Friday, February 22, 2013

DinnerLove: Gnocchi

I have a lot of Irish in me. That must be the reason that if given a choice, I go for potatoes every time. Much like Bubba says in Forest Gump (which yours truly help make, by the way), you've got fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, smashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, oven-baked potatoes, gratin potatoes, twice-baked potatoes, cheese potatoes, and if you want to get fancy: potatoes turnee, potatoes dauphinoise, and pommes Anna.

Potatoes are native to South America. The Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe as part of the New World plunder. Most of the upper class shunned the potato, (as they did the tomato, believing it to be poisonous) relegating it to the masses who were also doubtful. But the easily grown and tasty tuber won them over in short order. In a few short generations, tens of thousands of Old World populations were depending on the potato to fend off starvation. Of course this phenomenon leads to the Irish Great Famine; the catastrophic failure of several seasons of the potato crop- the result of a perfect storm of several components, including soil depletion and a lack of bio-diversity which left the plant fragile and vulnerable.

Fortunately, much was learned from this agricultural disaster and the wonderful potato was brought back from the brink of extinction. A traditionally cool season vegetable, potatoes are now available in varieties that allow the gardener to harvest this terrific tuber all through the growing season. Many people have never experienced the joy of pushing a shovel or fork into the soil and unearthing a nest of potatoes, the damp, dark dirt still clinging to the pale, thin skin. When we buy potatoes at the supermarket, the skins are thick and heavy. But when potatoes first emerge from the ground, the skins are inconsequential; thin and soft and hardly worth the effort to peel. The tuber itself is full of water, so much that it will form a puddle on the board once cut. It's an entirely different creature to it's store-bought cousin!

I like to make gnocchi with potatoes. Eating gnocchi is a heavenly experience. Light and pillowlike, swaddled in sauce and/or cheese, meat or vegetables, gnocchi is simply delicious. The store-bought version is passably good, but expensive, dense and bland. There are lots of recipes for this potato dumpling, but they all boil down to a ratio of 3 main ingredients: cooked potato flesh, flour and eggs. Here is my ratio:

I put the taters right on the rack.   
Equal parts potato and cups of all purpose flour
1/2 that amount of whole egg
Salt and pepper to taste

So today I have 5 russet potatoes. I'll wash them, and put them into a 400 degree oven. Some people boil their potatoes for gnocchi. I like to bake them because it makes for drier potato flesh. I also get a by-product of the skin which makes a delicious snack, rebaked with cheese, chili, and whatever else you like!

 Once I scoop out the cooked flesh, I'll pass it through a ricer (you can also run the potato through a mixer if you don't have a ricer, or mash them by hand. Just don't run it in your food processor or blender) Then I will add 5 cups of flour and 2 extra large eggs or 3 small eggs. (literally 2 1/2 eggs) Then, I mix all this together and let it sit for an hour or two under refrigeration. This last step is optional, but does help.
Ooops. Forgot to put the taters through the ricer...
O well, just put it in the mixer!
In small portions, roll the dough into "snakes". Cut small segments and roll the segments against the back of a fork. The grooves and dimple that result help sauce and toppings adhere to the gnocchi.

Let the gnocchi rest on a floured sheet pan. Drop into boiling water and boil until the dumpling rises to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon to a waiting bowl. Top with your favorite choices or mix with cheese and bake for a scalloped "casserole" gnocchi.

A simple and wholesome dinner with a little melted butter and salt and pepper...the possibilities are endless!

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