Switch up starch and give gnocchi a try


Pasta, potatoes and rice: these are the starches we often use in our meals. But there is another choice: gnocchi, which satisfies the desire for both pasta and potatoes. These little Italian dumplings (pronounced NYOH-kee) can be made from potatoes, semolina flour, or a combination of greens, flour and ricotta. Sometimes eggs or cheese are added to the gnocchi dough. They can even be made gluten free with alternative flours.

The word means “little lump”, since the dough is shaped into little pieces, then boiled or baked. Gnocchi are usually served with a highly flavored but simple sauce, either cheese, meat, tomato or butter sauce, or served in a soup by boiling the gnocchi in a light broth with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

If you’ve ever tasted homemade gnocchi, you’ve had a little taste of heaven. The best ones are light and fluffy, a perfectly simple — and sublime — comfort food. Learn to make perfect gnocchi when Chef Dan Bobo teaches his popular Gnocchi Workshop on Aug. 25 at Malaai, the beautiful student garden behind Waimea Middle School. The class, from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, will offer several different gnocchi paired with sauces, which you will enjoy at the end with salad. Cost is $25 for Slow Food Hawaii members or $30 for non-members, and proceeds benefit Malaai and Slow Food Hawaii. Space is limited, so sign up now at www.slowfoodhawaii.org and get ready for a fun and delicious class.

Here are several easy gnocchi recipes to practice with. You can freeze extras for later use. Who knew that lumps could taste so good?

Potato gnocchi

Paul Bertolli, Chef, Oliveto Restaurant, makes this classic gnocchi and suggests trying different potatoes, such as Yukon gold, yam or sweet potato, as well as experimenting with chopped herbs (parsley, thyme or oregano) in your dough. Makes about 200 gnocchi.

3 russet potatoes or other high-starch variety (about 1-1/2 lbs.)

1-1/2 eggs, whisked

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

Generous pinch of fresh grated nutmeg

9 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour

Fill a pot with lightly salted cold water; add potatoes. Simmer until very tender, about 35 minutes. Drain in a colander; let rest in their own steam until they are cool enough to handle. Peel potatoes, then push them through a ricer or food mill, using the medium blade (or use a large-hole grater if needed).

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, cream and nutmeg. Gently beat this mixture into potatoes. Pour flour on work surface, reserving about a half cup. With a pastry scraper, cut flour into potatoes. Work dough by cutting, pressing and turning it over on itself with the pastry scraper. Keep working until dough comes together and is soft, supple and slightly elastic. Use the reserved half cup of flour if necessary.

Roll dough into a large log; cut log into four equal parts. Let dough rest for 10 minutes (turn bowl upside down on top of dough). Roll logs into ropes about 3/4inch in diameter, cutting them in half if they are too long to work with. Cut ropes into nuggets about a half inch long. Put a little flour on a dinner fork. Hold a dough nugget between your thumb and forefinger, grasping at opposite corners. Position it so a corner points toward you, diamond-like. Starting where the fork tines being and keeping your thumb perpendicular to the tines, roll dough over the inside tines of the fork, changing from pinching with your thumb and forefinger to pushing gently with your thumb; you are trying to create an ovoid shape. Transfer gnocchi to a well-floured sheet pan.

Cook in gently boiling, salted water about 3 to 5 minutes or until they float. Sauce and serve.

Brown butter and sage sauce

This is a classic gnocchi sauce with only four ingredients.

8 tablespoons butter

24 medium-size sage leaves

Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese for grating

Add butter to a heavy frying pan with the sage leaves, swirling over heat. Cook until butter is a deep golden to amber color, with darker flecks of slightly caramelized butter. There will be a little bit of smoke, which is okay, but if you get lots of black smoke, you’ve gone too far. The sage leaves will be quite dark and crisped. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently with gnocchi. Makes enough sauce for 8 side servings of gnocchi.

Gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce

This version microwaves the potatoes instead of boiling them, which cuts down the time a bit. The slightly richer sauce works well with steaks as an entree. Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine; makes enough for 8 side servings.

2-1/4 pounds russet potatoes

1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup whipping cream

3 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 13 oz.)

Chopped fresh chives

Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Pierce potatoes several times with a fork. Microwave until tender, turning once, about 16 minutes total. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise; scoop out flesh into a bowl; discard skins. Stir potatoes until smooth, then mix in egg. Sift flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg over potato mixture; stir to combine. Knead gently, then divide dough into 8 pieces.

On a work surface, roll each piece into a 3/4inch diameter rope. Cut dough into 1-inch lengths and make grooves in each piece with a fork (see recipe above). Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender and rise to the surface, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked gnocchi to a warm platter.

In a heavy medium saucepan, bring cream to a simmer over medium heat. Add Gorgonzola, whisking until smooth. Spoon sauce over gnocchi. Sprinkle with chives (and Parmesan, if using). Serve warm.

Spinach ricotta gnocchi with tomato sauce

This no-potato version can be prepared in 45 minutes or less and is light and satisfying. Recipe from Gourmet magazine; makes two servings.

For Sauce:

1 garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon olive oil

14 to 16-oz. can whole tomatoes, drained, reserving juice, and chopped

1/4 cup dry red wine

In a 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet, cook garlic and onion in oil over medium low heat, until onion is softened. Add tomatoes with reserved juice, wine, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes.

For Gnocchi:

Make gnocchi while sauce is cooking.

10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach

1 cup whole-milk ricotta

2/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus additional for forming gnocchi

Fresh grated nutmeg to taste

In a small saucepan, combine spinach with 1/2 cup water and simmer, covered, breaking up with a fork, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander; rinse under cold water. Squeeze spinach in small handfuls until as dry as possible; chop fine.

In a 5-quart saucepan, bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil. In a bowl, stir together spinach, ricotta, 1/3 cup of the Parmesan, yolk, 2 tablespoons flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Combine well (mixture will be very soft). With well-floured hands, form rounded tablespoons of mixture into logs about 2 inches long and 1 inch in diameter and transfer to a sheet of waxed paper.

Set oven rack about 4 inches from the heat; preheat broiler. Carefully transfer gnocchi with a spatula to boiling water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer cooked gnocchi to a buttered shallow baking dish large enough to hold them in one layer; sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan. Broil gnocchi until hot and cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve gnocchi with tomato sauce.

Peas and prosciutto cream sauce

Make a basic potato gnocchi and try this rich, creamy sauce instead of a tomato-based or butter sauce.

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup peas

1/4 pound prosciutto, julienned

Heat cream in a saucepan. Add peas; simmer a few minutes. Add butter; whisk well. Add prosciutto and pour sauce over gnocchi. Stir gently and serve immediately.