Okey-Gnocchi

meals 007 300x225This is the post I’ve been looking forward to writing ever since I started this blog. Not because gnocchi are the perfect marathon training food (they’re not), but because they’re the food I’d choose to have if I were to hypothetically contract Swine Flu and be quarantined, a la Serious Eats and relishmentsGnocchi are the food that turned me into a cook after I first tasted them in Italy with a glass of Chianti and was compelled to recreate the experience at home.  But after my first attempt at them, it’s a wonder I remained a cook.  Not only did they take all afternoon; they were terrible.

Mario Batali puts it best when he says gnocchi are “excellent when executed perfectly, heinous any other way.” Overwork the dough and they come out heavy and gummy.  Underwork it, or don’t use enough flour, and they’ll dissolve in the boiling water while cooking.  I’m sure more than one Italian grandmother (nonna, right?) has said something like “Good gnocchi melt in your mouth, not in the pot,” before disciplining her young protege on the insert-Italian-word-for-ass with a wooden spoon or rolling pin.

meals 062 225x300For those who don’t know, gnocchi are little potato-pasta dumplings, and the most comforting food I know of.  The irony is that such a heavenly food was probably born out of necessity, when potatoes were cheaper than the flour used in most other pastas.  For such a luxurious food, gnocchi aren’t unhealthy at all; the main ingredients are potatoes and a little flour, and (optionally) egg.  I only say that they’re not the perfect fuel for marathon training because I generally try to get a little more nutrition in each meal than gnocchi can offer.  And gnocchi are one food I don’t dare desecrate with whole wheat flour.

I served these gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce made with olive oil infused with garlic and basil.  In the past I’ve tried fresh pesto, a smoked mozzarella and olive sauce, lamb ragout and Rachael Ray mini-meatballs (before seeing the no-meat light), and most famously, a cauliflower-gorgonzola cream sauce.  Not really famously, just most famously.  And all of them have been outstanding.

This was the first time I’d ever made gnocchi without eggs. A friend of mine recently explained to me that since the eggs we eat are unfertilized, my likening their consumption to chicken abortion was completely idiotic.  That’s how informed a vegetarian I am.  So I’m no longer opposed to eating eggs, but I had already done some research and found that some people think gnocchi are even lighter when cooked without eggs, so I gave it a try.  And though I had to work the dough a little longer to get it to stop crumbling, there really wasn’t any appreciable difference in the finished product.

meals 014 300x225I don’t see any need to rate gnocchi in terms of cows.  For me gnocchi are a 5 out of 5 anything. I guess the sauce dictates whether the meal will be divine or just really good.  This one was a solid 4.5.  I’m not going to give the tomato sauce recipe here since it still needs some tinkering; to try your own just remove and discard as much liquid as you can from some ripe or canned tomatoes, cook them over medium heat until they soften and break down (30 minutes to an hour plus), and add some olive oil that you’ve flavored with whatever you like and cook until the sauce becomes whole.  But I will do my best to describe in detail how I make the gnocchi.  I really recommend that you try it, just be willing to make a few mediocre batches before they get really good.

By the way, I first learned to make gnocchi from what is now my favorite cookbook, The Greatest Dishes by Anya Von Bremzen.  It features 80 recipes for the most classic dishes from around the world, and it’s my absolute go-to when I’m looking to try something new or cook something really special.  I’ve made incredible lasagna, risotto, and pesto dishes from it (can ya tell I love Italian cooking?), and they’ve become my sort of “signature” dishes, as far as my friends and family are concerned!

Gnocchi Recipe

Ingredients (for about 6 starter servings, 3 main courses)

  • 2 pounds organic russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting and kneading (I don’t dare try whole wheat, but you can)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten (optionally replace with another tablespoon olive oil or melted butter)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • pepper and/or whole nutmeg, both optional
  • a potato ricer (I got mine at Bed Bath and Beyond for 10-15 bucks)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Poke holes in the potatoes with a fork and stick them in the oven on a baking pan.  They are finished when a fork or skewer goes through easily, about an hour for me.

