My daughter likes potatoes – mostly when they are mashed and sometimes when they come as french fries. These days, she does not like potatoes any other way but when she was really little, we were able to present her with store-bought Gnocchi that were simply topped with a bit of butter and, on occasion, with pulverized fresh sage. Naturally, fresh Parmigiano Reggiano needed to cover it all – preferably in a thick layer.
I have always thought of these store-bought Gnocchi has a viable compromise between good food and convenience. You see, the consistency of these Gnocchi resembles that of rubber and I, personally, don't really like to eat stuff that feels like I am chewing rubber. Still, when in a pinch, they are super quick to make...
Home-made Gnocchi, on the other hand, can be light and fluffy – and have a far superior taste. Many people think that making Gnocchi is some kind of witchcraft, reserved only to a native Italian Nonna who grew up with skills and techniques that were passed down from one generation to the next.
This, of course, is not true! Rather, making Gnocchi is simple. It requires very few ingredients, no special tools (although having a Gnocchi paddle is certainly helpful), and not a whole lot of skill.
In the end, making Gnocchi is just a few steps removed from simply boiling and mashing potatoes...
1 lb. Russet (or baking) potatoes.
About 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour (depending on the liquidity of the Gnocchi dough).
4 or 5 large tomatoes.
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
a pinch sugar – unless the tomatoes are at the height of the season and are sweet anyway.
2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
about ½ cup Ricotta
We are going to make the Gnocchi and the sauce at the same time so that we can serve the Gnocchi as soon as they are done:
Peel the potatoes, cut them into 1-inch pieces, and add them to a pot of salted water.
Let cook until the potatoes are tender.
Drain and let cool.
While the potatoes are cooling down a bit, core and seed the tomatoes.
Cut tomatoes into small cubes – about ¼ inch or so.
Heat 1 Tbs. Of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat
Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
Let simmer until the tomatoes are mushy but make sure that they don't dry out. If they do, simply add a bit of water.
When the potatoes have cooled down enough so that you can easily touch them, either mash them with a masher or put them through a potato ricer – into a bowl, of course.
Add the eggs, the flour, salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.
With your hands, work the ingredients into a dough. If the dough keeps sticking to your fingers, add a little bit more flour until it stops sticking. On occasion, I have a tough time telling whether the dough sticks to my fingers or to the dough that's already stuck to my fingers. If that happens to you, wash your hands and thoroughly dry them. Knead the dough again until it is elastic but no longer sticks to your fingers.
Separate a small fistful of dough and roll it back and forth on a flour-dusted work surface. You want to end up with a potato “sausage” that is roughly ½ inch in diameter. It does not matter how long the “sausage” is.
Cut the potato “sausage” in little bits, about ¼ inch in size.
Now, if you have a Gnocchi paddle, go ahead and roll them over the ridges to achieve that typical Gnocchi shape.
If you don't have this tool, take out a fork and slightly flour the tines.
Most cooks will instruct you to turn the fork with the tines toward the surface and to roll the dough pieces across to accomplish the Gnocchi shape. If you want, do a quick search on youtube – there are a few videos that show this process.
I must admit that I am a complete failure at rolling Gnocchi into the proper shape. The last time I tried, I spent a good thirty minutes creating them but when it was time to cook them, I noticed that all of them had lost the shape I had worked so hard to create.
Thus, I simply skip the authenticity and go for a simpler method.
Instead of rolling the dough over the fork, I simply spread them out on the flour-dusted work surface. Next, I press down on them with the tines of the fork until they are somewhat flat with a bunch of ridges on top.
I also don't store them until I have all of them done. Instead, I cook them immediately...
Thus, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a good amount of salt.
Every time you press a Gnocchi into shape, simply toss it into the pot of boiling water.
Make sure both your work surface and your fork remain flour-dusted or the dough will stick!
Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.
I do not bother to remove the already cooked Gnocchi from the pot while I prepare the others. I have found that doing so makes no difference, especially since rolling and cutting the rest of the dough only takes a very short time.
Once you have finished all of the dough and now have a full pot of Gnocchi, let them cook for another three minutes.
While the Gnocchi are cooking, season that tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste.
I find that there can be a tremendous difference in the way tomatoes taste. I grow my own and at the height of the season, they are just delicious and don't need to be sweetened. However, if I don't have access to my own and have to rely on store-bought tomatoes, I always make sure that they are sweet enough by adding just a pinch of sugar.
Drain the Gnocchi and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Pour the tomatoes over the Gnocchi and gently mix so that the Gnocchi are nicely covered in sauce.
Sprinkle the chopped basil on top.
Use a small spoon to separate bit-size pieces of Ricotta and put those little pieces on top of the Gnocchi as well.