My family has a history with gnocchi. We lived in Italy for two years when I was younger. While there, my parents took a cooking class from an Italian women named Miriam. The class was in Miriam’s kitchen where they would watch Miriam cook, practice, and most importantly…eat. The class they still talk about was the gnocchi class. I was able to attend the class with them. I was six years old, and got to help roll the gnocchi.
Maybe, that is one of the reasons I was so excited when Chef Patterson demonstrated making gnocchi in class this past week. I remembered all those stories about the cooking class in Italy (about 25 years ago), and wanted to re-create that with my family.
Making Gnocchi (a la Chef Patterson)
First, let me start by telling you, there is some equipment needed to make gnocchi. You will need a potato ricer, or a food mill. One of my fellow L’Academie de Cuisine classmates asked if we really needed to have a potato ricer in our kitchens. The answer was “yes”. I was gifted with a potato ricer from Williams and Sonoma, last week. It worked great, although it is a little tricky to take apart.
In class, it was also recommended that we use Type 00 flour, which is a very fine Durum Wheat flour. Mine came from the Italian Store in Arlington, and cost about $3.99. If you don’t have Type 00 flour, you can still make gnocchi. In fact, many of my cookbooks with recipes for gnocchi, just list all-purpose flour as their preferred ingredient.
For gnocchi, you will start with Russet or Idaho potatoes. You can easily make a large batch of gnocchi (for 4-6 adults+) with two large potatoes. You will want to boil the potatoes in very salty water, in their skins, or in chunks as you would for mashed potatoes. The potatoes are tender when you stick a knife in them, and the potatoes fall off the knife easily.
After the potatoes are cooked, you can drain them, and put them back in the hot pot (off the heat), allowing the heat of the pot to dry them out a little. The goal is not to have too much moisture. Peel when cool enough, if you left the peels on.
Next, pass the potato chunks through the potato ricer, and spread out on a cookie sheet or work area to cool. The riced potatoes should be dry and fluffy.
At this point you can add pesto, parmesan, or spices to the riced potato, if desired. The standard would be to add salt and pepper, and perhaps a grating of fresh nutmeg.
In the center of the potatoes make a well, and crack one egg per potato used, in the middle of the riced potatoes.
Work the egg into the potatoes gently with a wooden spoon, or fork. Once the egg is worked into the potatoes, you can start adding flour. You can start by adding a half cup, work it into the dough with a bench scraper, or your hand, and add more flour as needed. You will need to keep flouring you work area as well. It’s messy, but it’s a good messy.
The goal is to keep adding flour and gently working it in and gently kneading until you stick a clean dry finger into the dough, and it doesn’t come out goopy. This took about 1 1/2 cups for the chef, when demonstrating. When I made the gnocchi at home, I felt like maybe I was adding too much flour, and later, when rolling the gnocchi, found them to still be sticky. Just be gentle and keep working the flour in, until you have a workable non-goopy dough. It may be more or less than 1 1/2 cups depending on the size of your potatoes, type of flour, etc.
Next, you will want to cut the dough into four sections (as pictured above) and then roll each of those sections into a long broomhandle shape.
Try to get the diameter as even as possible, as this will result in your gnocchi being a more uniform shape. Next, use a bench scraper or knife to cut the gnocchi into little pieces, about 3/4 inch long.
Now, the fun part- the rolling. Some people use a special gnocchi roller, and some use the back of a fork, so I wanted to try it both ways, and see which worked best. I was lucky enough to find a gnocchi roller in the clearance bin at Williams Sonoma last week for about $3. Unfortunately, it came with no instructions, whatsoever. It looks like a mini ridged cutting board, and has a little wooden stick that comes with it. We weren’t really sure if the stick was to help stand the board up, or to help roll the gnocchi, so we tried it both ways. In the end, we liked using the stick to help roll the gnocchi. The goal is to get a ridged impression on one side of the gnocchi, while making a little indentation on the other side (for sauce) by letting the gnocchi roll over on itself. This sounds really complicated, but is actually not too tough. That being said, I have seen a lot of different kinds of gnocchi, some with ridges, some with indentations, some with both, some with neither. Don’t stress about it.
Gnocchi rolled on roller:
Gnocchi rolled on the back of a fork:
Transfer the rolled gnocchi to a lightly flour-dusted surface. At this point, you want to cook or freeze the gnocchi right away. You will want to cook the gnocchi in gently boiling salty water, until they float to the surface of the water and have puffed up slightly.
At this point you can transfer the gnocchi directly to your simmering sauce. Alternatively, you can slightly undercook, the gnocchi, rinse them under cool water, and dry them in between clean kitchen towels (gently).
Then you can make the most delicious sauce that Chef Patterson taught us. This is not a light sauce, so I decided to make it for a celebration dinner after my husband and I ran the B & A Marathon and Half Marathon this past weekend. I figured if there is ever a time for really rich food, it is post-race, right?
I think this will now be our special occasion gnocchi, because we liked it that much!
