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Try your hand at making some homemade gnocchi, served with butter or a marinara sauce.
Many of the Italian foods I grew up eating had been traditional fare for many generations of my family. It’s nice to see some of them becoming popular items that are widely available in restaurants and home kitchens. Gone are the days when I would sit down to eat lunch in the company break room and inspire gasps of disgust or incredulous comments such as, “Ewww, what is THAT?”
My pasta with pesto sauce was viewed suspiciously, and co-workers said it looked like something that was cleaned off a lawnmower blade. They also asked if a cow had sneezed on my spaghetti. I couldn’t even get them to taste the pesto. I am not sure how the tasty dish managed to break through the wall of negativity, but I’m glad it did.
This is also the case with gnocchi (NYOH-kee), which means “dumplings” in Italian. They have also joined the list of favored international fare. I am going to attempt to pass along my family’s age-old recipe for potato gnocchi, even though it was passed on from one generation to the next with no written recipe. The trainee was instructed in the art of gnocchi making by helping the expert prepare them, and it was a very hands-on experience.
Adding to the difficulty of making the tasty little dumplings is the fact that water content of potatoes is a variable that is inconsistent at best. You may need to use more or less flour as you work the dough. Your best bet is to always use Russet potatoes, as they are usually mealy and fluffy when cooked. Don’t use leftover mashed potatoes in your gnocchi, because you don’t want them to have milk and butter added.
Also, if you are the type of person who can’t stand getting your hands gunked up in messy, sticky dough, then you won’t want to try making gnocchi. I don’t think a food processor or mixer would work good, as it would be likely to make the dough too gluey and tough. You also can’t be fussy about making a mess. I hope you enjoy the adventure.
Old family gnocchi
I think potatoes taste better when cooked unpeeled. The key to this gnocchi recipe is to use equal parts of potatoes and flour.
About 1 dozen medium-sized Russet potatoes, scrubbed (or enough to make 1 1/2 quarts, boiled, peeled and mashed)
1 1/2 quarts all-purpose flour (I use a Pyrex measuring container)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
1. Peel and mash the potatoes and measure out 1 ½ quarts into a very large mixing bowl. Mix flour with salt and Parmesan cheese; add to mixing bowl. Add beaten eggs. With hands, mix all ingredients together until a heavy, sticky dough is formed. It will stick to your hands and at first will seem impossible to mix, but as the flour is absorbed, it will get easier. Just hope you don’t get any phone calls while you are in the mixing process.
2. Using a ball of dough about the size of a large orange, roll and shape (with hands) it into a long rope, about the thickness of your thumb, on a floured surface. With a knife, cut the rope into small pillows about 3/4-inch size. At this stage, I usually toss a small handful of flour over the gnocchi and roll them around so the cut edges get floured. Otherwise, they might stick together. You can roll them off the tines of a fork if you wish, but I usually don’t do that. Place the uncooked gnocchi on a platter or large dinner plate that has been dusted with flour. When you have a couple of dough balls cut into pieces, you can drop the gnocchi into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water to which a few drops of olive oil has been added. Give them a little stir to make sure they aren’t clinging.
3. Now, most recipes tell you that they are done as soon as they float to the top, but I find that they are much better if left long enough for me to roll out and cut at least one more dough ball.
With a slotted spoon or ladle, remove the cooked gnocchi to a large baking dish that has about 1 or 2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce spread on the bottom. Mix them up, a batch at a time, adding more sauce as needed.
4. When ready to serve, sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese. Accompany with any green vegetable or tossed salad and some crusty garlic bread. They are even better the next day. This recipe will fill a 9-by-13-inch pan to the point of being mounded on top. I have never made a smaller batch.
Andy Trinchero’s ricotta gnocchi
If the traditional old-Italian way of preparing gnocchi seems intimidating or just too much work, never fear. Another relative was fond of making a much simpler version that hardly takes any time at all. It doesn’t even call for any potatoes, but it’s still good.
1 container ricotta cheese
Equal amount of all-purpose flour
Salt to taste (optional)
1. Mix ricotta, flour and salt together; roll into ropes and cut into small, 3/4-inch dumplings. Boil in salted water (3 to 5 minutes), remove and drain.
2. Blend with melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese or use your favorite pasta sauce.
Instant potato gnocchi
I have not tried this, but everyone else who recommended it to me said it worked great. Legend has it that it was passed down from a Sicilian restaurant owner. If it flops, you have permission to throw mashed potatoes at me.
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup water
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon butter, softened
2 cups instant potato flakes
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1. Mix first 4 ingredients at low speed in a food processor. In a bowl, mix together the last 4 ingredients. Add to food processor and mix on low until a dough forms.
2. Flour hands and countertop and knead dough. Roll out flat, cut into strips and roll the strips into ropes. Cut the ropes into bite-sized pieces and roll each piece with the tines of the fork (for that gnocchi look). Boil in salted water for about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain with slotted spoon rather than a colander because they are a bit delicate. Add sauce of your choice. Feel free to doctor up the dough by adding Parmesan, minced sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, whatever you like.
Pumpkin ricotta gnocchi
A bit unusual but not as unusual as it was years ago. Pumpkin and other squash, such as butternut, are gaining ground these days as pasta ingredients.
1 cup of pureed cooked pumpkin or winter squash (canned or homemade)
1 cup ricotta (use whole milk type for best results)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
3 to 4 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
2 to 3 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste (if you can find truffle salt, that is good)
1. To make the dough: Mix the pumpkin puree, ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and salt together in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well with your hands. The dough should be very sticky. Add another half cup of flour and mix that in. You want the dough to still be pretty sticky, but pliable enough to shape into a large log. If it’s not, keep adding a little flour at a time until you can get a soft dough that you can roll. It should never require more than 4 cups of flour. Cover the dough with a damp towel.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add enough salt so the water tastes salty. Let this simmer while you make the gnocchi.
3. To make the gnocchi, spread some flour on a large work surface and have more flour ready. Cut the dough log into four equal pieces.
Take one piece and cut it in half. Roll the piece of dough into a snake about 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into pieces about the width of a fork. Dust the gnocchi with a little flour, then use one finger to push the dumpling up onto the tines of a fork. Let the gnocchi drop back to the work surface.
4. Using a metal spatula, gently pick up a few gnocchi at a time and drop them into the water. Increase the heat to a rolling boil. Boil these gnocchi until they float, then remove them with a slotted spoon. Lay the cooked gnocchi on a baking sheet (or just place them in a casserole dish) and toss with a little olive oil so they don’t stick together.