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The last of summer, as a bed for gnocchi

April 21, 2009

So you know how I did that post on saving your tomatoes? Well, now you can have something to serve those with – add onions, garlic, and a little cream, and you have prepared the bed for gnocchi, Italian styles. For those unblessed, gnocchi are little pillows of pasta (made of simply mashed potato, flour, egg and salt) that you can easily make at home with a chunk of time on your hands (and thyme too, if you want). This was my first time making gnocchi, and although it wasn’t perfect, it was still nicer than the stuff I’ve had at a restaurant (who shall remain unnamed, because they still do a delicious creamy mushroom filo, and fantastic wedges). I think adding less flour next time will improve the texture somewhat (you want gnocchi to be puffy rather than overly chewy or rubbery). As I’m no expert, this is intended as a guide only (I promise I did some research, and all the links I accessed are scattered throughout), so feel free to add any tips you have from your own experience.

gnocchi-4

Basic gnocchi

recipe and techniques thanks to Tony Tahhan, Smitten Kitchen (<3), and Simply Recipes.

makes enough to serve 4 All Black sized appetites or 6 average sized ones

You can double the recipe to make some that you’ll be able to freeze for next time (it’s just that much more rewarding), but you will probably want to do the dough in two lots,unless you have a bench the size of Africa.

1kg potatoes (preferably mashing or all-purpose, but not waxy style potatoes), washed and pricked with a knife all over
Barely a cup of plain flour (I used more and wished I’d used less)
1 large egg
about 1/2 tsp salt

gnocchi-1

Prepping potatoes
++ cooking
Don’t worry, this isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds. But it does deserve a “section,” because the potatoes have to be dry enough so you don’t end up with overly wet gnocchi. If I wasn’t rather lazy, I would have listened to Deb from SK. But alas. Anyway, if you have a microwave, throw your stabbed potatoes into a large glass bowl (or microwaveable bowl), place tentatively in your microwave and cook 6-10 minutes on high (6 mins for smallish potatoes, 10 for large ones). Flip them over, then put back in the microwave for another 6-10 minutes (depending on size). Poke at least 2 of the potatoes in at least 3 places (because not all microwaves cook evenly) with a knife, and if the blade slips in easy, they are cooked. If they’re not quite cooked yet, throw them back in the microwave until they are, cooking at 2 minute intervals.

If you don’t have a microwave, place your potatoes in a large baking dish on one layer and bake at 200C (400F) for about 45 minutes until cooked (a knife should slip in easily at various points on the potatoes). Cooking time will depend on how large the potatoes are (if they’re small, check as early as 20 minutes)

++peelin’ and crumblin’
Let the potatoes cool slightly, so that you can touch them for more than a few seconds without pain. You want to do this while the potatoes are still a bit hot ideally, so the maximum amount of steam escapes and you get quite a dry potato mixture. Peel them with your fingers (and possibly the assistance of a knife) – if the skin doesn’t come off easily, you probably could have cooked the potatoes a bit longer (I’d throw them back in the microwave for an extra few minutes). Once peeled, you have two options:
1. Grate them on the coarsest setting of your grater (preferably not a brand new super sharp one), making sure you don’t let the potatoes form a compacted clump if you’re using a box grater.
2. Mash them with a fork, fluffing as you go.
3. Use a ricer or food mill to “mash” them.
4. Don’t use a potato masher.
Either way, you want fluffy mashed potatoes, like this. (Thanks Tony)

EDIT: If, like me, you ignored the advice about potatoes and have a pile of VERY gluey potato, you’re going to end up with quite doughy gnocchi. You can either scrap your potatoes, or simply deal with slightly doughy gnocchi…BUT if you pan fry them, they will taste a whole lot better and be quite a bit fluffier. Pan fry them on a low heat until golden brown on the undersides, then stir them and cook further until golden brown on most sides. They will puff up much better than if you do them in very hot oil.

Making the dough

First, make sure your have a clean area of benchspace. This is not as much fun in a bowl. Get about a cup of flour ready in a mound beside where you’re going to make the dough.