To Make Gnocchi with Cream Sauce:
You will need:
up to 1 pint heavy whipping cream
a large amount of fresh grated parmesan (at least 1- 1 1/2 cups- the more the better)
at least a half pound of good bacon, diced
4-5 fresh sage leaves
a good amount of freshly ground black pepper
brown butter, clarified butter, or plain butter
Have your gnocchi, mostly cooked, rinsed, and dried.
In a saute pan, crisp 1/2 lb. of diced bacon. I used black forest bacon from the Whole Foods Meat Department. Cook until crisp. At the point the bacon had some color, Chef Patterson added some butter to the cooking bacon. I leave this decision up to you. We were using really good bacon, and I didn’t feel we needed it. When crisp, remove bacon from pan to a paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Drain and discard the bacon fat, and wipe out the pan.
In a small bowl combine a good amount (I used about 3/4 of a pint) of heavy whipping cream with a large amount of freshly grated parmesan. It should be enough parmesan that the cream looks a little chunky. Add a good amount of freshly grated black pepper and a generous pinch or two of salt.
Over medium heat, add a good dollop of brown butter (or clarified butter, or just plain butter). To hot butter add 4-5 sliced sage leaves. Stir frequently, allowing sage to fry in butter for a minute or two, then add your gnocchi. Toss them butter for a minute or two to warm. Pour cream sauce over gnocchi a bit at a time, until you have a nice saucy consistency. Stir in bacon. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with an additional sprinkling of parmesan.
This sauce is soooo good, and I imagine it would be good with tortellini or ravioli as well.
So, I have to say that I think this gnocchi was a real success. Was it perfect? No. My gnocchi were not all the same size, or perfectly rolled. With practice, I think they could be lighter, as well. They were delicious. They all got eaten. They got many compliments.
The six-year-old, gnocchi rolling girl inside me was happy.
Gnocchi is one of those things that just takes practice to master. I will definitely be trying again soon. Maybe after our next race.
Everybody seems to make gnocchi a little differently. If you want some more gnocchi resources, these look good:
- from Serious Eats – How to Make Potato Gnocchi
- from 101 cookbooks – How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother
- from Food Nouveau – How to Make Gnocchi – A Step-by-Step Recipe
A Video from Anne Burrell:
I hope you will try making gnocchi, and let me know how it goes! One of my classmates recommended I get the kids to try making pasta with me, and read them the story of Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola afterwards. Strega Nona has a magic pasta pot. I think this sounds like a great idea.
One last thing…
If you are wondering how the gnocchi I learned compared to Miriam’s gnocchi from Italy, here is the original recipe from Miriam in Naples, Italy, 1986:
Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina
(Potato Dumplings Sorrento Style)
Serving for 4 persons.
1-lb. of dry potatoes (molto ascutto) such as russet potatoes
¾ cup of flour – you may need a little more for work area and your hands
Pinch of salt
1 whole medium size egg
250 grams of fior di latte sliced or fresh mozzarella di bufala, cut into cubes
Parmigian cheese to sprinkle.
Sauce recipe follows.
Boil whole potatoes with the skins on until they are soft. When they are done, drain the water out of the pot and let the potatoes sit until they are cool enough to peel. Peel potatoes. Using the smallest disc pass the potatoes thru the pasta tutto (food mill). They must be lukewarm when you work with the potatoes.
Flour your work area and place the potatoes on top. Now, making a well in the center of the potatoes put salt and egg into the center and place flour all around the outside of the potatoes. Bring the dough together, kneading gently until a ball is formed. To check for doneness put your finger quickly into the dough; if your finger comes out dry then the dough is ready.
Now make snakes out of your dough by cutting a slice off the dough and using your fingers roll the wet dough from the center out making a long snake about the size of your little finger; just like you use to do when playing with play dough. Cut the dough into 1 inch pieces. Repeat with the remainder of the dough.
Bring a pot of water to boil and when the water boils add some salt. Carefully drop your gnocchi pieces into the water a few at a time. When the gnocchi begin to rise, they are ready. Continue to cook all the gnocchi this way until they are all cooked. Spoon out the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and place the prepared gnocchi on a dish cloth to drain.
Alla Sorretina (The Sauce)
850 grams of whole canned tomatoes (2 large cans) cleaned & mashed reserving all the liquid. Miriam would remove the skins and then break open the tomatoes and remove the core with her fingers.
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced and diced small
8 oz. glass of white wine
20 basil leaves, chopped.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the white wine, and cook the onions covered on a low flame. Check and stir occasionally and after 20 minutes take off the lid, raise the flame, and let the liquid evaporate. With flame on high add the tomatoes, chopped basil leaves, salt and pepper, bring to a boil and then put the pan on a gas spreader* (1 or 2), if you have them or not, turn your flame down and let simmer between 30-45 min.
Prepare your pan: Put some sauce on the bottom and about half of the gnocchi, your sliced fior di latte and parmigian cheese, more sauce the rest of the gnocchi, more sauce and end with the fior di latte parmigian cheese and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
Bake in a 350 degree oven un-covered. Check after 20 minutes. Place fork into the center and if the fork comes out stringy it’s ready.
Suggested sides: Good crusty Italian bread and a nice green salad or wilted spinach and garlic.