2017-05-06 / Food

Taste of Tradition

Gnocchi: light, fluffy and from scratch
Staff Writer

I know you’ve seen a lot of Italian recipes from me, lately, and I’m sorry to perpetuate the scenario once more, but lately I’ve been craving gnocchi, little potato dumplings cooked like pasta and tossed with sauce.

And they’re just as easy to make as they are to eat.

This recipe is a classic, and I’ve actually taken inspiration from star chef Giada De Laurentiis, whose Sardinian gnocchi Pomodoro that I tasted at her restaurant GIADA in Las Vegas still lingers in my mind months later.

Rich, buttery and utterly nostalgic, the tomato sauce coated each little, perfectly plump dumpling in velvety goodness. Today, I took to recreating the delicious dish, which I think I’ve done masterfully. While in Las Vegas, it made for a perfect, not-so-light lunch before my rendezvous at the AXIS Theater at Planet Hollywood later in the evening — the ultimate sponge for copious cocktails.

My gnocchi dough recipe is pretty standard, though I bake the potatoes before mashing. Often times recipes call for boiling the potatoes, which I find makes them heavier and chewier. Baking them results in lighter dumplings — little, saucy pillows of goodness.

The dough can also be made up to a day in advance, wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and kept in the fridge. Just be sure to bring it up to room temperature before rolling and cutting the dough.

The real star, here, though is the buttery Pomodoro sauce that makes this dish luxurious. Instead of using olive oil to cook garlic and tomatoes down to red, velvety sauce, I use a hefty portion of salted butter. When combined with the gnocchi, the sauce creates a swath of richness that transforms the meal from light lunch to Sunday supper.

Where I do skimp out, however, is rolling the gnocchi dough. Traditionally, the dough is rolled on a lined board or over the tines of a fork to create cylindrical pasta with noticeable ridges. I can’t be bothered with that — it’s time consuming and, while attractive, not necessary.

While the lines do help the sauce cling to the dumplings, other preparations call for pressing a dent in the dough with a finger, which holds onto the dressing just as well. Roll if you want, but be aware it’ll take far longer to taste the goods.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

Plump potato dumplings, like little pillows, tossed with buttery red sauce. As the great Ina Garten would say, 'Who wouldn't love that?' ALAN BENNETT/Journal TribunePlump potato dumplings, like little pillows, tossed with buttery red sauce. As the great Ina Garten would say, 'Who wouldn't love that?' ALAN BENNETT/Journal TribuneGnocchi al Pomodoro
Start-to-finish: 2 hours (1 hour active)
Serves: 4

For the gnocchi:
4 medium russet potatoes
1 ½ to 2 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt

For the Pomodoro sauce:
6 tablespoons salted butter, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes or tomato puree 
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, more to taste
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, if available, cut into large pieces
Pinch nutmeg

Chopped basil, for serving
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Make the gnocchi. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork to allow steam to escape, and bake for one hour, or until soft all the way through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until able to be handled. Slice potatoes in half and scoop flesh into a large bowl. Mash with a fork or masher until completely smooth.

While still warm, add salt and 1 ½ cups of flour and mix to form a loose dough. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, beat the eggs and then gradually mix into potato dough. Add another half cup of flour into the dough, as needed, until it becomes supple and smooth and not sticky. 

Form into a ball and cut into eight pieces. Take one piece of dough onto a floured board at a time and roll it into a snake, about 12 inches long. Cut into one-inch pieces and gently press a dent into each with your fingertip. Keep on a floured board until ready to cook. Repeat with remaining dough.

Set gnocchi aside while you make the sauce. Melt four tablespoons of butter with one tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. When melted, add the garlic, chile flakes and salt, and cook until garlic just begins to take on color, about five minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, black pepper, nutmeg and cheese rinds (if using) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes until reduced. Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter, allowing to melt while the sauce keeps warm on stove.

When it’s time to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of heavily-salted water to a boil. Using a slotted spoon, add about half the gnocchi, and stir to make sure they don’t clump together. When they rise to the top, cook for an additional minute and remove with a slotted spoon, transferring to the sauce. Don’t completely drain them; you want to add some of the starchy cooking liquid to the sauce. Repeat process with the other half.

After adding both batches of gnocchi to the sauce, turn heat up to medium-high and cook for an additional minute, tossing with sauce. Serve hot, garnished with freshly-chopped basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a drizzling of olive oil.

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