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Musical pairing – Sway by Michael Bublé
Remember this post at the beginning of 2012? The one in which I said I would challenge myself to try and master a few new recipes and/or techniques? I really should have added gnocchi to that list but didn’t – because gnocchi is one of those dishes that appears to be so simple – and it is. But gnocchi is also one of those dishes that terrifies me in its simplicity. Yes, I do understand that I’m talking in circles but it appears that making gnocchi is more about technique than it is about the recipe itself.
I’ve purchased ready-made gnocchi from the grocery store on several occasions; and surprise, surprise, I was sadly disappointed. Dry, mealy and just plain nasty, I cannot, for the life of me, understand the appeal. Yet, if you know me, you know that I am a potato lover . . . as in I am obsessed with all things potato. And really, is there anything better than a dish of light-as-a-cloud bits of potato dressed in an elegant swirl of simple tomato sauce, a bit of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil? Is your mouth watering? Mine too.
My fear, and I feel so silly even admitting this, was all about the fork . . . the tines on the fork to be exact . . . or a gnocchi ‘roller’ . . . because getting those nice little ‘ridges’ on your gnocchi is paramount to the success of your gnocchi holding all that saucy goodness. I have no idea who ordained this to be fact, but every gnocchi recipe I’ve found, details the proper ‘ridge-making’ technique – some use the tines of a fork, others pull out an official gnocchi roller – a small, wooden plank of sorts, lined with ridges to roll the gnocchi across, thus leaving those little ridges.
My friend Linda recommended Nancy Silverton’s Mozza cookbook as a place to start for pasta-making – but then my eyes landed on Nancy’s gnocchi recipe and – sold. The proper potatoes were purchased, sauce made, fresh eggs gathered, potato ricer dusted off, gnocchi roller out, apron donned and game on!
I think I did pretty well although I believe my gnocchi could be a bit lighter; I’m not quite sure how to achieve this as I really learn best standing side-by-side with someone who can show me the ‘feel’ of the dough – how the texture should feel in my hand, how much weight to each little potato dumpling, are the ridges supposed to encircle the entire gnocchi – that sort of thing.
What I do know is that my first attempt resulted in a recipe that was far superior to anything purchased at the grocery store; and as The Professor and I sat at our table, candles lit, wine poured and music playing in the background, there wasn’t much conversation . . . just a bite or two . . . slurp . . . eyes closed . . . mmmmm . . . another bite . . . slurp . . . I’d call that a small success . . . mark this one off on my ‘Goals for 2012’ list.
NANCY SILVERTON’S GNOCCHI WITH BASIC TOMATO SAUCE
The Mozza Cookbook
FOR THE GNOCCHI DOUGH
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus about 1-1/2 cups salt for baking sheet and for boiling gnocchi
- 3-1/2 pounds russet potatoes (no substitutes)
- 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and rack should be in middle position. Spread ¼-inch layer of salt on baking sheet; rinse potatoes, roll in salt and place on salt-covered baking sheet. Bake until soft, about 1-1/2 hours. Remove potatoes from oven and with small paring knife, peel away half of the skin and discard; squeeze or scoop all of the potato from remaining portion of skin into a food mill or potato ricer.
- Pass the potatoes through the food mill or ricer into a large bowl; sprinkle the 2 teaspoons of salt over the potatoes and cut the salt in with the tines of a fork, sweeping through the potatoes from side-to-side with just the tips of the tines – this keeps the potatoes from getting dense and heavy. Drizzle the egg over the potatoes and cut into the potatoes in the same manner. Pass the potato and egg mixture through the food mill or ricer again into a large bowl. Sprinkle the potatoes with some of the flour, adding the flour gradually and cutting it in with the fork in the same manner, adding more flour when the other has been integrated and dough begins to look wet again.
- Form the dough into a brick about 1-inch thick, patting down on the top of the dough to make it square. Turn brick out onto a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 1-inch long segments.
- Lightly flour a flat work surface and roll into approximately ½-inch thick tubes; dust generously with flour and line them up side-by-side. Cut tubes into 1-inch segments; dust work surface again with flour. One at a time, pick up one of the cut segments with one hand and a large dinner fork with the other (I used a gnocchi board). Holding the fork so that the tines are resting on the work surface and the curved (arched) side facing out, use your thumb to roll the gnocchi down the length of the fork to create ridges. Place the ridged gnocchi on the prepared baking sheet and repeat, forming the remaining segments in the same manner. Use the gnocchi immediately or cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
TO FINISH COOKING/SERVING GNOCCHI
For 8 servings
- 1 cup your favorite basic tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 28 ounces gnocchi
- ½ cup thinly sliced fresh Italian parsley
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving
- ¼ cup freshly grated pecorino romano
- Bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat and add 6 tablespoons kosher salt (that is not a typo – you must salt your water so that the gnocchi is well seasoned – they will not come out too salty!).
- Drop gnocchi into the boiling water, stirring to prevent the gnocchi from sticking together; partially cover the pot so water returns to a boil quickly. Continue to boil and cook gnocchi for about 2-3 minutes – they should float to the top.
- Lift gnocchi out of cooking water (reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid) and drain briefly; add them to a pan of your favorite basic tomato sauce. Cook gnocchi in sauce for about 2 minutes, stirring gently with a rubber spatula taking care to not smash the gnocchi – add some of the cooking water if sauce becomes too thick. Sauce should coat gnocchi easily.
- Turn off heat and add parsley, stirring gently; add extra-virgin olive oil, stir vigorously and shake pan to emulsify the sauce. Add grated cheeses and stir to combine.
- Spoon gnocchi onto each of eight plates; spoon any remaining sauce over the gnocchi and serve. Pass extra cheese if desired.
A COUPLE OF NOTES: This makes enough gnocchi to serve 8 and since there are only two of us and since I hadn’t thought ahead to ask people to come for dinner, we placed the remaining, uncooked gnocchi on a sheet pan and froze them individually, then bagged in a zipped freezer bag.
Secondly, as you can see, this is not a 20-minute recipe so don’t attempt it during a weeknight when you need to get dinner on the table in a hurry – unless you’ve pre-made your gnocchi and you have a basic tomato sauce on hand – then it’s totally doable. We took an entire day to make this recipe (including a basic sauce) in stages and it turned out better than I expected our first time out. The important part is to read through the instructions and take your time. I will also say that the quality of your ingredients is paramount to the success of the recipe – don’t skimp – buy the best quality olive oil and cheese you can afford – it makes the dish!