Gather the mashed potatoes and make a well in the middle. Beat your single egg, pour it in the middle of the well, and quickly add about half a cup of flour and sprinkle the salt into the well (to start with anyway). Gather the edges of your potato well and start bringing all the ingredients together. Now, I didn’t think at the time my ingredients would form a dough, but have faith. It may seem a distant possibility, the idea of all that stuff forming a uniform(ish) dough, but it will, just massage it together – not too roughly, or you will get that chew thing goin’ on. Add sprinklings of flour to prevent over-stickage to your hands, but only as much as is necessary, and remember to be patient!Try not to use a whole cup. Once the dough is mostly uniform (don’t worry if there are some potato clumps), divide it into six sections. This should not be difficult – the dough should be relatively soft, and relatively pliable, yet solid. Try to be as gentle as you can throughout the whole process.

Shaping

Yay, you’ve made it to the most fun part by far! Grab a dough section, sprinkle a teeny bit of flour on your work surface, and *gently* roll it out, stretching the dough outwards as you roll, until you have a long thin snake about 2cm (3/4″) wide. Chop into the snake at 3cm intervals (1″) with a small sharp unserrated knife, pressing down to cut rather than sawing. Then get a fork, turn it upside down, and, along the chopped snake, press each section lightly into the tines (prongs) of the fork to make a faint indentation of the lines (sort of like pressing cookies with the back of a fork, but more gentle and on the side…ahem).

Elise provides a handy set of pictures for these stages, so check them out if you get confuzzled.

And here’s another picture to show you partially what you’ll end up with:
gnocchi-2
Cute, huh?

Gently transfer them to a tray or some plates, and admire them for a second. You just hand made, from scratch, some pasta.

gnocchi-3

I bet they’ll be just as cute, too. Those ridges will increase the surface area your sauce can cling to, and it’s fun (yes, it is). If you want to freeze a tray, you may as well do that now – pop your tray/plates full of gnocchi in the freezer. You can get them out later and put your gnocchi in a box or bag, but don’t put them in a box or bag without “flash freezing” them first, for at least an hour, or the next time you want to make gnocchi you’ll end up with a mass of dough…not fun!

Repeat the above process with the rest of your dough, until it’s all gone.

Cooking

++shallow frying (possible from frozen, but be careful, as the oil will spit)
Heat enough oil to coat the entire base of a medium sized, thick bottomed non stick or cast iron frying pan, on medium low to medium heat (180C/350F). Wait until the oil is hot (if you dip the edge of a piece of gnocchi in, it should sizzle). Now, if I’m frying my gnocchi, I like to flavour the oil first. For example, if you are serving with mushrooms or peppers or dried herbs, fry those first (this will ensure the pan is up to temperature for your gnocchi too), then remove them from the pan and let drain on paper towels or just set them aside on a plate.

Otherwise, just place one lot of your gnocchi in, leaving enough space around them to roll them onto their sides with a spoon. Don’t try and “pour” them in, or you’ll get splashed with oil (provided you’ve used enough!). Cook until golden on the undersides, then roll onto their sides, until all 3-4 sides are nice and golden. You will need to be quick, or some will get rather brown sides!

Once cooked, remove from pan and let sit on paper towels or in a large, dry colander/sieve set above a bowl to let excess oil drip out. These can be easten as a snack, too.

Serve with a simple sauce, and garnish with shaved/finely grated parmesan, or fresh herbs. Smitten Kitchen has a good post on a gnocchi “salad” too.

gnocchi-5

++boiled
Half fill a medium large saucepan with water and bring to the boil on a medium high heat, salting the water well. Place gnocchi in (don’t overload the pan, keep it to under 1.5 layers of gnocchi on the bottom of the pan) – they will sink. After a few minutes they should float to the top. Let them cook a further minute or two, then remove with a slotted spoon and let drain briefly in a colander (get you sauce ready at this stage). Toss through your sauce, and serve with finely grated parmesan and/or fresh herbs.

Sauces & embellishments

I’m no expert, but a simple tomato sauce like Kendra’s, which is what I used my from-scratch cooked tomatoes in, will let the gnocchi shine. I sat my fried gnocchi on a bed of this thick sauce (which possibly had a bit much sour cream in), and threw over some fried mushrooms, fresh oregano and parmesan slivers. It was beautiful, people.

