I really like italian food, for it’s simple and honest ingredients and it’s earthy and comforting recipes. Who doesn’t like a creamy, flavourful funghi porcini risotto, or a slice of a true Neapolitan pizza with fresh buffalo mozzarella, or a calzone bursting with spinach and ricotta, or a tasty rosemary and olive oil focaccia seasoned lightly with salt flakes, or paper thin ravioli with a nutty beurre noissette and sage sauce… I think you get the idea! mmmmm…I wouldn’t mind a quick trip to Rome and finish off my meal with a nocciola ice-cream and a good espresso!
But, it is none of those I mentioned before, but another italian classic with simple, cheap ingredients, that put together turns into a wonderfully tasty and comforting dish, that I bring to you today: gnocchi di patate. “Simple & plain potato gnocchi?” my brother asked when I told him about my next post, “no rocket in the dough, nothing?” No!… believe me when I tell you that these gnocchi are simple, but they are not like those gnocchi ready-made, that are dense and fall in your stomach like rocks. These are light and delicate and they take up the sauce very well, so they themselves need no more than just that: potatoes, flour, salt & pepper and parmesan.
You can accompany them with your favourite sauce, a creamy gorgonzola one, a light pesto, “burro e salvia”, bolognaise…But I like them with this almost caramelised tomato, garlic and olive oil sauce (rosemary is optional) and served with shredded fresh basil leaves, freshly milled pepper and grated parmesan. So simple, but sooo nice. Give it a try and tell me (this actually goes to my brother, so he takes back his words :-) I love you too!)
One last note, many people add eggs or yolks to bind the dough, but I’ve learnt that if you choose the right potato, it must be a floury one (the British Council even has developed a scale from 1 to 10 to rate potatoes from waxy to floury, check out this fantastic table), the flour you need to add to bind the dough so that it doesn’t disintegrate in the cooking water is minimum and the result is a very soft dumpling. Adding eggs will result in a dough not as soft but with more bite plus it introduces more moisture, so often you need to compensate with more flour. On the other hand, I remember being in a lecture by Carlo Cracco in Madrid Fusion in which he said quite the opposite, that if you add eggs, less flour is required (here’s the official recipe, though in the lecture he just used yolks)…I personally believe the first is true, that is, no eggs means softer gnocchi, but if you like you can try adding 1 egg or yolk per 500g of cooked potato to see for yourselves. Buon appetito!
Potato gnocchi with caramelised tomato and garlic sauce
(serves 4 people as first dish or 3 as main!)
~700g FLOURY potatoes to end up with 500g of cooked potato (I used kennebec, but find which variety is best where you live. I’ve read that for those who can find them, russets are excellent. For the UK see the table linked in the introduction)Sauce
~100g all-purpose flour (Ideally use no more than 150g!)
30g parmesan, grated
5 medium garlic clovesTo serve
500g fresh ripe vine tomatoes
50g extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp granulated sugar
pinch of salt
(optional: 2 sprigs of rosemary
extra grated parmesanBefore I begin, let me show you how I chose my potatoes! I had looked up which might be the most floury varieties available here. So, in the supermarket I made a little hole with my nail on a potato of each variety, to try to determine which was drier (old potatoes are also better than new ones) and felt more floury! Thank God nobody was watching!:-)
freshly milled pepper
4 or 5 basil leaves (shredded)
You can actually feel it, the waxy ones will feel juicy, whereas the starchy ones are definitely drier and have a grainy texture (in case you want to try!). And these are the potatoes I finally chose:
So let’s begin. Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Most recipes boil the potatoes in their own skin, but I think cooking them in the oven is an insurance, in case your potato isn’t floury enough, as it dries them much more.
Wash and pat dry your potatoes and pierce them a few times with a skewer or a fork, so that moisture evaporates. Place them in a tray in the oven for about 1 hour (test piercing with a fork, when it offers no resistance, they are ready.
Meanwhile (you have 1 hour to do your sauce!) cut your garlic cloves in half, if it has any germ, remove it, this is what is makes you re-taste garlic for hours! Since garlic right now isn’t particularly fresh, mine had a rather large one!
Cut each half in 3 or 4 lengthwise and chop these the other way around to obtain finely chopped pieces.
Warm up the olive oil in a frying pan at low heat and put in the chopped garlic and the rosemary if you are using (I really like the flavour it imparts even if you are adding basil later). Let them fry very lightly, they should take their time to infuse the oil with the wonderful aromas and the garlic should barely colour.
Prepare your tomatoes ( if the garlic is ready, put it aside while you do this. Remember the cooking will continue as you take it off the heat. So, if it begins to colour, turn off the heat. If it continues, stop it with a drop of water).
You want to peel them and deseed them. You can do that by plunging the tomatoes in boiling water for about 10-15 seconds, after removing the scar that joins to the stem and cutting a cross through the skin on the opposite side. Then, immediately removing them onto an ice-bath (a bowl of cold water with ice to stop it cooking and becoming mushy.
Otherwise, this is how I do it most often because I’m lazy to set up boiling water and an ice-bath, unless it’s for a huge amount of tomatoes. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in fourths. Deseed them sliding your finger in to remove the seeds from each fourth. Then flatten the wedge (if some flesh sticks out, slice it off first to have a flat surface) and run the knife, underneath your fingers pressing down, as close to the board as possible to cut off the skin.
Whichever way you did it, chop the wedges in small squares. Add these to the garlic and turn up the heat to medium high.
Season with the sugar and salt.
