Gnocchi (gnocco, which literally means dumpling and also means “dunce” in the vernacular) is the singular form and very rarely used as nobody eats just one!) are a classic part of Italian cuisine, particularly in northern and central Italy. They are an exquisite delicacy despite the simplicity of the ingredients and method of making which requires a distinctive feel. But there is nothing better than delicate gnocchi dressed in melted butter and freshly grated cheese.
The gnocchi family is varied and large depending on the region and town. They can be made from the most usual “potatoes” as well as pumpkin, semolina, corn or chestnut flour. In Trentino they are made with a potato dough and red beets and finished off with poppy seeds. In an area near the Austrian border they are stuffed with dried plums. Also in Trieste they make a sweet gnocchi called “Gnocchi al Cacao” from potato gnocchi with bittersweet chocolate, candied fruit and served for dessert. In Piedmont they are made from durum wheat semolina and are topped with cheese and then baked in the oven. In Lombardy they are referred to with the unflattering name of “malfatti” which translates “badly made”. Verona hosts a gnocchi festival each year during Carnival time referred to as “Baccanale del Gnocco” or Funzione dei Gnocchi”. On Carnival Friday a “Papa del Gnocho) is chosen and as Pope of the Bacchanalia he leads a festive procession through Verona riding on a donkey and holding a giant fork on which a huge gnocco is skewered. In Venice gnocchi is usually finished with a lobster sauce.
But there is nothing better than Gnocchi dressed in melted butter and freshly grated cheese!
- 2 ¼ LBS MEALY POTATOES
- 1 EGG
- 2 EGG YOLKS
- 2 ½ CUPS FLOUR
- GENEROUS PINCH OF SALT
(Although there is really no precise guideline for the ingredients since the amount of flour depends on the type of potato used and the adeptness of the cook. And the recipes are varied.)
- In a pot of salted boiling water cook the potatoes for about 25 minutes. Remove from the water and let the potatoes cool slightly to let the steam escape from them. When cool enough (but not cold) to handle, pass them through a potato ricer and salt lightly.
- Knead together the potatoes, egg and egg yolks. Slowly work in as much flour as needed to produce a smooth, supple dough that does not stick to your fingers. Gnocchi should be fluffy and delicate.
- On a floured work surface, form finger-width logs from the dough. Cut each log into ¾-inch pieces and gently roll each one over the back of a fork (because genuine gnocchi must have groves to better hold the butter or sauce) to give each one their ridged characteristic texture. Lay out on a very lightly floured cloth.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the gnocchi in small portions, less they all stick together, until they rise to the surface. While they are cooking stir occasionally and slowly just to keep them separated. Remove with a slotted spoon (pouring into a colander will make them fall apart) and prepare in your favorite way.
Note: If you would like to give the gnocchi a little lemon flavor, add freshly grated lemon zest from 2 lemons to the egg yolks and beat in with a fork before adding to the dough.
- 1 MEDIUM SIZED DRY POTATO – like Russet
- 1 CUP FLOUR
- PINCH OF SALT
- 1 EGG YOLK
- 1 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL – plus some extra for greasing the casserole dish
- A SPRIG OF BASIL
- ½ CUP TOMATO SAUCE
- 2 OZ MOZZARELLA – CUBED
- BASIL LEAVES – a few torn
- ¼ CUP PARMESAN CHEESE – DIVIDED
- Wash the potato. Boil it in salted water until cooked through – app 30 minutes. Wait a few minutes until the potato is cool enough to handle and then peel it, mash it with a potato ricer and then allow it to cool some more on a slightly floured board.
- Make a well in the center of the potato pile and sprinkle some flour on the outer edge. Put the egg yolk in the well with salt and the olive oil.
- Mix lightly with your hands incorporating the flour into the potato and egg until you have a soft manageable dough. You may not need all the flour and there is a slight chance you might need a bit more. The mixture should not be sticky when you roll it into a ball.
- Roll the ball in a bit of flour flatten it a bit and then slice into 5 or 6 pieces. Roll each piece into long logs that are no thicker that a hot dog using a minimal amount of flour.
- Cut each log into 1/2”- pieces and using your thumb slide each piece over the tings of a fork to produce ridges. These ridges will capture the sauce.
Cooking the Gnocchi:
- Cook the Gnocchi in salted boiling water for a few minutes (stirring lightly to keep them moving and not sticking together) until they rise up to the top of the pot.
- Scoop out with a large slotted spoon or kitchen spider and place gently in a large frying pan with some of the sauce on the bottom so that the Gnocchi don’t stick.
- Top with shredded mozzarella, a sprig or two of basil and saute’ for a few minutes. Place the pan in an oven pre-heated to 350º and bake for about 15 minutes.
- Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and serve.