October 5th, 2010
Last night we had gnocchi for dinner. I make them frequently, but last night’s were particularly good and I decided that I should probably put up some directions!
I should start by saying that my approach to gnocchi isn’t really the classic one, but what I’ve landed on is pretty devine. I always pan fry them on the way to the plate. The truth is that standard gnocchi are a sort of gummy affair that I don’t really care for (this goes triply for the store bought variety that are made to put up with rough handling and REALLY suffer for it). Pan fried, however, they become an absolute delicacy, and a tremendous way to eat up potatoes! I also don’t roll mine off the back of a fork to give them the shape they’re named for (gnocchi=knuckles).
The technique seems daunting and a little messy, and I think most people assume it’s too much work. Not at all. After a few times, you’ll find that you can do it quickly and efficiently while you’re doing the prep work for whatever else you’re making.
All purpose flour
Cover the potatoes (whole) with water in a big pot, and bring the water to a boil. Lower the temperature a little and let them boil until fork tender, about 45 minutes.
Remove from the water and using a potato ricer, or a sieve and the back of a spoon, rice the potatoes onto a clean dry work surface. Cover the riced potato with a thin layer of flour. (“EzRA!!! how much!!” “don’t panic.. we will discuss”)
Once the potato has cooled just a little, fold the flour and potato together and make a mound with a well in the center. Crack the egg into the well, and whisk it with a fork, slowly incorporating dry ingredients until the fork stops being useful. Switch to your hands, and GENTLY knead the mixture until all the ingredients are evenly mixed. IMPORTANT! You are not making bread here. You are kneading simply to mix the ingredients, not to develop the gluten content!! That’s it! Done.
Now. Let’s discuss amounts. The job of the flour in gnocchi is to hold the little buggers together. Too little flour, and they’ll fall apart when you boil them and you’ll be left with VERY thin potato soup. Too much flour, however, and they’ll be gummy and gross, and tast like.. well.. flour. I am going to refuse in this case to give you amounts, because it’s much better just to develop an intuitive sense for it, and it’s way sexier to cook without a bunch of measuring cups and scales on your counter. Further more, potatoes come in all sorts of sizes, and it’s my guess that the moisture content from one to another will vary etc.. so to say x amount of flour per potato wouldn’t really get to the heart of it.
So here’s how you should do it. Have a big pot of boiling water water ready and waiting for you. Follow the instructions above using as little flour as you think you’ll be able to get away with. Once you’ve got your big ball of gnocchi dough, pinch off a piece, shape it into a little pillow, and toss it into the boiling water. If it disappears in the boiling water, you used too little flour. If it’s good, it’ll stay whole and rise to the top when it’s done. Pull it out and taste it. Easy! If you had too little flour, knead in a little more and try again. Using this method, you can avoid loosing an entire batch! Test first!
Once you’ve established that your dough is good, prepare a BIG ice bath (as discussed here). Divide your ball of dough into 4 manageable pieces. Working in batches on a lightly floured surface, roll a ball out into a long snake, about a half inch in diameter and then cut/pinch off individual gnocchi using the edge of a wooden spatula. Immediately toss the batch into boiling water. When the gnocchi rise to the top, pull them out with a sieve and deposit them in the ice bath. Repeat until all the gnocchi are done. When you’re quite sure that they’ve all cooled, strain them in a colander, and toss with a splash of oil.
The wonderful thing about this ice bath technique for making gnocchi is that you have them now in a suspended state. They’re ready to go the moment you want to fire them, but won’t suffer by sitting around. You can, in fact, put them in the fridge and use them tomorrow! If you decide that you want to eat them the classic way, simply boiled, all you need to do is return them to boiling water moments before you want to serve them. This makes the timing a very relaxed business.
We eat them in a number of different ways. Often with a nice braised lamb ragu and fresh mint! My favorite way lately, however is just pan fried in butter and tossed with a little bit of sage. Perfect.
Over medium/high heat, cover the bottom of a nonstick, or well seasoned cast iron pan with a 50/50 mix of olive oil and good butter. When the butter begins to froth, slide in your gnocchi. DON’T CROWD THE PAN. Work in batches, or multiple pans if you need to. Let them just sit, shaking the pan now and then to make sure they’re not sticking. When you’re pretty sure that you’ve got a satisfying brown on the first side, wrist flip the pan a few times to re-arrange and keep browning. Repeat until you’re satisfied. Right at the end, toss in some julienned sage and serve. You won’t be disappointed! A little Parmesan on top doesn’t hurt anything at all, but you may find you don’t even need it.
Advanced version: Here’s a nice little twist that you can do. It’s what I did last night. While the potatoes are boiling, pour a quarter cup or so of olive oil in a small skillet. Put some garlic and fresh herbs in the oil.. sage, thyme, rosemary. Put a little heat under the oil, but only for a moment.. then just let it steep. When you’re making the gnocchi, add some of this oil (discard the herbs) to the well with the egg. Use the rest of it when you fry them up! Your gnocchi will end up with a beautiful subtle herb-y aftertaste.
On the subject of egg: Mario Batali uses a little when he makes gnocchi. So while it is certainly not traditional, I can live with myself!!
Salt! Yes. In short. Though I don’t actually put any in the dough. I liberally salt the boiling water, and I use salted butter when I pan fry them.