Potato Gnocchi

Whenever I am in the mood to cook italian foodI always turn to my favorite Napa Valley Chef, Micheal Chiarello. His recipes are always clean and full of flavor. This recipe for Potato Gnocchi does not disappoint. Gnocchi [pronounced ‘Nyoke-ee’] is a type of dumpling made from semolina or wheat flours or starchy potatoes or sweet potatoes. It is not uncommon to find recipes that mix part potato with squash or spinach. Gnocchi are to the Italians what french fries are to the Americans. Everyone loves them. The dough is so light and fluffy it is like biting into a cloud; they practically melt in your mouth. Gnocchi was first introduced by Roman Legions during the expansion into Europe. It was a quick cheap side dish favored mostly in Northern Italy but now is enjoyed throughout the Middle East and South America.

Now, for the important part: the tips of trade for making perfect gnocchi. Michael prefers to bake the potatoes. It is perfectly fine to boil the potatoes however you must follow these important guidelines.

1. When boiling the potatoes for potato gnocchi you want to cook the potatoes WHOLE with SKINS ON. If you peel and cut the potatoes before boiling they will absorb too much water resulting in mush.

2. Do not over cook the potatoes. Test the potatoes by piercing one with a fork or knife. If it is hard then it needs to cook longer. A fork should be able to insert easily and the potato slowly slip off. (About 30-45 minutes) Lay the potatoes on a board or towel to cool slightly before peeling.

3. Use a potato ricer or push the cooked potato through a strainer. Mashing the potatoes creates mashed potatoes. Gnocchi begins as a light dough. Pushing the potatoes through a strainer or ricer is what gives the gnocchi the airy texture.

The dough should be gently handled similar to when making biscuits or pie crusts or even meatballs. Everything is folded in mixing until just blended. This is not a pasta or bread dough so avoid kneading the dough too much. Add the flour a little bit at a time until the dough holds together. Do not add too much flour. Once the dough is ready you can either cut the dough then cook or shape the cut pieces using the tines of a fork. The indentations created by rolling the dough on the fork is key to holding the sauce. The end result? Absolute heaven. There are many ways to serve gnocchi. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the recipe for delicious ideas. Click here for a step by step tutorial from making the dough to rolling them.

Source: Michael Chiarello
Kosher salt
1 pound russet potatoes
3 to 4 large egg yolks,
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon gray salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board and dough

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Spread a layer of kosher salt on a baking sheet and arrange the potatoes on top (see Cook’s Note). Bake until a bit overcooked, about 45 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle, cut in half, and scoop out the flesh. Reserve the potato skins, if desired, for another use. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer or grate them on the large holes of a box grater. You should have about 2 cups.

Make a mound of potatoes on the counter or in a bowl with a well in the middle, add 3 of the egg yolks, the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix in the potatoes and mix well with hands. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the flour over the potatoes and, using your knuckles, press it into the potatoes. Fold the mass over on itself and press down again. Sprinkle on more flour, little by little, folding and pressing the dough until it just holds together, (try not to knead it.) Work any dough clinging to your fingers back into the dough.

If the mixture is too dry, add another egg yolk or a little water. The dough should give under slight pressure. It will feel firm but yielding. To test if the dough is the correct consistency, take a piece and roll it with your hands on a well-floured board into a rope 1/2-inch in diameter. If the dough holds together, it is ready. If not, add more flour, fold and press the dough several more times, and test again.

Keeping your work surface and the dough lightly floured, cut the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. Lightly flour the gnocchi as you cut them.

To shape use a gnocchi board or the tines of a  fork turned upside down. Rest the bottom edge of the gnocchi board (or the back of a fork) on the work surface, then tilt it at about a 45 degree angle. Take each piece and squish it lightly with your thumb against the board while simultaneously pushing it away from you. As you shape the gnocchi, dust them lightly with flour.

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a light boil and add salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook for about 30 seconds from the time they rise to the surface. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer, shake off the excess water, and serve as desired.

Cook’s Note:
Baking potatoes on a layer of salt allows heat to circulate 360 degrees. Scrape the salt into a jar and reuse it again and again. If you do not have time to shape the gnocchi, you can freeze the dough, defrost it in the refrigerator, and then shape it. To freeze shaped gnocchi, line baking sheets with waxed paper and dust with flour. Spread the gnocchi on the prepared sheets and freeze until hard. Remove to individual-portion-size freezer bags. Store in the freezer for up to 1 month. To cook, drop the frozen gnocchi into boiling salted water. Cook for about 2 minutes after they rise to the surface.

Dazzledish Variations:
– Baked Gnocchi: Prepare gnocchi as directed above. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over low heat. When melted stir in 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup milk whisking until smooth. Continue to heat sauce until slightly thickened about 5 minutes. Then add 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Stir until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Place cooked gnocchi in a casserole dish. Pour sauce over gnocchi. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
– Sprinkle gnocchi with 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese then drizzle with 1/2 cup heavy cream. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.
– Simmer gnocchi in chicken stock with chopped celery and carrots to make dumpling soup. Garnish with chopped scallions.
– Heat 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat until slightly browned. Toss with gnocchi.
– Serve Gnocchi with marinara sauce.
– Use in the place of pasta.