Alternatively, a simple pesto (the proper stuff with pine nuts in), basil, sundried tomato, or roast capsicum, tossed through is just as good (albeit a bit luxurious).

Ellen simply tossed hers with a “herb and butter sauce” – butter melted in a pan with some fresh or dried herbs thrown in (I’d add salt and pepper too), or good quality, non-supermarket extra virgin olive oil would be fantastic too (unless you shop at Fresh Choice or New World).

Basically, anything you could have with regular pasta you can have with gnocchi, but gnocchi will bring your sauce to a whole new level.

——-

Go! Try! Experiment a little, even! Throw some herbs into your dough maybe. Just be patient, and remember, you might not make the most bedazzling first batch, or even second. Gnocchi is one of those things you will get better at with practice, so go practice!

If you’ve already tried making gnocchi, do feel welcome to point out anywhere where you think I’m being silly, or not silly enough! Also, what’s your favourite sauce to have with yours?!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2009 6:33 am

    Thanks for this thorough overview! Last month’s Saveur has a fantastic recipe for gnocchi with chantarelles and peas that I’m dying to make!

  2. peanutt permalink
    April 22, 2009 6:51 am

    “makes enough to serve 4 >b<All Black sized appetites or 6 average sized ones”

    What does that mean? o.O

  3. April 22, 2009 8:39 am

    This looks great! Thank you for the instructions – my boyfriend loves gnocchi!

  4. twospoons permalink*
    April 23, 2009 12:54 pm

    peannutt: The All Blacks are the NZ national rugby team (sorry, I keep forgetting not all my readers are NZers >.<), so I’m inferring large appetites!

    Kasey & Hillary: Cheers, hope your gnocchi making goes well :)

  5. May 13, 2009 1:38 pm

    What a great post! Thanks for writing such detailed instructions. I tried making gnocchi once and failed miserably but I think I’m ready to try again. Your post will definitely help!

    • twospoons permalink*
      May 14, 2009 11:09 am

      Tracey: Hehe, nice to know my posts make sense to someone other than myself! Good luck!

  6. May 31, 2009 4:27 pm

    Great post! I really appreciate all the research you did. I just bought a 10 lb sack of potatoes and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with it.

  7. June 5, 2009 6:00 pm

    Sigh, I guess I’m not destined to for gnocchi greatness. I’m not sure what I did wrong, but even with a whole cup of flour the dough didn’t really come together. I decided to forge ahead and try them out in some boiling water and they sort of disintegrated. But hey, I’ve got 8 more lbs of potatoes to practice with.

    • twospoons permalink*
      June 6, 2009 7:51 pm

      Hm, did you use a few drops of water? If it never looks enough I usually sprinkle it with water.

      Also…are you living by yourself, because ten pounds of potatoes is what my partner and I eat on a fortnightly basis, haha…

  8. June 7, 2009 5:30 am

    Hehe, yeah, I live alone. I’m sure I could just eat 10 lbs of potatoes because I love them but I’d like to find something other than baked potatoes to make with them.

    I didn’t add any water, it was plenty wet on its own. I’m wondering if maybe the big holes on my box grater were too big, maybe I should try the smaller ones. When I say “didn’t come together” I don’t mean it wouldn’t form a ball, it just was extremely soft and didn’t feel much like a dough. I’m used to making bread where the dough becomes very pliable and stretchy when you kneed it and that didn’t happen with the gnocchi dough. Maybe I should’ve gone with more flour at this point? I’ve noticed lately that things I’ve been baking have need much less moisture now that it’s staying above 60F every day.

  9. twospoons permalink*
    June 7, 2009 11:43 am

    *gasp* something other than baked potatoes?! hehe, maybe I should do a post just on various forms of baked potatoes. It is a staple at our flat, after all.

    I keep forgetting not everyone lives in Christchurch, and thus it may be more humid in your area. It does sound like you probably needed more flour, and try not adding water at all. I think you can get away with 1 1/2 c flour, as quite a few recipes have this. Thanks for reporting back, by the way! It’s so awesome to hear of people trying out stuff, especially if there are some problems.

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