So this week, it being our first journey to Italy, I decided to do my gnocchi two ways: one with a basic basil pesto, which most of us this side of the Atlantic are familiar with, and one in a Friuli style, which is a simple sauce of browned butter, cinnamon, sugar, and ricotta affumicata (smoked ricotta). I was so fascinated with the marriage of such disparate flavors that I had to give it a try. And as strange as it sounds the dish totally works. This dish is unique and local to the Friuli region and reflects the complexity of the northeastern region of Italy and its long history of Slavic and Germanic influences.
But even more important than the sauces, my task this week was to figure out how the hell you make a heavy dense potato turn into an pillow-y dumpling! After some research and consulting the cookbook of Italian-cooking god, Lidia Bastianich, I’ve gathered a few rules that you should abide by if you want the perfect gnocchi. Here are some essential tips:
1) Boil your potatoes on a low simmer and be careful that the skins don’t break.
2) Rice or mill your potatoes while they are still hot so the steam evaporates out of the potatoes. Use gloves if you must!
3) Air-dry your potatoes for at least 2 hours if not longer.
4) Use as little flour as possible. This dough (like most) takes practice developing a sense of when you’ve achieved the right texture. Too much flour and the gnocchi will be heavy. Add little amounts of flour along the way until you’ve got a pretty smooth dry dough.
5) Use as few eggs as possible. As you become a gnocchi-pro, you can use just one egg to bind the ingredients, yielding even fluffier dumplings. But for the novice, play it safe and use two.
6) Cook (or freeze) the gnocchi as soon as possible since the dough does not stay well after sitting a while.
7) Boil the gnocchi in water that is at a rolling boil. You want them to cook as quickly as possible but with the least amount of time exposed to hot water.
In summation, make sure your potatoes are dry dry dry and don’t strictly follow the recipe– follow your noggin!
- 3 lbs of russet potatoes
- 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour and extra for dusting
- 1 tbsp of kosher salt
- 2 large egg
Place your potatoes in a large pot and fill with enough water to cover them. Bring the potatoes to a boil and lower the heat to simmer for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Test them by sticking a knife in the middle of the potato and if it comes out easily, they’re done. While the potatoes are still hot, peel the skins off and run them through a food mill or potato ricer. Spread out the riced potatoes on a baking sheet so they can cool and dry evenly. Sprinkle the kosher salt over them. Let the potatoes dry for at least 2 hours.
After the potatoes have cooled, make a well in the center and sprinkle the flour over them. Break both eggs into the well and with a fork, blend the egg and begin to incorporate the flour and potatoes. Once the dough starts coming together use your hands to gently knead for a few minutes until it comes together and is dry.
In a large stock pot boil heavily salted water. Divide the dough into 6 balls and roll each ball into a rope 3/4 inches thick. Cut it into 1 inch pieces. You can either cook them off as is or roll each piece down the back of the tines of a fork to create ridges. This time I didn’t create ridges but you can do whatever you please.
In batches, drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and cook until they float to the top, which should take about 1 minute. Using a spider strainer, take the dumplings out and cool them in a bowl of ice water. Repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked and then toss them in some basil pesto or a Friuli-style butter sauce. Or both!
Friuli-style butter sauce
This sauce has it all, it’s smokey, salty, sweet, spicy. The way it is made in Friuli is with smoked ricotta but I’ve never seen this in the States. Instead I used ricotta salata and smoked Maldon sea salt, which by the way, is my newest obsession!
- 1 stick of butter
- 4 tbsps of sugar
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp of smoked salt
- 1 cup of shredded ricotta salata
Melt the butter in a skillet until it is browned. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt and stir to incorporate. Toss the gnocchi in until the dumplings are slightly toasted and browned. Transfer into a bowl, toss with the ricotta salata and enjoy!
(Recipe adapted from Lidia’s Italy)