February 22, 2012

Potato Gnocchi

Gnocchi-- with our homemade pesto-- is what our son has requested for his birthday dinner almost every year since he was two. And all because we happened to take a cooking class a year before he was born when we were on vacation in Tuscany, at a place called Terre di Nano. It was an "agriturismo;" they made wine and olive oil there in addition to accommodating guests. Our cooking class focused on making potato gnocchi and tiramisu the traditional ways and I'm so glad we learned! (I don't know if it was just to impress us, but Giorgio seemed authentic when he kept mentioning as he gave us little tips that this was the way his grandmother taught him to make it.) 

Gnocchi couldn't be simpler to make, but simply takes some time-- boiling whole potatoes until tender, and then once they are cool, a good hour or more to mash, knead, and shape the gnocchi. Gnocchi is fun to say (gn = /ny/), and freezes beautifully. (After the gnocchi have frozen hard on a rimmed baking sheet dusted with flour, I scoop them into a freezer bag to save until ready to cook them.) When ready to enjoy, they are simply dropped into boiling water and cooked until they float, then scooped out with a slotted spoon and combined with tomato sauce or pesto or other sauce, or sauteed with butter and combined with other ingredients. Serve with caprese salad or any salad, or with anything you might have with pasta. This is a family favorite that is worth the effort every once in a while. 

Cooking class with Giorgio in Italy, 2009

My son's birthday dinner, per request

Potato Gnocchi
from Giorgio, Terre di Nano

potatoes (approximately 1 medium per person)
an egg if needed

Boil potatoes with peels until very soft. Remove from boiling water and cool slightly. Remove skin. It comes off in big patches when you just peel it back with your fingers. Remove any blemishes.

Mash potatoes thoroughly with a fork on countertop. Add a little salt. Begin kneading flour into the potatoes. With a scoop, generously sprinkle flour all the way around the pile of potato, then work it in bit by bit as you knead, then repeat. You have to work a lot of flour into the potato. He said you know you have enough when you can poke your finger into the ball of dough and it doesn't feel sticky on the inside. If it becomes too dry, you may need to knead in an egg (we never need to add the egg).

Cut a chunk off the mass of dough, roll it into a snake about 1/2-inch thick, and then cut the snake into small, squarish pieces.

With a fork in one hand, pick up each small piece with your other hand and, with your thumb, push it down the tines of the fork. This creates the ribbed texture of the gnocchi. Collect gnocchi, not touching each other, on a lightly floured baking sheet.

Next, either cook it to serve or freeze it. To serve immediately: drop gnocchi into pot of boiling water and leave it just long enough for water to return to a boil and gnocchi to pop to the surface of the water and float-- only a couple of minutes. Skim them out individually or in groups as they float to the surface. Toss hot gnocchi with desired sauce and serve. OR, put baking sheet in freezer for a while until gnocchi pieces freeze individually, then dump them into a freezer bag or other container and freeze until ready to use. Once frozen they can be prepared as described above.

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