The first time I had gnocchi, I was pretty doubtful. Cory and I were living in San Angleo and he happened to find a package of gnocchi on the grocery store shelf. He used to make it with his family and he loved the stuff, so he bought it and cooked it for me one night. I was not impressed — they seemed like heavy, tastless lumps in the no-man’s-land between pasta and tortellini. (Really, it wasn’t his fault. They were from a package, after all.)
But then, we went to Italy.
We had gnocchi there.
And I have seen the light!
Yes, light is what they are, light and flavorful! Those potato dumplings have won a place in my heart.
I came back from Italy all culinarily inspired, even more firmly convinced than ever that when it comes to food, Americans just don’t get it. To help shed some light in those dark corners, I resolved to serve a proper Italian meal to some friends — with complete with antipasti, primi and secondi piatti, and dolci. I wanted to try something new, something delicious that I had never made before and that my guests would probably have never eaten before, so after a bit of searching, it came to me: gnocchi was the obvious choice for primi.
When I found the recipes, I realized I had a new dilemma: I don’t have a potato ricer, and I have this thing about taking up limited storage space with single-use gadgets. So the stubborn, yet foresightful, bit of me decided to instead buy the food grinder attachment for my stand mixer, figuring that I could also use it for tomato sauces, apple sauce, sausages, and, of course, pasta.
Last week I made a test batch of gnocchi for the dinner I’ll be having at the end of the month. Let me tell you, even though I’m not really sure what the authentic shape is for these dumplings, they are delicious — especially when tossed with a pesto sauce you’ve just ground up yourself.
Gnocchi with fresh pesto sauce
From Cook’s Illustrated
Makes four main-course servings or six side-dish servings
2 pounds russet potatoes (or other baking potatoes), washed
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour , plus more as needed
1 teaspoon table salt, plus more for cooking liquid
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 medium cloves garlic
2 tablespoons pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until a metal skewer slides easily through them, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size.
Hold potato with a pot holder or kitchen towel and peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife; rice, mash, or grind peeled potatoes into a large bowl. Cool until potatoes are no longer hot, about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt over warm potatoes. Using your hands, work mixture into a soft, smooth dough. If dough is sticky (which is often the case), add more flour as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups total.
Roll about one-quarter of dough into a long 3/4-inch-thick rope. If rope won’t hold together, return it to bowl with remaining dough and work in more flour as needed. Repeat until all dough is rolled.
Cut rope of dough into 3/4-inch lengths. Holding butter paddleor bench scraper in one hand, press the flat side of the dumpling against the flat surface and use your thumb to flatten into a round with an imprint. Alternatively, hold a fork in one hand and press each piece of cut dough against ridged surface with index finger to make an indentation in center. Roll dough down and off ridges and allow it to drop to work surface. (Gnocchi can be placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerated for several hours. Or, baking sheet can be placed in freezer for about 1 hour. Partially frozen gnocchi can be transferred to plastic bag or container, sealed, and frozen for up to 1 month.)
To make the pesto, place basil, garlic, and pine nuts in workbowl of food processor. Process, scraping down sides as needed, until minced. With motor still running, slowly pour oil through feed tube and process until smooth. Scrape pesto into bowl. Stir in cheese to taste.
Bring 4 quarts of water to low boil in large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt or to taste. Add about one-third of the gnocchi and cook (don’t boil them!) until they float, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (about 3 minutes for frozen gnocchi). Retrieve gnocchi with slotted spoon and transfer to warm, shallow serving bowl or platter. Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi. Gently toss gnocchi with pesto and serve immediately.