I wish I had a counter top mixer or a food processor. A manual masher and a fork work, but when you do 7 pounds of potatoes at once (as I did this time), it’s impossible to get perfectly smooth potatoes and it kills your hands and wrists.
3) Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, oil, salt and pepper (and any optional ingredients). Mix thoroughly.
4) Plop it all onto a very well-floured surface and add more flour gradually, kneading to form a soft dough. It will be a messy and sticky process (thusly I suggest removing rings and watches), but it reminds me of making food sculptures as a kid, so I don’t mind so much. If you do, you can try adding flour to the bowl first to thicken it up a little.
5) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 1/2 hour. If you make a larger amount, place the dough in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.*
6) Return to your floured surface, and roll the dough into long ropes 1/2-3/4″ in diameter.
7) Cut the ropes in 1/2″ pieces. If you’re feeling artistic, you can shape or roll the dough and/or press with a fork or your finger. Supposedly the grooves help more sauce stay on the gnocchi when you eat it, but I’ve never paid that much attention to see if that’s true or not.
8) Drop gnocchi into boiling, salted water. They’re done when they float (usually 2-3 minutes)!
Alternately, you can lay them uncooked on a cookie sheet and freeze them for later use. You can do this with the dough itself, for that matter. Frozen gnocchi dough will keep up to a month.
*As a reminder, potatoes will oxidize if left exposed to air. I forgot about this and left my dough overnight thinking I’d continue the next day. Fortunately it only hits the surface, so I just scraped it off and picked up where I’d left off. It’s simply an aesthetic thing…I don’t like grey potatoes.