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It’s easier than you think

By Alain Bossé

Food photography by Steve Smith/VisionFire

The culinary industry is full of tips and tricks, learned over time and honed to perfection. Anyone who spends any amount of time in a kitchen, whether he/she be a professional or home cook, has their own bag of magical wizardry that they turn to when they need to impress. Sometimes the knowledge they possess allows them to turn a cheater sauce into a replica of a long, slow-simmered dish, and sometimes it’s knowing that restaurant quality food can easily be emulated in your own kitchen—often with very little effort. And on occasion, the secret is that the most impressive dishes are sometimes the easiest.          

Gnocchi is one of those dishes. It often appears on the menu of high-end Italian restaurants. And these little pillow-y bites of perfection perfectly cradle sauces of all sorts. Gnocchi appears to be one of those dishes that should be intimidating to make, but in reality it is one of the simplest things to throw together, and can easily be done in 30 minutes or less. Making pasta from scratch can be very daunting to a newer cook, while making gnocchi has the same wow factor but is very simple
to pull off.

Gnocchi is most often referred to as pasta but in reality it’s actually a dumpling: the difference being that pasta is made with flour, water and eggs and gnocchi is made with potato. It is however cooked in boiling water, just as pasta is.      

Gnocchi originated in the northern part of Italy where the climate was better suited for growing potatoes rather than grain. The term gnocchi comes from the word “nocca” which translates to knuckles: which is exactly what the gnocchi looks like when formed.

Like a lot of foods that have transitioned their way into the high-end market, gnocchi have a very humble start. They started out as peasant food because gnocchi were inexpensive to make and were very filling.  

Gnocchi come together very quickly and requires no equipment, although you can get an  inexpensive gnocchi board for rolling. The one that I have was spotted a culinary supply store and cost five dollars—this is used to create the ridges and provide the scoop that allows the sauce to cling to the gnocchi. However, you can achieve the same effect with a dinner fork.

Gnocchi cooks much faster than pasta as it only requires three to four minutes in boiling water. Unlike pasta, it requires no guesswork as the gnocchi will float to the top of the pot when perfectly cooked. Gnocchi can also be made ahead, cooked and easily reheated by submerging back into a pot of boiling water. Some people also like to reheat their gnocchi by sautéing it in olive oil. This produces a gnocchi with a crispier outer layer and a softer inner layer. I prefer to boil my gnocchi but this is simply a personal preference.

The formula for plain gnocchi is very straightforward: for every cup of mashed potato you add one egg and two cups of all-purpose flour. You simply bring the dough together and knead well. Once your dough is smooth, you roll it out in long pieces and cut those pieces into individual one-inch segments. At this point you simply use the tines of a dinner fork to roll your gnocchi from one side over to the other, creating your grooves and scoop.

Once you’ve learned how to make a basic gnocchi, get creative by adding ingredients such as parmesan or ricotta cheese or using other types of potatoes such as sweet potato.

Remember those magic tricks that we talked about? The magic tricks possessed by a cook and the magic tricks possessed by a magician both have one thing in common, and that’s knowledge—once you have the know-how, the illusion, just like the gnocchi, becomes easy to replicate.

Gnocchi Al fresco
Serves 2 

1          tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
½         clove garlic
16        oz (500 g) gnocchi
3          mushrooms, sliced
4          cherry tomatoes, halved
1          tbsp (15 mL) red onions, small dice
24        spinach leaves
¼          cup (50 mL) white wine
¼          cup (50 mL) whipping cream
¼          cup (50 mL) fresh grated parmesan cheese

In a frying pan heat olive oil, add garlic, red onions, mushroom and sauté then add your tomatoes and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, then deglaze pan with wine and cream and add gnocchi. Finish with parmesan cheese.

 

 

Homemade Potato Gnocchi
Serves 2-4

1          cup (250 mL) potatoes, well mashed and cooled
2          cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
1          egg

Combine potatoes and egg in a bowl. Add flour ½ cup at a time and mix together until a shaggy dough is formed, place dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth. Tear 1 oz (28 g) sized bits from dough and use both hands to roll into ropes about 1 inch in diameter. Use a sharp knife to cut into individual pieces approximately 1 inch in length. Use the tines of a fork to roll the gnocchi from top to bottom, creating grooves and causing the gnocchi to curl.

Bring 4 cups (1 L) of water and 2 tsp (10 mL) of salt to a boil, drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, once the gnocchi float to the top remove and set on a clean tea towel. Toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent the gnocchi from sticking. Either serve immediately or set aside to reheat.

 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Serves 2-4

1          cup (250 mL) sweet potato, cooked, mashed and cooled
¾         cup (175 mL) whole milk ricotta cheese
½         cup (125 mL) grated parmesan cheese
1 ¼       cup (300 mL) flour

 

Combine sweet potato, ricotta and parmesan in a bowl. Add flour half a cup at a time and mix together until a shaggy dough is formed. Place dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth. Tear 1 oz (28 g) sized bits from dough and use both hands to roll into “snakes” about 1 inch in diameter. Use a sharp knife to cut into individual pieces about 2 inches in length. Use the tines of a fork to roll gnocchi from top to bottom, creating grooves and causing the gnocchi to curl.

Bring 4 cups (1 L) of water and 2 tsp (10 mL) of salt to a boil and drop gnocchi into boiling water. Once the gnocchi float to the top, remove and set on a clean tea towel. Toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent gnocchi from sticking. Either serve immediately or set aside to reheat.

 

Maple Walnut Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Serves 2

1          tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
½         clove garlic
16        oz (500 g) gnocchi
6          mushrooms sliced
2          green onions, chopped
¼          cup (50 mL) red wine
¼          cup (50 mL) whipping cream
¼          cup (50 mL) fresh parsley, chopped
2          tbsp (30 mL) maple syrup
¼          cup (50 mL) crushed walnuts Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a frying pan heat olive oil, add garlic, green onions, mushroom and sauté until mushrooms are golden. Deglaze pan with red wine, finish with parsley, maple syrup and cream, add salt and pepper to taste and add gnocchi then toss with crushed walnuts.

 

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