Monday, November 10, 2008

Gnocchi, not Gnyucky

Sorry for not posting in a while. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with lots of new developments. More on those in the weeks to come.

I was prompted by an old post written by my friend Nick at “Foodie at Fifteen” (This kid is quite remarkable. If you haven’t checked him out yet….do it), and it dealt with a classic preparation for potato gnocchi, of course, as prepared by Thomas Keller.

Gnocchi are little pillow (or shell depending on your specific Italian region) shaped dumplings made with mashed potatoes, flour, eggs and salt. The name "gnocchi is litterally translated into " a stupid person," but for the life of me I can't find any reason or explanation why. Gotta love those kooky Italians. Sometimes, there are the additions of extra virgin olive oil, asiago, parmesan, or other various, regional cheeses, herbs, etc, and there's always the heated debate of whether it should have grooves on the outside or not.

When I started working for the new and upcoming, Sotto Sopra back in ’96, the chef, Riccardo, was from a town near Milan called Bergamo. He taught me to make the ricotta gnocchi that, I guess, is the Northern Italian counterpart to the potato variety. In this recipe, you drain ricotta cheese (very important step) and combine it with eggs, flour, salt, parsley, and of course, grated Parmigiano Reggiano. The result is a light and airy pillow, which can be served with just about anything. At that time, we were serving the dish tossed in a lightly browned butter with sage, and lightly drizzling them with a red bell pepper crème (fonduta). As described in one of our first restaurant reviews,

“The house made gnocchi is the stuff of dreams, feather light and interestingly sauced.”

- Baltimore Magazine…… Best of 2007

Damn right, the stuff of dreams.

Draining the ricotta is the most important step in making the dough the right consistency. Too much moisture will have you putting too much flour in the mix, and as a result, too heavy and dense. On the reverse, too little flour will allow the gnocchi to disintegrate into the pasta water, leaving you with a gloppy, salty goo. Our pasta maker, Carmen, was an expert at knowing just how much flour to put in without turning my pasta water into runny pâté a choux. We usually let it strain in a fine chinois or tamis for at least 12 hours, if not more.
After years of trying to perfect this recipe on my own, here it is. I converted the recipe to a small batch, so some of the home cooks could do this at home without buying a large amount of ricotta cheese from their local Costco. For my chef readers that would like to make a larger batch………. you should know how to convert this, what’s wrong with you.

Classic Ricotta Gnocchi
Serves 4-6 depending on appetites

1, 16 oz tub whole milk ricotta cheese (for the love of god, do not get the part skim)
1 large egg
½ c. grated parmesan
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tbsp fresh, chopped, Italian flat leaf parsley
2 cups all purpose flour, (for mixing the dough and for flouring and rolling purposes)
4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick) Hey, I didn’t pull this one out of “Cooking Light Magazine”
1 bunch fresh sage (dry is not okay….do you hear me?...Not okay)

1. In a chinois, tamis, or a strainer lined with cheesecloth, allow the ricotta to strain, refrigerated overnight or for a minimum of 8 hours.

2. In a large bowl, (an electric mixer is preferred) whip the ricotta to break it up, add the egg, and mix until combined. Add the grated parm, and a pinch of kosher salt. (I say Kosher salt because iodized salt adds a unfavorable flavor, and any other finer salt is too hard to control the amount used) Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Add the flour, about ¼ cup at a time, until pliable, and unsticky enough to handle. (3/4 cup is the maximum amount you should be working into the dough. Reserve the rest of the flour for rolling and cutting)

4. Take the completed dough out of the bowl and roll into strands about 3/4 inch in diameter, being liberal with the flour, to keep them from sticking together.

5. Using a knife or pastry cutter, cut these strands into 1 inch lengths, and dust, liberally again, with a more flour. Transfer to a wax paper-lined cookie sheet or sheet pan, and refrigerate for at least one hour. They can be frozen without much harm being done, despite what the gnocchi critics say. But, as always, fresher is better 95% of the time.

6. In a large saucepan or stockpot, bring a good sized amount of salted water to a boil. (taste the water, damn you, taste it)

7. Drop gnocchi into the boiling water, and turn heat down to medium high setting. The gnocchi will float to the top and be slightly firm to the touch in about 3-4 minutes. Remove using a slotted spoon or spider strainer.

8. While you’re waiting for the gnocchi to cook, melt the butter in a medium to large sized sauté pan and add sage. Continue to cook the butter until the milk solids have lightly browned (browned not burnt), and remove from heat.

9. Transfer the gnocchi into the hot, browned butter and toss to coat.

10. Eat as is, with a little grated or shaved parmesan, or serve with your favorite sauce (marinara/ pesto/ beurre blanc/ roasted red pepper crème/ etc.)


Nick N said...

thanks for the shout out. just made gnocchi the other day at the restaurant and at home. Marc Vetri (owner of Vetri in philadelphia) does a spinach gnocchi that is ethereal. Recipe is in his new cookbook Il Viaggio Di Vetri.

Meet Julia said...

So, it's been about 3 years since I've been able to taste this at home. When will it be on the menu again? However, in my opinion..what really makes this is the red pepper fonduta. The same founduta is also fatastic when you use homemade focachia to sop it up, or are licking it ravenously off your plate at the end of the meal. There again one of the many reasons we are still married.

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