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How to make perfect homemade gnocchi

March 14, 2017 - 10:22am

Gnocchi can be found throughout Italy in various shapes and flavors. I’m partial to the variety lightened (if you can believe it) with potato. These take readily to all manner of seasonings and sauce.

I started making gnocchi at home when chef Paul Bertolli published his recipe in a 1999 issue of Fine Cooking magazine. I’m happy to report that his recipe remains my favorite. Six simple ingredients meld into light-as-a-feather dumplings begging for melted butter or a simple tomato sauce.

Make homemade gnocchi when there’s time to enjoy your kitchen and the company of some Italian opera. Start by squishing baked potatoes with cream, egg, salt and pepper. Then gently work in flour with delicate motions into a light dough. You can roll small nuggets of this dough and tattoo them with the tines of a fork into their classic gnocchi shape. Or simply cut the dough into miniature Tootsie-roll shapes.

The gnocchi can be cooked the same day or frozen for several weeks. They cook beautifully straight from the freezer.

The tomato, pancetta and orange sauce that follows is a riff on a pal’s favorite spaghetti recipe from the Sunshine Tavern in Portland. At first, the addition of prunes seems odd, but they melt into the tomatoes, adding a mysterious sweetness that tastes terrific with the rich pancetta and delicate leeks.

The good news is that store-bought gnocchi puts this recipe squarely in my weeknight repertoire. Look for the best gnocchi in the refrigerated section of large supermarkets or Italian specialty markets.

Homemade gnocchi

Adapted from Paul Bertolli’s recipe published in Fine Cooking, May 1999. An old-fashioned ricer tool keeps the cooked potatoes very light in texture compared to a masher. If you don’t have a ricer, use a medium mesh metal sieve and push the potatoes through it with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon. This recipe makes about 125 gnocchi, enough for 4 servings, and takes about 80 minutes.

2 medium russet potatoes, about 1 pound total

1 medium egg, lightly beaten

2 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

3/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) flour

Pierce potatoes with a fork in several places. Microwave on high until fork-tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool just enough that you can handle them but they are still warm.

Peel warm potatoes, and push through a ricer (or a medium-mesh metal sieve) into a bowl. Stir in egg, cream, salt and nutmeg.

Put flour onto work surface, and make a well in center. Add potato mixture to well. Use a pastry scraper, or clean hands, to cut flour into potato mixture. Keep working until dough comes together and is soft, supple and a little elastic.

Roll dough into a large log and then cut into 3 equal sections. Working on a floured surface, roll one section of dough out into a long rope about 3/4-inch in diameter. Use a knife to cut rope into 1/2-inch-long nuggets. Dip tines of a fork in flour; roll each nugget against tines to score the nugget and create a rough oval.

Drop oval onto a floured baking sheet. Repeat to roll and shape all the dough.

At this point you can refrigerate the gnocchi for several hours. Or, freeze the gnocchi on the baking sheet until they are solid. Then put them into a plastic freezer bag to freeze up to several weeks.

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop gnocchi into water and cook until they float, about 2 to 4 minutes.

Serve immediately, topped with tomato sauce or melted butter and cheese.

Gnocchi with tomato-pancetta sauce

This recipe seves four and takes about 45 minutes.

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving

4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 small leeks, root end trimmed, white and light-green portion only

1 large or 2 small shallots, halved, thinly sliced

1 small or half a large red or orange bell pepper, seeded, diced

1 cup diced fire-roasted tomatoes with juices

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup pitted prunes, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 recipe homemade gnocchi or 1 package (16 to 17 ounces) refrigerated gnocchi

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons each, fresh chopped: chives, flat-leaf parsley

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, and cook until slightly crisp but still tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut leeks lengthwise in half, and rinse under cool running water to remove any grit between the leaves. Pat dry, and cut crosswise into thin slices.

Add leeks, shallot and bell pepper to skillet. Cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and boil hard, 1 minute. Add chicken broth, prunes, red pepper flakes, and orange zest and juice. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until sauce is slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Season with salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and pepper. (Sauce can be made up to several days in advance and refrigerated covered. Rewarm before serving.)

Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook gnocchi until tender but still toothsome at the center (al dente), usually 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop out and reserve about ½ cup of cooking water. Drain gnocchi.

Rewarm sauce in the skillet if necessary. Add cooked gnocchi, 1/4 cup of the cooking water and 1/4 cup Parmesan to sauce. Toss to coat. Drizzle in some of the remaining cooking water if needed. Season again with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, sprinkle with herbs and more Parmesan and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.

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