Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Cream Sauce

I can’t remember the first time I tried gnocchi. I only know that for years now these little potato dumplings are what I order whenever I go to an Italian restaurant. For the record, I still think the ones at Confetti’s are the best I’ve had in Salt Lake.

Like souffles or puff pastry, gnocchi tend to have a certain scare factor associated with cooking them at home. Every cookbook in the world will warn you of the extensive time involved, as well as the potential risks: put in too much flour and the gnocchi are heavy, don’t add enough and they disintegrate, handle the dough too much and you’re also in trouble. While these statements are not unfounded, it’s not like the process is rocket science. Here’s what I have found to be true in my limited gnocchi-making experience:

The Bad News:
-You’ll need to buy a potato ricer to make these suckers. A lot of recipes will simply call for mashed potato, but to get gnocchi that are light and fluffy you’ll want to use a potato ricer.
-Gnocchi are not a quick meal. I once decided to make them on a Monday night after work and nearly ended up in tears.
-Making the dough is not an exact science, and depends a lot on feel, trial and error, etc. If you’re uncomfortable cooking without precise measurements, this might be a little stressful for you.
-Don’t plan on serving gnocchi to a crowd. You have to cook them in small batches, so they aren’t ideal for parties larger than 6 people.

The Good News:
-Unless you want to employ your potato ricer for other meals, you can buy a crappy 5 dollar model like the one I have. It ain’t the greatest, but it gets the job done.
-Although these sound all fancy and foreign, the ingredients needed to make gnocchi are dirt cheap and you probably have them on hand.
-Like other pasta, gnocchi are versatile. You can serve them simply with sauce, use them in soup, saute with some vegetables, etc.
-Gnocchi can be kept frozen for up to a month. So although it takes a couple of hours to make the original product, you can freeze them and have a quick dinner later on.

Now that you have the rundown, here is a very basic gnocchi recipe. I made these on Sunday and committed the cardinal sin of adding too much flour so my gnocchi were a bit heavy, but I have adjusted the recipe so you (hopefully) don’t make the same mistake.

(image courtesy of city-data.com)


2 pounds russet potatoes
1 ½- 2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch nutmeg
1 egg, beaten

1) Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees for about one hour, or until fork tender.
2) Let the potatoes cool for a few minutes, then peel the potatoes and pass through a potato ricer or food mill (you want the potatoes to be cool enough to handle, but still hot).
3) While the potatoes are still warm, add the beaten egg, salt, and nutmeg.
4) Add the flour, starting with one cup, and lightly knead the dough with your fingertips.
5) Keep adding flour until the dough isn’t sticking to your hands, but still has a bit of sticky softness to it. Knead lightly until you have a homogenous dough, then separate it into 6 pieces.
6) On a lightly floured surface, gently roll each piece into a ¾ inch thick rope.
7) Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces.
8) Roll each piece over the tines of a fork to get that classic ridged gnocchi shape (this takes some practice. If you don’t want to deal with it you can just poke a hole in them with the tip of your finger- the idea is to make the gnocchi a little rough so that sauce will adhere to them).
9) Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil.
10) Drop gnocchi in about ten or so at a time, depending on the size of your pot (you don’t want them on top of each other)
11) When gnocchi float to the top of the water (this will take about 3 or 4 minutes), wait another 30 seconds or so and remove them with a slotted spoon.
12) Serve immediately or keep in a heated serving bowl.

Serve with your favorite pasta sauce and grated parmesan cheese. (Recipe for one of my favorite sauces below).

To freeze: place gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put them in the freezer until they are firm (about an hour or so), then place in a ziploc bag.

Tomato Cream Sauce
I made this sauce to go with the gnocchi I served on Sunday, and man alive was it good. This is a fairly chunky tomato sauce, but if you like yours smooth then just puree the tomatoes or use all tomato sauce instead of canned tomatoes. I kinda just threw it together with the stuff I had on hand but I’ve tried to backtrack and come up with some exact measurements, instructions, etc. Here goes:

42 oz. canned diced tomatoes, drained.
14 oz. tomato sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp. salt*
1 tsp. dried basil*
~8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup cream

1) Heat olive oil in a deep skillet or saucepan over medium heat.
2) Add garlic and saute for a minute or so
3) Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, and salt (at this point I broke up the tomato chunks a little with the tip of my spatula so they weren’t quite so big).
4) Simmer uncovered on low heat for about an hour, or until the mixture is reduced to your liking
5) Add fresh basil and simmer 5 more minutes
6) Add cream and simmer for ten minutes more.

*These are the measurements I’m most unsure of. I always just sprinkle in seasonings and taste the sauce throughout the cooking progress to see if the amounts need adjusting. I suggest you do the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment