Today we visit Venice and prepare gnocchi. When made Venetian style (no eggs), they are light, pillowy treats of potato and flour that are good with just a bit of browned butter, or even better with a sauce that will settle in the forked creases. This batch was blanketed with a delicious sauce prepared from local Tennessee organic, Roma tomatoes with candy onions and butter. It took gnocchi with tomato sauce to a whole new level of elegance with which I had never associated such a simple food.
This is a Marcella Hazan recipe, and you can read here, why I have made so many of her recipes in my post, “a year of cooking Italy with Marcella Hazan.”
I have avoided making gnocchi at home because in the past I have failed at it and it became what my friend Glennis calls food that makes your knees knock in the kitchen. I simply had the wrong recipe and wrong understanding of gnocchi.
I thought that gnocchi were labor intensive, imagining little Italian grandmothers, meticulously shaping the dough for hours. They are easier than making pasta or potato salad. It’s the practice that is required. But once you get it, you get it.
I thought it would be too difficult to avoid gnocchi gone bad, which means rubbery. But I discovered it’s a fairly easy thing to tackle, as long as you understand that it requires that perfect balance. The reason gnocchi are sometimes tough is too much flour, and sometimes rubbery is overcooking. Ten seconds is all it takes. You are not cooking pasta; you’re boiling already cooked potatoes.
I thought gnocchi were super fattening. Gnocchi are just potatoes with some flour, not fried, not buttered, and actually “less” fattening than most potato dishes. That’s because of portion, not the food itself. A spoonful of gnocchi made with local potatoes topped with some freshly made locally grown tomatoes is a healthy dish.
Eat a “serving” not the whole dish although, in truth, this particular dish is so good, it might be hard to stop.
Gnocchi are made by combining flour into cooked potatoes that have been smashed or riced. One should not think pasta, but should think fluffy potato. Some say the addition of an egg makes it easier to bind and prepare. I say nonsense to that and so do the Venetians who would never put an egg in gnocchi.
The Gnocchi Process
An egg forces you to cool the potatoes before you add the flour and that changes everything. Marcellla instructs you to rice the potatoes while they are still warm and then to gingerly add in the flour. You cannot add egg to anything warm without the worry of cooking the egg. I immediately added my flour to the warmed potatoes, and my dough was made easily and within minutes.
Exception to this rule: You can make gnocchi with left over mashed potatoes. They will be cold and you can add an egg to them.
The Famous Tomato Onion Butter Sauce is all over the internet, for good reason. Make it. Make it often.
Make the sauce first: While the sauce is slowly cooking for the 45 minutes, Marcella suggests, put your potatoes on to boil. By the time you have made the gnocchi, the sauce will be done.
Ricing the potatoes make the process very easy. Once potatoes are blanched, they slip out of their skins.
- 2 pounds, fresh, ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled, chopped (keep the juice)
- or 2 cans imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up with their juice
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half (I used two small candy onions)
- 1½ pounds of boiling potatoes, boiled in salted water, just until done
- 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Put tomatoes, butter, onion, salt in sauce pan and simmer uncovered slowly for 45 minutes. Marcella says to discard onion, but I used immersion blender at the end to incorporate the sweet onions. Candy onions are purple, small, super sweet and I didn’t want to waste that sweetness. I used locally grown roma tomatoes, some from my farmer, some from my own yard.
- Taste and correct seasoning.
- Boil, peel and rice potatoes while still warm.
- These instructions are simplistic, and much more detailed in the book.
- Do not add all the flour at one time. Start by adding a half cup and then keep adding, just until you have a dough you can work with. If you are unsure, have a small saucepan of boiling water ready and test one. It takes 10 seconds to test.
- Dough will be a little sticky, but should be easy to work with should not fall apart while boiling. Don’t overwork. Roll into cylinder, cut in ¾” pieces and taking it lengthwise across a fork, depress center. The center should be thinner than the edges, which helps to keep the gnocchi tender.
- The ridges serve to hold the sauce.
- Use 4 quarts of water in sauce pan to boil. Add salt. In the beginning, add 3 gnocchi and cook only FOR TEN SECONDS. Taste and if too floury, add only 2 or 3 seconds. If you are tempted to cook your gnocchi behind this point, they will become the dreaded piece of rubber.
- Time your gnocchi to be ready when your sauce is done, cooking the gnocchi in the last stretch of those 45 minutes. When gnocchi is ready, add grated cheese, and then the sauce.
- Serve immediately. Season to taste.