№ 83 - Fresh Gnocchi
When I turned 40 a few years ago (it's not important how many), my wife gave me a private cooking lesson with our friend Jordan Frosolone, who was then Chef de Cuisine at Hearth in NYC. It was a big hit with the birthday boy: I learned how to sauté mushrooms without making them soggy, crisp the skin on pan-fried fish, sear sea scallops and blanch spring vegetables. Hearth is known for its luxuriously textured, improbably soft gnocchi, and lucky for you, Chef Jordan let me in on that secret too.
The key to making these, or any, gnocchi is to use as little flour as possible without letting the gnocchi fall apart. Use too much flour and you end up with something dense and chewy, like store-bought gnocchi. Use too little and you end up with potato soup when boiling the gnocchi. The genius of this recipe is that it gets away with less flour because the potatoes are baked instead of boiled, ridding them of much of the moisture that would otherwise need to be soaked up by additional flour. The result is a gnocchi that melts in your mouth.
This recipe is just for the gnocchi, but I include instructions about reheating them in your favorite sauce. In the summer, homemade gnocchi are fantastic with a simple summer tomato sauce, a scoop of ricotta and some fresh basil.
Gnocchi freeze well and can be made ahead. Use about 6 oz of frozen gnocchi per person for a primi or 9 oz for a main course.
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Poke a few small holes with a knife into the washed potatoes. Bake potatoes for 1.5-2 hours until they feel soft to the touch. Cut in half lengthwise and let cool, cut side up, for 15 minutes or so until not much warmer than room temperature. Scoop the flesh out of the potato skins and squeeze through the potato ricer onto your largest cutting board. Chop the mixture with a bench scraper for a few minutes until smooth. Sprinkle the fine sea salt and around 3 ounces of the flour over the mixture and work the flour into the dough by chopping it with the bench scraper. Sprinkle another ounce of flour and incorporate into the dough as before. If the dough still feels wet, incorporate more flour. It's better to end up with gnocchi that are slightly firmer than they need to be than something that dissolves in the boiling water. Knead the dough for a few minutes and slam it onto the cutting board to rid it of any remaining air or flour pockets. Shape the dough into an even log with a diameter of 3 inches or so, place it near the far edge of your cutting board, sprinkle some flour on top to prevent it from drying out and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle the cutting board with some flour and slice a 3/4-inch piece off the log with the bench scraper. Gently roll the piece on the board under your finger tips to form an even roll not much wider than a half inch. (If the roll doesn’t hold, work more flour into all of the dough until it does.) Repeat with two or three more pieces and align rolls next to each other, leaving half-inch gaps between them. Sprinkle rolls with some more flour. Cut the rolls with the bench scraper into gnocchi that are a tad longer than they are wide. Cut all 3 or 4 rolls simultaneously with each cut. Pat yourself on the shoulder for being a bona fide gnocchi factory. Sprinkle more flour onto two large plates and carefully place the gnocchi on the plates. Repeat these steps with the rest of the dough and place all of them on the two plates, sprinkling more flour where necessary to prevent the gnocchi from sticking to each other. At this point they can be frozen on the plates for later use (once frozen, gnocchi can be placed in a freezer bag) or kept out for immediate use.
Cooking and reheating homemade gnocchi before serving isn't difficult, but you do need to pay attention to avoid overcooking and dissolving them. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large mixing bowl with equally salty ice water and place a colander inside it. Heat the sauce in a large frying pan and and turn the heat down to a simmer. Once the water is boiling, place the fresh or frozen gnocchi in the water and stir the water once near the surface with a mesh skimmer (this is to gently prevent the gnocchi from getting stuck at the bottom or to each other). Wait for the gnocchi to float to the surface and immediately scoop them into the ice bath with the mesh strainer. Fresh gnocchi only take a few moments to cook, frozen gnocchi will take a minute or two - if you wait too long, they will start to disintegrate in the water. Once you've placed all the gnocchi in the ice bath, submerge the colander in the ice water a few times to cool all the gnocchi completely and drain. Turn the heat under the sauce to high. Add the gnocchi and reheat as fast as possible, occasionally stirring or shaking the pan. Serve.