Sunday, April 29, 2012

Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce and Fresh Peas

There was unfortunate sauce breakage, but other than that, the gnocchi were perfect pillows of  deliciousness.

 My long-held desire to make homemade gnocchi has been balanced by the spectre of gnocchi dissolving as the little dumplings hit the boiling water or ending up as a gummy, tooth-sticking mess, but for my (belated) birthday dinner with Lynn, my ever-ready amico in la cocina (Lynn had never eaten gnocchi - what? Impossible! Really?), we decided to give it a shot.

Fresh peas!

 "Gnocchi", derived from the Italian word "nocchio" (a knot in wood, or knuckle), is considered to have been introduced in Italy by the Romans who based their dumplings on a semolina porridge dough mixed with eggs. Potatoes didn't come into the mix until the 16th century. Gnocchi derivatives are geographically widespread and diverse in ingredients (bread crumbs, eggs, no eggs, etc.). As with many dishes, a dish of gnocchi (cheap-ish carbs or left-overs + liquid and a binder) is economical and filling the world over.

They take well to nearly any sauce, but a light hand with other ingredients is encouraged. These are delicate pillows that you don't want to crush (literally or as it applies to flavor). You can cut them and cook them without rolling to get the ridges, but those ridges - as with pasta shapes other than flat noodles - are certified sauce delivery systems.
This is the last picture before the one where the rolled gnocchi are in the pan. Dough-crusted hands are not a good choice to handle a camera.

In Lidia, We Trust

We have both watched Lidia Bastianich make gnocchi countless times on her cooking shows and didn't think of  looking elsewhere for a recipe. We looked around and found the same or very similar recipes from a variety of sources, but always held them up against Lidia's as the standard from which we wanted to start. We did  mine the internet for some videos and tips and found the following useful:
  • We chose to boil our potatoes although there are some methods that specify baking the potatoes (at 425F on a bed of kosher salt on a baking sheet). Start cooking the (skin on!) potatoes in cold, salted water and cook until a sharp paring knife or skewer slides in and out of the thickest part without resistance. Do not overcook and if the skins split, this will not bode well. Cooking time will vary with the size of your potatoes so start checking at 30 minutes.
  • Peel the potatoes while they're hot. Hold them in a clean, folded kitchen towel and use a sharp paring knife to gently peel off the skin.
  • I can't imagine making these without a potato ricer or a food mill. Some tips included substituting a grater, but YMMV.  You could even push the potatoes through the holes of a colander (as with spaetzle).  You want them fluffy! The riced potatoes need to be a cooled (so as not to cook the egg) and be a fluffy, airy mound when you start to incorporate the egg and then the flour.
  • Once you start mixing your dough  and until you are finished rolling and cutting the gnocchi do not stop. Work as fast as you can, over time the sitting dough gets moister as it absorbs the liquid from the potatoes.
  • Don't overwork the dough. This isn't pasta, these are dumplings. Work the dough a little more than you would biscuits. Lidia's recipe specifies that it should take about 3 minutes to incorporate the flour and that worked beautifully for us. Your hands are the right tool for this job.
  • When you cook the gnocchi, do not add them to boiling water, add them to water that is at a righteous simmer in small batches of a couple of handfuls at a time. If you are not serving them immediately, shock each cooked batch in ice water and set aside in a colander once cooled. I would classify "immediately" as 15 minutes. To reheat, saute them briefly in a little butter or add them to the sauce for just a minute before you serve.
  • If you want to make them further ahead of time or make them to be used on another day, place each dumpling on a clean, floured kitchen towel on top of a baking sheet - not touching - or a piece of floured wax paper or parchment and freeze. Once completely frozen, put the dumplings in a seal-able freezer bag, removing all possible air. They should last up to 2 months. Do not defrost the frozen gnocchi when you add them to the water. Add a scant 1 minute to the cooking time after the gnocchi rise. 
...and probably most importantly, do this with one (or more) people, especially if you're rolling the cut dumpling pillows to form ridges. The first ones will look awful, but soon you'll be rolling them like the Italian nonna you may never have had. You can see a couple of different methods here, or follow the directions in Lidia's recipe here

Even with all of the possible 'gotchas', this recipe isn't at all difficult. Just give yourself the luxury of time.

The one minor fail  was with the sauce. We made a reduced cream sauce with aged gorgonzola and peas. This type of sauce, with nothing to stabilize it, has a shelf life of approximately a blink of an eye before it breaks. If I hadn't added the peas, I could have re-emulsified it before serving. If we make this again, I'd follow the steps listed in the recipe (after the jump) for the final preparation rather than how we handled it last night.