“Gnocchi di Patate” (Homemade Potato Gnocchi) are yet another very humble treasure of Italian culinary tradition that can be eaten in its many different regional variations all across the “Bel Paese”. In Italy they are often sold at local bread bakeries, along with many different kind of fresh made pastas and ravioli, and also are very well represented on the mass market in their prepackaged, usually much drier version. Because of the simplicity of the ingredients used in the preparation of Gnocchi, many believe it to be a dish that was mostly prepared in the country by farmers; truth is that, because potatoes were introduced in the European diet only after the Americas were discovered, the original roots of this dish are not really easy to trace. When we talk about Gnocchi however, we usually refer to the shape and texture of the “round bites” that are cooked in boiling water, the same way we prepare pasta; they used to be be made of many other ingredients like stale bread, ground almonds, milk, seasonal vegetables and different kinds of flour. For some reason though, the Potato Gnocchi was the one that easily found home in everybody’s kitchen and has become a standard in the Italian Food Culture… all other kind of gnocchi have been forgotten, to the point that if you encounter them in a restaurant’s menu, they most likely will be sold to you as Nouvelle Cuisine items.
When I was growing up in Italy, my grandmother Lola would often keep me busy on Sunday mornings, working on the recipe you’re about to try; because of the amount of rolling and cutting that is required to prepare a feast of gnocchi, this is one of those recipes I was actually “forced” to learn; I still remember begging my grandmother to leave me alone and let me run out in the garden on my bicycle. The few tricks I am sharing with you today, are coming straight from her kitchen!
Make sure you have some “Old Potatoes” around, otherwise you’ll have to go grocery shop and came back in here in a little more than a week.
The secret of this recipe is not in its execution, but in the choice of your ingredients: the right texture (firm but not thick) of the gnocchi you are about to make only depends on that, and it should be your only worry. Preparation is much easier than making fresh pasta, it’s a good kid’s playground (for a few minutes), and it is extremely simple and ego-rewarding. In case you decide to play safe though, I suggest you start with a creamy sauce rather than the traditional sage and butter dressing: this way, in case your gnocchi come out too thick, you can still enjoy them with a sauce that soften them a bit. Eating a whole serving of thick gnocchi dressed only with a spoon of butter can be an awful and enduring task to accomplish.
Have fun with it!
GNOCCHI DI PATATE
Serves - 8 / Prep Time - 1 1/2 hour / Cook Time - about 3 min
BUTTER AND SAGE SAUCE
Serves - 8 / Prep Time - 5 min / Cook Time - 10 min
CREAMY MUSHROOM SAUCE
Serves - 8 / Prep Time - 10 / Cook Time - 20
GNOCCHI DI PATATE
Make sure you are using old potatoes as they need to have started developing a more floury texture inside in order to make a soft "gnocco": I personally consider anywhere between ten days and two weeks a good stretch of time to let them sit on my kitchen's counter!
Boil the potatoes (peels on) them for about 45 minutes. When ready, cool them off under cold water, peel them and pass them through a food mill.
On a well flowered surface, mix together the potatoes with the flour and salt, until you obtain a compact but soft mixture, then add the egg.
Work the dough slowly for a few minutes, making sure there are no lumps, and get ready to start cutting and rolling fresh gnocchi for the next half hour!
Divide the dough in a few smaller balls and, one by one, roll them (about 1 inch thick) on your working surface using some flour to facilitate then, with a knife or a spatula, cut the gnocchi (about 1.5" long) and lay them on a large cutting board to rest for fifteen minutes. Traditional gnocchi usually are rolled on a striped wood board to give them the characteristic rustic look: if you feel up for it, you can achieve the same result by rolling your gnocchi on a large fork, though I personally have chosen not to impose on my back more than necessary!
This is when you start working on the sauce.
When you are almost ready to sit down to eat, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and divide the gnocchi in three batches: because they cook very fast and need to be strained off the pot, they cannot be all in the boiling water at the same time. As you toss your first batch in, the gnocchi will fall to the bottom of the pot for a couple of minutes and then, slowly but surely, they will come back afloat ready to be strained. In about ten minutes you will be able to cook everything you got. In the meantime make sure to keep your sauce warm, and prepare a large platter where to mix the gnocchi with the sauce before serving.
BUTTER AND SAGE SAUCE
Wash well the sage and pat dry it.
In a non stick pan, melt the butter, then add the sage, and saute' for about 5 minutes on a medium-low flame, until the leaves start darkening and becoming crunchy.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and set on the side. Reheat on a low flame while cooking the gnocchi.
Strain the gnocchi in a large platter, dress with the butter sauce and the ground Parmesan cheese, stir well and serve.
CREAMY MUSHROOM SAUCE
Wipe clean your mushrooms with a damp cloth and pat dry them, never ever wash or scrub them, as you will kill most of the flavor by doing that.
Slice them thin and, in a large non-stick pan, saute' them in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil for about 10 minutes, then add the fresh herbs and cook for another 5 minutes and set aside.
Chop the shallots and the parsley very fine. Saute' the shallots in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, then add the pelati, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is visibly reduced.
Melt the butter into the sauce, add the cream and stir well, before adding the mushrooms and mixing finally all the ingredients together. After cooking on a low flame for about 10 minutes,your sauce is now ready to dress you gnocchi... or any other kind of pasta you'd like, for that matter.
Serve dressed with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a generous tablespoon of grated Parmigiano.
Debi and Gabriele