It will only take about 10 minutes to cook off the moisture from the tomato and end up with a sort of jam-textured sauce. Turn off the heat and set aside. The resulting sauce, will look caramelised, almost like a jam in texture…
Time to do your gnocchi! When the potatoes are ready, weigh them to know how much you’ve got. They will have lost a lot of weigh, and though peeling you’ll lose some weigh, it’s just about right, and that way you can rice it straight onto a work surface.
If you have around 500g, perfect, if not, adjust the amount of flour accordingly.
These are floury, all right!
While they’re still warm peel it or cut in half and scoop out the flesh into a ricer or a food mill and press it through onto a clean working surface. The reason behind doing this while warm is that being hot, more moisture evaporates, than if riced after they cool.
In Italy it’s said that it’s best to have a wooden surface to work doughs, as this way the dough only takes up the flour it needs…Well, I have granite, and it works OK. Just, if possible, keep a dough scraper at hand to bring your dough together if it sticks to the surface, avoiding to add unnecessary extra flour.
So, as soon as you’ve riced your potatoes, add the salt first, so it dissolves into the warm puree, then 3/4 of the measured flour and the parmesan…
Please tell me you have a Microplane or Cuisinepro Accutec grater…I use them for everything! I grate garlic to avoid dirtying the mortar to mash it, chocolate for tiramisú, almonds into cloud-like consistency, citrus rinds for flavouring dishes…No, I don’t get commission!
Bring it all together into a homogeneous dough. It’s always adviced not to overwork it to develop the gluten, but you will have to knead it a bit until it is workable. That is, you can stretch a piece into a cylinder without it breaking apart…a bit like play dough!
What I do is I have the pan of water where you’ll boil your gnocchi already simmering. There, drop a little pea-size ball of dough to test if it needs any more flour. It should rise to the surface in a few seconds. If it disintegrates, then it needs more flour.
When your dough is right, divide it into 4 or 5 pieces. Take one and dusting a little bit of flour on the surface, roll it into a cylinder that is about 1 cm in diameter (I like my gnocchi fairly small, that way they are more delicate and mix better with the sauce). With a knife, cut the cylinder into in 1 cm pieces. See how long you can roll it?!
This is how I arrange my work surface to roll the gnocchi and then to shape them. The wax paper you see is where you’ll place the shaped gnocchi. It must be a manageable piece, so you can lift it up and drop them into the boiling water with it.
To shape, in Italy there’s an utensil called “arriccia gnocchi” (if I spelled it right!) that is pretty cool (and cheap there too!) This photo I got from this catalogue.
Since most of us don’t have one, a fork does a great job. I prefer a dessert fork as the ridges are closer together and smaller, but up to you. Some people even use the back of a cheese grater to make the imprints.
What works for me is to have the fork, upright, holding it slightly at an angle, so the tines are touching the surface. With the other hand, grab the gnoccho and place it cut-side up (so it shapes rounder) in the middle of the fork tines. Now, with your thumb, press down and away towards the end of the fork. As you slide, the dumpling will shape like a “c”. An image is worth 1000 words, I hope you get it from here:
You cannot imagine how difficult it was to take these pictures on my own!I had to play circus…and hold the end of the fork with my bellybutton, to manage to hold it in that position to shape the gnoccho and take the photos!!!:-)
So here’s your first gnoccho!
I’ve needed very little flour, but dust as needed if the dough is a bit sticky. As you do them, place them on the wax paper.
And…they are ready!!!
Make sure your water is boiling. Salt it. Grab the wax paper from both sides and carefully lift it up
Then, just slide carefully the gnocchi into the boiling water.
As soon as they rise to the surface, remove them onto the sauce.
Fold them in carefully into the sauce, they are very delicate. Serve onto a plate and drizzle with extra olive oil, grind a bit of black pepper, add shredded basil and grate some parmesan…DELICIOUSSSS!!!
Now, the little extra-discovery…One day I tried to sauté gnocchi, but since they are sooo soft, that is, just the amount of flour needed, they got stuck onto the surface of the frying pan (Cracco also said that to sauté the gnocchis he wouldn’t boil them first, but he would sauté them directly and that that suffices to cook them! So, I’ll do that next time)…What happened is that the thin layer that stuck cooked and I pulled it out as a single strip of potato crisp! It was super tasty (not like chips but like roasted potato) and incredibly crunchy thin… I had to take a photo!
I remember in Thailand there was some weird dough, I only saw this once, that they would grab whole (it was huge!) and place it against a frying pan, and then lift it up and a wafer thin crêpe formed in the pan, like those rice wafers for nems, but fresh. So I tried that, using the whole of a gnocchi dough to place it against a pan and hoped just the right amount would adhere and form my crisp! But it didn’t work out as expected. The dough was too dry! So, I will play around with it to get just that photo above! Meanwhile I tried something that works and is also really nice, surprisingly!
I grabbed a piece of dough, shaped it to a ball and dusted it with flour to stretch it out super thin…
Then, lightly oiled a hot frying pan surface with some kitchen paper and placed it in. Turned it over and….voilà…a wafer-thin potato pancake to substitute lavosh crackers!Try it with some salted cod brandade, or a dip of your choice: muhammara, baba ganoush, you name it!
It looks sort of like mexican tortillas there, but see how translucent it is? And really crunchy and tasty, as well.
So, there you go, 2 for 1 potato dough recipe…for gnocchi and potato crisps to substitute crackers for you and something to keep me entertained for a while!
I hope you like them!