Gnocchi combines two of our favourite things – potatoes and dumplings. These Italian pasta dumplings that hail from Lombardy have been dissolving into starchy delights on tastebuds since the ancient Roman times, says Chef Davide Marzullo, Chef de Cuisine at Italian restaurant Bellavista, Grosvenor House Dubai.
“Back during the Renaissance, it was called zanzarelli and was made of breadcrumbs, almonds and milk,” he explains.
The tongue-twister name the dish has today (its pronounced nyo-kee) comes from the Italian word nocchio, which means a knot in wood. Alternatively, the Italian word for knuckle called nocca is also credited with the origin of the pillowy potato dumpling’s name.
The potato-based gnocchi we love and relish today is a relatively newer variant, says Chef Marzullo but it’s not the only kind of gnocchi in Italy.
Besides the potato, the gnocchi is also flavoured using vegetables such as spinach and pumpkin and a horde of other ingredients, all depending in which part of Italy it’s being prepared in. “You can also make gnocchi out of ricotta cheese by draining the ricotta by refrigerating it for 24 hours, then adding flour or eggs.”
For this step-by-step guide for first-time gnocchi makers, Chef Marzullo reduces the recipe to bare bones using just flour, potato and eggs. And even eggs aren’t always necessary, he says. (Can we get a cheer from the vegetarians?)
“You can remove eggs and add extra flour to bind the mixture. You can also use the entire egg – whites and yolks, or just use yolk or white separately. It all boils down to your personal preference but do know that what binder you choose will have a mild effect on the taste and texture of the gnocchi.
“Egg yolk’s fattiness adds more richness and nutrients to the final gnocchi while egg whites are practically tasteless but still help bind and soften the gnocchi,” he clarifies.
As for what potatoes make the perfect gnocchi – the root of many a culinary debate on the root vegetable, Chef Marzullo has only three words in response: "Any potato works.
“Red potatoes, purple potatoes, yellow potatoes. The only potatoes you should skip are small ones as they’re high in water content and your gnocchi dough won’t be firm. If you only have access to small potatoes, don’t boil them, just bake them in an oven with some salt. This dries out their excess moisture.”
This recipe is the classic gnocchi made across Italian households. Will they be as good as an Italian nonna’s? Don't gnocchi it till you try it!
1kg or 4 medium potatoes
350gm all-purpose white flour
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Nutmeg, a pinch
Semolina flour for dusting and working the dough
Rigagnocchi or fork
Potato masher (or fork)
Step 1: Boiling the potatoes
1. Put the potatoes, with skin intact, in a saucepan of cold, salted water and bring it to a boil. Never pierce the potatoes to check if they’re done while cooking them for gnocchi. You’ll end up creating holes in them that the water will seep into. It’s very important that the potatoes aren’t wet or high in moisture for the gnocchi dough to hold.
2. Instead time the cooking to ensure the potato is well-done and has cooked through. A medium sized potato that weighs around 200gm will take 40 minutes to cook.
3. Smaller potatoes take 30-35 minutes
4. You can also wrap the potatoes in aluminium foil and bake it in the oven.
Step 2: Mashing the potatoes
1. Once the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the water and use a towel or a duster to pat them dry and only then peel the skin.
2. Once they’re peeled, slice the ends and then mash them. If you don’t have a potato masher, slice your potatoes and mash them with a fork on a wooden working board.
Tip: It’s better to have a wooden board or work counter as it soaks up excess water from the potatoes.
3. Don’t heap the mashed potatoes together, spread it out evenly on your workspace. This helps the steam escape as you mash the boiled potatoes, to prevent condensation from adding moisture to the potato.
4. Wait for around 10 minutes after mashing the potatoes for the water to drain out and the potatoes to cool. If you work the dough before that, it will become sticky and gluey.
5. Once the potato cools down, drizzle 2 eggs yolks over the mashed potato. Beat the yolks well until it’s creamy before you pour it over the potato.
6. Then sprinkle salt and pepper to suit your taste. You can add a pinch of nutmeg, if you’d like. Sprinkle it all around the surface of the mashed potatoes, so the potatoes are seasoned evenly and the flavour isn’t concentrated to certain bits only.
Note: If you’re a cheese lover, you can also add some cheese. Hard, aged pasta cheeses such as parmesan, pecorino work well.
7. Then sprinkle flour over the mashed potato. Keep adding the dough in parts and not all at once.
8. Wait to add all the dry ingredients and only then mix.
Step 3: Working the dough
1. You can use a spatula to work the dough, fold it in from the edges, then work the dough by cutting it up with a spatula before you dive in and knead it with your hands. Using a spatula first prevents the dough from being overworked. Overworking the dough means the gnocchi ends up becoming too hard. The perfect gnocchi dissolves in your mouth when you eat it and it’s creamy without being chewy.
2. Now the messy part begins. You’ll need to knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes. Keep folding the dough and gathering all the ingredients into the centre of your board together at intervals so it mixes well.
3. Then smooth the dough into a round, compact ball. If it has too many cracks, it’s dry and you overdid the flour. If it sticks to your hand, then you need to add more flour.
4. Then cut the ball of dough into halves and then slices. Every time you cut the dough, dust some semolina flour over the dough.
Note: Gnocchi is usually dusted with 00 all-purpose flour but this is more absorbent and soaks up more water. Instead, you can work with drier semolina flour and gives a granular texture to your gnocchi.
5. Roll out the cut slice of dough into a long rope.
6. Cut the rope-shaped dough into gnocchi at 1cm intervals into little pillow-shaped lumps. A classic gnocchi (singular for gnocchi) measures 1cm x 1cm.
Step 4: Shaping the gnocchi
1. To give the gnocchi its signature curled grooves, an instrument called the rigagnocchi is used. You gently pass the gnocchi through the sieve like instrument with a little push with your finger and it curls it.
2. But a fork works just as well. Just roll the gnocchi through the tines of the fork and it leaves a lined imprint on the gnocchi. Be gentle, or else the gnocchi will be cut up. These indentations help retain sauce.
3. Make sure the fork is dusted in semolina flour every time before passing the gnocchi through it.
Step 5: Cooking the gnocchi
1. Add salt to a saucepan filled with water (add ½ tsp of salt for 1l of water).
2. Remove excess flour from the gnocchi by dusting it in a strainer. Or else the water will turn cloudy
3. Drop your gnocchi into the hot water. When they’re fully cooked, they’ll float up to the surface of the pan. 2 -3 minutes of cooking does it.
Note: Always have your sauce ready for the gnocchi before the gnocchi itself is cooked because the gnocchi doesn’t take too long to cook.
4. Use a slotted ladle to remove the gnocchi from the water. You can also use a colander.
Tip: Always hold on to the cooking water of the gnocchi – it’s great to add to your pasta sauce as its starch content makes the sauce creamier.
5. Cook the gnocchi in a sauce of your choice. Buon appetito!
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