I have always been fascinated by gnocchi – those delicate, pillowy little Italian dumplings made from flour and potato. They seem so simple, and yet they are intimidating. It seems that there could be so many ways to stuff it all up. Because the key to making gnocchi is in the simplicity – some recipes call for just potato and flour and a bit of seasoning – you need to follow directions really closely, and you need to have top grade ingredients.
You can play around with gnocchi, but you really should try a basic recipe first. This one actually is quite simple and quick. It includes the addition of an egg (for richness and flavour) and some diced truffles, but actually, you can forgo them if you want to. Or add other ingredients – parmesan and butternut come to mind, or spinach and garlic. But do try a basic version first. You need to get the feel of the dough, and the lightness of the handling.
Basically gnocchi have a base of potato that needs to be as dry as possible. There are a few ways to ensure that this happens. First of all, ensure you use starchy, not waxy potatoes. Russet are excellent. Next, bake the potato, dont boil it. Peel the potato after it has been baked, and then mash it lightly with a fork or put it through a potato ricer. Treat it very gently. Add the egg / seasoning if you are using, and salt and pepper. And finally, toss in the flour, a tablespoon at a time. This will ensure that you use the bare minimum of flour, which will avoid thick, heavy gnocchi, and a smooth supple dough.
It sounds like a lot to remember, but really its common sense. Gnocchi are delicate, therefore you need to treat them delicately. Use your hands, so you can feel the dough coming together, and go slow, and soft. It will work out, I promise. Plus, a home made gnocchi, even if it is a little tough, is a thousand times better than a store bought one, any day!
For about 60 – 80 gnocchi (serving 4 – 6 people, depending on greed and hunger)
- 2 large russet potatoes (approximately 2 kg)
- 1 large organic egg
- 1 small truffle, grated or finely diced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 scant cup 00 flour (bread or pasta flour with high gluten content)
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
Pierce the potatoes with a fork, and bake in the oven for about 30 – 45 minutes, or until a skewer or knife goes all the way through with little resistance.
Peel the potatoes while they are still hot. Put the potatoes through a ricer or mash very gently, in a large bowl. You dont want the potatoes gluey – fluffy is what you are looking for. A ricer is the best way to ensure this – and they are relatively cheap (I bought one from Ikea for less than RM50).
Break the egg into a small separate bowl, and finely grate the truffle over. I use a Microplane lemon zester to get very fine strips of truffle, but you can even chop the truffle finely if needed. Add a generous pinch of salt and peper, and whisk. You could add half a teaspoon of truffle oil if you like, but the entire point of gnocchi is to ensure the dough is not too wet, and not handled too much.
Make a well in the centre of the mixture, and pour in the egg/truffle concoction. Toss lightly with your fingers. The egg will not make the potatoes gluey if you have treated them properly to start with, but will definitely make them wet.
Measure out your flour. You will probably only use about half a cup of flour, but its useful to have extra if needed. Add the flour to the warm potatoes and egg by the tablespoonful. Toss gently after each addition with the tips of your fingers. You will see the flour slowly incorporating into the potatoes. After about a half a cup of flour, knead lightly and bring the dough together. Add a little more flour, a tablespoon at a time, to get a smooth mixture that is not too sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work space, and let it rest for a few minutes. Place some wax paper on a large baking tin or cookie tray.
Divide the dough into four equal portions, and work with one portion at a time. Roll the portion out into a long thin sausage, and dust lightly with flour. Using a sharp knife, slice into small gnocchi sized portions. I usually cut about 1 – 1 1/2 inches. Using the tines of a fork, mark the gnocchi on one side, and place gently onto the cookie tray.
Let the gnocchi air dry for at least 10 – 15 minutes. You can store them in a ziploc baggie and freeze them, for up to six months. Or you can use immediately.
To cook gnocchi: Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Work quickly, and be ready to serve immediately. Gnocchi are not good cold! Have a warm bowl at the ready. Work with about 20 gnocchi at a time (or more depending on the size of your saucepan). Once the water is boiling, tip the gnocchi in, and allow them to bob to the top. This should take less than 3 minutes. Using a sieve, fish the gnocchi out, and place in the warmed bowl with a touch of olive oil or butter. Continue with the remaining gnocchi. Once all the gnocchi has been prepared, toss gently with warm sauce and serve immediately.
I served a very simple sauce of spinach, wine, garlic and a touch of cream with these gnocchi. It was sublime!