It all started innocently enough: “Let’s make gnocchi!” “Okay!” Well, little did we know that said gnocchi would involve five stores, four potholes, three inches of snow and Middle Age torture. And a partridge and a pear tree.
Having read about or watched gnocchi-making many times, I knew full well that doing so required a potato ricer. Having never made gnocchi before and preferring a different instrument for my potato-mashing, I also knew full well that we did not have a potato ricer. “No problem,” I thought. We’d pick one up when we were out for the groceries. Easy enough, right? Wrong.
A stop at Whole Foods (okay, maybe a potato ricer is a little ambitious for Whole Foods’ gadget aisle), Target (avocado slicers and cocktail muddlers aplenty, but no, ma’am, no potato ricer), Walgreens (we were getting desperate) and Crate and Barrel (We’d even be able to use one of our 16 gift cards that we received from our wedding! Perfect! And they’ll definitely have it! WRONG.) later, I began to realize that a potato ricer is apparently somewhat of an obscure kitchen tool these days.
I should mention that this search began in Evanston (home of Kevin’s and my alma mater and our favorite Chicago-land movie theatre, where we saw Juno yesterday, which was completely excellent in all ways), which is not close to where we live in the city, and that our stomachs were already slightly grumbling when the search began. I should also mention that it was snowing pretty hard. Kind of blizzard-ish really. I should also let you know that the City of Chicago does a less-than-perfect job maintaining our roads, which meant that we nearly broke our newish car several times driving through the biggest potholes ever invented.
All in search of a potato ricer, my friends. For those keeping count, you know there’s one stop I haven’t yet mentioned. Well, lucky for us (wow—it’s a real stretch to call us lucky at this point), there was a Sur la Table right around the corner from Crate and Barrel. The sign said the store was closed (obviously), but the door was unlocked. I barged in, asked for the nearest potato ricer and was led to an entire display of various ricers. This clearly should have been our first stop. I selected my favorite one, paid and exited triumphantly to show Kevin our prey. His reply: “It looks like a Middle Ages
torture device.” Yeah, it kind of does.
The moral of the story, at this point, might have been that, if you are lacking a necessary piece of equipment, do not plan an entire meal around it (especially when you have shopped for all the necessary groceries before you have procured the instrument and especially when your search doesn’t start until after dark for that night’s dinner). However, the moral of the story—in my mind (because I secretly like learning the hard way, just ask my mother)—is that you MUST make these gnocchi.
Making pasta—in the case of gnocchi, more technically a dumpling—is intimidating and it’s something that I’ve failed at before. But I think gnocchi is much more accessible and actually a lot of fun. The recipe I used—written by Lidia Bastianich—is incredibly detailed and will answer all of your questions along the way.
And if the satisfaction alone of making gnocchi doesn’t convince you, maybe this will. When you’re done, you can toss it in brown butter, a splash of chardonnay, toasted sage and crushed hazelnuts. That’s what we did and it successfully erased all memories of the Great Ricer Hunt ‘07.
Toasted Sage & Hazelnut Brown Butter Sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sage, julienned (plus extra whole leaves for garnish, if desired)
2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
2 tablespoons t0 1/4 cup dry white wine (adjust the amount based on how liquid-y you want your sauce)
While your gnocchi or pasta boils, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter begins to brown. Once the butter browns, add the sage and stir for a minute. Add the crushed hazelnuts and stir for a minute. Just before your gnocchi or pasta finishes boiling, add the white wine and stir.
Using a spider to drain the water, lift your gnocchi or pasta out of the boiling water and into the skillet. Toss the gnocchi or pasta in the sauce until coated. Serve and garnish with a couple sage leaves and additional crushed hazelnuts.
3 large baking (Idaho) potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), scrubbed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are easily pierced with a skewer but the skins are not split, about 35 minutes. (Alternatively, the potatoes can be baked in a preheated 400°F oven until tender, about 40 minutes.)
Drain the potatoes and let them stand just until cool enough to handle. (The hotter the potatoes are when they are peeled and riced, the lighter the gnocchi will be.) Working quickly and protecting the hand that holds the potatoes with a folded kitchen towel or oven mitt, scrape the skin from the potato with a paring knife. Press the peeled potatoes through a potato ricer. Alternatively, the potatoes can be passed through a food mill fitted with the fine disc, but a ricer makes fluffier potatoes and therefore lighter gnocchi. Spread the riced potatoes into a thin, even layer on the work surface, without pressing them or compacting them. Let them cool completely.
In a small bowl, beat the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together. Gather the cold potatoes into a mound and form a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well. Knead the potato and egg mixtures together with both hands, gradually adding the grated cheese and enough of the flour, about 1 1/2 cups, to form a smooth but slightly sticky dough. It should take no longer than 3 minutes to work the flour into the potato mixture; remember, the longer the dough is kneaded, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become. As you knead the dough, it will stick to your hands and to the work surface: Repeatedly rub this rough dough from your hands and scrape it with a knife or dough scraper from the work surface back into the dough as you knead.
Wash and dry your hands. Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with some of the remaining flour. Cut the dough into six equal pieces and set off to one side of the work surface. Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and exerting light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, until your hands get the feel of the dough, you may find it easier to cut each piece of dough in half to roll it.)
Slice the ropes into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle the rounds lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a rough ball, flouring the dough and your hands as needed to prevent sticking. Hold the tines of a fork at a 45-degree angle to the table with the concave part facing up. Dip the tip of your thumb in flour. Take one ball of dough and with the tip of your thumb, press the dough lightly against the tines of the fork as you roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. As the dough wraps around the tip of your thumb, it will form into a dumpling with a deep indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Set on a baking sheet lined with a floured kitchen towel and continue forming gnocchi from the remaining dough balls. Repeat the whole process with the remaining pieces of dough. At this point the gnocchi must be cooked immediately or frozen.
To cook gnocchi:
Bring six quarts of salted water to a vigorous boil in a large pot over high heat. Drop about half the gnocchi into the boiling water a few at a time, stirring gently and continuously with a wooden spoon. Cook the gnocchi, stirring gently, until tender, about 1 minute after they rise to the surface. (You can cook the gnocchi all at once in two separate pots of boiling water. If you make a double batch of gnocchi, I strongly recommend cooking them in batches in two pots of water.)
Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon of skimmer, draining them well, and transfer to a wide saucepan with some of the sauce to be used. Cook the remaining gnocchi, if necessary. When all the gnocchi are cooked, proceed according to the directions for saucing and serving in each recipe.
When saucing gnocchi, remember this tip: If the sauce is too dense or the gnocchi seem too dry, use some of the gnocchi cooking water to thin the sauce and moisten the gnocchi, as you would with pasta dishes.
To precook gnocchi:
Cook the gnocchi as described above, remove them with a skimmer, and spread them out in a baking pan lightly coated with melted butter. When ready to serve, return the gnocchi to a large pot of boiling salted water until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly and sauce and serve according to the particular recipe.
To freeze gnocchi:
It is best to freeze gnocchi uncooked as soon as they are shaped. Arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on a baking pan and place the pan in a level position in the freezer. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Gather the frozen gnocchi into resealable freezer bags. Frozen gnocchi can be stored in the freezer for 4 to 6 weeks.
To cook frozen gnocchi:
Frozen gnocchi must be cooked directly from the freezer in plenty of boiling water, or they will stick together. Bring 6 quarts salted water to a boil in each of two large pots. Shake any excess flour from the frozen gnocchi and split them between the two pots, stirring gently as you add them to the boiling water. It is important that the water return to a boil as soon as possible; cover the pots if necessary. Drain the gnocchi as described above and sauce and serve according to the specific recipe.