Photos by Randall P. Jenkins, Department Three
I must start off by saying that I am rather proud of myself. Why, you ask? I am proud of myself because I made potato gnocchi from scratch (!). I have never attempted to make any sort of pasta from scratch – it always seemed so terrifying and impossible! But, a few weeks ago the fine folks at The Kitchn posted a recipe for gnocchi that didn’t look quite so daunting. In fact, the recipe looked quite do-able.
Later that same week, my friend (and old co-worker from The Militia Group days) Randall was in town from LA, and he graciously took Nich and I out to an incredible dinner at Beaker & Flask. I offered to repay his generosity with a fabulous home-cooked meal. I then found out that one of his favorite foods on the planet is gnocchi and immediately I knew what I had to do. I offered to make him gnocchi from scratch, of course!
My friend (an extremely talented poet and also an old co-worker from TMG) Paul Maziar offered to be sous chef for the night. I was grateful for the help, as I assumed that making gnocchi wouldn’t be a cake walk. So while Randall and Nich nerded out over football and played ‘Stump Nikipedia’, Paul and I cracked open a bottle of wine, got some tomato sauce simmering on the stove, and then set about making gnocci from scratch. It was an involved process, and my kitchen was absolutely covered in flour afterwards – but the great gnocci experiment was a success! So, if you would like to try your hand at gnocchi (or pasta sauce from scratch), see the recipe below!
For the tomato sauce:
1 large (28 oz) can of Italian tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 cup dry red table wine
3 anchovy fillets (optional – but so good!)
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper
For the gnocchi:
3 pounds all-purpose potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1 to 2 cups flour
Heat a saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil and sliced onion and cook until onion is soft & translucent. 6- 8 minutes. Add garlic, anchovies, and red chili flakes. Stir occasionally, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Pour in the wine. While the wine is simmering, add in the tomatoes one at a time. Use your hands to crush and break up each tomato over the pan, dropping the tomato pieces in as you crush it. (Warning: wear an apron, this is messy!). I found that my hands didn’t quite crush them to my liking, so I used a potato masher. Add any remaining juice from the can.
Once all the tomatoes and juice have been added, let simmer for at least 15 minutes (or until thickened). The longer you let it simmer, the better the flavor will be! Season with salt and pepper, and stir in fresh basil right before serving.
To Make the Gnocchi:
1. Fill a medium/large pot with water, and stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Add the potatoes (leave them whole, don’t bother to cut!). Boil the potatoes, in their skins, until they are nearly falling apart (30 minutes to an hour).
2. Drain the potatoes and let them cool just until they can be handled (5 to10 minutes).
3. Use a towel, a paper towel, or a spoon to rub or scrape the skin off the potatoes.
4. Mash the potatoes as finely as you can into a large bowl. I did not have a ricer or a food mill, and so I simply mashed the potatoes with a masher and a fork. (It’s OK if your potatoes aren’t perfectly mashed; you’ll end up with a more rustic, lumpy dough, but they’ll still be delicious.)
5. Stir the salt and egg into the mashed potatoes.
6. Spread the flour out on a kneading surface and turn the potato mixture out on top. Knead it together with your hands, adding more flour as you go, if necessary.
7. Depending on how much moisture was in your potatoes, you may need to add up to a cup of flour.
8. There is a lot of variability in potatoes, so simply add until the dough feels mostly smooth, and just slightly sticky.
9. Cut the dough into quarters, and then divide each quarter into four pieces. Roll each piece into a long, 1-inch-wide rope.
10. Cut the rope into walnut-sized pillows. You can leave the pieces as is, or you can roll them over the back of a fork to create ridges. (*Note: the original recipe called for these “walnut sized pillows” which I think is confusing and led to me to make overly large gnocchi. Just cut them to whatever size you think looks right for standard gnocci.)
11. Note about step 11: I tried making ridges on my gnocci and I thought they looked weird. I took a fork to one side of each gnocci to give a slight ridge on one edge. But if you want to make ridges, here is what The Kitchn recommends: To form the ridges on the gnocchi, take a bite-sized pillow of dough, and roll it down and off the tines of a fork. Don’t worry if they look lumpy or rustic! These are not meant to look perfectly shaped; they are usually a little uneven (at least, ours always are). Place the finished gnocchi on a baking pan dusted with flour, and sprinkle a little flour over top.
12. To cook the gnocchi, heat a saucepan of salted water to boiling. Add the gnocchi and cook. They will float to the top of the pan as they cook. Cook for about 2 minutes after they float to the top. (About 4 minutes cooking time total, depending on their size.) Using a slotted spoon, remove the gnocci and let cool (on a towel, in a bowl, on wax paper, etc) for a few minutes before serving.
Further comments and notes: The trick with gnocci is getting the right consistency. Every potato is different, so every batch of gnocchi will be different. Some of my gnocci fell apart in the boiling water, and some turned out beautifully. For my first few attempts, the gnocchi seemed too sticky and were falling apart, so I added more flour to the dough, as I found that it helped keep the gnocci together. Also, The Kitchn’s original recipe did not say anything about what to do with the gnocci once they’ve boiled, so I made my best guess. I scooped them out of the water, and let them cool/drain on a towel. The gnocchi tend to be mushy when they first come out of the water, but they reached the right consistency after a few minutes of cooling.
Overall, I was happy with the end result. The gnocchi tasted fantastic. They looked a little funny, and were quite a bit of work – but I was so glad that I made them. Next time around, I’d love to make them with someone who actually knows what they are doing! I felt that the original recipe left out a few tips/tricks, and so I was left to guess on a few things. But, even with all the guesswork – they turned out well! I was so pleased. My first attempt at pasta from scratch wasn’t a total failure (!).