I need to preface this post by telling you that I've not got a drop of Italian blood in me. Zero, nada, zilch. No Uncle Ginos or Aunt Ginas hanging out on the family tree. No Grandma from the Old World. Nope, there's no mediterranean blood flowing through these veins. Heck the closest thing I had to pasta growing up was Stouffer's. Occasionally my mom would pour a jar of Ragu over noodles but that's about as Italian as it got. And to this day, brace yourselves, I've never made homemade sauce. I've always made do with the jar.
Shhh. . .did you hear that?
The sound of a thousand Italian Grandmothers suddenly crying out in agony?
OK, seriously, not that I couldn't probably make a decent tomato sauce, I just never have. I guess that'll be one for the cooking Bucket List. And I'm not totally inept when it comes to making pasta dishes. I can throw together a decent Fettuccini with Alfredo. My point is, when I venture into Italian Cuisine, I do it with complete naivete.
So for my first, from scratch, Italian specialty I decided to try my hand a Gnocchi. I may not know Italian but my more northern ancestors certainly know potatoes. Gnocchi just sound so inviting. Soft, tender potato dumplings. Mmmmmm! To be honest, I made a few mistakes, but, all in all, they turned out pretty good. I am certainly going to keep making them and keep trying to improve. Once I've got it mastered, the variations will be endless. See how I did. . .
Here are the simple ingredients: potatoes (I used good old russets.), AP flour, an egg and salt (not pictured because I forgot.). Some recipes call for just flour, potatoes and salt, and consider the egg "cheating". But, as I'm a beginner, I need all the help I can get. The egg adds a bit of richness and also holds it all together.
Cut the potatoes in half, place in a large pot and cover with plenty of cold water. Throw some salt in the water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook just until tender, about 30-35 minutes. When a knife goes easily all the way through the potato, they're done.
If the skins start to split, check them to see if they are done. If not, then reduce your heat for a more gentle boil. Once they're done, remove them from the water. Some of my skins split and my potatoes may have been overcooked just a bit (My first "Gnocchi No No"). Next time I'll watch them closer. Use a small knife the remove the skins and cut the potatoes into smaller chunks. If they are too hot to hold, wear an oven mitt and use a paper towel to grab the potato.
Press the potatoes through a "ricer". This really is the perfect tool for the job. If you make mashed potatoes with any regularity this is an indispensable tool. They can be pretty expensive but I got this one at IKEA for just under $10.00. Not bad. Alternately you can also use a food mill. You DO NOT want to mash the potatoes. You just want a nice even consistency with not lumps. If you don't have a ricer or food mill, then after peeling the potatoes, don't cut them up. Use a fork to gently scrap bits of the potato off until you have a nice fluffy pile of potato.
I pulled another "Gnocchi No No" here and didn't let my potatoes "dry out". I would definitely recommend doing it. Just lay the potatoes out, in an even layer, on a cookie sheet and let them cool and dry out for 15-20 minutes. Once they've dried out and are cooled, combine them with the flour, salt and egg. Gently toss it together until you have a crumbly dough.
It will be a bit lumpy but don't worry. Sprinkle your surface with a light bit of flour and gently knead into a smooth dough. Add as little extra flour as you can. Use just enough to keep the dough from sticking.
Knead until you have a nice smooth dough. The key here is to handle the dough lightly and gently. Folding and pushing just until smooth.
Divide dough into 4-6 smaller pieces and roll each into a long rope that's about 3/4-inch around. (About as big as your thumb). Cut off 3/4 to 1-inch pieces and then gently roll over with a fork to give them grooves. These grooves will help them hold onto your sauce. Again, I'm a novice and used probably a bit too much pressure. These look a bit mashed but I'm not trying to win a contest here. Seriously, I'm just happy that they resemble gnocchi at all.
Lay them out on a cookie sheet and let them dry out a bit, just long enough to get your water ready.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I used the same pot that I cooked the potatoes in, just rinsing it out. Once the water is boiling drop about 10-15 gnocchi in at a time. After 3 or 4 minutes, they'll start to rise to the top and that's when they're done.
Remove them with a strainer or slotted spoon to a cooling rack. I set one in a cookie sheet and lined it with paper towels just to catch the drips.
Once you get to this point you can use a variety of sauces with them. Check here for some good ideas. Melted butter and parmesan also work great. I put them in this dish, covered them with some leftover meat sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella and baked it in a 350°F oven for about 12 minutes.
All and all, I think they turned out pretty good for my first try. They were just slightly on the gummy side, probably due to overcooking the potatoes a bit and forgetting to let the riced potatoes dry out. Regardless, everyone in my family really liked them. I will definitely try these again, improving along the way, I hope. They're a nice change from pasta. Give 'em a try.
2 lbs. russet potatoes
1 C. flour
1/2 t. salt
Scrub the potatoes and cut in half. Place them in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Add some salt to the water. Bring to a boil and cook for 30-40 minutes until tender. A knife should easily slid through the potato with little resistance.
Remove from the water, peel and run through a ricer. Lay the potatoes out on a cookie sheet and let "dry" for 15-20 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine potatoes, egg, flour and salt. Stir into a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until smooth.
Divide dough and roll out into 3/4-inch ropes. Cut ropes into 3/4 to 1-inch pieces. Roll the pieces over the tines of a fork to make grooves.
Drop into boiling salted water, 10-15 at a time, and cook until they float to the top. About 3-4 minutes. Let drain and top with your favorite pasta sauce.
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