As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop the flesh out.  (Bonus: top the skins with a little cheese, oil, leeks, and salt and broil; that’s what I’m eating as I write this!)  Run the flesh through the ricer into a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle, pour in the egg yolk (if using).  Sprinkle everything with salt, cheese, some pepper and/or a few pinches grated nutmeg (the nutmeg is best for cream sauces), oil, and about 1/2 cup flour.  Work the dough extremely gently with the tips of your fingers until the flour is barely incorporated, then add the other 1/2 cup of the flour and repeat, again extremely gently.

Turn the dough out onto a board dusted with flour.  Gently work for another minute or two with your fingers, adding a little more flour if necessary, until the dough stays together and isn’t very sticky.  It should feel more like dough than mashed potatoes.  The goal is to work the dough as little as possible, adding as little flour as possible, but so that is dry enough that it doesn’t stick to everything.  To test the dough, break off a small piece and roll it into a 3/4 inch thick rope, then cut into 1/2 inch pieces and drop these into a pot of boiling water.  If they float after a few minutes you’re good; if they break up, add more flour to your dough.  Cover the dough in plastic and let sit for 20-30 minutes.

Clean the dried bits off the board and dust with flour.  Break or cut off about an eighth of the dough and roll into a 3/4 inch thick rope, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  You may need to redust the board in between each rope.  Move the pieces to a cookie tray, dusted with flour.  Press each gnocco lightly with a small fork to create some ridges for sauce to cling to.  Use immediately or freeze (I like to just stick the whole tray in the freezer, then break the frozen pieces off the tray to use or store in a container).

To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to boil; salt until it tastes like seawater.  Add about half the gnocchi (frozen is fine) and stir the pot to make sure nothing sticks.  They should float to the surface after a few minutes; give them another 3o seconds or so, then remove with a slotted spoon.  Repeat with rest of gnocchi, and toss gently with whatever sauce you’re using.

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Comments

  1. Gnocchi are super awesome. Adding the nutmeg is a good idea.

    The Duo Dishes’s last blog post..Reused and Recycled

  2. Does the yoke help everything hold together? If so, have you ever tried energy (Ener-G) egg replacer? I’m not at all sure if it’ll work in this recipe but if you’re looking for an egg replacement in baking I definitely recommend it! :)

    Mrah’s last blog post..Barf, Yak, Puke, Hurl, Vomit

  3. HI there! Totally unrelated to your post…but I saw your comment somewhere about wondering where you can get almond butters..(pretty much any grocery store should carry them!)
    You can also make your own by soaking some almonds over night in water..and then using a food processor…you have to be patient though..it involves like 30 minutes of pulsing/getting the almonds to not stick to the sides) once it is blended to the consistency you like you can add fun stuff like honey or cinamon..or just eat it plain :) cheaper then buying it!

  4. Hi. I stumbled upon your site. It is great. And good to see an “no meat athlete”. We are training for another half-marathon and are a vegan family. A veggie diet is so good. By the way, your food looks terrific.

    Krys’s last blog post..Weekend update…..

  5. Matt’s gnocchi truly does melt in your mouth. It’s better than any I’ve tasted in restaurants. His cauliflower-gorgonzola cream sauce is delicious but I also really enjoyed the unpublished tomato sauce. I didn’t think it needed one bit of tinkering!

  6. Matt- your gnocchi looks sooooo good! You should definately publish the caulifower-gorgonzola cream sauce recipe. I agree with Margaret- yours is much better than any I’ve ever eaten anywhere else- even the best Italian restaurants! The cauliflower-gorgonzola is I think my very favorite meal you’ve made.

  7. gnocchi sounds divine.

    we tried making them with sweet potatoes and whole wheat flour the other night. they were a little doughy, but overall, pretty good.

    it would definitely be on my quarantine food list for sure!

    reluctant veggie’s last blog post..Recipe Flop: Israeli Couscous with Pistachios and Apricots

  8. Gnocchi are the best! I’ve never tried making them at home, though. But if I ever get a potato ricer…

    Have you tried replacing just 1/2 the flour with whole wheat pastry flour? I’ve given up whole wheat flour entirely in favor of WWPF. It’s MUCH more fine and powdery, like all-purpose, and there’s something about the gluten content (I’m not an expert on that stuff) that makes it lighter and more delicate when baked.

