Potatoes get a new taste in prepared gnocchi

Published 11:59 pm Friday, November 6, 2009

I have been seeing all these recipes for gnocchi in the food magazines lately and decided I would give it a try. I love eating it in restaurants, but had never made it. Now for those of you who do not know what it is, gnocchi are Italian potato dumplings. They are wonderful, but are good only when they are light and delicate, never tough or heavy. And perhaps therein lies the catch of making them. They carry the flavor of any sauce, whether sage and brown butter, tomato or olive oil and Parmigiano. They are good as a first course – a change from pasta or risotto, and they are also a delicious side for grilled or braised meat. At one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans, Lilette, gnocchi is served as a first course with cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

My friend, Frank Stitt (I cook with him almost daily via his cookbooks), has a little information for making gnocchi. You need the potatoes to be almost overcooked but dry; this will enable you to use less flour, resulting in fluffier, more flavorful gnocchi. Work the flour in gently so the dumplings do not get tough.

Making the gnocchi requires some organization but they freeze well and can be used at the spur or the moment for a really impressive first course. You do not even have to thaw them but put them directly in hot water for a few minutes and then sauté in hot butter with whatever flavoring you are using.

I did need to buy a potato ricer. I do think it is needed and is not that costly. A really good one is around $25, but I have already used it several times. It is also great for making really creamy mashed potatoes.

Once you get the basic recipe down, you can substitute a sweet potato instead of one of the russet potatoes. You can also use carrots or roasted garlic to add a little something different to the basic gnocchi recipe. I did find that in all the recipes, I used less flour than was called for. You can feel when the dough is right and can handle easily.

Give this a try. It will impress you friends—if you are trying to impress your friends!!

I did find out that gnocco, the singular of gnocchi, means “blockhead,” “thickhead” and “dolt.” You can easily be a “gnocco” and still do the recipe. It’s so easy, really.

From Frank Stitt’s Botegga Favorita:


3 russet potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds)

2 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 ounces)

2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground white pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

9 tablespoons unsalted butter

About 3 cups all-purpose flour (I used about half of this)

3 large egg yolks

12 medium sage leaves

6 thin slices prosciuitto di Parma, cut into thin strips about 1 ½ inches long

¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, one to 1 1/2 hours. Let cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and place the warm (but not hot) potatoes in a ricer. Add the salt, pepper, a grating of nutmeg, 3 tablespoons of the butter, and a handful of the flour and press through the ricer on a large wooden cutting board or other work surface. Make sure the potatoes are not too hot or they will cook the egg yolks. Using a fork, begin working in the egg yolks and remaining flour (you want an approximately equal volume of flour and potatoes). Use a pastry scraper or spatula to gradually incorporate the flour into the potato mixture, being careful not to overwork it. The more gently you work during this phase, the lighter the gnocchi will be.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan and keep warm over low heat.

Divide the gnocchi dough into several pieces. Roll each one into a long ¼ inch thick rope and cut into 1-inch pieces. Press each piece with the back of a fork to create ridges. Once they are all shaped, cook the gnocchi about 15 at a time: Drop them into the boiling water and then once they float to the surface, 30 seconds or so, remove them with a slotted spoon or skimmer and transfer them to the pan of melted butter. When all the gnocchi have been cooked and tossed in the melted butter, transfer them to a platter. To save gnocchi to serve later, transfer the cooked gnocchi directly to an ice bath to cool rapidly, then place on a baking sheet and cover. Set aside for several hours at room temperature or refrigerate overnight. You can freeze them at this point if you like for even later use.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter (or the remaining 6 tablespoons if you cooked the gnocchi ahead) to the sauté pan and cook over medium heat until it melts, takes on a rich brown color, and gives off a nutty aroma. Add the gnocchi to the pan, add the sage, and toss to coat and heat through.

Serve the gnocchi on warm plates, garnished with the prosciutto and a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.