Buongiorno a tutti! I must first apologise and explain my recent hiatus from the blogger-sphere. It was spent on a much needed 2 week holiday on 2 very different islands: Barra to visit my grandparents & attend a music festival with friends which inevitably turned into a giant booze fest and Venice, a much needed birthday trip. I can assure you my time was not spent unproductively. Asides from the sightseeing, long lie’s in and hours spent slathering on the factor 50I did of course spend a large portion of the trips sampling as much food and alcohol as I could squeeze in. Which in turn means I now have difficulty squeezing into my jeans. But hey ho, that’s the price you pay!
Of all the wonderful things I ate in Italy one which stands out the most was the Gnocchi. I ordered Gnocchetti (mini gnocchi) as a starter on my first night in Venice which came with a fantastically rich creamy sauce. The portion was huge so I ate every Gnocchetti individually to savour it and work out the flavours in the sauce so I could recreate it at home. So with the memory (and taste) still fresh on my mind it was the first thing I attempted when we returned home.
Gnocchetti with a creamy cheese sauce
- The ratio of potato, flour & egg – The egg and flour are really there to bind the mixture together. Too much flour and it can be very heavy but not enough and you have mashed potato.
- Overworking the dough – Overworking the dough, like you would say when making bread or pasta, allows the gluten in the flour to activate thus making a stodgier dumpling. Treat it like you would a pastry or scone dough, light fingers & mix just enough to bring it together then no more.
- The amount of water in the potatoes – This is normally why floury potatoes are used, waxy ones are often too watery. However this is normally also found with Gnocchi where the potatoes have been boiled first rather than baked.
Conveniently, in its series of ‘How to Make the Perfect…’, last month The Guardian published an article on How to Make The Perfect Gnocchi. Inspired by their confidence I tried out their recipe for my Venetian recreation.
For the sauce I think the trick, like I have said before with other Italian sauces, is to use fewer good quality ingredients.
In the case of the creamy sauce I had in Italy it had a very faint hit of garlic, a slight cheese flavour and it was incredibly yellow. So I recreated it with just: Butter, Garlic, Double Cream & Cheese.
This will serve up 4 good greedy portions. Double or half the quantities if you like.
Heat the oven to 200C. Stab the potatoes all over with a fork and sprinkle the salt into a baking tray. Lay the potatoes on top of the salt & bake for 1 hour until tender. If the potatoes are particularly large they may need longer.
Once baked, leave on a cooling rack for approx 10mins until they are cool enough to handle. Reserve 1/2tsp of the salt from the tray. Carefully peel away the skins & discard. Leave the potato flesh in a bowl until ready to use.
Liberally dust a large tray or plate with semolina and set aside (You can use flour but it can make the Gnocchi more claggy. Semolina is finer, coarser & gives a better flavour).
|The gnocchi ingredients on the counter ready to mix.|
Tip 250g of the flour onto the the kitchen counter. Add the reserved salt from the baking tray and grate a little nutmeg over the top (I normally count to 10 when I am grating & that seems to be enough for my tastes) otherwise use a pinch of ground nutmeg.
Either mash the potatoes in the bowl then pile on top of the flour. Or, if you have potato ricer push them through the ricer over the pile of flour. Make a well in the centre of the pile & pour the beaten egg in the middle.
This might look really messy and you can do it in a bowl. I prefer doing it directly onto the counter seeing as it saves on washing up and will need to come onto the counter later anyway. Remove any nice rings or watches you are wearing and prepare to get a little messy.
Slowly work the mixture until it all comes together into a soft ball of dough. Do not overwork it or knead. It may seem incredibly messy but it will come together in a minute or two.
Wash your hands to remove the excess gunk and give the counter a clean to remove the sticky bits. Flour the counter again and pat the dough-ball out until you have a rough round shape approx 1.5cm thick. Cut this into strips approx 1.5cm thick.
Take each strip and roll them between your hands and counter until it forms a long thin sausage shape roughly the thickness of your finger.
Cut the long sausages into small squares using a sharp floured knife.
If you want Gnocchetti (baby dumplings) roll them thin. If you prefer Gnocchi (regular sized dumplings) roll them thicker.
|Top Picture = Gnocchetti (baby dumplings)
Bottom Picture = Gnocchi (larger dumplings)
Toss the Gnocchetti into the tray of semolina. Once they have all been cut & added to the tray sprinkle another handful of semolina over the top & chill in the fridge until ready to use.
|Gnocchi tossed in Semolina & ready to cool or chill.|
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan (or pot) melt 125g butter on a very low heat. Add the peeled clove of garlic whole. The point is to infuse the butter with garlic flavour rather than risking burnt bitter shards of garlic. Cook on this very low heat for approx 10-15mins.
Using the largest pot at your disposal, fill with water & bring to the boil.
Clarify the butter by skimming off the foam which collects on top using a spoon. This might be easier to do if you tip the pan gently & allow all the butter to collect in 1 side. I wouldn’t be too pedantic about it just so long as most of the foam is removed.
|Pan of clarified butter with the garlic clove. Skim the foam off before adding the cream & cheese.|
Add the double cream & finely grated cheese. Mix well with a spatula or whisk to ensure there are no lumps.
Taste & adjust the seasoning accordingly with white (or black) pepper and a tiny pinch of salt. Continue to cook over the lowest heat your cooker will go. Discard the garlic clove.
|Thick, unctuous cheesy sauce|
When the pot is boiling, add 1tbsp salt & tip in the Gnocchetti. Immediately set the timer for 2mins. Do not cook for any longer otherwise the Gnocchi will fall apart & you will be left with watery potato mush.
When the 2mins is up (they will start to rise to the surface) immediately drain into a colander then tip into the pot of sauce. Turn the heat off but keep the pan on the warm hob.
Carefully toss the Gnocchetti in the sauce to coat and then spoon into dishes.
|Toss the dumplings in the sauce to coat.|
Sprinkle with a little finely chopped parsley & tuck in. This is comfort food is its full glory.
The packets of fresh Gnocchi in the supermarkets are good. I do buy them when I need a potato dumpling hit but cant face the hassle of making my own. But as with most supermarket ready items or meals, they will never be as good as the real thing.
I find making Gnocchi a heck of a lot faster and easier than pasta (which needs to chill for at least 30mins then be rolled out using a pasta machine) and infinitely better to eat.
Baking the potatoes for an hour might seem like a pain but it is less washing up compared to boiling them. Plus, and take this from someone who has experimented with Gnocchi a LOT over the last few years, the difference in taste, texture and ease to shape is well worth the additional 15mins roasting time compared to boiling.
Granted when comfort food is required I tend to stick to the mashed potato camp. However, I have a strong suspicious that when I am knee deep in a never ending Scottish winter and feeling nostalgic for a little Italian heat, Gnocchetti may play a more recurring role in my comfort food cache.