26 February, 2010
Well, Miss Queen of Italian cooking and Italian pronunciations Show-Off, I will admit it: you were right. Last night I attempted some homemade gnocchi and saw that it was very easy to make. No complicated ingredients, no complicated techniques, this is definitely a rustic and authentic meal to enjoy at home or wow your friends with.
I had reviewed a few recipes with variations on the ingredients and methods, but realized it basically came down to a few essential ingredients and the rest was was a matter of kinda winging it. I can't imagine an Italian 'mama' in her humble kitchen in some small farm town near Bologna taking out measuring cups and painstakingly exacting her ingredients. So I improvised the way she would. Here's how it all came together beautifully for me:
2 lbs. russet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes and 1 smaller one)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks, beaten
pinch of salt
First start by boiling the potatoes in a pot until you can pierce them with a fork easily. Don't overcook them though, as this will make your dough no good. If they are overcooked, they absorb too much water which messes up the chemistry with your flour. So keep an eye on them, boiling them for approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Strain them and let them cool for a few minutes. I placed them near my kitchen window to cool down, as you will need to handle them with your hands while they are still warm. Once they've cooled down just about enough to work with the skin, peel the skin off of each potato (the potatoes should still be warm to kind of hot here and there, so be careful not to burn yourself). If you have a potato ricer or food mill, process the potatoes through it. I don't have either (don't worry, it's next on the list of kitchen utensils), just work the potatoes work your hands, breaking them down while keeping them fluffy. Don't smash them - just break them up until you create a meal of out them (like a coarse dough). Do not put them through the food processor - this will turn your potatoes into glue, and they will be too heavy for light fluffy gnocchi.
Once you've created a dough-like meal,add the flour, egg yolks and salt. I added a couple pinches of kosher salt. Delicately mix it all together and work it into a ball of dough with your hands, taking care not to overwork it too much. Move your dough onto a floured surface and take handfuls at a time to work down. Roll the dough into a long log approximately 3/4 of an inch wide. Don't press the dough down, again remembering to work it delicately, but rather roll it outwards to help stretch the dough thinner. After you have a 3/4 inch wide roll, cut it into 1-inch pieces.
I suggest working your entire dough into pieces at this time, as you can separate your gnocchi pieces and freeze those you won't be cooking that day. Just lay them out on a cookie sheet, spaced out so that they aren't touching each other. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for three to four hours, after which the gnocchi pieces should be frozen enough to remove them from the cookie sheet and place them into a freezer bag.
Boil another pot of salted water, and drop your gnocchi pieces in separately a few at a time. You will know when they are ready because they will rise to the top of the water, ready for you to scoop them out. And PRESTO! Homemade Gnocchi!!
Gnocchi is best with a tomato sauce or even a simple homemade pesto sauce. Again, channeling the improvisational spirit of an Italian homecook, I threw some ingredients together for my own pesto. Here's the basic recipe:
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 bunch fresh basil (same size as the bunch of parsley)
3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1-1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
ground pepper to taste
Combine the garlic, walnuts and pine nuts into a food processor and process for about 30 seconds. Wash and chop the stems off of the parsley and basil. Add the parsley, basil and parmesan cheese to the food processor bowl. Using the spout of the food processor, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl while pureeing the ingredients. Add the oil until you get a creamy texture; after you are satisfied with the liquidity of the puree, you can stop adding oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and continuing pureeing.
Again, for the most part, these measurements are to taste. You can't really go wrong with adding more basil or parsley for those who like more basil or parsley flavor. Or if you like a nuttier flavor, add more walnuts or pine nuts. And if you want a slightly more decadent pesto, add a splash of heavy cream for a Creamy Pesto!!
So I concede - all those Saturday morning Giada At Home shows where I balked at Giada's supposed "easy" recipes, won't intimidate me anymore. Now if only I could somehow presto-chango my own kitchen into Giada's, I'd be her biggest fan ever.