One of the pastas I routinely make from scratch is gnocchi. It’s a sort of dumpling whose basic recipe has but three simple ingredients: Potatoes, all purpose flour and eggs. Some people add some parma reggiano or grana padano cheese to the mix but, I’m not a big cheese lover, so don’t add cheese to my gnocchi dough. I leave it to guests to add cheese to their plate when it is served.
How many potatoes do I use? Gnocchi, by definition, are heavy so I generally use one russet potato for each of my guests and then one or two for the pot, so to speak. I like leftovers. I boil the potatoes until they are fork soft, I remove them from the water, AND THEN, peel them. (Note that I have read some recipes that call for baking the potatoes and scoop the potato out of the skins once the potatoes are cool, which seems infinitely more civilized than the way I do it. I peel the skins off my boiled potatoes while they are still pretty hot – almost requiring that I have asbestos hands but I’ve gotten used to it over the years. I’ve never gotten a good answer about what is accomplished by doing it this way but, like many people who do things because “that’s the way my grandmother did it,” I’m just following my family recipe). I then cut the potatoes in half and run them through the finest disc of a potato ricer to get them to a consistency to mix with the eggs and flour. If you don’t have a ricer you can mash them until they’re smooth.
It’s the flour and eggs that get tricky. I learned my gnocchi recipe from my mother-in-law who learned from her mother and on back for generations. So the answer I get to the flour and egg question is “See how it feels.” But if you’ve never felt the dough texture, that leaves you without a frame of reference. Over the years I’ve learned that it should feel firm, but not hard, with the ability to roll into a rod, with thickness the size of a magic marker.
I start with about four room temperature eggs for about six or seven servings but I generally add at least one more egg to get the consistency I want.
I work with the dough cut into about 18-inch rods. Then I take a butter knife and cut the rods into about 1-inch gnocchi. Some people at this point just leave the gnocchi in the cut shape. Others use a fork and flatten them slightly, either for decoration, or so they are more certain to boil to a good consistency. My family has taught me to flatten the gnocchi by rolling each one on my surface with my index and middle fingers to create a slight dip.
My gnocchi are served with my usual red pasta sauce and meatballs. If you google gnocchi you will see that there are a variety of ways they can be made and served: pan fried as a side dish, with spinach added to the ingredients for spinach gnocchi. Any number of variations can make them your own.
This week my mother-in-law and I made gnocchi, one of my grandson’s favorite dishes, for our family dinner for his tenth birthday. We have always made gnocchi, boiled them and served them on the same day. This time though we knew we would not have enough time do all that with all the activity surrounding Luke’s birthday. I’m generally one of those “what could go wrong” cooks. So we made them on the night before and stored them in the refrigerator and crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t eventually boil into a thick glom. My mother-in-law, a veteran of making thousands of gnocchi in her lifetime, was skeptical. I’ve made gnocchi about ten times in my lifetime, resulting in about a thousand gnocchi, and I must say they’ve all come out good. I realized that I was indeed taking a chance not boiling them right after making them. While putting them in the fridge for a couple of hours is OK according to recipes I found on Google, the real way to save gnocchi for later is to freeze them (apparently you can save them for up to a month this way). This is something my mother-in-law didn’t know, so I was finally able to teach her something!
I had three pans of uncooked gnocchi dumplings laid out in a single layer on floured white cloths in the pans so that they could dry. I took them out of the fridge and drove to our son and daugher-in-law’s house for the party.
Let me also prepare you for the look of the gnocchi at this point. Unlike the tan bullets you get when making them and using them immediately, by saving them in the fridge, they looked like gray oysters. The potatoes will cause the dough to oxidize in the fridge. Some say that it is the eggs that cause the dough to oxidize but in my experience with making homemade linguini and cappelletti, both of which obviously are made with eggs, (but no potatoes) and laid out to dry, neither have ever turned gray. It is only the gnocchi made with potatoes that have turned in my experience.
When I got to my son and daughter-in-law’s home, I had a few hours before we were going to put the raw gnocchi in boiling water for the finished product. What I did as an experiment when I got to their house was to put one pan of the gnocchi in their freezer. The other two pans, I left in the fridge. (I also made sure that we had store-bought pasta in the pantry as Plan B in case this all failed!). I can attest that the gnocchi in the freezer did indeed freeze in that short time and were infinitely easier, keeping their shape, when dumped into the water. But I will also say that even the refrigerated gnocchi boiled as they should, somewhat misshapen, but did not congeal into an unappetizing blob. They had a very good consistency to taste and, thankfully, were enjoyed by all – most importantly and particularly by our guest of honor, Luke, who ate a very large dish full!
I know many of you are fantastic cooks and I would love to hear about your methods (or liberties) you’ve taken when making any of your other favorite dishes.
Until next time…….