I already mentioned in one of my posts that our nuclear family can be a quartet of radically differing likes and dislikes at the table and, since starting my food blog last September, I have had reason to view this gastronomic vive-la-différence in interesting and sometimes mind-boggling ways.
What was it, for instance, that made me think of making gnocchi this morning?
Why, why, why … oh why … did I even entertain the notion that it might make an interesting read? What compelled me to seek out potatoes in my tiny kitchen and presume that I could achieve an alchemical feat out of the common spud?
And, most of all, what is it about gnocchi that drives an impetuous and stubborn strain in my own culinary pursuit? For, you see, the relationship between gnocchi and me has always been strained. Not good. Made worse by chance remarks of ‘how EASY’ it was to make them. If they were so easy to make, quoth I, how come then I had such difficulty? Was it something wrong with my fingertips? As Shylock himself might have said, if you pricked them, would they not bleed? We are talking humiliation of Shakespearian proportion here …
I tried making it, let us say about 8 years ago … and by the end of my endeavours, the gnocchi I came up with were so hard you could have used them as bullets. Quite nasty looking things, almost dangerous to eat. And so of course we didn’t …
I’m pretty good in the kitchen and not one to give up easily so I tried again, let us say two years later … and this time the gnocchi turned out to be … nothing … they fell apart in the cooking water. Then again, In 2007 at a cooking class in Orvieto with Chef Lorenzo Polegri at ‘Lo Zeppelin’, we were invited to make gnocchi and … miraculously … mine turned out to be okay. I couldn’t believe my luck. But I was still skeptical. Until finally, just over a year ago, I watched an Italian TV chef make gnocchi and it looked so … well, EASY … that I resolved to make some the very next day. And I did. AND they were perfect – Aha! I was as pleased as Punch, I finally got to make gnocchi no problem. I was so proud of myself, a big grin all over me. Practice makes perfect and all that ….
All for nothing of course … because nobody in the nuclear family likes gnocchi. Well, obliging husband will eat almost anything I cook but it’s not as if he’s crazy about gnocchi. As for our offspring, neither child will eat gnocchi willingly and both actually shrink from gnocchi’s nursery food consistency. And so the only conclusion I can draw is that there truly must be a hidden metaphysical reason for my love affair with gnocchi, there is no other explanation.
Gnocchi are dumplings made out of flour and mashed up boiled potatoes which are then boiled in salted water and seasoned. Gnocchi used to be eaten, traditionally, on Thursdays (in the same way as Tuesdays and Fridays used to be fish days).
THE LANGUAGE OF GNOCCHI
There is a saying around Rome that if you go around with a smile all over your face, it must be because your Mum has made gnocchi that day …. “Ridi, ridi … che Mamma ha fatto gli gnocchi!”. This saying obviously attests to the delicousness of any gnocchi dish.
A somewhat idiosyncratic and fairly recent linguistic usage is the word “gnocca” — which is, grammatically speaking, the single feminine rendering of the word. Its connotation of female pulchritude is oft to be heard on the lips of men when they catch sight of a good looking woman ( as in “Che gnocca!” or “Che bella gnocca”).
Used in the single male rendering of the word, however, i.e. “gnocco” … it means ‘daft’ or ‘idiot’ … as in “you idiot!” A ‘big’ gnocco, or “gnoccolone”, on the other hand, presuppes that one is naive. I suppose the soft consistency of the edible gnocco ‘translates’ as softness of mind or …. body. Okay … enough with the linguistics, on with the cooking!
HOW TO MAKE GNOCCHI
You will need potatoes which you can a) either boil with their skins on or b) steam, peeled, until they are soft and mushy … If you opt for (a), place the potatoes in cold water and when the water starts to boil, simmer for 20-25 minutes. Make sure there is plenty of salt in the water – this will help the potato cook to a better consistency. If you prefer the (b) option, place the peeled potates in a steamer and steam for about 35-40 minutes. The important thing to remember is to keep the potato as ‘dry’ as possible. (Some people bake their potatoes in the oven but I have never tried that).
In terms of amounts, I would say one big potato per person. An average serving suggestion, if you look around in cookery books, tends to be 1kg of potatoes and 300 g of flour. The idea is to boil the potatoes, then mash them up, then add flour to them until a malleable but thick dough is formed. The dough gets cut up into portions which are rolled until sausage shaped. These thin sausages of gnocchi dough are then cut up into bite-size individual gnocchi pieces.
MASHING THE POTATOES
Remove the potatoes from the steamer and when they are cool enough to handle, put them through a masher or a potato ricer. Use a spoon … it makes life easier …
And here are all 4 potatoes, nicely mashed up. At this stage, the potatoes are still very hot. When their heat is tolerable enough for your fingertips to handle them, you can start making the dough. (P.S. Writing now, in November 2014, I can suggest that you wait for the potatoes to cool a little longer – apparently the colder potato will absorb less flour, and that is a ‘good’ thing in this case).
MAKING THE GNOCCHI DOUGH
Dust a working surface with plenty of flour and keep plenty of flour handy.
Start mixing in the flour with the potates … mix and add flour, mix and add flour … keep adding as much flour as is needed for there to be a dough that will not be too sticky.
Please notice how much flour there is all around …
SHAPING THE GNOCCHI
Cut the ball of gnocchi dough into several portions …
The gnocchi I made today were okay, I suppose … maybe my potatoes were too ‘watery’ but it seemed to me that I required an awful lot of flour to make the dough. It is customary too to roll each gnocco off the back of a fork to give it ridges … but I wasn’t in the mood. No ridges for me today. Just one Hip Hip Hurray for having managed to make edible gnocchi!
The next post is all about how I cooked the gnocchi with an asparagus and sausage sauce.
IMPORTANT P.S. For your information, gnocchi can be boiled, drained, cooled, and left in the fridge for a couple of days. They can then be reheated and seasoned in whatever sauce you fancy. Or, even easier, frozen before being cooked.