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The first time I had gnocchi was during a family trip to Italy, on a trip to Florence. One bite in and I wondered why these little dumplings of potato goodness had never been in my life before. Not long after, I found a recipe in the Joy of Cooking and made it. From there, I began making gnocchi more and more frequently, from hosting gnocchi parties throughout college to making them for my husband, and now serving them to my family.
Gnocchi can be a little tricky when you first make them. Definitely plan ample time the first time around to avoid frustration. Getting the right flour amount, rolling them all out, cutting them, shaping, etc… can be a project. But, like homemade pasta, the more you make them, the easier they get. And they are so tasty. And satisfying. Humble potatoes become a great thing in gnocchi. Elevated comfort food, really. Plus, they are easy to freeze (so make a double batch!) and go well with so many things from meaty red sauces to butter sage or simple broths to full bodied soups.
From making these so many times at various stages in life, I have more than a few notes. But I’ll save those for after the recipe. :)
Gnocchi with tomato cream sauce
[For the Gnocchi]:
2 lbs baking potatoes (Russet are best)
1 egg, lightly beaten*
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg** (optional, but so good!)
[For the Sauce***]:
Glug of olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 large carrot (or 10 mini ones), finely diced
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
6 oz tomato paste
Splash of wine (optional)
2 cups broth
2 cups water
1/2 to 1 cup cream or half and half
Preheat oven to 400.
While oven is heating up, scrub potatoes well then prick all over with a fork. Place directly on oven rack and bake for about an hour, or until a fork can easily pierce through.
While potatoes are baking, heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium low heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add celery, carrots, and seasonings. Cook until fragrant and very tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 2-3 minutes. If you happen to have wine, add a splash to deglaze pan and cook until evaporated. If not, simply continue on by adding the stock followed by the water. Bring to a boil, then simmer 5-10 minutes. Blend in batches until smooth**** or use an immersion blender (which is a life saver for tasks like this). Stir in cream or half and half, and heat through over low heat, about 5 minutes, taking care not to boil. Cover and set aside.
Get a large pot of salted water boiling. You’re going to need it later.
Once potatoes are done baking, remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Once cooled, slice in half and run through a ricer***** into a large bowl. Let sit and cool for another 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add egg and salt and nutmeg (if using) to the potatoes and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and mix well. Add in another 1/2 cup of flour and mix well. Add an additional 1/4 cup of flour and mix well. At this point, take a pinch of dough. If it is very soft and sticking to your fingers, add in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour and mix well. If not, hold off on the flour and continue on.******
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly, no more than a minute. Cut the dough into eight pieces. Taking one piece, roll into a 1/2 inch thick rope, then cut the rope into 1/2 inch squarish pieces. If you would like, ridge the gnocchi with a fork or gnocchi board*******. Or, leave them as they are (much simpler, especially if this is a weeknight) and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.******** Repeat with remaining dough pieces. (If freezing, pop gnocchi into the freezer directly on the pan. Once frozen, transfer to a ziploc bag.)
Once gnocchi are shaped, get a large bowl ready with a drizzle of olive oil. Then, by quarter batches, drop gnocchi into pot of boiling water. As soon as the gnocchi float to the surface (about 2 minutes, 3 if they were frozen), scoop them out with a spider or slotted spoon and gently plop into the prepared bowl. Drizzle with more olive oil and gently, gently (I can’t emphasize the word gently enough — gnocchi are delicate! Too rough, and you smush or cut them) toss. Repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked.
Meanwhile, return to your sauce. If still quite hot, you are good to go. Otherwise, heat through over low heat, again making sure not to boil.
To serve, gently scoop gnocchi into bowls. Ladle a generous helping of sauce on top, then enjoy!
*The original Joy of Cooking recipe I followed was much the same as this, but without the egg. I find the egg produces more reliable gnocchi. That is, ones that are light and fluffy as opposed to dense and heavy.
**Nutmeg, however, is in the Joy of Cooking recipe and something I missed. So I added it back in!
***This makes a lot of sauce, enough for a double batch of gnocchi. But it is quite tasty, so extra might not be a bad thing. I took SK’s idea of serving gnocchi in tomato broth and upped the interest with more seasoning, tomato paste, and cream. At the end of the meal, we were scooping sauce into our bowls to dip our bread in — or eat straight.
****SK strains the veggies out of her sauce for a very clear broth. I can’t bear loosing the veggies or the extra work. I half considered not even blending the sauce for a creamy broth with small chunks. But in the end, I decided on the smoother, slightly thicker sauce that blending produces. It didn’t disappoint.
*****If you don’t have a ricer, this is a good one. It is the best tool for the job! But, for all of my college gnocchi parties, I simply scooped the potatoes from their skins and pushed through a fine sieve. (Yes, even when I was working with 10 lbs of potatoes…but then I enlisted a friend to be a sous chef!) Peeling and then grating the potatoes should work too.
******Too much flour makes gnocchi heavy. Too little, however, creates its own problems. Luckily the egg basically guarantees a good gnocchi texture.
*******This is a decent video that demonstrates how. But there are variations on the technique. I like to roll mine up the fork with a sort of flick. Find what suits you.
********You could also thoroughly flour the baking sheet. But later, when you dump them into the boiling water, it will cloud the water making it more difficult to see the gnocchi. That’s the only downside.