All right, class, we’re going to try something a little bit different today. My mother-in-law came by this weekend for the express purpose of teaching me how to make gnocchi which, for the uninitiated, are potato dumplings which can be little puffs of sauced yumminess if done right or leaden balls if done wrong.
I documented most of the steps with my handy-dandy camera when I wasn’t up to my elbows in potato dough. I personally feel you need an Italian mama to show you how to do this properly, but since I’m not willing to lend out my awesome mom-in-law, you’re just going to have to take direction from an Italian-by-marriage.
Step 1: Clean out your freezer. You’re going to be putting several cookie sheets worth of gnocchi inside them to freeze before bagging them, and you want to have the space to do it. I ended up having to put a sheet on the deck and, wouldn’t you know it, the temperature suddenly became too warm to freeze everything properly.
Step 2: Buy a bag of russet potatoes. No other kind will do.
Scrub the potatoes, cut them in half, and throw them in your lobster pot (any good New Englander has one), then cover them with water. Boil them in their skins for about 40 minutes or until they can easily be pierced with a fork. Drain off the water and allow the potatoes to cool until you can handle them (I put the entire pot on the deck while we had Sunday dinner).
If you have a father-in-law or husband on hand, this is where I advise batting your eyes so they will do the next step, which involves a potato ricer. A ricer looks like a large shower head and when you put the potato through it, you can slip the skin off and end up with a pile of potato that looks like this:
It’s best to use a cool surface and, as you can see here, my granite countertop worked well.
You’re also going to need two eggs, a teaspoon of salt and between 4-6 cups of flour. I also advise that you change into a short-sleeved shirt, because it’s a royal pain when you have to ask your daughter to constantly assist you in tucking up your sleeves when you’re elbow-deep in gnocchi dough.
Allow the potato to cool even more — you want to allow for as much water evaporation as possible so you don’t need to use a lot of flour. Line a few cookie sheets with wax paper and keep them close; you’re going to need them.
Pile the cooled, riced potato in a mound and make a well. Crack the eggs into it.
Add the salt and about a cup of flour and start to work it all together. Continue to add the flour, about a half cup at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. Try not to work the dough too much — try to pat all the ingredients together rather than squeezing. The longer you work the dough, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become, so don’t treat it like bread dough.
When you have a nice solid mass of dough, shape it in a ball. Grab a knife and slice off a chunk. Work that into a long rope about 1/2 inch thick.
Slice the ropes into piece about 1/2 inch wide.
Next is the fun part — you’re going to indent each little dumpling with your first two fingers, quickly pressing down and then pulling back. The indentation is going to end up cupping whatever kind of sauce you end up serving these with.
You can also do this with a fork and make things look pretty, but we like our gnocchi a bit more rustic.
Gnocchi really should be a family affair. If your kids like play dough, they can make gnocchi.
As you make the gnocchi, spread them out on the cookie sheets in a single layer. You may want to have one person exclusively on cookie sheet duty to expedite this. We ended up with two cookie sheets with a double layer of gnocchi (we placed a sheet of wax paper on top of the first layer and then filled it with more gnocchi) and a third (which didn’t freeze fully when left on the deck overnight).
In any case, freeze the sheets overnight.
The next day, take the gnocchi off the sheet and put them in plastic freezer bags. I filled up three of them, leaving room for them to breathe and not clump together.
I cooked a batch Monday night before Planning Board. You can use a red meat sauce, but I tried out a recipe which I cannot believe my mother-in-law approves of because of the sheer amount of butter and cream involved, but she’s served it to us so it must be so. It’s very simple.
You’re going to need a cup of butter, 12 leaves of fresh sage, a cup of heavy cream (I used light cream) and about 1/2 a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Melt the butter with the whole sage leaves and try not to think about your arteries.
Fill up a pot with water and set it to boil. This part is very important.
DO NOT absent-mindedly pour the entire bag of frozen gnocchi into the pot of boiling water. For the love of gnocchi, DO NOT DO THIS. This will take all your hard work and turn it into a mass of cooked gnocchi lumps that settle at the bottom of the pan.
What you SHOULD do is, drop the gnocchi into the pot a few at a time, stirring gently, and cook for about two minutes. The second the gnocchi rise to the surface, transfer them to a warm bowl. Then continue on with the sauce making.
Add the gnocchi to the melted butter/sage and add the cream. Cook over moderate heat until the gnocchi are nicely coated with the sauce, about 1-2 minutes. Remove to a pasta bowl and sprinkle liberally with the Parmesan.
Eat immediately. And then run to Planning Board and enjoy your sage breath.