Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Homemade Gnocchi

Ok, I was all prepared for today. Homemade gnocchi. I'd read and re-read 101 Cookbook's instructions and thought I had a handle on it.

Then, I bragged to my brother, Michael this afternoon about my plans. He, of course, is a lot more comfortable, knowledgable, and educated in the kitchen than I am. If he has something to say, I'm going to listen. Plus, he has to make gnocchi everynight at his job, so he's speaking from a lot more experience than I have, and to what Heidi has admitted to. Also - his restaurant just received a Mobil 5 star rating!!! One of only 4 in the state of California, and 1 of only 20 in the country to receive 5 stars this year! It's exciting news and great for his resume!

Their recipes differed a lot. Heidi boiled her potatoes cut, Michael bakes his whole. Heidi mashes hers up with a fork, and Michael sends his through a strainer. Heidi wants you to eventually get to the point of not using egg, whereas Michael uses 1 egg yolk per 4 potatoes. Heidi didn't mention any use of creams or cheeses, and Michael swears by adding some in. Both, however, stressed the dough needed to be handled very, very carefully and could not be overworked. This would result in dense, rubbery gnocchi - a horrible offense.

I took my brother's advice and baked my potatoes for an hour in a 350° oven. He said this would result in a starchier potato, versus a soggy boiled one. Then, I used this metal, mesh strainer-style spoon and pressed the potatoes through into tiny little smooth ribbons. (Think of the little Play-doh guy, where you push his hair out in strands.) We didn't have any marscapone or ricotta cheese, so he suggested I add a spoonful of sour cream as I was working the potatoes through, and I did. I also added salt and 1 egg yolk because I cooked up 4 medium sized potatoes.

Once you have all these ingredients together, you kind of chop-knead them. You don't want to over-work the dough and I think this might be where I was TOO timid. Then, dump the contents out onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands until the dough is no longer sticky and you can form it into a ball. Divide the ball into 3 sections and roll each out into a long snake. With a sharp knife, cut little 3/4" sections. Roll these little sections, CUT side against the prongs of a fork. Again, I think I was too timid here. My gnocchi just look too homemade, I think because they weren't really well formed.

Michael suggested putting the gnocchi in the fridge at this point, for about 20-30 minutes so they can firm up a bit before you put them in the boiling, salted water. While the gnocchi were in the fridge, I sauteed some salted and peppered chicken breast in olive oil until it was browned and had some nice color on it.

Then -- time for the gnocchi!!! I dropped the little dumplings into the water a few at a time and was instructed to pull them out with a slotted spoon as soon as they floated, because that is when they are done. If you let them boil longer than that, they can start to break up. Once the gnocchi were done, I put them in a searing hot pan with some butter, olive oil, garlic and fresh spinach to brown up and get a nice crust on them. I plated all the components together and paired it with a yummy white wine the nice Trader Joe's man suggested when I told him what I was making for dinner. I always feel like I should invite the Trader Joe's people over for dinner after I shop there because they get so excited hearing about what people are going to be cooking.

I cooked a bigger batch, more than we could eat tonight, so half of the gnocchi I put in an ice water bath, instead of the skillet once they were done boiling. I patted them dry and then stored in a ziplock with a little olive oil. They'll be ready to heat up in a skillet for leftovers from this point.

Overall, the taste was AWESOME. I just didn't get the consistency right. But, I didn't get it right because I was too timid and don't think I formed the dough as confidently as I will in the future. At least they weren't dense and goopy - as I've had them before, which is a sign the dough was over-worked. Some were ok and some were kind of like fluffy mashed potatoes.

I'm glad I have that under my belt. I think I just get myself too worked up if it's a hyped-up recipe. Next time I'll feel like a seasoned pro with experience behind me!


Anonymous said...

Great job! That's a good idea about putting them in the fridge to firm up before dumping them in the pool - it looks delicious!

I am going to try making fresh pasta this weekend, I'll let you know how it goes since I don't have a pasta machine!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's really impressive Christina! It must be so nice to have a brother as a chef!