Gnocchi. Remember your first time – eating it and saying it? Trying to pronounce its name gave me fifty fits years ago. That embarrassment of ordering something in a restaurant and not knowing how to say it. Nowadays I’d like to think I’d just ask the server, but back then, like most people, I probably just stuttered out a hard “g” and hastily muttered, “I’ll have the Geu-nawchee please”.
No matter how badly I butchered its name, I fell in love with the dish. I remember soft buttery pillows arrived. Lightly pan-fried, you wouldn’t call the outside crispy or anything – but the ridged golden outlines had a slight chew to them. The insides were warm and comforting -that pleasing combination of fluffy but dense and yielding. Gnocchi is a textural pleasure. It’s also all about the sauce. This was my first introduction to brown butter and sage. But that’s another story.
Saucy gnocchi is a no-no. Ask any Italian or good cook….sauce should never smother. It’s about leaving you wanting more. Having just enough. And gnocchi pushes the potato envelope. All those tiny ridges and small indents create potato valleys, which trap just the right amount of sauce. Heavenly.
I made these for a photo shoot at Epicure Selections (find that recipe at epicureselections.com). I used to make gnocchi when I worked in restaurants. First time, there’s definitely a learning curve. It’s like making pie dough– it’s not really difficult – you just need to do it a few times. With experience comes that instinctive ability to know when it just feels “right”. When I make gnocchi at home now, I use Marcella Hazan’s recipe. She is my cooking crush and go-to for all things Italian. And this being Feb 14th, I thought I’d share the love of gnocchi. This is my adaptation from “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking “(Random House). My dog-eared, wine and oil-stained copy has been autographed by Marcella and is inscribed “with love” from my Mom and Dad. That’s amore.
1 1/2 pounds of boiling potatoes, boiled in salted water, just until done
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Boil, peel and rice potatoes while still warm. Please use a ricer – makes the end texture uniform and lump free. Oh, by the way, consider these instructions shorthand. Marcella gives much more detailed ones in the book and uses better language.
2. Do not add all the flour at one time. Start by adding ½ cup and then keep adding, just until you have dough you can work with. If you are unsure, have a small saucepan of boiling water ready and test one. Boil for 10 secs, then taste. If it falls apart, work in a little more flour.
3. Dough will be a little sticky, but should be easy to work with . Don’t overwork or gnocchi will be rubbery. Roll into cylinder; cut in ¾-inch pieces and taking it lengthwise across a fork, depress center. The ridges serve to hold the sauce. If making ahead, spread gnocchi out on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Portion into smaller bags and freeze until ready to cook.
4. Fill a deep wide saucepan (or Dutch oven) with water. Generously salt. Bring to a boil, then carefully drop in a few gnocchi. Boil 10 to 15 secs, then scoop out onto an oiled baking sheet.
5. Divide gnocchi between warm bowls and top with tomato or pesto sauce. Or, pan fry ‘em first! Slowly sizzle some butter with slivers of garlic and a handful of fresh sage until butter turns brown. Swirl pan often to avoid dark spots. Add gnocchi and toss. Generously grate in Parmesan cheese.