Gnocchi

10 Mar

Easter-time is gnocchi time, at least at the Pensalfini house in Brisbane.

Gnocchi were one of my favourite Italian foods growing up, and they’ve remained so. Gnocchi I’ve had in restaurants, including in Italy, have always been slightly disappointing… and those you can buy in supermarkets or speciality stores in vacuum sealed packets are not remotely worthy of the name.

Gnocchi are a kind of pasta which dates from Roman times at least, quite possibly of Middle-Eastern origin, though of course potato gnocchi would not have existed until the introduction of the potato to Europe in the sixteenth century.

INGREDIENTS

1kg potatoes (not too old), skin on

500g unbleached white flour (or 400g Italian type 00 – durum – flour)

1 egg

The key ingredient, of course, is the potatoes. My father held firm to the belief that the potatoes grown in Australia were never quite as good for gnocchi as the ones they grew in Italy, though he had nothing against a good Aussie spud for other purposes. He always said that Australian potatoes were a little too ‘watery’, too low in starch. Whether this is true or not, I have found that two factors ensure that the good Aussie spud can make a perfect gnocco (yes, the singular). Many cooks recommend desiree, potatoes, but any starchy potato will do. First of all, the potatoes must be boiled whole and with the skin on them (thus preventing them from becoming sodden). Secondly, I endorse the ‘heresy’ of using an egg in the pasta – many purists will insist that gnocchi do not contain egg, but we always added an egg in my house. The addition of one egg is sufficient to ensure the gnocchi do not fall apart in the water (being a little more forgiving to the exact potato:flour ratio), but not so much as to produce gnocchi that are tough. The result will be light and delicious.

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DIRECTIONS

The  procedure for making gnocchi is quite simple, though the shaping of the individual gnocchi requires some practice. It’s a lot of fun. Every time we made these at home while I was growing up, I was regaled with the (presumably apocryphal) story of someone’ great-aunt who, in turning the gnocchi on the fork, would flip most of them onto the floor, where her cat was patiently waiting to gobble them up. She kept making more gnocchi, and couldn’t understand why there were never enough.

First boil the potatoes whole with their skins on. They will probably take 20 to 25 minutes of steady (not too vigorous) boiling to cook through. Peel and mash the potatoes while still hot (as long as your fingers can stand it). Use a potato ricer to mash the potatoes. A hand-held masher can do the job, but you have to be very thorough. Do not, under any circumstances, use a food processor!

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Add the flour and egg to the mashed potatoes and mix them well until they form a smooth, soft dough. Divide the dough into 4 portions and roll each out into a long thin ‘snake’, about 1 to 1.5 cm thick. You may need to dust the pasta and/or the table with flour as you go. Cut each ‘snake’ into 1 to 1.5cm lengths, so that you end up with roundish-squarish little pillows. I usually cut two snakes at the same time.

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Now comes the fun (and tricky) part, that gives rise to the old woman and the cat story, above. Flour a fork (a large dinner fork with four tines is ideal). Individually roll each gnocco up the back of the fork with your index finger. It will take a few to get the pressure just right. The finished gnocco will have a deep divet in one side (from your finger), and four shallow grooves (from the tines of the fork) on the other. See the photo for examples.

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Cook gnocchi in batches in plenty of boiling salted water. The more water you have, the larger the batches can be. Gnocchi are cooked when they float back up to the surface, which takes about three minutes. If the gnocchi are large (more than 1.5cm across), you may need to let them boil for another minute after they float up to the surface. Taste one and see.

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The other warning I will offer is not to over-sauce the gnocchi. The sauce should not be too heavy, and should not drown the gnocchi. There is a tendency in Anglophone countries to put huge amounts of sauce on every kind of pasta – as if it were the sauce, and not the pasta, that is the focus of the dish. This might come from the abundance of very ordinary pasta in these countries, or from a lack of appreciation of the subtle flavour that a well-made simple starch can have. With well-made potato gnocchi, perhaps more than any other pasta, however, the focus should be on the delicate and light (though very filling) flavour of the gnocchi themselves.

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5 Responses to “Gnocchi”

  1. Françoise Walot March 10, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Hey Rob, I love the story, I will try your recipe, I love gnocchi. I’ve tried a couple of times in my life, but never succeeded!
    -I had strong connexions with Italy at some point in my life –
    But when do you add the egg? Françoise

    • robpensalfini March 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

      Hi Françoise – I add the egg at the same time as I add the flour (as it says in the directions). x Rob

  2. Justin Di Lollo March 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Great timing, Robert! Marek’s beeg wanting to make gnocci and will now have no excuse (he’s also a huge Desiree fan and will feel most vindicated by your potato post).

  3. Rob Darvall March 17, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    I know what I’m trying for dinner tonight.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cassata – Italian ice-cream cake | The Fifth Columnist - April 14, 2013

    […] the Anglo-Australian influence. This Easter (just two weeks ago), I decided to add something to the gnocchi and rabbit (rabbit recipe forthcoming) that have become a bit of a tradition in our home. I […]

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