In my capacity as a self-confessed potato anorak, I’m not entirely sure that I should admit to the following, but I see that I am going to have to come clean and reveal to the world (or to you lot, at least) the embarrassing truth.
The fact of the matter is that, until this weekend, I’d never, ever made gnocchi.
[cue momentary pause while this information sinks in]
As far as my potato repertoire went, lack of gnocchi experience had been sitting squarely in the glaring omissions category for the longest time. There was really nothing to do but face the fact and give these Italian potato dumplings a much belated whirl. And it seemed like the least I could do to make up for their much-delayed debut was to see to it that they would be washed down with some proper Italian wines. Following our most enjoyable French excursion, the guys at Curious Wines were happy to oblige with recommendations and samples for same. Things were looking good for the gnocchi launch.
So it was, after much research, I set to my dumpling task and, while I can see that much practice will be needed, my inaugural batch were happily far from the stodgy affairs that I’ve sometimes been served in the name of gnocchi. In fact, they were a positive delight, served simply with a garlic cream sauce and greens from the garden, while curious Italian wines were dutifully quaffed.
The white, Dievole Dievolino Bianco Malvasia, was a very pleasant little number, smooth and with a little citrusy tang, which went down a treat with the gnocchi and made for a very happy first date. The red, Dievole Dievolino Rosso Sangiovese, with its healthy tannin hit, was a cracker which warmed up beautifully and for which all present declared immediate and undying love. It was, however, a little bit much for the delicate gnocchi in their creamy cradle and they were not quite ready for what was a more robust relationship. Still, no shame in that. Someday, the gnocchi will move on to meatier sauces and, when that happens, that lovely red will be ready and waiting.
First Timer’s Gnocchi
In the matter of gnocchi, it seems that the first thing you require is an Italian grandparent. Not being in possession of same, I instead consulted numerous sources with Italian grandparent credentials, including 101 Cookbooks, Memorie di Angelina and Foraging Otaku. While gnocchi are made from a simple mixture of mashed potatoes, flour and (optionally) some egg, Italian grannies also know that:
- You need to keep the mash as dry as possible and, for that reason, floury spuds are preferred. I’ve seen Russet potatoes recommended and, here in Ireland, where floury spuds are the norm, the ubiquitous Rooster variety is probably a good choice.
- Using some egg in the mix makes things easier to bind and is recommended for beginner gnocchi-makers.
- A light touch is needed when handling the dough to avoid any gumminess.
- It takes practice, practice, practice…
- 500g potato, preferably floury
- 125g plain flour (you may need slightly more or less than this amount)
- 1 egg, beaten
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Scrub the potatoes and boil or steam them in their skins until tender. Depending on the size of the individual spuds, that could take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes, then place a cloth or tea towel over the pot and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Peel the potatoes and either put them through a potato ricer, if you’ve got one, or mash gently in a large bowl using a fork or masher.
- Drizzle the beaten egg over the mash, add about 100g of the flour and season with some salt and pepper. Mix and bring together as a dough using a wooden spoon or spatula, adding more flour if the mixture is too damp – you want a dough that’s soft and pliable but not sticky.
- Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface.
- Break off pieces of the dough and roll into logs around the thickness of your thumb. Then cut the logs into pieces around 2cm long and (using plenty of flour so that the pieces don’t stick) press each piece against the inside of a fork, so that it forms little ridges on one side.
- Set the pieces aside on a floured plate or board until ready to cook.
- To cook, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches of around 20 or so. For each batch, drop the pieces into the boiling water and wait until shortly after they float back up to the top of the pot (this should only take a couple of minutes). Then remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.
- Dress your gnocchi with garlic cream sauce (below) or with whatever other sauce takes your fancy.
- You can, of course, add other flavourings to the basic gnocchi mixture to suit whatever kind of sauce you’re planning on serving it with. You could also incorporate a little grated parmesan if you felt so inclined.
- This makes around 4 dinner portions of gnocchi.
Sage & Garlic Cream Sauce
This really isn’t too much more than a simple white sauce with cream substituted for some of the milk and with some added garlic, parmesan and sage.
For the sauce:
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tblsp butter
- 1 tblsp plain flour
- 100ml milk
- 250ml cream
- 2-3 tblsp grated parmesan
- 1 tblsp lemon juice
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sage garnish:
- 1 tblsp butter
- 15-20 fresh sage leaves (or more, if your sage leaves are very small)
- To prepare the sage leaves, place a small frying pan over a medium heat. When heated, add 1 tblsp butter, allowing it to melt. Add the sage leaves and stir and fry for 3-4 minutes, until they start to go brown and crispy. Remove the leaves from the pan onto a piece of kitchen paper to soak up the excess butter, then crumble the fried leaves into a small bowl and set aside.
- To start the sauce, place a large pan over a medium heat. When heated, add 2 tblsp butter, allowing it to melt.
- Add the garlic and stir and fry for about a minute.
- Add the flour to form a paste (roux). Stir continuously and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Very gradually, start adding the milk, stirring continuously and making sure it’s well combined.
- Once the milk is incorporated, continue by gradually adding in the cream, still stirring.
- Allow the mixture to come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the parmesan and stir to combine. Check and add salt to taste (I added about 0.5 tsp) plus a couple of twists of freshly ground black pepper.
- Add the lemon juice and stir to mix.
- The sauce is fairly thick, thin to your desired consistency by adding water if you like.
- Pour over gnocchi or other pasta and sprinkle with the fried sage leaves.
- Add extra parmesan or some cheddar if you feel like having a cheesier sauce.
- Sauce for about 4 portions of gnocchi or other pasta.