Monday, March 24, 2014

Gnocchi Heaven

Three of us had dinner at Architect’s house last week; Singer was visiting with her daughter who was home from college.

I’m sorry she missed this meal.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Architect was telling us about an article she read “Six Steps to Reaching Gnocchi Nirvana.” The article asks why a simple dish of just three ingredients (potatoes, flour and salt) often causes a culinary calamity.  It goes on to explain how one can consistently achieve “tender, ethereally light, nicely potatoey” gnocchi that doesn’t disintegrate in water and can handle any sauce you toss its way.  
We all encouraged her to make gnocchi the next time it was her turn to cook.

She did. 

We were so happy. 

And hungry.

I did a quick search for the article mentioned above that first appeared in Food and Wine magazine in 2008.  Below is an abbreviated version of the six magic steps:
Step one: Start with Yukon Gold potatoes because they have more of the nutty flavor of potatoes used by Italian and Provençal cooks who have mastered the art known as gnocchi.
Step two: Bake the potatoes, don't boil them. Water is the enemy of good gnocchi dough.
Step three: Rice the potatoes with a fine potato ricer or, better yet, a drum sieve.
Step four: Use two-thirds all-purpose flour to one-third cake flour.
Step five: Weigh the potatoes after baked and riced.
Step six: Use a bench scraper to incorporate the potatoes and the flour.  Above is a bench scraper, more commonly known as a dough divider.

I’m half Italian (the other half is Irish) and I have always loved gnocchi (made with potato) and cavatelli (made with ricotta).  I remember watching my Italian grandmother – who I absolutely adored – make the dough, roll it out into long tubes, cut off little pieces and flick the pieces with her thumb to create the most special little pocket waiting to welcome her incredible gravy (that's Italian for sauce).  To this day, I can’t do that thumb-flick-pocket thing.   

Birthdays were a big deal in my childhood home and we could request any meal we wanted.  Every year, I requested that my grandmom make me cavatelli, and every year, she did.  It didn’t matter to her that it was July and hot.  She was a grandmom. 

And that’s how grandmoms are.
My grandmom is in the picture you see, with the younger me and my aunt and uncle. I used to love that sweater!  I think the year was 1963.  Check out the wall paper.  I remember it so utensils in the green-rust-gold shades so popular back then.

Sister sent me this photo....thank you for the memory!

Potato Gnocchi
From: Gnocchi Nirvana

Kosher salt
2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread a 1-inch layer of salt in a small roasting pan. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and arrange them on the salt in a single layer. Bake until fork-tender, about 11/2 hours. Remove them from the oven and slit them lengthwise to release their steam.

2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop their flesh into a ricer or tamis and rice the potatoes onto the paper towels in a shallow layer. Let cool completely.

It is important to use a low-rimmed baking sheet because the heat will more
easily circulate around the potato, cooking them more evenly.

3. Working over a medium bowl, sift the all-purpose and cake flours with a large pinch of salt. Measure out 4 lightly packed cups of the riced potatoes (1 pound), and transfer the potatoes to a work surface. Sprinkle the sifted flour mixture over the potatoes and drizzle with the olive oil. Gently form the dough into a firm ball.   The olive oil makes the dough easier to handle.

4. Test the gnocchi dough: Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Using your hands, form one 3/4-inch round (a single gnocco). Boil the gnocco until it floats to the surface, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocco to a plate and let cool. It should be light and tender but still hold together. If the gnocco breaks apart in the boiling water, the dough has too little flour; add more. If the gnocco is tough and chewy, the dough has too much flour; cut in a little more of the reserved riced potatoes.

5. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one piece at a time, gently roll the dough into a long rope about 1/2 inch wide. Using a sharp knife, cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make light ridges. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Let the gnocchi stand at room temperature for 1 hour to dry.

6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add half of the gnocchi at a time and boil over high heat until they rise to the surface, then cook for 15 seconds longer. Using a wire skimmer, transfer the gnocchi to the bowl of ice water. Drain on paper towels and pat dry. Toss with oil and refrigerate for up to 3 hours or freeze the gnocchi on baking sheets in a single layer. Transfer them to an airtight container or resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to six weeks.

Architect served two versions of gnocchi that evening, sweet potato gnocchi with a browed butter and sage sauce and Yukon Gold potato gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce.  To make the perfect borown butter sage sauce, simply melt 4 tablespoons butter in a pan until it is slightly browned, add about 8 sage leaves, slivered and drizzle in the juice of half a lemon.  Toss on your favorite pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.    

We were indeed in gnocchi nirvana.

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