I very recently finished reading A Year in the Village of Eternity by Tracey Lawson. It’s a piece of non-fiction about the author’s time in Campodimele, Italy. Essentially, it’s about food. And includes recipes. Lots of recipes.
Besides making me want to quit my job and buy a one-way ticket to Italy (hopefully the husband would join me), it made me want to cook. Big, complicated meals involving sheets of homemade pasta transformed into bubbling pans of lasagna.
I decided to start slow: gnocchi. Amazingly enough, I’ve never made gnocchi before. How is that possible?
There was a recipe for gnocchi in the book, but it didn’t include eggs. Neither did my copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. However, Making Artisan Pasta’s (a great book containing step-by-step photos showing you how to make a dazzling number of pastas) recipe did contain eggs and explained that eggs make handling the gnocchi easier, though it can result in a chewier product. As an FYI, though I used egg (and the dough was easy to handle), I didn’t find the gnocchi to be chewy.
I’ve actually been gathering ingredients over the last couple of weeks to support my adventures. I picked up canned San Marzano tomatoes from Trader Joe’s…the tomatoes that people swear by in their Italian cooking. I’ve actually looked high and low for 00 flour, to no avail. But, thanks to Amazon Prime, 6.6 lbs of 00 flour landed on my doorstep this week. And, I finally stopped by the chicken lady’s stand and bought fresh-laid eggs, because the book emphasizes fresh ingredients.
The chicken lady actually looks younger than me. She has a large pen of chickens in a field that I pass daily on my way to work. Both the husband and I love looking to see what the chickens are up to when we drive by. And we always report if there is an “escapee” clucking along the side of the road. I’ve always told myself I should stop and by eggs, but had never done so until today. It’s an honor system; shove my money in a lock box, open the large cooler, select my eggs. A cooler full of fresh-laid eggs is cuts quite the pretty picture. I might have to become a regular customer. Though they’re rather expensive.
Ingredients gathered, I began.
I selected a very basic tomato sauce from Marcella’s book to top the gnocchi. I really wanted the focus to be on the gnocchi and not the sauce. Here’s Marcella’s recipe:
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
- 2 cups canned Marzano tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
- fresh chopped basil, to taste
Put all ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring to a slow boil, drop heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir from time to time. When done, taste for salt and discard onion (I actually stood and ate some of the onion–tasty!). Stir in basil. Serve over gnocchi (or any pasta). Note: the original recipe did not call for basil, but I love basil so added some.
I decided to make a double batch of gnocchi. I figured if I was going to the trouble it would be nice to have some for the freezer. The prep was pretty easy: cook a couple of pounds of tomatoes in their skins. I chose Yukon Gold. A Year in Village of Eternity said not to use russets and recommended some obscure type of potato that I’ve not heard of. Considering that the grocery store offers russet, white and yukon my options were limited. Making Artisan Pasta gave a nod to Yukon Gold, and that’s all I needed. FYI, the recipe that follows was taken from that book, with some very minor modifications.
- 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (I selected small-ish potatoes to shorten cook time)
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tsp fine sea salt
- Ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 lb 00 flour
Boil potatoes until tender (do not peel them before cooking). Drain and cool until you are able to handle them. Peel potatoes and run them through a ricer or a food mill while still hot. I do not have a ricer, so used my food mill. It was nice to use it for something besides the annual batch of applesauce. However, apples are much more agreeable than potatoes. Apples just give up and slide right through. The potatoes have a bit more fight in them and attempt to crawl up the sides of the mill.
Chill the milled potatoes in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
In a large bowl (I just used the pan I chilled them in), combine the potatoes with the egg, salt and pepper. Create a hole in the middle of the potato mixture and place the flour in the middle. Gently work the flour in, only using your fingers. Don’t knead it like it’s bread! Overworked gnocchi dough apparently turns out tough and gluey.
The book wisely recommends cooking a couple of blobs of dough at this point to make sure it holds together. If it falls apart, add more flour. To cook: bring salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, reduce heat to a light rolling boil and cook gnocchi until they float to the top. Cook 2-3 minutes longer, or until the gnocchi are cooked through and firm.
My gnocchi held together, so I proceeded with next steps:
Sprinkle your counter with a little flour and, using your hands, gently rolls the dough into a thick sausage shape. My finished product was a little longer than the span of my hands.
Use a scraper to cut the dough into six pieces.
Roll one portion at a time into a snake, starting from the center. Use an up-and-down motion while moving your hands toward the outside. Make sure you’re not trying to do this on a floured surface. Doesn’t work so well.
Each snake should be about the thickness of your index finger. Lightly flour them after they’re rolled out and use your scraper cut pillow-shaped pieces 1/2-3/4 inch long.
You can either cook them as-is or I picked each one up and used a fork on one side while pressing the other side onto my index finger to create a more “classic” gnocchi look.
Cook as describe above. Some of them acted like they wanted to fall apart, but I think that’s because I started to dump them into a colander. They’re simply too delicate for that. Use a slotted spoon to avoid gnocchi mush.
Top with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Enjoy!