Friday, January 28, 2011

Fluffy, Pillowy Softness


I've debated with myself for a long time as to whether or not I should post a recipe for gnocchi. I love gnocchi. With a passion. Be they potato, semolina, squash or whatever, I love the dumplings! But they are a bit of a hassle to make at home. In fact, I rarely make them at home, I usually reserve the treat for when I eat out. So, despite being rather handy with the potato dough, I hesitated about posting a recipe for a long time: after all, my main goal with this blog is to make cooking look easy and fun.


But I caved: I'm writing about gnocchi. They are actually quite easy to make, and are definitely fun to make. (They're just a wee little bit of a hassle. Only a bit. But definitely worth it: I have tried several brands of store-bought potato gnocchi, including 'handmade' ones from an Italian pasta shop, and none come even close to homemade.)And this is the perfect time to be trying your hand at making them: the holiday cheer is long gone, the days barely feel like they're getting any longer; the cold weather seems to settled in for the long haul... It's time to gather friends and family in the kitchen, and have a gnocchi-making party.


First things first: it is important you start with the right potato. Gnocchi, like mashed potatoes, depend on the root's starchiness to become beautifully light and fluffy. So your best bet is to use Russets (pictured above), also known as Idaho; Yukon Golds; Bintjes; King Edwards; Desirée; Maris Piper. Unfortunately, most supermarkets sell bags of unnamed potatoes: try looking for labels marked 'baking', 'frying', or 'mashing' -the potatoes are most often yellow-fleshed and brown-skinned.


Secondly, you need a good potato masher: if you are able to obtain lump-free mash with yours, it will do the job. Otherwise, you will need to find an alternative in your cupboard. Ideally, you will have a potato ricer (see above), or a food mill; both kitchen tools are extremely versatile, from making lump-free mash to the silkiest, smoothest soups and baby foods. However, both can be ridiculously expensive to purchase (a good, solid food mill will run upwards of 75$; quality ricers start at 40$), so you will probably need to justify the purchase before actually investing in one. Either way, do not skimp on quality and comfort if you decide to purchase one, as cheap and badly made utensils usually end up in the garbage or at the back of the cupboard: they should be made of steel or aluminum; feel solid (heavy, but not so much that you can't lift it easily) and not wobbly; and, most importantly, they must be comfortable to handle. Another, cheaper, alternative is a fine mesh sieve and a spoon: pushing hot potatoes through the mesh takes a little time, but the results are surprisingly lovely. (Please do not use a mixer to crush the potatoes! You might be able to get away with it for mash, but the gnocchi will end up gluey.)

Finally, making gnocchi is very intuitive, which is why it can seem a little difficult at first. The recipe calls for flour to help bind the potato, but if you use too much, you end up with dense lumps, too little, and the dumplings fall apart when you cook them. The easiest way to describe the texture you are looking for is to pinch the meatiest part of your earlobe: your dough should feel as squishy as an earlobe. (It is also the texture to look for when cooking a rare steak...)

 

Potato Gnocchi
Will feed 4 to 6 as a main dish, amply more as a side dish

1kg/ ±2½ lbs potaotes (about 6 medium sized spuds)
150g/ 1¼c all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 egg
½ tsp salt

Fill a pan with enough cold water to cover the potatoes, bring up to the boil.
When the water is boiling, cover the pot, and bring the heat down to medium-high.
Let cook for about 12-15 minutes, or until a sharp knife easily slips in a potato and slides off.
Drain immediately, and let cool until the tubers are still hot but can be handled.
While grasping a spud in a tea towel, peel using a sharp knife: the skin should slip off of its own accord.
While the potatoes are still steaming, mash right onto your work surface.




Form a well with the mound of mash, sprinkle the salt and a few handfuls of flour over the potatoes.
Break the egg into the middle of the well, and using only one hand, gradually mix in the potato and flour.
With your other hand, sprinkle more flour until the dough has absorbed most of it.
Knead the ball of dough for 5 minutes, if the dough still feels sticky, add some more flour.








 
 








Form the dough into a ball, and let it rest.
Scrape your hands and your work surface clean.
Lightly flour the table, and divide the dough into 4 or 6.
Roll out each lump into a long snake, and cut into 2cm/ 1" pillows.
You can leave the gnocci as is, but they are usually rolled off a fork or a dumpling paddle to give them a ridged surface.
Flour the curved side of a fork (or paddle), place a pillow at the top of the curve and, using your thumb, gently roll the dumpling down the fork tines.
Place the finished gnocchi on a floured tray, while you finish off the rest of the dough, and bring a large pot of salted water up to the boil.
To cook the dumplings, plunge them into boiling water a few at a time.
They are cooked when the gnocchi float to the surface.
Serve hot.


Gnocchi are usually served with a savoury tomato sauce (like the one used here), a simple cheese sauce (such as this one, or just boiled cream with melted lumps of Gorgonzola), but my favourite way to eat gnocchi is to fry them in brown butter with a few slivers of herb (especially sage) and garlic.


Gnocchi are best eaten the day they are made. Unfortunately, they do not fare well when kept for too long. Although, they will patiently wait in the fridge for a day or two, for some reason, freezing them softens them too much to be boiled. If you must freeze them, fry them while still frozen when you decide to eat the left-overs.



Bon app'!


*From the Department of Gadgets You Never Knew You Needed:
To paraphrase a popular phrase, a good sieve is good to find. But not so hard: a good sieve can be had for under 10$, and is extremely handy to have around. Most of you probably already own a colander (to drain pasta and wash vegetables), and you might even have a small sieve to strain your tea or sprinkle powdered sugar. But I find that too many kitchens are devoid of a good sized mesh sieve when this one tool can do all of the above and more. It can be used to replace a ricer or food mill; it will strain a stock or a pot of loose leaf tea; it can sift flour, sugar, cocoa... if you know someone who is beginning to build up their kitchen battery, be a true friend, and get them a good sieve (and get one for yourself while you're at it!)


En français


3 comments:

  1. Oooh, I love gnocchi but never made it at home. Thanks for making this look so easy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also love gnocchi. However, I am sorry to say your photo of fried gnocchi looks very unappetizing. If you are a true fan of gnocchi why not post an appealing plate of gnocchi in glistening tomato sauce?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Anonymous,
    I say to each his own. Although I did intend to post a picture of gnocchi smothered in tomato sauce, I do happen to prefer fried gnocchi. I find that brown butter and herbs highlight the delicate potato flavours of freshly made gnocchi, whereas a good tomato sauce serves to camouflage the blandness of old gnocchi.
    However, on a more practical note, since I only have so many hours of good lighting in the winter, I did not have time to make a tomato sauce for this post.

    ReplyDelete

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