Bite into a tender gnocchi and become afloat in the tastes of Italy. Are you there yet? How was it for you? Shall we have a cigarette?
I never entertained the idea that I, a mere mortal, would have the skill to make them myself. Nevertheless, I have learned how to make decent gnocchi and all it took was a trip to Italy, a unique cooking class, and a wonderful new friend named Rosie.
In summer of 2015 I took a two-week Italian language class in Urbania, a quaint village in the Le Marche region of northern Italy. Since I was traveling solo and wanted every opportunity to improve my Italian and be exposed to the Italian lifestyle, I stayed with a host family. Instead of the idyllic Italian experience, I found myself in a cigarette smoke filled home with warring teenagers and fast Italian I had no hope of understanding. On the second day, I moved out of Rosie’s house. With the help of the language school and their diplomatic explanation to Rosie, I moved in with a new host family.
A few days later, I signed up for a cooking class and couldn’t wait to learn more about Italian cooking. I walked into Dodo’s Trattoria for my first cooking class, and laughed to myself as I saw that the cooking teacher was, yes, you guessed it: Rosie.
Here is Rosie’s recipe for Potato Gnocchi. What I learned from watching Rosie is that she relied mostly on the touch, feel, and the look of the dough. While a flour-covered recipe book with a list of ingredients lay on her counter, she had internalized the process. I can still picture her in the simple kitchen with fresh herbs hanging in the window and a small wood oven.
After making gnocchi with Rosie, I felt heartened and determined to hone my skill. I had the heart of a beginner and would learn all I could from watching a master.
Rosie was a charming and masterful teacher. There were no hard feelings between us. I am so grateful to have met her and to understand that families are families and people are people anywhere in the world.
Potato Gnocchi la Rosie
Notes to the cook:
Serve these lovely little pillows with tomato or pesto sauces. While the potatoes are cooking you can sip a glass of Pinot Grigio, which pairs nicely with the cooking of gnocchi.
Gnocchi dough performs best with Italian 00 or doppio zero (double zero) flour, which is a finer mill and higher protein content than all-purpose flour. You can get by with all-purpose (10-12% protein) but your gnocchi will hold together better if you use the double zero. If you don’t happen to live close to an Italian market, purchase Italian doppio zero online. It is a bit more pricey but well worth it, especially if plan to make pizza.
You can boil the potatoes ahead of time and refrigerate them for a day or two. Leave the skin on until you are ready to make the gnocchi.
I always double or triple the batch and freeze gnocchi for later. To freeze gnocchi, spread them on a floured cookie sheet and place in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the gnocchi to a freezer bag. Cook gnocchi in batches, as much as you wish. Do not thaw gnocchi before boiling. Frozen gnocchi will need to cook for a minute or two longer.
1 cup Italian 00 flour
4-5 medium Russet potatoes (1 ½ pounds)
Salt to taste
Parmesan for garnish
Step by step:
Place the potatoes in a 4 quart pot with enough water to cover them, and 2 inches to spare. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil on high heat, covered. Reduce heat to medium for 25 minutes.
Test for doneness by lifting a potato out of the water with a slotted spoon and inserting a toothpick into the center. If the toothpick goes all the way to the center easily, it is done. If the toothpick hits a hard center, cook for another 5 minutes and test again. When potatoes are done, drain them. When cool enough to touch, remove the skins and put through a food mill or potato ricer into a bowl. In a pinch, use a potato masher. The potatoes should be crumbly like rice but not fully mashed.
Spread a thin coat of flour on a large wooden cutting board or a smooth kitchen counter. Rice or grate the potatoes onto the center of the board. Create a well in the potatoes, and crack the egg into the center and mix with a fork. Sprinkle 1 cup of flour into the center. Use a bench scraper to gather everything up and chop with the bench scraper to work the flour and egg into the flour. Scrape and chop until the ingredients a well mixed. Using your freshly washed hands, smoosh and mix until uniform. Knead the dough by folding over and pressing lightly, not pushing forward like when making bread or pasta dough. Keep kneading until it forms a soft, thick dough. Knead for about 2 minutes, just enough to incorporate all of the flour and get a nice, smooth dough.
Next, form your dough into a fat cylinder 10 inches long and 3 inches wide. Using a sharp knife, cut it into 10 even slices.
Transfer one slice at a time onto your floured surface and roll it into a snake about 12 inches long.
Once you have rolled out all of your snakes, use a sharp knife to cut each snake into 3/4 inch sections or pillows.
These are your gnocchi. Congratulations. Keep your gnocchi well floured until you are ready to cook them so they don’t stick.The gnocchi will dry out if they sit around for more than 15 minutes.
Next, you’re going to cook the gnocchi for dinner. Bring a 5 quart pot of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. When you have a gentle rolling boil, you are ready. This part goes rather quickly, so you want to have the table set, with everything else ready to go. You might even want to have your guests seated and just finishing up their antipasto.
Place several gnocchi at a time into a strainer to shake off the excess flour. Drop them in the boiling water. Repeat until you have added all of the gnocchi. (If you are using frozen gnocchi, do not thaw, just drop them in frozen.) After about 2 minutes, when the gnocchi float to the top of the boiling water, cook for another 1 or 2 minutes. I always taste one of the gnocchi just to make sure they are done.
When done, lift them out of the water with a strainer and place them in a medium sized serving bowl.
Fold gnocchi into your favorite sauce. They are so tasty in Marinara or pesto, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, and serve.