    The idea above of making these with sweet potatoes sounds divine, too.

    • Ooh, they are a million times better at home than at most restaurants, where they come out dense and gummy. I wouldn’t even think of it unless it’s a really nice Italian restaurant. You should definitely try making them.

  9. Ronald King says:

    Iv made them over 20 years now and have always enjoyed them, never used egg just flour and potato and salt,also at publix they sale them in a yellow presealed box and are just as good as home made i think its called vigo the maker not sure, I use prego sauce and get chicken breast without bone, slightly brown and put in pan with sauce simmer about a hour or longer than boil the gnocchi untill it floats put in large bowl and taste one to see if salt is needed,if so lightly sprinkle and pour sauce and chicken over and enjoy with a nice italian salad.

  10. Christina says:

    OMG, I tried to make gnocchi the night before and made sooo many mistakes, not to mention the recipe was horrible! However, I’m terribly glad I got to know what not to do. I tried this recipe and it was amazing!!!! I was so excited that I was able to do it right. I am not done perfecting this, I don’t think one messed up night and one great night make me an expert but your way of doing it really does help.

    It was amazing!

  11. Christina says:

    …And I’ve only ever had Gnocchi in really nice Italian restaurants….minus the ONE time it was store bought. Luckily I have a pretty good comparison of what it “should” taste like. Your’s are delicious

    • Hey Christina, I’m so glad you liked it! If there’s any recipe I’d be sad if someone didn’t like it, it’s this one. It’s the very first serious thing I ever made, and it played a huge part in my falling in love with cooking (and Italian food!).

      You’ll find that as you make it again and again, it will start to get better. I don’t even realize what I do differently now, I just know it’s so much better than the first few times!

  12. Something to consider in your decision whether to eat eggs:

    It’s ineffective to approach the decision from considering the loss of the potential chicken’s life (chicken abortion). Consider instead the cruel exploitation of the living chickens. (Hens used for eggs live six or seven to a battery cage the size of a file drawers, bathing in their own feces…. just google “eggs” and “PETA” for more info).
    Plus if you’re supporting the egg business, you’re supporting the chicken-for-food business (whose motto is “if you can’t breed ‘em, eat ‘em!). Just like if you’re supporting the milk business, you’re supporting the veal and beef industry (same motto).

  13. Coming in to make the same points Lou made above. I’m a vegetarian and I enjoy eggs– that come from my neighbor’s chicken who I can assure you, is one happy and spoiled chicken. (Even though her name is “Lunch.”) Most areas have farmers you can get free-range eggs from. For ethical reasons, I avoid any store bought eggs.

  14. Saw that you wrote that you changed your mind about eating eggs after learning they are unfertilized…well, there’s another reason to not eat commercial eggs: chick culling. Basically, the egg industry has little need for male chicks, yet statistically about half of all chicks will be male. So what do they do with them? As soon as eggs hatch they are sexed, the males are thrown on a conveyor belt and delivered to a meat grinder (they are still alive when they go in). Another common phenom is that the baby chicks get chucked in with the garbage from the whole plant and just layered with cardboard, etc and suffocate. Anyways, I love eggs and when I learned about this I was mortified. A good thing to do is talk to a local egg grower and ask about what they do with their chicks, or better yet, get a chicken coop…they eat your compost and will keep you entertained for hours!

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  1. [...] is still out on whether gnocchi can (or should) be made without eggs, but some people swear by an egg-free recipe in which you just use a bit of extra olive oil or butter to help bind the potato and flour. Feel [...]

  2. […] is still out on whether gnocchi can (or should) be made without eggs, but some people swear by an egg-free recipe in which you just use a bit of extra olive oil or butter to help bind the potato and flour. Feel […]

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