Gnocchi.

From J., 17 February 2010, Gnocchi – what’s the secret?

Q: I had a little issue making gnocchi this past weekend… (and, to be honest, at various other times in the past few years). when they’re good, i love them – but when i make them, they’re just ok. so, sensei… any suggestions?

I’ve always used a baked russet potato and mashed it up using a fork (i don’t have a ricer). but, i’ve been reading that perhaps a boiled white potato would be better. and is a ricer a necessary piece of kitchen equipment? and, is it critical to mash up a hot potato? this weekend i cooked the potato a little early and so it was lukewarm when i mashed it… and, i think i overworked the potato adding in the flour. i suppose i should be happy they were edible!

A: Hi! Thanks for your question. You’re not alone…gnocchi making has frustrated many a cook.

Recall from a previous discussion about latkes that potatoes run the gamut from starchy to waxy, and that “waxy” connotes high water content, not some sort of crazy wax thing happening with the potato. High starch potatoes have the lowest water content, and for the lightest possible gnocchi, you want to incorporate the smallest amount of liquid and flour possible into the potato, to keep it light. So a russet is an excellent choice.

In addition, baking is the best way to prepare potatoes for gnocchi. Boiling introduces water to the potato – even if you leave the skin on, as you should, the skin may burst, and the potato will become waterlogged. In that case, you will need more flour to make the gnocchi workable, and those gnocchi will be heavier. So bake your potatoes, and if you can, cover them in kosher salt (or rock salt) for baking to heat them evenly. You can reuse the salt.

Here’s maybe your problem. Temperature is relevant. The longer you let the potato cool in its skin, the moister it will be, as the steam inside the potato cannot escape. You need to rice the potatoes while they’re still hot, as soon as possible after cooking, or pass them through a grater (a pain in my opinion, both figuratively and literally as you will make a mess and tear up your knuckles). Breaking them up with a fork is fine, but a ricer is faster and yields a lighter, fluffier potato, as it allows more steam to escape the potato. The drier and fluffier, the better – it means you will need less flour. So rice your potatoes when they’re hot, and then let them cool completely, leaving them in a mound on a wooden board rather than a bowl, and fluffing them with a fork. The cooler the potato after ricing, the more steam has escaped and the drier your potato will be.

Why all the emphasis on fluffy, dry potatoes? Because flour and egg – the two main additions to gnocchi dough – pose some problems if overused or overworked. If you need to spend too much time working flour into the dough, gluten development makes the gnocchi chewy and tough. If you add too much egg – especially egg white – the gnocchi can become somewhat springy and hard from the egg white proteins. Indeed, egg is not strictly necessary – traditional gnocchi does not involve egg at all.

Potato gnocchi

Chefs disagree whether whole eggs, egg whites, or egg yolks alone are the best binder when making gnocchi. In my experience, egg yolk makes a rich gnocchi with a relatively tender bite as it lacks the egg white proteins that coagulate and become firm during cooking. That said, egg yolk gnocchi dough can be sticky and tacky. To avoid using too much, beat the egg yolks in a separate small bowl and add only as much as necessary to bind the potato and flour into a cohesive, but slightly tacky, dough. The less egg you use, the better – once you become adept, you may be able to incorporate the flour and potato without using any egg at all.

“00” flour is low protein and, accordingly, develops less gluten upon kneading. If you can find it, use it. Otherwise, all-purpose flour is fine, or better yet, you can combine all-purpose and cake flour in a 2:1 ratio.

Several cups of coarse salt
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 1/3 lbs)
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 c finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
roughly 1 c “00” flour, or all-purpose (which will yield a tougher dough), plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400F and, using a fork, poke several holes in the potato skin. Place the potatoes in salt in a baking dish and place in the hot oven. Bake until thoroughly tender. You can reuse the salt for salt-baking.

As soon as possible, peel and rice the potatoes directly onto a wooden board. Fluff with a fork to release steam. Set salted water to boil and mix the flour, cheese, and salt in a small bowl.

When the potatoes are quite cool, combine the olive oil and egg yolks in a small bowl – the mixture will not combine completely because of the oil. Sprinkle the flour mixture and 2/3 the egg-oil mixture over the top of the potatoes and, using a bench scraper, cut the flour in (as one would for biscuts), scraping from the bottom of the pile and bringing it to the top, and repeating. Add more egg if the mixture is too dry to cohere. If the dough is too sticky to handle, sprinkle in a little more flour.

When you reach the point that the dough holds together and does not stick, divide it into four pieces, dust your wooden board with flour, and roll each out quickly and lightly into a long log about 3/4″ in diameter. Using the bench scraper, cut into 3/4″ pieces.

Cook the gnocchi immediately in boiling salted water until they float. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in heated bowls. Sauce as desired. My favorite way to eat gnocchi is with the brown butter that follows in the Ricotta gnocchi recipe. Other delicious accompaniments are a light butternut squash purée with sage, sautéed mixed mushrooms and grated cheese, and a mixture of spring vegetables, such as peas, green garlic, and pea shoots, tossed with butter and mint.

Optional: To brown the gnocchi, place a skillet over medium heat and add a small knob of butter; when brown and bubbling, add gnocchi to the pan and fry, turning once when golden.

If you don’t want to use the gnocchi right away, they freeze well. Line up the gnocchi on a lightly floured or silpat-lined sheet pan and place in the freezer. When solid, turn out into a plastic bag and seal well or vacuum pack.

Gnocchi.

Ricotta gnocchi with sage brown butter

As with potato gnocchi, the key to light ricotta gnocchi is to work in as little flour as possible. To accomplish this, the ricotta should be barely moist and a little crumbly by the time you incorporate the other ingredients. Precise measurements will get you in trouble here – you should rely on feel and appearance to guide you.

one pound full-fat ricotta
1 tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
roughly 1 c “00” flour, or all-purpose (which will yield a tougher dough), plus extra for dusting

1/2 c plus several additional tablespoons unsalted butter
24 sage leaves
juice of 1/4 lemon
sea salt
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Combine the ricotta and salt and place in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl. Twist the cheesecloth to cover the ricotta. Place a weight such as a heavy can, on top and refrigerate, covered, for up to two days. You may find it helpful to change cheesecloth after one day. Discard the liquid.

Set salted water to boil.

Turn the ricotta into a clean bowl and add the olive oil and eggs. Make a well of the flour on a clean wooden board and place the ricotta mixture in the center of the well. Pile flour from the sides onto the top of the ricotta and, using a bench scraper, cut the flour in (as if making pasta), scraping from beneath the ricotta and bringing it to the top, and repeating. The dough will come together but will be sticky. If it is too sticky to handle, sprinkle in a little more flour.

When you reach the point that the dough holds together and does not stick, divide it into four pieces, dust your wooden board with flour, and roll each out quickly and lightly into a long log about 3/4″ in diameter. Using the bench scraper, cut into 3/4″ pieces.

Cook the gnocchi immediately in boiling salted water until they float. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in heated bowls.

Heat 1/2 c unsalted butter in a small saucepan; when foamy, add sage leaves and fry until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and continue cooking butter until nutty and deep golden brown; add a squeeze of lemon and pinch of sea salt. Drizzle the brown butter over the gnocchi and garnish with fried sage and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Optional: To brown the gnocchi, place a skillet over medium heat and add a small knob of butter; when brown and bubbling, add gnocchi to the pan and fry, turning once when golden.

Ricotta gnocchi, sage brown butter.

3 thoughts on “Gnocchi.

  1. Pingback: Gnocchi. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Pingback: Winner winner gnocchi dinner. « The Upstart Kitchen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s